Grief and Loss Support

Month: January 2017

Anger… God… and “it all happens for a reason”.

They say the five stages of grief are 1. Denial 2. Anger 3. Bargaining 4. Depression and 5. Acceptance.   If only grief were that clear cut.  For most people – it doesn’t work like that.

Denial and Bargaining sort of came as a joint stage for me.  Despite knowing that my husband was dead the minute I really looked at him that morning, I still prayed to God the entire time the EMTs were working on Chris.  I promised everything and anything I could think of to God that morning if he would just let them bring him back.  Which I suppose was also denial, because deep down I knew he was already gone.

I’m not sure that I will ever get to acceptance, or what that would even look like.

I don’t even really like the categorization of “Depression”.  I guess it makes sense.  But depression gives me the impression of someone incapable of functioning, and while that may be true in the very beginning, I don’t think grief becomes acceptance because you’re up and about going to work and enjoying yourself every now and then.

I say my three stages of grief are sadness, anger, and inappropriate humor.  And I switch between the three back and forth with no linear progression whatsoever.  Sometimes each emotion lasts a few minutes, sometimes a few days.

Anger is so common after the loss of a loved one.  I will say, I am very lucky that it does not show its ugly head for me as often as sadness and inappropriate humor.  But it is still there in the background.

When you lose your spouse at a young age, you don’t just lose the person.  You don’t just lose their presence in your today, but you lose the future you were planning and looking forward to.  You feel cheated.  And you just can’t help but think to yourself sometimes that this is just not fair.  You don’t just mourn them, but you mourn the life you were supposed to have together.

I was angry with myself.  I was angry that I didn’t make changes in my life to help Chris and I be healthier together as a couple.  That I didn’t push the importance of eating healthier and going to the gym, and taking better care of ourselves before a heart attack took him in his sleep.  I was mad at myself for not digging deeper into his complaints of heartburn the night before he died.

Eventually I had to forgive myself.  I had to accept that there was nothing I could have done.  The “What ifs?” plague most of us.  If only I had gone to wake him up earlier that morning.   But at the end of the day I had to tell myself he was a grown man, and if his heartburn was bad enough that it was borderline heart issues, he could have said something and gone to the hospital.

In the beginning I was furious with Chris.  I was angry at the overarching fact that he died.  He promised he would never leave me and he broke that promise.  He had the nerve to sweep me off my feet and give me a taste of what true happiness was and then he left me here to face this world without him.  How dare he?  I was angry at the details.  I was angry that he never went for a sleep study when I knew from his snoring that he stopped breathing in the night.  I was angry that he didn’t take better care of himself.  I was angry that he didn’t immediately refill his high blood pressure medication.  When I moved out of our apartment, two weeks after he died, I remember finding golf balls and throwing them as hard as I could off the walls.  I always said if he walked through the door tomorrow I’d hit him before I hugged him.

But then I had to forgive him too.  Because I know if he did walk through that door the very first thing that would come out of his mouth is how sorry he is.  How he never would have left me by choice.  I had to literally imagine him apologizing to me in my head in order to let certain things go.  I had to realize that yes, he was a bonehead for not taking more medical concerns seriously, but he was 34.  You never think, even with high blood pressure and probably sleep apnea, that you are going to die in your sleep at 34.  If we were 60 and he didn’t want to take it more seriously, I’d have kicked his ass.  But he was 34.

That’s not to say I don’t still get frustrated and anger doesn’t spill out.  I do.  When I have to do something for myself that he should be here to do for me I think “God Damn It, Chris!”.  Just today my dad was talking about how I have a bunch of stuff that had been taking up storage space in a room he is renovating and how I have to find a place for it, and out burst “Sorry I was supposed to have my own fucking house to put it in!!”  And then I bawled for an hour and felt even worse that I made him upset.   I have moments of anger still.  But thankfully it is not something that lingers with me the way it could.

It is very common when something like this happens to be angry with God.  Or if you’re not a religious person, with fate or karma or the universe or whatever the powers that move us be.  But especially if you are a religious person, it is really tough to keep faith when you do bargain with God and you do pray and pray and somehow God still takes that person from you.  And each person is absolutely entitled to that anger.  Because it isn’t fair.

I was raised Catholic but I don’t consider myself to be a particularly religious person in the strict sense of it.  I do believe in what I choose to call God.  And I’m not saying that anger at God isn’t normal, or isn’t justified.  All I can speak to is why I, personally, haven’t found myself angry with God, in the hopes that maybe someone else could relate.

