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Friday, May 15, 2015

At a Loss

I have been calling my sister-in-law every evening.  And last night the phone call was so heart wrenching, that I had difficulty sleeping.  I want so much to be comforting, but unfortunately do not know what to say, or do to be a comfort.  And is there any comfort?  I suppose not.  And it is so strange to be in the position that so many of my friends and family have been in for the past 6 years.  I am definitely at a loss.

So I have been thinking about what it means to be sympathetic, empathetic, and how best to comfort.  It is not about giving advice-there really is no advice that you can give a mother who loses a child (or a wife who loses a husband).  And as I often remark-it is not a one size fits all world-so what comforted me-may not comfort her.  But it also isn't something that you can ask about to the person you are trying to comfort.  If you were to ask me - what comforted me when my husband died, or now that I am struggling with the death of my mom, or the death of my niece, I am not sure that I would know.  It certainly will be something I think about.

Can we give lessons in empathy?  Is there a rule book on what to say and how to say it?  I know that my presence is helpful-just be there.  But at what point is more required?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Managing the Losses

Last week my family suffered another huge loss.  My 30 year old niece was found dead.  It seemed that she did not show up for work and then when the police came to her apartment-they discovered her body in her bed.  They think that she went to bed and then did not wake up-and the cause of death has yet to be determined.

How do we cope with this?  My sister-in-law has been through so much loss-her father when she was 10, her mother at 24, her husband at 30, her brother at 60.  Now the loss of her daughter - and the funeral was on Mother's day.  My niece was an only child-so cherished by her mom, that they were best friends.

In the past six years-I too have been through many losses.  Bruce's death was sudden, then the death of my best friend's husband, most recently my mom, and now my niece.  And I wonder how we deal with this much.  True, I believe that we can be resilient.  But it is not a given that we will experience these losses and continue on with our life.  There are those who do not cope, who cannot move on.
I have been told to focus on what I have-and our growing family.  But it seems to me that it is not that simple.  Almost like the theory that bringing home a new dress will replace a favorite that you now must discard.  And that analogy is ludicrous - but that is all we have.

In a few weeks, I will welcome a new grandchild and I am so grateful for the family that surrounds me.  But the weight of the loss stays with me.  How do we continue to put one foot in front of the other, to welcome the additions as we mourn the losses?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cumulative Losses

I am sad.  Sad and lonely.  Bruce is gone, my mom is gone and I am alone in the house.  True - I have my wonderful children and grandchildren, my terrific aunt and cousins close by.  Is it enough?  No-I continue to long for a person to wake up next to, someone who, if in the middle of the night I have a nightmare will hold me and tell me that it was just a dream.

And yet, that one thing remains elusive.  So is the answer to try hard not to need it?  Or to continue searching for it-even though the changes of getting it seem dim.  And as time passes, I continue to be so sad and think about the cumulative losses.

My Mom

On April 4th, my mom passed away.  A huge loss and one that I will continue to deal with for a long time.  Last week I wrote this about my mom.  I am posting it here:

My Mom

There was something magical about my mom.  She cast a spell over all who met her and once anyone met her, they never forgot her.  Certainly she stayed in the spotlight for all of us.  Sometimes the talk was about the entertaining unique ideas she had about life, other times we talked about her ability to get under our skin.  Today, I want to talk about those characteristics that I hold in my heart and will live on in my memory.

My mother was my ally against the larger world.  As a child she came to my aid against anyone who dared harm me or threatened harm.  She battled lots of fears throughout her life, but in her defense of me, there was no fear.  She would face any enemy-no matter how daunting.  She often would say in a deep jocular voice, “If they hurt you, I’ll kill them”.  And even though I knew she was joking, there was also an intensity in that statement that packed a powerful message for me.  I knew that I was very important to her.

And there were many times she came to my aid without consideration of herself (a tricky feat for a narcissist).  I remember the day that Alex was circumcised.  I made many mistakes that day. I fed the baby moments before, brought my 2 year-old Kate in to see the procedure and had no idea what was ahead and how I would respond to it.  Of course, everything went wrong-I could not look while he was circumcised (even though by that time I was a nurse), and Alex proceeded to projectile vomit and Kate crouched in the corner.  My squeamish mother rose to the occasion and helped hold Alex and clean him up, and then put Kate to sleep while comforting me. 

There are many other examples, but perhaps the most poignant was when Bruce died.  Of course, I was in shock since it occurred so suddenly.  My mother called me every night for years, even though at times, I was so non-communicative.  But she did not stop calling.  She chatted with me about her day, her random thoughts on life, and told me in so many ways how much she loved me.  She even tried to get me to “come through my grief” by informing me about the pain it was causing her that her daughter was so bereft.  And if I was not answering the phone or not at home, she would leave a message:
“Hi Jill, I know that you are out and I hope that you are having a wonderful time, whatever you are doing”.  This message was consistent-and usually, if truth be told-I was not having a wonderful time or out having fun.  But those messages also had some hidden reassurance.  I was not alone-there was someone watching out for me-keeping track of what and how I was doing.

