You Hurt Too

Sometimes on our journey we meet people who are also grieving. They inadvertently hurt us with their grief.

I know I am stronger because I don’t blame myself, but it hurts. I can’t help you if you don’t want to be helped and you can’t blame me for how you feel. We are at an impasse.

I no longer feel pain. I can’t cry because I’ve built a wall around myself. It’s my protection. I can’t feel empathy and that scares me.

It all changed when he died and I was propelled on this path. I don’t recognize myself anymore. I hope I will be able to let this wall down so I can feel again, but I can’t trust right now. Where did I go? I miss me.
 

You Hurt Too was originally published on Write From Here

Eulogy for my Dad

Eulogy for my Dad

Friday, October 7, 2016

dad-gradDr. Murray Boles, August 27, 1928-October 5, 2016

As many of you know our dad’s passing on Wednesday [October 5, 2016] came as a surprise. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about because Dad wasn’t the sick person we saw the past two years. He was a vibrant and active man, a healer and kind father and husband.

I could tell you about all of dad’s professional accomplishments but they really are too long to list so I’ll try and summarize.

Dad was born in Windsor, Ontario and so was my mother, but they met in London, Ontario, where I live now. Dad was attending the University of Western Ontario to become a doctor and mom was attending Victoria School of Nursing.

Dad received his degree in diagnostic and therapeutic radiology and was a member of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and Fellow of the same prestigious organization, as well as a Fellow of the American College of Radiology.

He worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Sarnia, Ontario waiting to immigrate to the US to practice there and started working at Grace Hospital in Detroit. He later became Chief of Henry Ford Hospital Therapeutic Radiology. In fact, he started that department and is a legend in the hospital because he forged into new area of cancer treatment and research there. He also held several teaching positions including Clinical Instructor, Assistant Professor and Acting Chairman in Radiology at Wayne State University Medical School. He was Director of the Therapeutic Radiology Residency Program and School of Radiation Therapy Technology at Henry Ford Hospital.

Mom and Dad moved to Columbia, Missouri in 1983 where Dad opened his own cancer clinic in conjunction with Columbia Regional Hospitals, where he also held the title of attending physician. That’s our dad on paper.

dad-2The man I remember, as a child, was very unassuming and quiet. He didn’t talk to us about his work but sometimes we’d go to his office with him. My biggest thrill was being allowed to use the typewriter. I think that’s where I got my start learning to type so quickly, that and mom making me take typing in Grade 9, which I thought was ridiculous but look what I do now. I’m a writer and can type 80 words per minute. So, yes, mom and dad had our future quietly planned, at least they knew we were going to attend university and created a life that allowed us this opportunity.

Of course there are so many memories I have of growing up and what I tell people is that, truthfully, I had a perfect childhood. We had loving parents who really cared about us. We learned the value of a dollar. Our parents came from modest families. When they married they weren’t wealthy. They bought their dream home in Farmington, Michigan for $25,000 and the living and dining room parquet floors were a place for my sister, Anita, and I to practice gymnastics because they couldn’t afford to furnish those rooms for several years.

One story dad told us was when he was in medical school and got a notice for a second term tuition. Though he worked in the Canadian Naval Reserve during the summers, something he was very proud of, especially in his retirement years, but that year he didn’t have the money to pay for his second term tuition. He went to the accounting office and they told him to fill out some papers and he got a bursary. Dad would give mom a dollar each week and asked her to hold onto it for him. They would go to the infamous Bobby Sox diner in London on the weekend and he would use that to have a hamburger. Being a skinny guy and putting all those hours in for school and internships, etc., this was a wonderful treat.

Dad had a loving family. We often visited our grandparents, dad’s parents, Bloomie and Joseph who lived in Windsor with dad’s brother, Uncle Lew. Lew and Dad were actually 21 years apart so Lew was more like a big cousin rather than our great uncle. The home they lived in was built by our grandfather and our father. We had our cousins, Stephen and Ellen State and their parents, Frances and Jack who lived in St. Thomas, Ontario.

Some of my fondest memories of bonding with dad included the day he decided to make bread from scratch with me and Anita. Mom was fastidious about a cleanly home, so he shooed her out the door that day and promised to have the place spic and span when she returned. I’m not sure how clean it really was because I remember being covered with flour from head to toe, but the result of our hard work was delicious.

