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.

 

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.

A belated farewell to Robin Williams – sometimes it feels like it’s about me

Robin William’s death was beyond tragic. If I could have been with him I would have told him how I struggled with this myself. I wrote a few blogs about a recent bout I went through. One was a suicide note: After he was gone: Darkest Days.

A friend  wrote me an imploring e-mail reaching out to me. I changed the wording after I had settled down… a bit After he was gone: Darkest Days 2.

I obviously have a strong affinity for those who are left behind after the death of a loved one. When Williams’ wife posted about allowing them privacy during their “profound grief,” I was struck again by my own personal journey. I have used that exact phrase in my own blog. Ironically (not in a funny way), I recently posted a blog about my grief journey and my own battle with depression: My new reality.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone even reads my blog (save for a few good friends). A few people post on Facebook and other social media, and some tell me they read it. Some say they don’t read it. Fair enough. But without the tangible feedback those in the world of their own depression feel alone.

Reaching out is scary. No one touching you when you reach out is worse.

The other night I had a friend over. I read my bog post My new reality to her and she cried. I realized that it’s too painful for people to read. So if they find it too painful to read about other people’s struggles then it’s no surprise that we keep our demons to ourselves.

Rest in peace Mr. Williams. Your demons are purged. You are missed profoundly by those who loved you most. but you aren’t in pain anymore.

New year, new day, new hour…but the fight continues

depressionI haven’t posted anything on my blog since September 2011. I have started several posts, but never finish them. I think I have to face the demon that haunts me before I can start blogging again.

I told myself that I was going to make a new start this year. I told myself the same thing last year. Other than a few small changes, things remain pretty stagnant.

I have this hill that, at some point in my life, grew into a mountain. When I am able to climb – hands in the soil, nails full of dirt – and get near to the top, I slip back down again. It’s a recurring nightmare, but I’m never asleep.

It may seem cliché. Everyone knows someone who claims to have this malady. Those who don’t understand say: “It’s mind over matter, so get over it.” I wish it was that easy. Even with the intervention of medical remedies it never really goes away.

So no matter what people think of me I’ll post it. I suffer from depression. More often than not it’s well hidden. When it’s not I am usually alone – by choice. Everyone feels sad some times. But those of us who suffer from depression feel it tapping us on the shoulder even on ‘good days.’

To most people I look ‘well adjusted.’ I smile when I’m supposed to. Often it’s because I want to, but when I don’t, as I said, I prefer solitude.

Sometimes I swim – constant and unending laps in a pool; trying to clear my mind, empty it so I can start fresh, or refreshed. It helps, temporarily.

For me, depression has been a prerequisite for writing. Poetry was my medicine when I was younger. It helped. But now depression impedes my desire to write.

I want to write something that people will read and connect with. I want to create words that have meaning, quoted and remembered long after I’m gone. But I don’t have the faith in myself to believe this will happen. This may just be my legacy – the sadness that envelopes me in a dark shroud.

So, now that I’ve written about it maybe I can start writing something again.

My finger hovers over the ‘enter’ key. I hit it. This blog is up and posted. My soul is revealed. And tomorrow, hopefully, will be a better day.

Things I learned from my granddaughter…

We had our granddaughter (age 7) stay with us this week. I realized quickly that all the angst that goes with parenting disappears with grandparenting. Things like dishes to wash can be put off until later. Reading a book together before a chore gets done is o.k. Wearing chocolate from an ice cream cone on your face won’t permanently damage your pores. Things don’t always have to be done on precise schedule; flexibility is always a an option.  Here are a few of the other things I learned:

  • Play now, there’s time to do whatever tomorrow.
  • Don’t sit at the side of the pool – Dive In, Swim, Enjoy.
  • Fun doesn’t have to be expensive. Laughter is priceless.
  • It’s o.k. to treat yourself. Buy an ice cream treat from the corner store and eat it BEFORE dinner.
  • See the world through a child’s eyes and take joy in the little things.
  • Indulge in small pleasures every single day.
  • Laugh until your sides hurt, then laugh some more.
  • Body noises are actually funny.
  • Eat potato chips instead of salad and pretend they’re a vegetable.
  • It’s o.k. to dance around naked and sing after you come out of the bathtub.
  • Be proud of everything you do. A pictured colored outside the lines can still be beautiful.
  • Children grow up far too fast. Make the most of your time together.

What things have you learned from a child?