Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Lessons from Grief

 Most people cannot understand the way my brain works. I do appreciate their trying. I also really applaud those who have been with me the longest and nod their heads while thinking "WTF?"  I really don't process or think like most people. Many brain is like a bucket of bobbing apples, one thing after another bobs to the surface. There is no rhyme or reason. I make lists because it is the only way to hold on to one apple or another before they sink or float away. If I tried to explain my thought process to people, they'd be bewildered. I know I am and I live in this head.

There is one odd constant in my adult life. Death has hung out by shoulder like some sort of bitchy "frenemy." I can't seem to shake the SOB, ever since the terrifying dream that I had in college about Rob dying in a car accident. I spent my 20's waiting for the jerk to finally play his hand. He waited until my 30's. It's like The Seventh Seal. I picture myself running across a field hand in hand with death.

It just occurred to me that everyone who really knew my past is gone. I was telling Caroline about this summer school class that I got to take about the history of NYC during my last summer in Connecticut. I couldn't remember if it had been one week or two. I said "I'll ask Mom." Then the next words out of my mouth were "Well, fuck! I can't, now can I?" How does a person with a brain full of bobbing apples remember her past? At the memorial I was able to tell my cousins the oddest clearest memories of them, but I can't remember my own stuff. This is why I write, I am sure of it. This is my brain's way of imposing order and clearing things out so I can function day to day, so I can sleep.

Things that I have learned (This is my experience, I am not a trained grief counselor. I could never be a counselor. Eventually, I always say the thing that people don't want to hear. I can be too blunt.):

1. Forgive. There are a few things that happen in families that are unforgivable. For the most part, though, most things can be forgiven. No one ever gets a prize for being right or holding onto a grudge the longest. My father and I had such a difficult relationship. The crummiest thing is that the week after he died, all of the sudden, I was able to understand his story. I got it! It was like someone turned on a switch. This knowledge would have been so helpful when he was alive. All of the times that my mother hurt my feelings or frustrated me hardly matter now.

2. For God's sake take pictures! Get them off of the computer and don't let it crash. The everyday moments are the magical ones. What are you waiting for? My greatest regret is the only picture that I have of Lily with my Gramma is when Lily was born. She died when Lily was 2. I feel like such an idiot. I could say in my defense that I was stressed and battling depression, but I still suck.

3. Accept the condolences. People want to help. Let them say sorry. You will hear the same things over and over. Accept it. They are trying. You feel like crap, but there is no need to spread that feeling to others.

4. Stuff does not equal the one that you lost. Hording the belongings of the person you lost will not keep them alive. Your memories and stories do. Lily talks about my father like she knew him. She was born 1 1/2 years after he passed. It was the stories that taught her about him, not the boxes of clothes and junk that I horded. The only thing excluded from this is pictures. See number 2. Pictures help.

5. Create a new normal, but don't change too much. The sooner that you get back into a routine the better. It will feel strange and almost disloyal. It is not, trust me. Some routines are harder to break. I really want to call my mom. Tonight, I want to tell her that I am reading a book that she would like. Every night there is something different. Until I get used to this, I think that I am going to start a new journal just to jot down what I want to say. What I want to tell her is never profound and yet it takes up a profound amount of room in my mind.

6. Yes there are 7 stages of grief. They start the minute you find out the person that you love is sick or has passed away. In my experience, they do not follow an order. It is not a list to check off (wouldn't that be nice?!). They come like an unpredictable roller coaster and they seem to follow you for the rest of your life. Grief doesn't go away. You don't get over it. You learn to cope. Most of the time you cope well. Some days you don't cope at all.

7. No one type of death is better than the other. If you lose someone suddenly there is no closure. If it is a prolonged illness, you watch them fade away. Sometimes you are relieved that their suffering is over. Most of the time you feel cheated no matter what. It isn't like in the movies with final wishes and tender moments of sharing (at least for us). It is not pretty. I guess if you lost someone in their 90's it would feel like a life well lived. Except for my grandad, no one in my family has lived past their mid 70's. My dad was 52. My mom was 62. I feel cheated.

8. You will feel sad. You will feel sad a lot. It is normal. No need to apologize, but don't let it take over your life or define you. See number 5.

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