Learning from loss

I’ve been writing blogs about my journey for a website called Headspace. Right now I have blogs two posted:  Till Death Do Us Part: Living the Vows of Marriage and Life After Death:
Death, Grief, Mindfulness and Meditation. Two more are slated for publication in November and December, and I’ve been commissioned to write another two. They’re all based on this journey from grief to ‘new normal,’ and in between. The amazing thing is that I’ve come to a point where I can write about the sadness but the ending is uplifting. That’s a huge leap from then to now.

In my last post here I wrote about the beginning of a relationship. It was an amazing journey. I learned I could have feelings for someone else and not feel survivor’s guilt. I learned that I could enjoy life and feel passion. But I also had to learn other lessons that weren’t always uplifting. In the end we parted, and my lesson since then has been that I can live my life as a single person and be a whole person on my own. It’s another chapter in this ‘new normal’ life.

I don’t see myself being alone for the rest of my life. I will never forget Bob and he will always be my husband. Those of you who have gone through this understand. But many of us also feel the need to connect with someone to move into a new chapter even, or especially, after such a profound loss. .

airbnb-superhostOne of the most influential things in my metamorphosis from sad and bereft has to do with opening my home to strangers. I became an Airbnb host in October 2015 and, to date, have hosted more than 40 guests in my home, from as close as my own city. to as far away as New Zealand and China. With each guest I became more confident and comfortable sharing my home. I offer my guests a place of respite and sanctuary from busy schedules in their everyday lives or if their visit brings them here to study or work. In return, they’ve given me gifts and notes of thanks and written glowing reviews on my Airbnb site. I must admit I’m a bit jealous because my cats – Joey and Cassie (get better reviews than I do! And for my efforts I’ve become an Airbnb Superhost, which is really just a status but it’s nice to be recognized for being a kind, caring host.

This week I begin what I think will be the final phase of my mental health healing. I’m taking a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) program for depression, to help with depression relapse. I’ve felt strong enough to handle the sad moments myself these past few months, but having tools to combat it when it reappears can only be a good thing. Depression is like any disease. It doesn’t just disappear. It’s ongoing and must be treated. I use mediation, exercise, work, positive affirmations, gratitude and have good friends surrounding me with love. I am thinking positive thoughts. It feels like another lifetime when I was holding on to dear life. That’s a good thing. I’m stronger now.

I’m even strong enough to work again and actually can focus (no more ‘widow brain’). This year has brought me new clients and a positive attitude about my abilities, capabilities and talents as a writer. I have a more focused perspective about what I want to do and the clients I want to work with. I am manifesting my desires and they appear.

We all lose loved ones and I am close to losing someone very special in my life again. It’s the natural ebb and flow of life. But if I have learned one thing from loss, it’s that someone new comes into our life at just the right time when we need them. And if we are lucky they stay with us, at least for as long as we need them. This keeps the flow coming in. Life and death are not mutually exclusive. They are what we must experience in our time here. And with loss comes more understanding about ourselves. I have learned a lot from loss, and I am sure I still have more to learn.

 

Learning from loss was originally published on Write From Here

May his memory be a blessing

So many days and dates have passed. A year from when I was in the hospital came and went. I meant to acknowledge it and I did, in my head, but not through my fingers – words on the page. 

Some days I slip back, but now I feel like I’m taking three steps forward and only one back, once in a while. 

I am not a widow anymore. I am a person standing on my own. But sometimes I lean on the pasGirlfriends-ID11545-640x427t. People can talk about former relationships and no one flinches, but when someone mentions a loved one who died they cringe, so I share my memories with others who have lost their partners and we nod in unison. We remember fond memories as the sadness recedes it’s still there. How do we explain this to someone who doesn’t know? And how do those of us left behind move on, cope and remember? This is what I believe.

When you lose someone from this earth, when their last breath is expelled, there is an indelible mark left on those who spent their lives with that person. The closer you were to them the stronger the bond. Eventually we begin remembering happier times, but we never forget, and a pain sears through our chest when some memories come. We don’t want to let go. We need them to be remembered. 

I’ve been wanting to do this and I’m ready. I’m writing a book that I hope will help others understand so that that when they go through the loss – and it’s more likely than not that they will – hopefully they won’t feel so alone. So the book begins like this…

One, two, orange, blue. How many will it take? Should I just use the whole bottle?