On Sunday we would attend Hebrew School and Dad would take us to the bagel store and bring home a dozen bagels and cream cheese and lox and make scrambled eggs and we’d have a yummy brunch.

Dad also had a wonderful sense of humour. He would always pull a prank on mom on April Fool’s Day. Each year she swore she wouldn’t fall for it, but she always did.

Dad loved music. Every Sunday he’d pull out the portable record player. I know all the words to all the songs from Gigi and loved singing very song along with Maurice Chevalier.

He loved sailing, though his only solo attempt resulted in husband and wife overboard. Mom wasn’t impressed, to put it mildly. He enjoyed playing golf and tennis.

Our parents were married for over 50 years before mom became sick and died in 2009. They were the love of each other’s lives and we all missed mom, but dad missed her terribly. They were each other’s best friends. Every morning before he headed to work Dad would bring two cups of coffee on a bedside tray to their bedroom. Mom would be in bed and he’d sit on the side of the bed and, sipping coffee as they’d talk quietly together. He’d go to work and come home at night for dinner because they both felt it was important to be together, as a family, at the end of the day. As I said, it was a pretty ideal upbringing for my parent’s daughters.

In 2012 dad decided to move back to Michigan. He said it was an area he was familiar with and he would be close to me and his brother. He loved Canada and was proud to be a dual American and Canadian citizen.

I know this is just a sketch of our father’s life. He was a remarkable man. And today [at his funeral], as we put him to rest so that he can be with others that he loved so much, we ask that you remember him and all the wonderful times that you had with him when he was alive.

Eulogy for my Dad was originally published on Write From Here

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

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.

 

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.

After he was gone – 11 months, I am…

touch fingersIt’s been 11 months since I touched his hair, smelled the cologne on his shirt, traced his fingers with mine.

I haven’t marked every month through writing, but I instinctively know the day. It smacks me in the face unabated. No warning. A song plays and tears streak my cheeks. For me the pain is good. It keeps his memory alive.

I remember someone telling me that it’s o.k. to keep telling your story because every time you tell it, it’s different. I’m now keenly aware that each time I share our story it’s becoming more of an abbreviated version: “On March 11th, 2013 my husband called me from work to say he had to go to the hospital. On June 8, 2013 he died.”

Sometimes I invite the listener to check out my blog, if they want to know more, but really, I write about my journey for me. It is catharsis. Like tears, writing purges my anguish. It’s a temporary liberation from sorrow. Re-reading the words brings him back to me, for a moment.

In addition to going to a grief group, I started seeing a therapist. I was desperate the first time I walked into her office in the midst of another bad week that came out of nowhere. “One more time telling his story…our story,” I thought. I’m so tired of telling it over and over again.

TearsI start to talk and words tumble out on top of each other. The tears are embedded in the narrative. “I don’t understand why this keeps happening,” I say, about these days that side swipe me out of nowhere. She explains the ebb and flow of grief and that it’s natural to feel all these emotions weeks, months, years later. “Years? Really?” But I realize my desperation to keep his memory alive. Feeling pain is my tribute. Forgetting him isn’t an option.

This week she gave me homework: “Exploring sense of self by completing the phrase ‘I am…’ (or related phrases).” So I mark 11 months since he was gone by looking at who I am now.

  • I am…no longer someone’s wife. And this starts the tears again. I lost that definition the day he died. I hate the title “widow.” I’m not that…but I am.
  • I am…not who I was. I was me, but I was also Bob’s wife. I planned my days around “us.”
  • I am…not as bereft as I was months ago but still missing him terribly.
  • I am…lonely but getting used to being on my own. But I am still lonely. Everyone went back to their lives. Mine is shattered and unrecognizable.
  • I am…reinventing myself. Without being a wife and losing half of me when he died I’m an emerging as new person. My acts and actions aren’t always predictable.
  • I am…unpredictable.
  • I am…stronger than I was 11 months ago. I’ve learned to do the jobs he did – get propane for the barbeque, putting up curtain rods, painting, reaching that top shelf (he was 6 foot 2 and I’m 5 foot 2)…but that doesn’t mean I like doing these things on my own.
  • I am…trying to be a good mother, but I am not the same mother I was. You must try to hide your feelings from your children (sorry if they’re reading this). My journey isn’t theirs.
  • I am…truly happy that I chose to move from “our home” to “my home.” I feel safe here. I brought pieces of Bob with me to create a new place for us. I don’t live with his ghost, in a physical sense – seeing him in a spot in the house where he used to be. But he is here with me in a positive way.
  • I am…living a dream. I would like to believe that this chapter in my life isn’t real. I am watching it from outside. I will wake up and he will be next to me. But it doesn’t happen.
  • I am…not over it. I never will be. Slowly the pain will fade, but the loss will always be there.
  • I am…grieving, and this is what it feels like.

