Friday, July 12, 2019

Facing Grief

(Reprinted with permission from my Slices of My Life blog.)

I had a very long talk with a chaplain yesterday because I have been having a hard time emotionally lately. It has been difficult to maintain emotional equilibrium. I was surprised when our conversation came around to the fact that losing my nephew, David, was still bothering me so much. It has not been that long, and I have always been close to my nephews, so it shouldn’t have been surprising. However, the depth of emotion was a bit of a shock. My siblings’ children are as close as I will get to having children of my own. Of the four I have had the joy of knowing and loving, I have had to say goodbye to two of them already. Both were sudden and unexpected departures. 

As much as I want not to be hurting still from the loss of David, I had to realize and accept that the loss of this precious young man has been stalking me all year. I am angry that my current state of health robbed me of being able to see him more frequently at a time when I knew he was hurting and feeling a little lost himself because he went from having Ben’s two children in his and his father’s care to being an empty nester. I had talked to him about it at my house when he was there a few months prior to his passing. I wanted so much to be able to spend more time with him, but my lack of mobility has hindered me from going anywhere except the doctor.

After the loss of a loved one, life moves on, only a piece of the puzzle of our lives is missing. We can try to pretend that it isn’t missing, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is a gaping hole in our hearts where a person who once resided on this plane is no longer there. 

When we lost David’s twin, Ben, we were all forced to move on immediately. As soon as we got home from the family gathering after Ben’s funeral, we became aware that Hurricane Charley was barreling our way. We were jerked from grieving mode and thrown into survival mode instantly. 

When David died abruptly at the end of last year, it was like losing both of them all over again. The grief from the loss of Ben had been pushed aside in order to make sure my mom and my sister were going to be safe during and after the hurricane. I knew their hearts were broken and I tried to make sure that we were all going to be ready and as safe as possible when Charley came knocking at Mom’s door, where we were all three huddled together. I clearly recall standing next to my mom going through an emergency preparedness list that is permanently tattooed on my brain from spending so many years in earthquake country. After a careful inventory, Mom and I went off to buy bottled water since that was all we needed to be as ready as you can ever be for a hurricane. The quick shift from grief to survival mode grated on the heart, shredding it a bit because the shifting of gears was done without having time to use the clutch.

I am angry that my current state of health prevents me from driving to my mom’s house every other weekend to spend time with her. That is what I was doing from the moment I moved back to Florida in 2010 until I had to give up driving when I nearly crashed my buddy’s car because of back spasms that periodically rocked my body, forcing my right leg to go ramrod straight. That isn’t a big deal in normal situations, but it’s downright scary when you’re driving and the leg that loses control is the one pressing the gas pedal. 

I had to make a quick lane transfer to keep from ramming into a car that was stopped in front of me. I managed to make it safely back to Jan’s house with the help of a host of traffic angels. I went in, hung up the keys, and told Jan not to let me drive again until my back stopped causing my leg to do that. 
It’s been five years since the woman who drove across the continent a dozen times hung up her keys. When my Washington drivers license was nearing expiration, I got a Florida ID card instead. Thus ended my regular trips to visit my family. After moving 3500 miles back from Seattle so I could spend more time with my family, I had to ground myself. Since that time, my condition has made it nearly impossible for me to make the hour long trip even if someone else drives me.

Not being able to visit my mother at this time in her life is infuriating and another kind of loss and grief. Yet it isn’t something under my control right now. If will power and the desire to go were all I needed, I would be there with her already. I need my body to cooperate with me and heal so I can get around again on my own. 

The chaplain and I talked about how humbling it is to have to ask for help. Having to ask for the level of help I have needed for the past five years is downright humiliating. I know that I am a burden sometimes even though I’m told that I am not. I sense the anger and the frustration about having to worry that I am okay and not on the floor somewhere, and I understand it. It is difficult to have to be constantly aware of someone else’s safety. It’s stressful and I know it. It’s stressful and frustrating for me too. The loss of independence is yet another source of grief.

I have been very independent over the years. I moved across the country from central Florida to the Seattle area. Short of going on up to Alaska, something I considered doing when the Wasilla Waldenbooks store became available and was offered to me, I couldn’t have gotten farther away from the family nest. Ultimately I decided to stay in the more moderate Western Washington climate. Yes, i have had to ask for help at times in the past, but it has always been a last resort and an act of desperation after every other avenue had been explored. It has also been only for a short time rather than year after year of varying levels of dependence.

Yesterday I sought help from a chaplain because I knew I needed to talk to someone who was outside of the situation. I knew something was wrong and that I wasn’t figuring it out on my own. I’m so glad I did because it helped. Have my circumstances changed? No, but I think I can stop beating myself up for feeling so down. No matter how much we want grief to go away and leave us alone, it has its own time schedule. We may make ourselves busy and push through to survive the devastation, but that doesn’t mean that the waves of grief have washed us ashore to a new place in our lives, where we can stand and take those first faltering steps forward. Until that happens we can only try to keep the waves from overwhelming us. We must allow the waves of grief to wash over us until they subside into ripples in shallow water. Only then can we move on to a new place.