I was counting pills that night. There was no rational thought. I had reached the bottom of an endless number of sad, lonely days. I felt weak and welcomed death. Anything I could do to alleviate my pain had to be better than what I was feeling day after day after day.

Profound, gut-wrenching grief is horrible. In the beginning you don’t believe there is anything but pain. The journey itself seems insurmountable. But the opposite of living is not living, and for those left behind it leaves another horrible hole of despair.

When someone you love dies there are lessons to be learned. But when you are awash with grief you are numb. It’s nature’s way of protecting you. Slowly the protection peels away and then comes the excruciating painful reality. “He is here. No, he’s gone. I should tell him that. Oh, no. I can’t. He’s not here…” It plays over and over in your mind like a horrible song. It knocks you over and punches you in the gut. You get up. It happens again.

I’ve heard people say that when a loved one dies friends are there for you, but then they go away. My story is different. For me people came to help, some I barely knew, because I posted on social media and people felt a connection to me and my story, and to Bob. They were knocking at my door. Calling me. Some shared confidences in person, others on social media, telling me secrets about their own lives and intimate journeys. Some things I remember, but not everything as I fell into and out of the fog.

Each person who entered my life over the course of days, months and these past years had a lesson for me. My mind selectively chose which ones to remember. Many have been repeated and ingrained in my heart.

When someone you love dies, part of you dies too. My fight to find purpose in life again has been long and arduous. Grief took away my role as wife and partner. It shattered family ties. Some mended, but will never be the same. And so there is more loss. 

I am not overtly religious, but one thing I heard over and over again was the phrase “May his (or her) memory be a blessing.” This is a Jewish honorific – an expression conveying respect or esteem when addressing or referring to a person. I read somewhere that when we mention the deceased person’s name and we say it along with “blessed memory” this infers that each time you think of someone who has died, or say their name, they are blessed, and so are you. So the memory you have of them turns into a blessing for you and for their soul.

I want Bob’s mehappy woman-570883_1280mory to be a blessing. He was a beautiful person and I hope that I can share that too, as well as the lessons I learned through grief. The lessons he taught me when he passed on. May his memory be a blessing.

One Day at a Time, Part I

In March I wrote about the fact that I was taking a program – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Depression. This was the second mental health therapy program I’ve taken since I was released from the hospital. It has been a challenge, to say the least.

I’ve been writing about metamorphosis lately and that’s where I believe I am now. I had a meeting with one of the case workers at the hospital who ran the CBT program and I had to tell her What I Learned and How I’ve Changed. So, being me, a writer, I wrote about it.  I’ll break this down into a few posts over the week because it’s lengthy. I will start here with the background to fill in some of the blanks.

June 23, 2015

The past two years has been a tumultuous journey for me. It has also been a time of many epiphanies. To say ‘it hasn’t been easy,’ is an understatement.

I believe I have always suffered from depression since I was teenager. I was diagnosed when I was 40. I was put on medication (Prozac). I weaned off (with my Doctor’s permission) hoping that I would be able to manage without it, but found myself in that dark abyss of depression again, so agreed to go back on the medication. I was on it for almost 20 years.

Despite the medication I have always suffered some symptoms of depression and low self-esteem and extreme anxiety. After Bob died (June 8, 2013) I started a slow decent, fueled by intense grief and (I learned later) the medication no longer working. Instead it was making me more depressed and I became suicidal. My anxiety was out of control. The slightest little issue sent me into a frenzy. I couldn’t think straight. I felt immobilized by fright.

I was hospitalized in October 2014 after an attempted suicide. Doctors quickly diagnosed the biggest issue,  the medication no longer working and, ironically, this meant it was making me even more depressed. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward and my medication changed under the care of a psychiatrist. I attended classes and through the learning was able to label my anxiety issues. My low self-esteem was also at an all-time high (no pun intended).

I was released from hospital approximately a week later and began an outpatient group therapy– Track to Wellness. This program gave me tools to deal with my depression and anxiety and an overview of other group therapies available at the hospital. I requested and was accepted into CBT for Depression.

