Grieving; unpack your bags, we’ll be here for a while.

caronleid I posted this a while ago, but it seems appropriate now

Grieving, what is it?  I mean the “ing” at the end of it, suggests that it is a continuing process. So, I believe it is literal.  Grief defined, is a multifaceted response to loss, predominately to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed.  Grief is focused on the emotional response to the loss, however it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural and philosophical dimensions.

Wow, a verbose paragraph that sums up a life long process that comes in many forms and has no end.  At 21, I lost a friend from university who died in a car accident, a car that I was supposed to be in, but I got a ride home earlier. It was the first-time experiencing something so tragic, so sudden.  That was the beginning of my introduction to grief.  It threw me off, it didn’t make sense, and I kept thinking was it my time?  Was I supposed to be in the car?  Did that one decision, to leave earlier, change a destined pattern?

Seven years later, there it was again, except most people, would say, you could have prepared, there was a diagnosis of cancer, I can’t even talk about it. Norm Casola just turned 29 when he died. He called me the day before he died, and I said, “I am coming, I will be there soon.” My flight to Sault Ste Marie was booked for 9 a.m. on Sept 20, 1998. Dawna (his sister) called me at 4 a.m. to tell me he passed away. My flight would be rebooked for his funeral. I can’t even talk about it, because the days, weeks, months and years that passed were painful. I didn’t see a grief counsellor, I somehow convinced myself that I would never find another person like that again, and I was fortunate to have had him for 7 years.

I felt like I deserved that, like he was too good.  That was my one and only chance, that’s all I got 7 years. I punished myself for years after that, that statement alone makes sense to me. I dove into every book you could find about the afterlife. I am Catholic, but at that time, that didn’t help me, my faith didn’t provide solace to me at all. How could this happen?  Why did it happen?  I felt guilty for every argument, then sad for every laugh we had, and we had many.  We were supposed to get married, have kids- and now I have memories, that I try not to think about, because it is too painful.

My immediate family were all living in Trinidad, I had no-one.  Your friends can’t help you.  My friends Josie and Natalie tried. I was paranoid about being alone, I think it’s because a night at university I was telling him about this documentary that I had seen in Religion class in Trinidad about people who were pronounced dead, and what they reported when they were revived.  I couldn’t remember the name of the documentary.  It was 2 a.m., so I was flipping through television stations, and I couldn’t believe that the same documentary that I was telling him about, was on tv.  It was called Beyond and Back.  I was so freaked out about it.  We had made a pact, I said “ okay, if you go before me, send me a sign, that you are around.”  It sounded like a good plan at the time, not knowing that five years later, I would be so afraid of this pact. I couldn’t handle it.  

Every night, I would pray to God for me to not wake up.  I wasn’t suicidal, I just wanted to die.  I did not want to live.  Why couldn’t I go first, so I didn’t have to deal with this?  And when I would open my eyes, I would have to live another day without him.

……..And there it was a sign, I had a lamp in my living room and it seemed to turn off whenever I was sad, and then when I would think of a joke or something funny that happened, the light would turn on.  I thought no one would believe me. A night that my friends Natalie and Josie came over to hang out with me, we were talking in my kitchen, and we were remembering games night at Natalie’s house with Norm and the light stayed on, the moment I started to think of something sad, the light went off.  We all looked at each other- then started to laugh- the light went back on. I passively said, “ Oh, that’s Norm.” Although it was a blatant sign, I wasn’t in full belief.  My parents came to visit, and my dad was reading the papers underneath that same lamp, and the light went off, I told him about what happened- he said to me “just pay your electricity bill,” and started laughing- that was my dad, always cracking a joke.  Hilarious- I replied.

I started to think I imagined it however- that wasn’t the only sign.  A week after the funeral, I had an array of candle holders on my side table in my living room. They weren’t in any specific order, I never put them in any order.  The next day, I went downstairs, they were all arranged neatly into two rows. I asked my room-mate at the time, if she touched them and put them that way.  She said No. I didn’t understand the sign at that time, but it freaked me out. It was only years later, that It came to me- that was the pact we made.  That was the sign.  Norm was always so neat, and he would arrange all his toiletries in the washroom in a row, and I would always laugh and move them around because it was so hilarious to me. – that was the sign.  When you are grieving- you miss a lot of signs, because you are so focused on the loss.  I only got it years later- he was okay, and he was around and the main thing, is he was no longer in pain.

It still didn’t matter though, It’s not as if, that sign provided solace.  It would go on intermittently year after year after year.  You don’t get over it, you learn to live with it.  It becomes part of you. You have to learn to move on, that is the hardest part.

And then it happened again, this time my son was born in 2000 and my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 57 shortly after that.  14 months later, my dad had a massive heart attack and died – he just turned 59, he was never sick.  When I have to write about it, it seems like a cruel joke.  I mean, really?  That was even harder, no preparation. My dad just turned 59, he was the CEO of the airport in Grenada at that time.  I got a phone call from my brother on August 18th, 2001 at 11:00 p.m. –
Caron, I have some bad news, Dad died. I responded- “are you joking?” – “I would never joke about something like that.” -mom is asking about you, you need to come to Trinidad, right away – oh and you have to be strong, for mom because she’s sick.  I could not believe this was happening. No warning. 

