Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Life Beyond the Crossroads

"I get it, it’s nice up here.   You could just shut down all the systems, turn down all the lights, just close your eyes and tune out everyone.   There’s nobody up here that can hurt you.   It’s safe.   What’s the point of going on?   What’s the point of living?   Your kid died, it doesn’t get any rougher than that.   It’s still a matter of what you do now.   If you decide to go then you just gotta get on with it.   Sit back, enjoy the ride, you gotta plant both your feet on the ground and start living life.   Hey, Ryan, it’s time to go home."
Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), Gravity

Perhaps it's fitting that the very final moral to the story I have for you will post during Eating Disorder Awareness Week, but that was purely coincidental.  It does illustrate perhaps that for all us there are some things we'll never move past.  For my family, we'll never get to the last week in February and not know what significance it carries for us.  We'll never treat June 20th like any other day.  We'll never, I know now, have significant life events (graduations, weddings, births and even deaths), and not have the fact that my oldest daughter isn't there with us heavy on our minds.  But, the thing I can tell you now, more than four years into this brave new world is that there is life after loss.  And it's important to leave you with that.  And it's important that all of you know that.

I would guess that for some who might read this immediately after losing a loved one, that statement will seem like a betrayal.  I've been accused of that actually:  betraying Kelsey's memory by attempting to move on past the loss.   Here's the thing I need you - and all my own critics if they care to listen - to know:  don't confuse moving past the shock of the loss and continuing to live the one life you've been given with not loving and missing your loved one.  They are NOT the same at all.

Think of the rest of your life.  More importantly, think of the people in your life.  I was accused this very morning of not caring about those people actually.  But, really, nothing could be further from the truth.  I care about them very much and, maybe for that reason above all others, I had to finally pick myself up, dust myself off and learn to carry on.  Do I have fun sometimes as a result?  Yes, I freely admit to you that I do.  Do I sometimes get pinged by guilt when I do?  I do sometimes still, yes.  Not as much as I used to, but I think there will be times when I feel a little unworthy of any kind of life because I lost a child and that will always seem like such an unnatural thing.  But I have always held on to the belief that Fate plays into all our lives and there is a reason I am left behind.  If it's just to be a parent to Marissa and then maybe a grandparent to her children someday, or if it's something more global, I'm not sure.  But, if I'm a shell of a person, then I cheat that purpose.  So, yes, I go to Rush concerts, I go to hockey, football and baseball games.  I go to the symphony.  I am a member at the Pittsburgh Zoo.  I love this town and indulge in the many wonderful things it has to offer as much as I can.  And I've seen and experienced some truly amazing things as a result.  In many ways I am blessed.  That may seem truly obscene to have me say if you're still new to the journey that grief is taking you, and I understand, but here's how I reconciled it:

In the history of mankind, mine is a small sorrow in a deep ocean of sorrows.  Think of all the heartache humans have endured through history.  Whether it's been at the hands of nature, like the leveling of Pompeii to the cruelty of other humans, like the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust, we've had to rise from the ashes of some true horrors and move forward.  And we've done it.  We've shown that we're stronger than the things that attempt to destroy us.  I am as well.

I miss my daughter every day.  Granted, there are things I don't miss.  She could be a total pain in the ass:  opinionated and rude about it.  She saw things in very black and white hues, she never got the chance to mellow with time and learn that the world is all shades of gray.  She was human, so she was flawed.  I am human as well, so our relationship was flawed, but that didn't and doesn't diminish what she means to me.  But I have learned that I carry her in my heart, and as long as I do she lives there a little.  So, at the end of the day, after a lot of time and a lot of work, I can go forward and have some sense of a true life, knowing that she is with me as I do.

So, in closing, if you are wondering if you can ever experience any emotion besides grief again, please trust me that you can.  Allow yourself to.  It's okay to do that.  I believe in my heart of hearts that your loved one wants you to.  It doesn't mean that you've forgotten them.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Country v. Crosby?

I contemplated the hard decision I had to make and wrote about it in my new blog.  You should visit me there to see what I decided.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Finding the New Normal

We're almost there - all the "wisdom" I can impart to you about life after loss.  I hope that all of you who have stuck with me through all of it will migrate with me over to my new blog, Burgh-a-Story.  It does give me a fresh start in many ways to talk about lighter topics and have some fun.  But I'm the same person and the same writer as I am here, so some of the themes I've concentrated on here will seep over there - just with some more sports.  Yet, that's sort of counter to the whole point of this post:  we're not the same as we were before and our lives are not either, so the challenge is to make peace with that.  And that's the complexity of what I've found, really.  I still love the things I've always loved, for the most part, but my perceptions are different, and I react differently to the same things than I've done before.  I've made the analogy before that we're like china that was broken and then glued back together.  I used that at the time to explain we're easier to break once more, but it's also about not quite being as smooth as we once were.  At least that's true for me.  But, it's not just about the inner you, it's about the outer trappings too.  Everything seems different when you look around you.