After a four-week three-hour activation sessions, followed by eight week, three-hour CBT group therapy sessions, including homework every night detailing everything from how I felt on a scale of 1 to 10 about every single thing I was doing to noting what made me laugh, positive events and many other details, I emerged in a very different place than when I started.

Looking back, I do wonder if part of this is be due to the two-year mark after Bob died. Maybe the worst of my grief passed by calendar days. But it’s more likely a combination of many things, the biggest lesson being to “live in the moment” and exactly what that means. I leave that for my next post.

 

For a thousand years

I have been at a loss for words for months.  But as I approach the second anniversary of Bob’s passing, June 8th, I cry more often, sleep less, feel desperately lonely.

After this length of time people drift away. They assume you’re okay. Yes, I am better than I was, but I still struggle every day.

Today I was looking for the lyrics for a song I liked and I found the “official video.” It was written for the Twilight Saga, so there’s pictures of the wedding between the two main characters nestled in with the singer, Christina Perri, but it’s the song I love. The words and melody are beautiful . I began singing along. By the end of the song I was in tears.

The tears were short lived. I’m okay. But the memories and the pain never go away. You always remember. And, I believe, that you should never forget.

I consider myself lucky to have loved, and have been loved, unconditionally. I just wish it had been for a thousand years, or more.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Finding my way out

My first message to friends and family from the hospital

October 28, 2014

I have thought about writing but honestly haven’t had time and I’m not sure I can put this into words. I just want to give you a small window into what happened and what is going on.

This has nothing to do with anyone but me. Technology played a huge part in helping me. I reached out in that way not because no one was calling me but because I suffer from depression complicated by grief and choosing a combination of healthy and, in desperate times, unhealthy coping skills to deal with what I’ve been going through just wasn’t working – especially the unhealthy part. I thought about calling people; a crisis line because I was in crisis.  But the mind doesn’t work clearly when it is in a state of desperation.

Every day I have an epiphany and I’m sure this isn’t the whole story, but I spent the last 16 months researching grief and trying to get help. I knew I was making some positive progress but in the last few weeks I hit a brick wall. I reached out for help through grief therapy, my GP, counselling therapy…the list is endless.  I was in a state of panic but kept trying to hold it together. In times of crisis the mind doesn’t think rationally. We don’t understand what is going on. We just hurt and try to drive away the pain. This wasn’t the first time this happened in the past few months. I’ve been monitored by my doctor but if I don’t know what is going on how can I articulate it?

To complicate things, like many of you, I am a high functioning person but in my case it’s a high functioning depressed person. I have been on meds that helped me cope but I lost my anchor, the man who knew me best and who could calm me down when I felt overwhelmed.

When I came here, to the hospital emergency, a doctor came in and assessed my situation immediately. “First, I don’t think the medication you’re on is working anymore. This is complicated by grief and all that you’ve been through since then. I’d like to suggest we change your meds and, if you can hold on, we will get a bed for you and have an entire team working with you.”

I am confused by exhaustion and depression but didn’t miss the last part of that statement. A team? But I turned to my daughter and asked her “what do you think?” I needed to be sure I was making the right decision, though who really knows what the “right decision” is. She is sympathetic and analytic. “Mom, you’ve been looking for help. I think you should do this.” I agree. I spend two nights and almost two days in emergency, first in quarantined confinement, then am moved out of the high-risk area.

I am tired and starving – I can’t eat the food they give me and, as a result, my brain becomes strained and doesn’t function as it should. Finally, on Monday, I am told a bed is ready for me. I am admitted to the mental health ward. I am not scared, but confused. I do feel safe but I don’t know what’s going on. Add anxiety to my list of issues. It was on high alert.

After a few days I fall into the routine. A nurse in the morning, a new one on night shift. I meet with my psychiatrist. He is amazing. He agrees with the doctor in emergency.  “We need to change your meds. They worked for you before but they aren’t helping now.” Having been diagnosed with depression over two decades ago it’s not hard to believe that the original medications have stopped doing the work they used to. It happens. “Y

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow but I do know that I need to change my cognitive beliefs  and between medication and one on one therapy and people who are trained to help me do this I am cautiously optimistic. Do I know what my purpose is in life yet? No. Will I start to live with hope and positive beliefs? I’m trying to learn how. Many will say “You have to want to and you need to start thinking positively” but it’s not that black and white.