And keeping track of me, was a skill she practiced religiously.  I used to joke that she never knew where I was or what I was doing when I was an adolescent, but when I was an adult-she was like a FBI agent on a special reconnaissance mission to find me.  Although we never spoke of it, we were very much connected because of that.

She was not a phone person-she proclaimed, but we seemed to find lots to discuss and sometimes argue about.  Our political discussions were usually heated-and I would often challenge her foundation for the beliefs that she held.  She was full of contradictions: she belonged to the National Organization for Women, but would cut Irving’s meat for him.  She watched both Bill O’Reilly and Bill Maher.  She loved books-but I rarely saw her read one.  She spoke with authority even when she had no knowledge of the subject matter.  She was the entertainment editor for the Kingsborough Community College paper, but often made up the information she wrote-not having time to read the book or see the movie.  I remember driving in the car to Kingsborough and my sister-in-law and niece were in the car with us.  The security guard looked in the car and assumed that my niece was the student.  My mother proudly displayed her press pass and student ID.  The look on his face was priceless.

My mother loved to write and often contemplated the meaning of words.  Sometimes this was annoying if you were trying to have a serious conversation with her and she picked apart every word.  “What does it mean to have “fun”? Her high school education did not fit her intellectual acumen (she would have loved that I used that word).  And she loved dialogue, so conversations with her could take unexpected turns as long as she had a captive audience.  She also wrote poetry-it was often profane and always rhymed.  But she was very proud of her verse and would send it to everyone.  She so wanted to be published but never had the follow-through, a trait that she easily admitted. 

She had a computer early on but never quite understood how to use it.  A few years ago, when she complained that her computer was slow, I attempted to clean up her files.  She had many videos that people sent her-and none really were worth saving.  I remember one of a cat smoking…… She could never understand what a search engine was or what AOL had to do with the internet.  She would call my aunt or I and we would explain again how to attach a file or save something to a flash drive.  Bruce used to tell me to advise her to turn off and unplug the computer, pick it up, put it in a box and seal it and send it back.

She was enthusiastic to a fault.  Amazed by the world as if she came from another planet.  And although I often thought that she should have been exposed to whatever caught her attention at the time-I could not help being amazed along with her.  She delighted in little things.  She commented after she moved to New Jersey – that you could actually find a parking spot.  And Jersey had such great stores!  By the way, her shopping habits were legendary-she was the original Loehmann’s shopper-probably the first one through the door when it opened.  In Jersey, her favorite store was Home Goods.  Irving would drop her off and when he came back 6 hours later – she was still walking through the aisles.

I could go on……. But I will stop here.  I believe that when people die, it is important to remember the gifts that they gave us.  A few of my mother’s gifts to me were her sense of wonder and enthusiasm, her quick wit, her devotion to my happiness, her love of shopping.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Child in Me

I just finished watching a movie that was on some random channel.  "You've Got Mail" is an old favorite, and at the end-Meg Ryan cries and so did I.  The movie is kind of a lost and found take on the boy meets girl..... She loses her livelihood - the shop around the corner - and the loss is accompanied by the renewed remembrance of her mom.  She also finds true love and the end hints at the fact that all will be right in the world finally.

Meg Ryan cried and so did I.  She cried at the find-I cried at the loss.  Each loss calls to mind every other loss.  How much our lives change in ways that we cannot imagine or predict.  That is promising I guess when times are hard.  Since change is inevitable - I guess we should embrace it or at least try to build a skill set to best deal with the very big changes.  I of course have been thinking about my mom-fondly now.  I think that I can look back right now and remember some of the very good memories and there were certainly good memories.  The night before heading to summer camp as a child-we would get Carvel sundaes and talk well into the night.  Glad that the adult me can understand the child I was and the mother who had challenges.  I forgive her for what she could not give me, and hope that I can continue to appreciate what she did leave for me as a legacy:

My love of books
My love of language
My questioning about some of the world's ironies
My sense of wonder and enthusiasm-my mother was always amazed at things (true that sometimes these things were not truly amazing-but were new to her), but that ability to get excited about little things and not be jaded or unfazed.  That was her magic.

I think that this is a good way to view a death-if we can look back and remember those gifts, and diminish any pain that was caused.  It is not as if I want to remember a perfect  mother - that would not be healthy.  Instead I want to acknowledge it all and select some of the good things to tuck away and keep with me.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Living in the Moment

Since Bruce died, I have heard the phrase "live in the moment" hundreds of times.  How do you do that and plan for the future?  How do you do that and make things happen?  I believe in being proactive-trying to figure out and then get what I want.  And at this point, I have some ideas about what I want.