I would learn that my dad had a heart attack at a board meeting- that he was even joking on the way to the hospital, and that he was stable, but would die later in his sleep- No one called my brother or I- we didn’t even get to say goodbye. I would have to live with that, the rest of my life. This was even worst than Norm, because I got to speak to Norm before he died. I wouldn’t get to tell my dad I loved him, like I always did after every call. I would just have to think about the last time I saw him, which was after the 9/11 attack, when he could not fly out, so I got to see my parents for a few days. I would now understand why he wanted to take Jaelon for a walk, by himself, now it made sense to me.  I would be thankful for our last talk we had on the phone, when he was settling into his new job and he just told me he hired someone to look after mom, while he was at work. My brother and I were now orphans.  Although my mom was still alive, she was no longer our parent, I was hers. Geoff had to do all the funeral arrangements alone and I would have to suck in my grief and make sure my mom was okay.

To deal, I became super woman, I worked full time, poured all my energy into my son, finished my MBA, started my doctorate, I just kept going and going and going.  I never grieved for my dad, because I didn’t slow down to.  I just kept adding. When it becomes overwhelming, I break down in the shower, or a song may come on the radio and I burst into tears. Typically, it happens when I am searching for advice and then I start focusing on my circumstances.  When I became a parent, it was only a short time, before I was a parent, to my parent. When my dad passed, this was a full-time job for me, and my mom now was totally dependent on me.  Every mother’s day is hard for me, as well as every father’s day, every birthday, special occasion, holiday, every single day.

Here’s the reality of grief- People will say, a lot of nonsense., believe me they will.

  • At my dad’s funeral, someone approached my brother and said- “well your grandfather made it to 55, your dad made it to 59, so you will make it to about 63.

I did some research to see if there were any others, I came across an article written by David Pogue for the New York Times.

  •  “After our daughter was stillborn,” wrote Wendy Thomas, “a colleague told me I shouldn’t have used the photocopy machine.”
  • “My first husband died of cancer when he was 35 and I was 26,” recounted Patrice Werner. “I still recoil when I think of the number of people who said, ‘You’re young; you’ll find someone else.’”
  • “My only child, Jesse, committed suicide at age 30,” Valerie P. Cohen recalled. “A friend wrote, ‘I know exactly how you feel, because my dog just died.’”
  • “Oh my God, I could never handle what you are going through!” (Costanza-Chavez’s mental reply, “Yes. Yes you could. You just do. And, you would. Don’t further isolate me with your own projecting.”)
  • “I didn’t call because I figured you wanted to be alone.” (Her: “Even if I did, you should always call, write, email, or text.”)
  • “I didn’t visit because I hate hospitals. I don’t do hospitals.” (Her: “No one likes hospitals, no one, unless perhaps you are visiting a new baby. Do it anyway.”)
  • “I’m so sorry for your loss to lung cancer. Did he smoke?” Or, if it was a heart attack, “Was she overweight?” (Her: “You are just trying to find reassurance that this scary, scary thing won’t happen to you. Stop it.”)
  • “At least she isn’t suffering,” was a particularly unhelpful line submitted by Beth Braker, who had to hear it.
  • “At least you have other children,” recalled Margaret Gannon.
  • “At least she didn’t die of AIDS,” remembered Jill Falzoi.
  • “At least now you can have your own life,” Mary Otterson heard. (“I always had my own life,” she added. “Now I just have it without her in it.”)

Oh, so this is actually a thing.  People just can’t help themselves.

The Five Stages of Grief from Elisabeth Kubler Ross, go something like this

Denial-The first stage- Is this real? This can’t be happening. Life is not making any sense. Denial helps us cope, this stage is the easiest.  It is your brain, not accepting the new information that it just received.  It can’t be true, and I don’t have to deal with the sadness.  It’s not true, it didn’t happen.  I can stay in this for a while, because I am not allowing this bad news to hit me.

Which brings us to the second stage- Anger. This stage could last a long time, you will be angry at everything “who put the floor, on the floor!.” I am not exaggerating, a lot of the anger at this stage will be displaced. Anger is outward depression. You will be angry at people who didn’t attend the funeral, people who were insensitive after the funeral. The anger toward someone, can be the something you can hold onto, and something you can focus on rather than your own emotions. Most people suppress anger, anger is just another sign of your strength of your love.