As I walked the dogs around the block yesterday for the first time in several days (which was probably not super smart - I hit the cold air and realized my face was on fire and I was sweating, so I guess the flu bug hasn't left yet), it occurred to me that the biggest thing the move to Pittsburgh did for me was give me the chance to fold adjusting to life post-loss to adjusting to a whole new environment.  Everything around me was different, so I could concentrate on learning where to buy beer and how to get home from Heinz Field (sounds odd now, but that was not so easy at first) and it was less about how to reconcile a new life in old digs.  I wonder how anyone does it in the same house, actually.  Remember those people who lived across from me who lost their son?  They made major changes to their house, and you wonder now if it was less about updating an older building than it was making it different for the same reason some of us move away.  Maybe they didn't even know that's why they did it - they just felt compelled to make changes.  I never saw our old house after a lot of the remodeling was done, but Marissa did and we've talked about it since.  She's told me it still seemed off somehow and wasn't a pleasant place to be (I'm paraphrasing).  I think for us, the big difference is that so much had gone horribly wrong while we were all in that house that there was just no saving it for us.  I don't care what you updated or how, but it would always be the same walls that housed so much fear, hate, illness and finally grief that it would have kept us trapped in those emotions for much, much longer.  Which is seriously too bad because it was a wonderful house.  In some ways it was my dream house - big lot, pool, that stunning chandelier in the living room with its pine planked ceiling that is like a scene out of Game of Thrones.

Now I live in a much smaller, plainer little house with no pool and a chandelier I was planning on replacing until I found out it was original to the house and then felt compelled to keep it.  It's okay, but it's certainly not Game of Thrones worthy.  And yet, I'm so much happier here.  Of course, there are other reasons for that, and for those, you should read my new blog (hint, hint).

Yet, I've wandered off the mark a bit.  This isn't about moving or houses.  It's about realizing and accepting that things won't ever go back to the way they were before.  Maybe that seems like the most inane and obvious comment anyone can make.  But, I can tell you, I spent a lot of the time in the early months wondering how long it would be before things got back to "normal".  I used that word a lot, like a touchstone.  Therefore, it was important for me to accept that there wasn't any going back, there was only going forward, and that path would look different.  I had to learn to be okay with that.  For me, in order to accept that, it was easier to shake the whole scene up as dramatically as I could without moving to a whole other country (although in some ways, it felt like I had at times).  Many people won't be able to or want to, I know, and maybe, for them, comfort is in being around the things they've always known.  I can see how that would be.  But, for all of us, with the important caveat that anything I say is only as good as my personal experience, the thing we must accept before we can fully carry on is the fact that there is no going back to normal.  If you're looking for life to return to how it was before, then you'll never stop looking.  Once you can wrap your head around and, way more importantly, make peace with what your life is now you can settle into a new normal.

How you do that is different for you than it was for me.  A lot of trial and error probably.  I got lucky.  I got Pittsburgh.  And that's a new normal I can learn to live with.

Friday, February 7, 2014

There Are No Shortcuts, Only Wrong Turns

Unless you’re willing to have a go, fail miserably, and have another go, success won’t happen.
Phillip Adams
So on to almost the last of my lessons for you:  which is that there are no shortcuts on the journey of grief.  And you will pay the full toll.  The other thing that book I was so horrified by tried to tell me is that there would be a long journey before I could claim to feel a little better.  The author herself claimed four years.  At the time she might has well have told me a century!  I didn't have four years to give to my grieving!  I had all those other obligations I mentioned last time.

Well, here I am, well over that mark, and I still have days that kick me around.  Moments that trigger me.  As I was watching figure skating last night, I had to be honest and admit, for the first time ever actually, that I didn't fall away from that sport because Michelle Kwan isn't in it anymore:  I can't follow it slavishly like I did because Kelsey was a skater, and it was because of my pushing that she was.  I've taken back, gradually, a lot of the things I once couldn't face because they reminded me way too much of her, but there is still that one.  Maybe after Meryl Davis retires I can conquer that one, but not right now because, I'm sorry, she doesn't look healthy to me.  Maybe she just has a natural dancer's build, but whatever, it's triggering to me, and little girls watch her and want to be like her, and I'm a little freaked out by that thought, just honestly.

Anyway, whatever I did to shorten the grieving process just dampened the flames in one location, only to have them pop up some where else.  If I lost myself in hockey, there was a lockout, and I was left alone with my thoughts.  If I just tried to power through it, I would end up snapping at people or generally losing it.  I moved clear across country.  Sure, I tell people I did for the sports, and I did.  And for my family, and for the fact that I just love it here.  But, let's all face facts, I did it because my house was haunted and ruined for me.  For all of us.  Moving was the smartest thing I did I think, but the grief followed.  In a way that was a good thing because in those first months when I was living here alone with Cheyenne, I really faced it and dealt with it in the quiet hours.  And that's when I think I knew the truth, and the one thing I can tell you that is an absolute:  you just have to do the work and spend the time.  Trite maybe, but fitting, to say that there simply are no shortcuts.  And any you try, whether they're "healthy" like throwing yourself into causes, or destructive, like drinking or drugs, will not save you from that.  At some point, you'll either sober up and still have to face the grief that sat patiently waiting for you, or you'll die too.  I don't have a lot of statistics to back me up, just anecdotal evidence and my own personal experience, but you can take what I say to the bank.

If you're like me, and that hits you like a cold slap in the face, I can offer this hope:  just because I was grieving doesn't mean there weren't good days.  It doesn't mean that I wasn't able to cope or meet my obligations.  And it doesn't mean that, at some point, just like Ann Finkbeiner said would happen, I, without even realizing it at first, spent more and more time just feeling normal.  As I've said many times before, there is a new normal to contend with, but you gradually find that the loss isn't the first and only thing you think of in a day.  Your loved one is never far from your thoughts, but you can have a life after loss.  Really, you can.

And that is hope.  It's not punishment.  I missed that at first.