I was used to hearing at funerals “God chose to call – insert dead person’s name here – home”.  And when it is the funeral of a 95 year old person who had been suffering from ailment and was in pain and had lived a full life – that was comforting to some extent.  But when bad things happen to good people, there’s little comfort in claiming it was God’s plan.  Then you just want to ask why God feels the need to do horrible stuff to good people, and that sucks.

At Chris’ funeral the priest spoke to how everything at one point was attributed to God’s will because we didn’t have science or technology to explain why things happened otherwise.  Progressive for a Catholic priest.  I liked it.  Earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes were God’s anger as opposed to the plates of the earth moving and weather patterns.  Disease and illness was God’s plan instead of biology.  (I am not here to have a philosophical and theological debate on Science vs. Religion or the wormhole you could go down with the line of thought that God ultimately created science and biology).

The priest said that God didn’t choose to take Chris.  That biology will tell us what happened within Chris’ body to cause his death, and that God was just as sad as the rest of us but that God will welcome him home nonetheless.  That resonated with me.  And again – that’s just me and my beliefs.  I’m not saying everyone should agree.  If you’ve lost someone you love and you’re pissed at God – who am I to tell you not to be or that you don’t have that right?  All I can speak to is what I believe.

The hardest justification I had when it came to God, the universe, fate, karma whatever it is you want to call it –  is my belief that good things happen for a reason while simultaneously bad things can happen to good people for no reason at all.  I don’t believe there was a reason, other than high blood pressure and genetics and biology that Chris had to die.  It wasn’t to make me stronger or teach me a lesson or further my path or anyone else’s.  He just died.  This may not comfort others.  Some people do feel there was a purpose to their loved one’s death, and in some ways I’m jealous of that.  I don’t feel that he died for a purpose.  Sometimes I think it would be easier to wrap my brain around if I did.  But it makes me angry to think of him having to die for some bigger purpose to be fulfilled.  I guess in my mind no purpose is worth him having to give his life.

But I do believe I was put into his life to make him happy before he died.  I do believe he was put into my life to show me what true love and true happiness really is.  And I believe God brought us together for a reason.  Not to test me, not to challenge me, but to bless me with his presence and his love even if it was just for a short time.

But isn’t that hypocritical?  To believe the good happens for a reason but not the bad?  I grappled with that for a while.  How some things seem so predestined and meant to be, while pain and hurt can seem so random.

I’ve put these thoughts out on my Facebook page in a prior post: There is a driving force behind us all and it is a force of good.  And if we allow it to guide us, through faith or prayer or whatever it is you believe in… it will do its best.  I think of that force as God but you don’t necessarily have to attach religion to it.  But we also have free will.  We make decisions for ourselves.  Science and biology play their part.  So bad things can still happen, despite the best intentions of God.

I believe that if we allow ourselves to be, we will always be guided to where we are supposed to be.  It doesn’t mean that bad things are part of the plan or happen for a reason.  But I was supposed to be with Chris.  We were supposed to share our love before he left this planet.  If anything, I thank God for the fact that I got to have the love I had with him at all, even if it wasn’t for as long as I wanted.

It is not fair that I had to lose him.  But what would have been more unfair is if I never got the chance to love him at all.  Even if that means there are times I still look up to the sky and say “Ugh, wtf Chris!”

Good Grief, Anyone?

 

 

Remember when Charlie Brown used to say, “Good Grief”?  Let’s talk about good grief.

What is grieving well……what can it look like?

Since everyone is unique, the grief journey looks a little bit different for each of us. However, some things will be constant.

We will miss our dear loved one.

The pain is very strong year one, and somehow intensifies in year two as you are no longer numb.

You have to put one foot in front other. Many times in robot mode for quite some time after close loss.

So here is a little cheat sheet on how to beat the “Grief Monster” at his own game.

Good grief looks like:

  • Finding someone who “gets it“. Make a buddy. It may be a complete stranger.A buddy with some common thread. Maybe the circumstance of death, the age, the date, possibly your own connection, like your age, how many children you have, or your proximity.
  • Feel what you feel, whether it is anger, sadness, loneliness, isolation, happiness, or seeking out new friends. Feel what you feel, acknowledge it, do not hide from it. You have the right to those feelings. Not handling them and feeling them will lead to a longer, hard grieving period.
  • Exercise, yes that is right. Find exercise you enjoy. Cardio is good. I myself, balnace things out with yoga, hot yoga, and kickboxing. They keep me off anxiety and depression medication and keep my mind and body fit. Exercise releases amazing feel good chemicals in your brain.
  • Find away to express what you are going through. Journaling, artistic expression, music, gardening, and photography are all some ways to put your feelings into an art form.
  • Stop complaining about what you don’t have and really look around and see who and what you DO have. I bet you have some good things going on. It is super hard to focus on the good, when you are in your hardest part of life. However, channeling positive energy brings in and out more positive energy and experiences.
  • Work through your grief with a Grief Counselor, they are trained in this extremely difficult life challenge. Let them help guide you on your grief journey.
  • Be open minded. You deserve to be loved, get love, have fun and experience good times again. Leave your heart and mind open to new experiences.

