Posts Filed Under mental health mental non health

I want you to know a few things about grief.

by renegademama

I generally try to avoid writing “helpful instructional” posts, mostly because I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing (you know, in life), but every now and then, fate hands me some piece of information that I think may be helpful to others, so I share what I know. For example, alcoholism.

And now, traumatic death and grief.

For those of you who don’t know, on the evening of November 9th, 2016, my grandmother was murdered by my mentally ill cousin. I was pulling out of my kids’ school parking lot the next morning when my mother called, screaming.

And in that moment I was inducted into the traumatic death grief circle. I don’t love it here, and hope you never join me, but you or somebody you know probably will.

I want to write what I’ve learned about grief because let’s be honest, nobody knows what the hell to do when a friend’s sister, child, spouse or parent suddenly dies. Nobody knows what to do when somebody’s loved one slowly dies. I didn’t. I sent a text or call or card, flowers or food or chocolate, and moved on. If it was a close friend, I showed up once or twice.

I see now that I could have done better for my friends. And I will now.

 

It’s not surprising we sort of suck at this. We live in a culture that does its best to protect us from aging and dying – botox, face lifts, endless “anti-aging” creams, sending our elderly to homes – so I get the feeling most of us don’t want to move too close to the topic of death, and the grieving among us become death beacons. We’re like giant glowing WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE marquees.

And who wants that?

BORING.

When it comes to death and dying, we want to show up for a moment, touch it for a second, then recede quickly back to our fantasy of safety. There’s nothing wrong with that fantasy. In fact it is necessary for life: How else would we feel comfortable every day hurling down a freeway in a box of metal with thousands of strangers who are probably texting?

Delusion of safety.

And believe me, after having it ripped away, I realize fully how we NEED that delusion. Because I’m terrified all the time now, and I sure won’t weep when that’s over. (My dog suffocated in an insulated lunch bag 5 weeks after my grandmother was killed, and we found him dead in the morning, and it was precisely at that point my psyche shifted into random death can occur at any moment mayday WE ARE NOT SAFE mode. And now I’m weird AF but getting better.).

 

I’ve read a lot of posts about “What not to say to grieving people,” and while I suppose that’s helpful, I’m not into it. People say stupid shit. People said profoundly insensitive things, and honestly, if you message a person whose grandmother was murdered wanting details of the crime because you saw it on the news and you’re living out some detective fantasy, nothing I can say will help you. And yes, that happened. More than once.

But most of the time, people just don’t know what to say. Every time somebody said, “I know what you’re going through. My grandma died last year of old age.” I wanted to be like, “Yeah that’s not actually the same thing as having your grandmother stabbed to death by a family member so please stop,” but I knew that person was trying to reach out, to empathize, to help. So for sure their words were not “perfect,” but it’s small, you know?

It stung because it reminded me of my own sense of isolation and loneliness – as in, what sort of freak has this happen in their family – but during those first couple months, damn near everything hurt like hell. Everything reminded me of the trauma. I had to get off the internet entirely. I was a raw open wound and the world was unknowingly chucking salt into the center of it about 80 times a day. So it was more about ME than them. They were never gonna win with me. I hurt too much.

Plus, how can we make hard and fast rules about what to say or not say in a time as personal as grief? For me, I had to make some sick ass jokes. I needed to laugh about some really dark shit – not at the expense of my grandmother, but rather, the situation in general – because the weight of my sadness was crushing and I needed relief to breathe. At some point, I needed maniacal laughter, maniacal laughter to open a vent and let a little of the insanity of the situation out – my brain unable to hold it. My heart unable to house it. My thoughts unable to reason with it.

 

It’s not about saying the perfect thing.

It’s about showing up and meeting people where they are and I think we do that through opening our eyes and really seeing people, in all their grieving mess, and not making it about ourselves, our comfort, our fear. I know immediately when I’m around a friend who I can be honest with and those with whom I need to give the “Oh I’m fine” runaround.

But here’s what I really want you to know:

Grief is a physical pain. It hurts the actual body. In headaches, tension, anxiety, exhaustion – my bones ached. My face. My head. So I appreciated physical help: laundry, cooking, food, cleaning.

Grief scatters the mind. I straight up forgot about a button on my car that unlocks the doors from the driver’s door. I used it a thousand times, then forgot about it entirely for weeks. I’ve missed more appointments the past 4 months than probably the past 3 years of my life. I will commit to something on Thursday and forget on Friday. I can’t figure out simple questions. I grow confused easily. So I appreciated people’s patience with my mistakes and when they didn’t require me to help solve their emotional problems as perhaps we had done in the past, because holy mother, I HAD NO MORE TO GIVE.

Grief makes you super weird. My pain moved from a freight train slamming my body to waves of panic and terror and sorrow to a gray cloud descended over me all the damn time. A heaviness. A strange apathy. And then, at the strangest moments, the wave comes again, and I think maybe I can’t withstand this one.

And I want you to know how much terror is involved in grief like this. If this is true, what else can be true? What else can be taken? 

Every time my kids want to ride their bikes, I want to say “no.” Every time my mom doesn’t text back at night, I wonder if she’s been killed, and my body physically responds. A friend showed up unexpectedly at 9:30pm one night and my heart raced for 30 minutes after because I thought he was the police, there to tell me somebody had died. The simple walk to the door had me panicked. This happens 10 times a day, still, in response to random tiny events. My intellect says, “Janelle, this is nonsense. Stop. My body and heart say: ‘DANGER.'”

I walk around with that inside all the time, and the world doesn’t know.

So yeah, it’s weird and dizzying and painful for a long time, in a literal, material way – and sometimes I feel like I’m going to get carried away into oblivion, and just then, I get a message from a friend that says, “Hey I’m thinking of you and you don’t need to respond but know you are buoyed, and we will not let you drown.” And I cannot tell you how much I think those messages actually made me survive.