One month after he was gone

Our Wedding

Today marks, by the calendar numbers, one month since he died, June 8, 2013.

Last week I didn’t cry. Instead of finding solace in not crying I worried my lack of tears meant I wasn’t a good wife/partner. I worried I had cried all the tears I could. What is that saying about Crocodile Tears? According to Wikipedia they are “superficial sympathy…a false, insincere display of emotion.” I am trying to make them come but they don’t.

This week they are back. I am in denial again. But now the denial isn’t as shocking. I just look at his side of the bed and think “He’s not there.” Tonight I cleaned the kitchen table. I went behind the chair he always sat in and thought “he’s not here.” And that was it. Would that be acceptance? And yet I can’t accept this. It’s still just a bad dream. It’s me wanting it to be just a bad dream.

I keep having replays of that scene in the movie Steel Magnolia’s where Meline (played by Sally Field) tries to come to terms with the reality that she just buried her child.

“God I want to know why?…No it isn’t supposed to happen this way…I just can’t take this.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-Ai4SUrj8w. In the end the scene takes a humourous turn, but I’m not feeling much laughter these days. That’s not reality.

I have tried to get the “cause of death” for the insurance companies but no one seems to know. I call and call and get passed off to someone else. Finally I go to see our doctor and she says she will get it. Today someone from our doctor’s office called and said the information came in and the doctor wanted to talk to me to explain it, so I went.

It isn’t easy talking about the details of how someone died but when I read the report all I could see was that recurring word “unfortunately.”

Unfortunately, this pneumonia progressed…Unfortunately, he was transferred to the ICU and deteriorated…Unfortunately, after a few days of treatment the family decided to withdraw (intubation).”

Like we had a choice? Should I have let him stay with that horrible tube down his throat; his face swollen from being propped on his stomach, then turned over, looking like he had been in a fight? Puffy features on his always slender, long face and his strong square chin. It wasn’t Bob. And when we removed the intubation and they shut off the machines, it didn’t take five days or five hours (as we were told it could). It took five seconds. No time at all.

And now the tears are back. Now I can’t stop crying when I think of him.

No one will ever know me like he knew me. No one will remember what happened when my mother died. No one will understand when I tell them something that happened when he and I were the only ones present.

Yes, I am taking care of myself. Yes, I am getting therapy. Yes, I am going to a bereavement group where others tell their stories of losing someone close, many spouses. Some can’t forget after three years or more.

I hear clichés over and over again:

You won’t get over this, you will just get through it.
Normal is just a cycle on the washing machine.
This is your new normal.

Then there are the ones that make you feel dissolute in a desolate wasteland because you can’t see or touch or hear or feel these things:

He’s an angel on your shoulder.
He’s watching over you.
He’s telling you what you should do.

Really? Because I can’t hear him. I can’t feel him.

And then there are the little things I miss. I want to touch his cheeks to feel the unshaven stubble. I tried to feel that after they unhooked  him from the machines. He was so cold and there was no stubble. I touched his face in the casket and it was a terrible feeling – makeup. No, I will never, ever feel that stubble again.

I want to hold him and feel the scar on his back where he had a benign lump removed. It gave me a sense of reassurance. It was him. We were connected. He knew my body’s quirks, I knew his.

I want to trace that one fingernail with my finger; the one I traced every day and gently chastised him about biting. He said that it was crushed at work in a machine and the nail never grew back. Whatever it was, that, and every physical, tangible connection I had with him is gone. It’s just a memory.

Today marks, by the calendar numbers, one month since he died, June 8, 2013.