 

Be well,

Jules

Friendship and Grief

I had nine bridesmaids.  Sure, one was my future sister in law and my maid of honor was my sister, so that makes them technically family.  But I would say they are also my best friends, family ties or not.  And this wasn’t a situation where I was roping in distant cousins to fill out the bridal party.  I have nine best friends.

I have been so extremely lucky to have collected into my inner circle some of the most amazing women along my path through life.  They represent the very best of the different stages of my growth into who I am today.  One dates back to kindergarten.  A couple from growing up in Hyde Park.  Another is my best friend from high school.  My best friend from college.  A couple I met later in life through work close to a decade ago.

And those are just the ones I consider my besties.  That doesn’t even take into account the rest of my HP girls, college girls, countless work friends, my future sisters in law on Chris’ side, cousins, we do care warrior sisters.  Or my guy friends.

If Taylor Swift took a look at my life she would be like “#squadgoals”.  But this isn’t a post about how popular I am, I have a point.  I’m just extremely long winded.

The point is, when you wake up one morning to unexpectedly find yourself widowed at 34 years old, whether you are lucky to have a whole network of people or even if it is just a few close individuals or family…. there are people who love you, who loved him, who want to help however they can.  And they have no clue where to start.

I’ve had girlfriends come right out and tell me they don’t know how to be a supportive friend through what I am going through.  They don’t know what to say.  They don’t know what to do.  They don’t know if they should call every single day and check in on me or if they need to give me space.

My friend the other night, in reflection of the upcoming one year mark, mentioned that this past year didn’t look like what she thought it would.  She expected me to be calling hysterically crying at 3am and she was anxious that she wouldn’t have known what to say in those moments.

For some, that might be how they do lean on their friends.  For me, while I have cried this year more in front of people than I ever have in my life, 90% of my tears come in private.  When I’m in my car, when I’m in the shower, when I am lying in bed trying to fall asleep at night.  And it isn’t because I am ashamed of them, or because I don’t want people to know, but rather that sometimes you just need to cry.   And I know there are no words that anyone could say to bring him back.  There’s no magic advice that a friend could give in the middle of my crying to make me miss him any less.

But there are things that friends can do to help.  I figured I’d pull together what I could think of as a start.  Again, this is based on my needs and the way I grieve which is so different person to person.  The best thing I can suggest is to ask someone going through grief “what can I do to help?”.  Chances are, they will tell you.

1. Talk about it.

I’ve heard people say they don’t know whether to “bring it up” because they don’t want to remind the person of their loss.

Unless I’ve just been introduced to Justin Timberlake, Channing Tatum, or Tom Brady, I’m pretty sure there is nothing that could distract me from reality enough that I would forget that my husband is dead.  Actually, I take it back, I’m pretty sure if I met Tom Brady I would instantly wish Chris was there with me to shake his hand.

You aren’t reminding us that they are gone by bringing it up.  We haven’t forgotten.  If anything, we like to know that other people are thinking of our loved one too.  That they miss him too.  That he is not forgotten.

2.  When you ask us how we are doing, do not tilt your head.

There are two ways that people ask how I’m doing.  One is the straightforward, “how are you doing today?” – where I know they genuinely want to know the answer and they are prepared for whatever I have to tell them.  The other, is when people try to “soften” the awkwardness of the question somehow.  There is a look of pity that comes over the face, the words seem to dance as if to a melody of some sort off their lips, eyes squint up and inevitably… the head tilts.  I’m not saying the person is not genuinely concerned.  I’m sure they are.  I’m saying they are not genuinely comfortable with the conversation, and that leads me to give my standard answer of “hanging in there”.

If you can’t master the rest of it, at the very least – stop tilting the head.  I can’t take you seriously when you look like a confused dog.  There seems to be a direct correlation between the degree to which the head tilts sideways and the level of discomfort of the person asking the question.