The Third stage is Bargaining– if you happen to know when the person is going to die- which was the case in Kubler Ross’s research- she studied death and dying of patients who were given a terminal diagnosis.  You will bargain, you will remember any fight that you had with your loved one and promise never to fight again.  Just stop this from happening. If only I did this, then it wouldn’t have happened.  We all want to go back in time, to change things. Guilt and bargaining- are best friends, they go hand in hand. The ifs and onlys, make us think it is our fault and we start thinking of all the things we could have done differently. This stage also brings about, bargaining away the pain we are feeling because of the loss. Can we negotiate our hurt away?  These stages are not finite.  They are like waves in the ocean, we can feel one, then another and then we can go right back to the first one. We simply ride each one.

And here comes right on time, The forth stage, anger within- Depression. This is the stage of emptiness. You are all bargained out. Grief is now felt on a deeper more intimate level. This stage will feel like an eternity. This is all part of the grieving process, and it is the response to great loss. Depression is a natural reaction after a loss. Situational depression is an appropriate response. To not feel depressed after a loved one dies, would be unusual. When the loss fully resonates with your being, it is depressing. This stage is necessary and again, comes in waves.

The last step is Acceptance and is often misinterpreted with the concept of being okay with the loss. I am not sure about anyone who will ever be okay about losing a loved one. This stage is accepting that your loved one is physically gone and you are now part of a new reality. We will despise this new reality, but we eventually accept it as truth. We learn to live with it. It is now apart of us.  We have to live in a world where this person is missing from it. Many people want to keep things as they were when their loved one was alive, however we learn that life has been forever changed, and we have to readjust. Roles need to be reassigned, or we may have to do them ourselves. Acceptance could just mean having better days than bad ones. As we start to live and enjoy life again, we sometimes feel guilty for having fun, or moving on.  We will never replace what was lost, however, we can make new relationships, new dependencies.  Focus on your needs, instead of trying to punish yourself. We are forever changing, growing, evolving-this would have happened even if your loved one was alive. Give yourself time, invest in a relationship with yourself.

Grief is never ending, and I don’t think it was designed that way. Once you have a meaningful connection with someone, and you no longer have that connection- a loss occurs.

Grieving is tough, and it is continuous, grieving for someone who is still alive – is a whole other animal. 

The reality of my mom dying, did not escape me, almost 19 years ago, when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  I mean, the statistics were there, 5-7 years was the average. I even knew how she may die. My brother and I planned. We put things into place, we learnt the hard way with my dad, so we would be prepared this time- The Power of Attorney’s were completed, we were not going to be scattered like we were with my dad. What we didn’t plan for, is how long the process would be. We didn’t anticipate, how quick the decline would be and we didn’t plan for her loosing the ability to speak so early on.  She stopped speaking coherently at the age of 59- she was diagnosed at 57.

How do you compartmentalize grief?  Huh, Kubler Ross?  Where is your research on this? Well there is no book, no Ted Talk and no grief counselling that can assist you through perpetual grief of someone who is still alive.

My mom lives with me. She is now in palliative care- still in my home. She went into palliative care almost 4 years ago. I have prepared for her death, which was imminent almost 4 years ago. I have planned her funeral, I went to grief counselling, I went through the third stage of depression (probably my 5th round of it) and then I waited…….

And waited, and waited.  The worst thing – is you know some of the off-putting comments you get when someone passes?  I get them while she is still here

  • I would come to visit, but I don’t want to see her like that- (really?, I love seeing her the way she is)
  • You’re a saint- (and you aren’t- which is what they really want to say- and I am still not coming to see her)
  • I couldn’t do what you are doing- (yes you could, if you wanted to.)
  • If you need anything – let me know- (I am supposed to reach out to you? Good one-actually since you asked- I need a new friend, if you find one send them my way)

This grieving is different in every form. It’s daily preparation. You are pre-grieving every day. I lost my mom along time ago. I had to reconcile with that immediately and when my dad died, I had to accept that I only had my brother as my family.

What has 20 years taught me?

This; -grieving is a personal, intimate, gut-wrenching, never ending process. It transforms you in ways unimaginable. When you can empathize with someone else because you have been there, or you can muster up enough strength to try to help someone else that is sick or going through something similar; It is a gentle reminder, that you are better for knowing that loved one and hopefully you will meet again, when it is your time.

… And now that my mom has passed- I now start the process again

caronleid

I believe you can learn something new everyday.

One comment

  • Extremely Beautiful and exceptionally articulates the process . Today is the anniversary of my sister’s death. She died 49 years ago and I still get the most ignorant responses ….It’s been 49 YEARS… aren’t you over that yet ? When a loved one dies, it changes the course and future aspirations of the family . My family imploded shortly afterwards . My mother became empty and vacuous and my father sought solace in recreational drugs and women . Nobody thinks of how that impacts the 2 young children left . The day my sister passed is the day my carefree childhood ended and a slow decent into depression and behaviours in adolescence, teens , and adulthood ; resulting from the depression that was born on that day . I am now trying to heal ; 49 years later . So YES, the truth is grief starts off as a huge suitcase but eventually turns into a carry on you lug around every day! You unpack periodically and the weight becomes a little light but you are still lugging that baggage all the same !

    Like

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