Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Winter Blues - Thoughts on Grieving

When the holidays approach, my internal worry machine hits hyper-drive. I worry about the early sunset, all those hours when there is no light other than the lamp on my bedside table. I worry that I will stop working out, polish off a tub of cream cheese with a sleeve of crackers every day, and gain 15 pounds. I worry about hearing Christmas songs while I'm out in public because Christmas songs make me cry. I worry about having enough money for gifts and a tree and vodka and cranberry juice. I worry about falling back into the dark hole of grief and regret.

Each year, I feel better. I am happier now than I have been in a long time, but I still wish I could skip winter, pass Go and head straight to spring. I still feel all the things I felt when I wrote the essay I'm posting below. I just feel these things on a smaller scale. I still love waiting rooms. I'm still waiting for something really great to happen, to remind me that really great things do happen. As a visual reminder, I bought myself this print and put it in my kitchen.

In the meantime, I practice being grateful every day for the wonderful things in my life: my children, who are smart, funny, strong, and loving; my family and my friends, who offer me endless support and love; my good health; my comfortable home; the existence of George Clooney; and the fact that I still try to believe one day I will find my personal George Clooney. (Dear Santa...)

At any given moment, people are thrust into this place of grief and worry and waiting. I hope this essay helps them feel less alone. I remind myself all the time that this too shall pass. Spring will come again.

Friday, December 11, 2009
“Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.” CS Lewis

Lately, I love waiting rooms. In these bland rooms, I sit still and look as if I’m doing something. I stare at the pages of a book or magazine without actually reading. I take a break from the world with its endless expectations. I can do nothing without judgment because I’m in the midst of the very important and socially acceptable task of waiting. This is better than the far preferable but more harshly judged act of staying in your pajamas all day, watching daytime TV, and telling yourself you can’t get off the couch because it would disturb the kitten curled up on your lap.

Monday, I visited three waiting rooms. This may be my record. I waited for Jacob at the orthodontist. I waited for Kate at The Amelia Center, a counseling center for grieving children. I waited for Kate again at The Birmingham School of Music where she is taking guitar lessons. In truth, I don’t need a special room for this. My days are largely spent waiting.

Since August, I have learned that the months after death and trauma do not pass as normal time. What has been little more than four months feels more like 10 long days. I have developed the amazing talent of being able to sit at my desk staring into space for 20 minutes only to realize later that an hour has passed. My distraction is not that of a child, hopping from one subject to another, completely unrelated to the first. My distraction is that of someone unable to look away from a gold watch. I am hypnotized by one lone fact, swinging back and forth in front of me.
And I wait.

Some days I play at normal. I am a far better actress than I ever imagined. I’ve never been able to release my awareness of self long enough to play a decent role. In drama classes, I much preferred being the prompter just off stage, helping forgetful actors remember their lines. Now I see that I can act the part of someone having a good time or, at the very least, a normal time.

In truth, I am a cliche. I am a chapter in a book on loss – the kind of books so many people pressed into my hands in the days and weeks after Charles’s death, after what was the worst day of my life. (And I will not add “so far” to that sentence.) The stages of grief do not pass in an orderly fashion or a timely manner. They do not come one after the other. Sometimes they sit on one another and fight for attention like sibling rivals. “Look at me,” anger says. “No, no, look at me,” denial cries. Depression takes a backseat and only watches the fight because depression always has the upper hand. Depression is along for the ride while you bargain and cry and yell the ‘F’ word as loud as possible while driving down a quiet street. Depression knows it will be there after the others are put in a corner for time-out.

If I had a say, I’d still be in the shock and denial stage. That stage was excellent. While you know the facts, your brain is like a kindly grandmother who says, “Now, now, wait a minute, let’s not do anything crazy yet. Let’s pack that information in this pretty box over here. See this one in the corner? You can open it later. For now, put a smile on your face. Here, let’s make this easier. Let’s put a nice, white haze over everything and put this soft sweater on you so you won’t feel any of the big, mean world’s hard edges. There you go. Now run along and have a good time with your friends.”

This stage can be prolonged by the imbibing of excessive amounts of alcohol, but I wouldn’t recommend it really. I actually drink less. If I’m going to feel this bad I’d rather power through. If I’m going to grieve I’m going to do it right, do it right now, and get a gold star on my Stages of Grief report card.

“You jump right into things, don’t you? You don’t give yourself a break,” my counselor recently said.

I told her, “If I have to swim through a pool of crap, I’d rather just get in and get that shit over with.” I know. I have a way with words that even that son of a bitch Shakespeare would envy.

I read a story online about a woman whose insurance company cut her disability benefits for depression because someone found photos of her on Facebook having a “good time.” I read the story aloud and commented on the unfairness of it, although it shouldn’t be surprising that an insurance company wouldn’t actually understand an illness. Kate said, “That’s stupid. You look like you’re having a good time and you’re depressed. My MeMe looks like she’s having a good time and she’s depressed. I look like I’m having a good time and I’m depressed.”

Kate, at 9 years old, knows something those idiots at the insurance company pretend not to: Putting a smile on your face is like hanging a Christmas wreath on your front door. It might look like you’re celebrating the holidays when really you’re only doing what your neighbors expect of you. Inside, you might be wishing the damn holiday with its unreasonable expectations and depressing songs would pass already.

You might just be waiting for things to be normal again.

You put your new knowledge - that normal no longer exists - in a pretty box in the corner where it fits right in under the Christmas tree.

Kate and Jacob, Christmas at Grammy's 2010

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