And it was the people who kept sending them and calling two weeks, one month, two months after it happened – and still bring it up sometimes – that helped me beyond measure because they give me permission to keep talking when I was afraid to “bring people down,” and they slammed that sense of isolation.

Because in our busy lives coupled with the desire to distance ourselves from death, once the funeral is over or a month has passed, the world says, “Oh you’re fine now let’s get back to the usual programming,” and that is precisely when the agony settles in: Reality to the new life.

But where did everybody go?

Back to life. Back to the routine. I get it. But there are a few friends who stick around, who keep showing up, who keep asking, “How are you?” in a way that really wants to know, and they keep us alive. They keep us above water.

So now I’m going to show up for the grieving when everybody else has stopped asking. When everybody else thinks it’s “over” and “time to move on,” I’m going to come to your door through word or body, and I’m going to say, “Hey. I’m here.”

And whatever happens with you will become the power to get us both through. Your world is falling, and I know it, but I’m here with you so let’s get weird and real until all the waves have crashed, and we’re just sitting here again in the sunshine.

I’ll remind you it will come, as they have done for me.

 

With my Arlo a few days before she died. I don’t know what I’ll do when he outgrows those dino pajamas. She thought they were so cute.

Slowly getting off this mountain

by renegademama

I’ve hesitated to write anything because I feel like I’m a walking cloud of BUMMER lately.

As in: “Heyyy hiiiiii, my grandpa died.”

And a month later, “Hey, what up, my grandma was murdered.”

And now, it’s “Hello. How are you? Our dog died in a freak accident in my daughter’s room.”

Yeah, we woke up on New Year’s Day to find our Labrador, Laser, had died during the night. In my daughter’s room. Just for added horror. Thankfully, the kids didn’t see because Mac and I got there first.

I’m telling you, friends, his death knocked the wind out of me. I spent an hour almost out of my mind, pacing the house yelling and whispering, “Not our dog, too!”

It simply couldn’t be. Not our dog, too.

It simply felt cruel. Mean. Like a few kicks to the ribs when I was already down. I didn’t even have it in me to sit my kids in a circle and give it to them gently. I simply said, “Laser has died” while crying in a doorway, and I let them cry and wail too.

I had no fight left.

Sweet Laser. How do we love them so? The grief is so real.

Our DOG? Our 4.5 year old ball of love and cuddles and warmth? He was the member of the family who was constant, the one who trotted around the house giving joy and hugs and asking for a pat on the head or a belly scratch – pure, uncomplicated love. He was the one who we held in all our grieving. He was the one who held us.

To have him suddenly ripped from our arms in a time when we were already desperate? Well, shit.

I got mad. And then I got really, really fucking sad.

When George found out, she screamed and cried for 15 minutes then crawled onto the couch, pulled a big blanket over her head and body, and stayed there, silently, immobile and non-responsive, for about 3 hours. I pulled the blanket back and saw tears falling from the bridge of her nose.

I patted her back. She pulled the blanket back up.

It was as if she had given up, as if she were saying, “You know what? If this world is like this, I’m fucking OUT.”

Forget all of you.

I could relate. That’s exactly how I felt.

How could they take our dog, too?  Who’s “they?” I don’t know. THEY. The ones who decide this sort of thing: who lives and dies.

God? Satan? The fates? Luck?

For the first time, I didn’t know if I was going to keep getting up and functioning, or if I was going to go to bed and stay there. My life felt pitch black all around me. Dark. I picked up my head and I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t see a way. I couldn’t see what to do next.

I didn’t want to talk to you. I didn’t want to see you. I didn’t want to discuss it. I wanted to pull a blanket over my head and stay there.

If this is the world, I’m fucking out. (And it sure doesn’t help that the outside world has turned into terrifying apocalyptic hell, either.)

 

And then a few nights ago, I was reading a story in one of George’s favorite books about a man who is walking alone over a huge mountain. He’s way up high among the rocks and trees when a storm comes, and it grows dark all around him, and he loses his way entirely. He can’t see to take a step, and he’s stuck up there, cold and lost, so he crouches behind a rock and starts praying. He asks life or god or whatever to help him, and just kind of trusts, and after a while, a light appears before him, a tiny lantern hovering just in front of him.

He gets up and begins to follow it, but he can only see the small circle of light right in front him.  He can’t see the path ahead of him, on the sides or behind, but he can see his footing for the next step. He can see just enough to take a single step safely into the dark, into the nothing, and know he won’t fall.

The light leads him off the mountain.

 

I cried as I read that story, because I realized I am that man, but I also have that light. I can’t see behind me, or above or beside. I can’t even see the path, but I can see enough to take one tiny step in the dark, and if I do that long enough, I’ll get off this fucking mountain.

I think about how grateful I am to be sober. I think about a dear friend who relapsed recently, and wonder if he will survive, and I think about how much grace I live daily to breathe a sober breath. To be here for my family and kids and mom rather than in a street somewhere.

I think about my children, my few soul friends, my husband who crawls around the house on all fours so the kids can pretend he’s a horse. I think about my baby’s dimpled hand patting me as he falls asleep, whispering “my mama” over and over again. I think about the vital beauty of the earth around me, and how at the last, it’s really just nice to be alive, you know? Here. Even among the bullshit.

It really is fucking nice to be alive, with you, with the light and the mountain, and even the pain, because I know it’s from the depths of love. For my grandmother, for my friend Laser, for the uncomplicated devotion between a dog and his family, a grandmother and her grandchildren, and my mom and me.

So we’ll keep walking, and the trust is enough for me.

 

“Once in a while you get show the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

38 Comments | Posted in mental health mental non health | January 25, 2017