I feel like I’m in a safe place where people get it. We are all here to fight our demons and we want to get better. The care is exemplary. I have given my medical team cart blanche to allow and restrict me where they  see fit but I also see that, as a high functioning person who has always been adept at hiding feelings, my medical team is giving me more liberal treatment. I have day passes now but I must promise every day that I will be sure to be safe. So I need to be cognizant of my feelings and keep asking myself “do I feel safe?” And right now I do.

I now realize in this,  one of my most rational moments over the last 16 months, that my actions could cause pain to others and that they will not ‘get over it’ and won’t be ‘better off without me.’ My biggest wake-up call came when I saw my daughter walk into my house that night with tears in her eyes. I knew I had to try and figure this out. So I will work hard. I will falter. I will pray for strength.

Please know I thank  you all for your caring and love. I don’t check email regularly right now so I apologize for not replying earlier and I won’t be checking often for a while.  Please just know that I appreciate my PWAC family helping me and continuing to support me. If I can ask one thing, please send me strength and clarity.

Down the Rabbit Hole: In and Out of Sanity

If you feel upset reading this feel free to stop. It is my journey, not yours…

Saturday October 18 2014

tears 2 I had tried it all – psychotherapy, grief therapy, grief groups, alternative therapies…the list goes on and on ad nausium. I knew I was in trouble. I needed help. I saw my therapist that day. I probably didn’t articulate what I thought because my mind was muddled. She drew me pictures of life as we would like it to be: line from bottom to right going gradually up. Then reality: twists turns and circles as you climb up, sometimes a dip down along the way. I’d seen it before. I knew this. But I knew something wasn’t clicking. What I didn’t realize then is that somewhere inside the twists and turns I had been spiraling rapidly downward – down the rabbit hole.

I analyzed;  looked for triggers. Knowing the pain of grief would come unexpectedly, expecting it to abate eventually. Sometimes I think I am ok. Other times I know I’m not. I had been spiraling downward into the vortex of what I believed to be grief, but it was so much more than that.

That night the pain was unbearable. I couldn’t see the light. I could end the pain but if I was gone who would look after the cats? Sounds crazy, I know. I have family and friends but this kind of pain takes away all rational thought. You just want it to end. But the cats were with me, looking at me. I haven’t had them for long. We had just started to bond. In fact, in less than a year everything that lived and breathed in my house was gone. I couldn’t think of getting more living creatures. The story began March 1, 2013. That was the day we had to put one of our cats down.

*****
I was trying everything I could do to keep him alive. I knew he was suffering. We can IMG_0012put animals out of their suffering. We do everything in our power to prolong the suffering of people. The irony isn’t lost on me. But cat number one was very, very sick. And though I try to ease his pain and hide his rapid decline, Bob saw what was happening and said that it was time. He was right. I was beside myself with loss already.

We took him to the vet. He was a beautiful cat, so loving, and so happy until he became so sick. I held him in my arms; wrapped in one of my daughter’s old but still soft baby blankets. They asked if I was ready. Who is ever ready for this? I swallowed hard and nodded, buried my face into his fur and whispered in his ear “I am here. I love you. You will be oknow. You won’t suffer anymore.” He took a deep sigh as the injection went into his veins and he was gone.

I cried long and hard. This is not my first loss, but it the first in less than 12 months of three great losses. That same month Bob got sick – March 11, 2013. Our journey is chronicled here in my blog. On June 8, 2013 he was in critical care where he died – gone, forever.

Cat number two couldn’t seem to cope. His world that has been rocked beyond anything familiar. On February 14, 2014, Valentine’s Day (the irony isn’t lost on me), I must do it again. A friend comes with me. I go through the exact same thing like the first cat, except for the most important thing, Bob isn’t with me. I wrap the little guy in the blanket and whisper that I love him in his ear, then he is gone.

I feel alright after my friend and I part. I go home, then break down, laying on the ground kicking and screaming and crying, “What did I do that made me so bad that nothing that breathed the same air that I did was no longer with me? Why? Why? Why? But no answers come. I pick myself up and think I’ll go on with life, but life isn’t what I want it to be.