It is funny (and I have commented on this previously), that life before Bruce died was like treading water.  Sure there was some turbulence, but for the most part - my course was set or if it wasn't it-there was the team to deal with it.  Now, I am steering the ship.  I recognize that "living in the moment" means to appreciate being present to appreciate the now - throughly and mindfully concentrate and not be distracted.  But I also need to pay attention to where I am heading.

Thinking ahead has helped me when the moment that I am living in - is horrible.  My favorite expression: "This too shall pass"- kind of the opposite to being present.  But can't I do both?
Maybe even bad times demand attention, however how do I keep hope present?  Hope that my life will smooth out and the emotional ups and downs will calm.  I can only look forward, and have faith that the future moments will be ones that I want to linger with.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Another Milestone on the Horizon

The start of the New Year makes me think of all important dates coming up-the anniversary of Bruce's death, my birthday and our anniversary.  This year we would have been married 40 years.  Quite a milestone to consider if he were still alive.  Sometimes (but not often) I stop and think about what life would have been like.  Bruce would have loved all of the life changes - the marriage, the births, being a grandfather to 3 little ones (actually 2 right now with another on the way).  He always acknowledged our anniversary as a very important date on the calendar.  And - in a very atypical fashion, I was the one who had difficulty remembering the day.  Was it the 25th or the 26th?  I was always off by one day for most things.

We got married a week after I turned 19 years old.  March has a special significance in light of this and it follows on the heels of his death in February.  I think that I have written about my birthday issues in past entries but just before he died - he would spend the week trying to help me acknowledge the date.  It is funny how he never seemed to understand that the date was best recognized by the presence of all of my family.  I hate to think that I am narcissistic - but in this case, I guess that is the correct label.  Yes, I want that day to be about me, and it upsets me a bit that I am easily disappointed by what my birthday does not bring.  One of the goals that I work towards is taking care of myself, and my birthday is a perfect opportunity to do that.  So, what do I want to do and how do I make that happen?  Rather than dismissing the day as a statement about how "not important I am and do I really expect everyone to drop everything and help me celebrate" - I am trying to do something by myself-for myself.  This has now translated to spending the day at home, watching television, knitting, baking, listening to music, and whatever.  It also means that I will buy myself a gift.  Does it sadden me that I need to do this - that there is no one there to look out for me and orchestrate the day?  It would be a lie to say that I am not sad about that.  But still it never felt quite right to put my celebration in someone else's hands.  And I believe that a birthday should be acknowledged and yes, celebrated.

And so I approach another year and another set of milestones, my sixth year as a widow, my birthday, my wedding anniversary date.
And I will focus on not focusing on what it means to be alone, and how different my life is now.  Instead I will try and recognize my strength in dealing with the unthinkable events in the recent past-both bad and good.  And I will try and contemplate the future that I want for myself and try and make that happen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Recapping in light of an anniversary

I am coming up on six years.  I guess in the light of the 34 years that I was married, six is nothing.  Yet it feels like a lifetime.  Someone else's lifetime.  The strange thing this year is that the days match the days of the year that Bruce died.  Six years ago this week, Bruce and I had celebrated Valentine's Day, and had a good long weekend.  We stayed home and graded papers and then on Friday the 20th we got up and went to the gym and by 1pm he was gone.

There are flashes of memories of that day.  The run up to the front of 24 hour fitness, the sight of Bruce on the floor, my screams and cries, my attempt to run to his side while being held back, the paramedics, the ride in the ambulance, the aloneness in the hospital ER waiting room, the entrance of friends and family, the ride to Western Med, the waiting room there, the overhead pages calling the "code" over and over again and finally the goodbye after the decision to terminate resuscitation attempts.

I also remember bits and pieces of the days, weeks and months following his death.  The first year of me going through the motions of living my life.  The adjustments of a life alone, the despair that accompanied the overwhelming loneliness, the challenges of work and taking care of Bebe.  The years that followed enabled me to find a routine without Bruce.  And then there was the joy of being a grandparent, and celebrating my children's movement through their life cycles-a wedding, the births, new jobs, new houses.

It is still difficult to believe that my life has changed so much in the past six years.  Could I have predicted it-of course not.  And it is that overriding thought that helps the most.  I cannot predict the future and in that there is comfort because the possibility exists that good things can happen for me.
I can sum all of this up by saying that I am "cautiously optimistic", a phrase that I used often before Bruce died - as I anticipated all of the good things that life seemed to bring in the months before his death.  I was able to get a position closer to home, a new house blocks away and some financial security that we had never had in our 34 years of marriage.  We were both ecstatic, believing that good karma had finally come our way-and then there were a series of unfortunate events - and finally his death.

So as I acknowledge another year-I am grateful that I have come this far and am able to deal with the sometimes up hill battle.