3.  Fight every urge you have to offer some cliche.

The best reaction I received when I went back to work was a coworker who just looked at me in shock and went “Yo.  WTF. I don’t even have anything to say.” That’s honest. Last week when I was discussing with my girlfriends the week in February that will contain Valentine’s Day, his one year anniversary, and his birthday – my girlfriend looked at me and laughed and was like “Wow that is really going to suck”.  And that was the perfect response.

Because the time old sayings we use around death are only comforting to those who lost their 100 year old grandmother who had been in pain and suffering for the past few years.  For anyone else, they suck.  This did not happen to make me stronger, in no universe is it acceptable that my husband had to die to teach me a lesson.  Time does not heal all wounds – it will get better and easier in time but I will never be the same person and it will never go away completely.  God did not need another angel, he’s got plenty and my husband made fun of Helen Keller far too often for him to be God’s first choice in a pinch.  Yes, I know I am young, and thank you for saying I am pretty, but that does not mean I need to move on ever, let alone right now, and it is in no way a consolation for losing the love of my life.  And what are you saying… if I were ugly it would be tragic but since I’m cute it’s not that bad?  The time may come where some day I will put myself out there again or it may not, but either way a good friend will support whatever feels right.

4.  Talk about yourself.

I am still me.  I am still your friend just as much as you are mine.  And I get that I need some extra TLC right now, but sometimes it is also nice to get out of my own head.  I want to know how my friends are doing.  Friendship is a two way street, and I want to be a friend as much as I need mine to be there for me as well.

A huge part of this is not comparing what you are going through to what I am going through.  I can’t tell you how many times a friend has had an issue and then apologized for complaining because in comparison it is nothing compared to what I am dealing with.  I appreciate that sense of perspective, I do.  But I just told someone today that I do not have a monopoly on emotions because my husband died.

Your shitty day isn’t going to get any better because you think about my shitty year in comparison.  However, your shitty day could get better if you want to talk about it and hash it out and find ways to laugh.  I’m not a wife anymore.  Let me still be a good friend.

5. Laugh with me and help me make memories.

Trust that I know what I need.  Sometimes I will need to be alone and I will need to cry it out.  Sometime I will try to make plans, and think I am up for something, and bail because I’m having a rough day and putting a bra on is simply outside my capabilities.  Be understanding of those moments, but still invite me to do stuff, because sometimes crying is exhausting and I just want to have fun or laugh.

I made my girlfriends go with me to the movies to see “How To Be Single” the weekend after Chris’ services.  They thought I was nuts.  Completely nuts.  And some of them look at me like I am insane when I make really dark jokes.  And those that have been touched by close personal loss, however, make the same really dark jokes and get it.

And just know that in the middle of making amazing memories and laughing and having a great time I could completely break down and cry.  Out of the blue.  Unexpectedly.  Grief is messed up like that – you can be happy and sad at the same time.  A couple months after Chris died I traveled to Louisville KY and spent the weekend with friends for my 35th birthday.  We went to see Garth Brooks on my birthday and it was amazing.  It was one of the best experiences I have ever had.  It was like a bucket list item to see him live.  I had so much fun.  And yet when he sang If Tomorrow Never Comes I ugly cried on a friend’s shoulder through the entire song, and I wasn’t much better through The Dance.  And my friends were there.  To rock out with me through the fun songs, and to rub my back and let me lean on them through the tough ones.

It is crazy how sometimes the best times make me miss him the most.  Those “you should be here” moments like when my friends rallied to do a charity pub crawl with me that he always took part in.   The most surreal thing is a house filled with laughter without his voice mixed in.  I can be overwhelmed with joy and yet painstakingly aware of his absence simultaneously.

 

Just as there is no road map for grief, there’s no road map for being a friend to someone going through tragedy. I wish there was. But it makes all the difference just to know there are people who have my back when I need it.  At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong, and nobody knows what they are actually doing.  But knowing that you are figuring it out together, with your squad by your side makes all the difference.  I may not pick up the phone and call at 3am – but just knowing I COULD and there would be someone there to answer and listen if I wanted to – makes me know I”m not going through this alone.

 

 

Who am I now?

Seven years ago, I was 34 years old and life was a lot simpler.   Johnny and I had a small family, just us and our 3 year old son.  I had always had things planned out, and had done things the “right way”, my way.

I worked hard as a full time elementary school teacher in Boston Massachusetts, and was a good mom and partner.

I was happy.

Then one day, EVERYTHING changed.

I woke up to the sound of banging at my door.

A Brockton police officer was at my door. I thought…..they have the wrong house, I didn’t do anything.

Well no….I didn’t do anything…..but they did have the right house.