*****

Down the Rabbit hole

Someone has to take care of the cats. I posted it on Facebook. I was counting pills. I knew others would be sad but my muddled mind said “They will get through it. They will go on with their lives. God knows I’ve tried but I can’t keep doing this. It’s been 16 months and I hate being alone, lonely.” The wine heightens my depression. I have hit the bottom of the rabbit hole.

IMG_0573My post, intending to find someone to look after the cats, becomes a cry for help. From Montreal to Winnipeg to to my hometown, people call each other, then call me. I try to ignore it but eventually a good friend calls and I answer. I am crying and incoherent. I scream for people to leave me alone. She hangs up and calls someone closer to where I live. He comes over and calls another friend who arrives. Each time someone walks in I tell them I’m o.k. and scream “please go!” But they tell me they can’t; that they care too much. Texting, phone calls, social media goes into action. Friends leave as family arrives.

Then my daughter walks in the door after driving from out of town. Tears in her eyes, she hugs me and I cry. More family arrives. I am told they won’t leave me, that they are here to help me. My daughter leads me up the stairs and helps me pack a bag, speaking gently. An ambulance arrives. I am more coherent. I answer their questions but keep saying “Please don’t make me go.”

What I don’t realize is that help has come. What I needed is there. And if I just reach out my hands I will get what I need; what I have been looking for as I spiral down the rabbit hole. A new chapter in my journey has begun…

After he was gone: confusion and grief consuming

TorahThis week I went to Jewish Yom Kippur services. This is the part of the Jewish High Holidays celebration and this particular day is called the Day of Atonement, where we atone for our sins throughout the year and ask ‘God’ for forgiveness for our everyday transgressions – large or small – and promise/vow to do better in the coming year.

An integral part of the day included a lengthy Yizkor service honouring the memory of our dead loved ones.  We read poems and Jewish death liturgy. It was an intense service where the words spoke to me again and again. I was enveloped in mourning those who passed before me. I believe this was the beginning of my week spiraling down into another deep grief depression.

This week I met with a friend – an editor – who agreed to talk about a submission I wanted to write for a book anthology on death, and to bounce around some ideas with her for an outline. As we talked, the memories flooded back again. Tears welled up. I was living the last moments of his life, questioning the rationale for what happened – Why did he die? Did I do all I could? Why couldn’t I save him this time? Could we have done something differently?

writingAfter my friend left, I tried to start writing my piece, but it didn’t seem genuine. The words and thoughts were stilted. It didn’t capture what I felt. It wasn’t conveying my feelings. I began wondering whether I really wanted someone to judge my personal writing and possibly reject it because it didn’t meet their standards. When you pour you soul out and others dismiss it as substandard would it be too difficult to bear?

Even after an evening with my weekly meditation group didn’t relax me. The act of meditating became a futile attempt to calm a wandering mind focusing on finding words for the anthology story and coming up with empty platitudes, stale remarks and boring analogies.

The fact that our Canadian Thanksgiving is this weekend probably added to my muddled mind. Another holiday without Bob. The enveloping sadness that was taking over and then there was October 11th. It would have been our 29th wedding anniversary.

That night I couldn’t stop thinking. The yearning of my loss morphed into a need to be held, but there was no one there to hold me and tell me it would be alright. I was, again, back in the time of feeling bereft.

Today, I am wrung out from crying, wailing and flailing my fists at unfairness, aloneness, desperation. Can someone please bring him back, reverse time, make this as if it never happened?

Grief is a never-ending cycle. Slowly, through time, the positives in life begin to outweigh the negatives. We are more present, living in the moment rather than living in the past. The bad days don’t go away but we begin to see the triggers and rationale. But  that doesn’t negate the grief. It slowly heals, then we fall back and, like a Band-Aid® being ripped off quickly and without care for the pain it inflects, the wounds, partially healed, are revealed and the anguish and heartache return.

It’s been 16 months since he was gone. I have fewer people to turn to. Who wants a call in the middle of the night from a woman who can’t stop crying? Shouldn’t I be over it? Is that what others think? And yet the grief continues. It doesn’t take a holiday. It is part of my life and comes up unexpectedly again, and again, and again.

I know I did all I could to try and save him, but it was his time. And now I must live without him. I still don’t know how to do that. I haven’t figured out what my purpose is. After a day and night like I just went through I just feel wrung out. It’s easier to crawl into bed and never come out.