My partner, Jon had been killed in an automobile accident on his way home. The hospital had been trying to reach me, as his next of kin.

That great, beautiful life I had all planned out……came to a screeching halt.

What the hell was I going to do?????? It was me and my three year old son, Jayce.

All alone.

No Daddy. I had to take care of our little boy and the baby just developing inside of me. You see, I was 3 months pregnant when Johnny died. I had a whole lot to figure out.

Fast forward, to today. This is not the ride I intended to be on. Not the game I expected to be a player in. However, I decided a long time ago….my life would not be defined by Johnny’s death.  But, how wrong I was, kind of.

I am defined by being Johnny’s young widow….in so many ways. But it is not the only way I am defined.

I never wanted to be a victim. I never wanted my young children to be given a “free pass” to act up, because their Daddy died.  I held myself to high standards, and still do. After all my children were robbed of their amazing Daddy, I will be certain that the rest of their years are amazing.

With the help of Maureen Walsh of Grief Weavers, I learned how to cope with Jon’s death. I learned how to handle the loss my sons would endure. I learned and I questioned. I asked a shit ton of questions.

I began to realize, being a young widow in South Shore Massachusetts was a lonely affair. Where were the support groups to join? Where was I to go?

Where was the “Young Widows for Dummies” manual?

I never found it. SO I worked on creating what I knew should have already been created.

Welcome, to We Do Care.   A movement created, to care about others…..just because.

When someone is in need, you should care, just because. You should step up and be the 5% that DOES something…..not the 95% that waits for everyone else to care.

 

Much love,

Jules

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not quite a New Year yet…

Like many people I was happy to see 2016 go.  I’ve seen the memes that 2016 was written by George R.R. Martin and directed by Quentin Tarantino.  The amount of loss that 2016 brought across the board was staggering.  From beloved artists, musicians, actors and public figures, to countless not famous people whose departure from this world left wounds of grief just as deep if not as wide felt, 2016 will be the year that the world mourned together.

And it wasn’t just death, though there seemed to be a lot of it.  2016 was ugly.  It was filled with conflict.  Terrorist attacks around the world, the Miami nightclub attack, racism, sexism, attacks on police, scandals, and that is without even getting into politics.  There were moments in 2016 when I looked at the state of the human race and actually thought to myself “at least my husband doesn’t have to see this”.

I’m sure 2016 was a great year for some.  To me it will always be the year my husband died. On February 17, 2016 my entire world shattered in an instant and my whole future disappeared as I knew it.  And time started over.

So I rang in the beginning of 2017 without that fresh new year feeling of hope and a fresh page to start a new chapter. The Shaughnessy calendar no longer begins on January 1st.  Instead it is as if I am approaching 11 months into year  1 A.D. and this time the A.D. does stand for after death.  My therapist refers to it as “the year of firsts”.  The first time handling any special date, anniversary, holiday, or even just simple stuff like the kickoff of football season is brutal without them there.  My hope is each time you have to face it again down the road, maybe it will suck just a little bit less.

But I do feel as if I am almost to that new year hope.  February is fast approaching, and I’ve made it through my first set of holidays without him.  All that is left is Valentine’s Day and then it will be his one year anniversary.  In my head that is my light at the end of the tunnel, that is my new year approaching.   When I think of “resolutions” or goals I have for myself personally, in my head they are for after I get through the 1 year mark.

My goal for year 1 A.D. was just to survive.  To somehow put one foot in front of the other.  Don’t get fired.  Stay out of jail.  Shower routinely.  But also to feel every gut wrenching bit of it.  Don’t numb it with booze or drugs or food or sex.  Don’t ignore it by pretending everything is fine. Cry.  Talk about it.  Write about it. Cry some more.

I’m not saying that after the year of firsts is over I will be fine, or that somehow grief will go away.  I’m sure it will never go away, and it will still be really hard.  But I will have survived an entire year without him when I wasn’t sure in the beginning how I’d make it through each hour.  The doubt of “Omg how am I going to get through this?” can be answered with “The same way you did last time”.  To me that is at least something to find comfort in.

For the absolute worst year of my life, year 1 A.D. has also seen a lot of good moments.  I’ve laughed a lot more than I ever thought possible.  I’ve traveled a ton. I started a new job.  I’ve met new people and I’ve embraced the overwhelming love and support from my friends and family.  I’ve created so many new amazing memories along the way, just like he’d have wanted me to.   But just like 2016, I won’t be sad to see it go soon, and when that happens I’ll wish everyone a Happy New Year.

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