Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘Good Grief’

Don’t Die!

From Angie’s Diary. Excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter by Gabriel Constans.

Don’t Die!

I fell in love with Robin the first day we met. She was playing her role, as a recently admitted hospice patient, with great style and flair, while I lumbered through my part as the experienced “seasoned” social worker.

She wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award and didn’t give a damn about her looks. Her body looked like a skeleton with a layer of skin painted on with a thick brush. A blue and green scarf covered her almond-shaped, balding head. Her eyes sparkled like diamonds and her smile hung in the air like the Cheshire cat.

She had a warmth and graciousness that the worst ravages of metastatic breast cancer could not hide. Entering her small, low-income apartment by the sea, felt like entering a sanctuary or coming home for the holidays.

Her one-woman play about a terminal disease had about a two year run.

She talked openly about dying, but more about living. She wasn’t afraid of death, but she loved life. She loved her mother, her boyfriend, her family and friends. She loved music, art, beauty and nature. She was thirty-eight years old and she wanted to live until she was an old woman with grandchildren. She kept waiting for a new treatment, another remission, some kind of hope or miracle. It almost came twice.

An experimental trial with a new drug regime was supposed to be available through her HMO but kept getting put off, then delayed, eventually fizzling away into the land of false promises. Then came the dream of a cure with Angiostatin and similar therapies, which exploded across the media and public airwaves as “extremely hopeful cures for cancer tumors.” Again she was told of some local trials and assured that she was eligible to participate, but this too seemed to fade into oblivion as time slipped by, leaving her to use whatever means she had at her disposal – blood transfusions, medications, hospitalization, intravenous therapy, diet, herbs, detoxification, prayer, meditation, visualization – she tried it all, but the cancer kept chipping away.

STORIES CONCLUSION AT ANGIE’S DIARY

Just Around The Corner

Excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter
by Gabriel Constans.

Just Around The Corner: Hope and Healing

I fell in love with Robin the first day we met. She was playing her role, as a recently admitted hospice patient, with great style and flair, while I lumbered through my part as the experienced “seasoned” social worker.

She wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award and didn’t give a damn about her looks. Her body looked like a skeleton with a layer of skin painted on with a thick brush. A blue and green scarf covered her almond-shaped, balding head. Her eyes sparkled like diamonds and her smile hung in the air like the Cheshire cat.

She had a warmth and graciousness that the worst ravages of metastatic breast cancer could not hide. Entering her small, low-income apartment by the sea, felt like entering a sanctuary or coming home for the holidays.

Her one-woman play about a terminal disease had about a two year run.

She talked openly about dying, but more about living. She wasn’t afraid of death, but she loved life. She loved her mother, her boyfriend, her family and friends. She loved music, art, beauty and nature. She was thirty-eight years old and she wanted to live until she was an old woman with grandchildren. She kept waiting for a new treatment, another remission, some kind of hope or miracle. It almost came twice.

An experimental trial with a new drug regime was supposed to be available through her HMO but kept getting put off, then delayed, eventually fizzling away into the land of false promises. Then came the dream of a cure with Angiostatin and similar therapies, which exploded across the media and public airwaves as “extremely hopeful cures for cancer tumors.” Again she was told of some local trials and assured that she was eligible to participate, but this too seemed to fade into oblivion as time slipped by, leaving her to use whatever means she had at her disposal – blood transfusions, medications, hospitalization, intravenous therapy, diet, herbs, detoxification, prayer, meditation, visualization – she tried it all, but the cancer kept chipping away.

She went to the hospital for one final assault, then returned home. It was a glorious Indian Summer when I saw her for the last time. I knocked on her weathered door, heard her call out “Come in.” and entered her tiny sunlit living room, which was also her bedroom, library and dining area.

Moving towards the head of her hospital bed, I saw that she’d been through the ringer and was losing ground fast. Her face was black, blue and yellow, as if she’d just been in a bar room brawl. Her skin was almost translucent, stretched over her frame like a sheet of white plastic. Her arms were as thin as straws and she struggled to breathe deeply. In spite of her frailty and obvious diminishing returns, her eyes still danced and she spoke vibrantly about life and healing.

“I hope my life made a difference,” she said softly.

“You know it has,” I reassured. “You’ve given such love.”

“Yes, I guess so,” she said and touched my cheek gently with her fingers. “That’s been the best part.”

“What’s next?” I asked tentatively, wondering what she planned to do with her remaining days.

She turned away, looked out her large window and watched a mother and daughter lean against the cliff side railing, their hair blowing in the wind, the child laughing, screaming with delight. Without changing position, she replied, “I don’t know. What do you think?”

Part of me wanted to run. My many years of listening and learning how to be present seemed to slip out the door. “I don’t know,” I said lamely. “Part of me doesn’t want to believe this day has come.” I followed her gaze, not really focusing on anything. My hopeless grasping continued. “I don’t want you to die.”

“Nice thought,” she smiled, “but just a wee bit unrealistic.” She rolled her eyes and grinned with amusement.

“Yeah,” I blushed. “It’s just . . . I don’t know . . .” I struggled to find the right words then looked her way. “How do you let go of everything you’ve known with such dignity and grace?”

“I don’t have any choice,” she said without hesitation.

“I know we don’t always have a choice over what happens to us,” I blundered along, “but we have a choice in how we respond to what happens, don’t we? If I was in your position, I’d be screaming and yelling to my last breath.”

Without blinking, she reiterated, “Like I said, I don’t have a choice. This is who I am.”

Robin died two days later. She died like she lived, tenderly and peacefully. I, on the other hand, keep wailing away at the ravages of cancer, thinking I have more choices in life than are probable and hoping a cure for cancer is “just around the corner.”

MORE GOOD GRIEF: LOVE, LOSS AND LAUGHTER.

Perished and Present

Memorial Day – “a legal holiday in the U.S. in memory of the dead servicemen of all wars.”

That’s how Webster’s defines Memorial Day, but is that what takes place? Has this day of remembrance become just another holiday; another three-day weekend; a day of forgetting?

Memorial Day can be a powerful reminder and opportunity for honoring and remembering our dead; for paying homage to those who died believing that their lives made a difference; that their lives were sacrificed for the benefit of others.

In many respects, those who have died for this experiment in democracy are still living. They’re living in the water we drink, the food we grow, the ballot we cast, the policies we protest, the pains, sorrows and struggles of everyday life.

I respect the men and women who fought to end slavery in the Civil War and those, like my grandfather William, who fought in World War I, believing it would be “the war to end all wars”. I remember and give thanks to my father-in-law, who fought during World War II against the Nazis and lost his parents, grandparents, family and friends in the concentration camps. I thank my father, who went away for years to an unknown fate to stop the dictatorships of German and Japanese governments during the second world war. And I remember and honor all those who died in Lebanon, Panama, Viet Nam, on 9-11, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those who returned from those conflicts and died from resulting disease, addiction or suicide.

Though Memorial Day honors those who have died during wartime, let us not forget the military women and men who have died outside of conflict; those who have died while training; while in transport; during missions of peace and rescue; and at home from illness, accident, governmental disregard or neglect.

Before we can ever proclaim, “Never again!” we must exclaim, “Never forget!” Never forget the soldiers and civilians who have perished. Let us honor they’re memory, by keeping them in our hearts and doing everything possible to prevent and end the wars that have caused such great sorrow and suffering. Take some time to bring out pictures, tell stories, make a toast, thank those still living and recommit our selves to the peaceful resolution of conflict.
Memorial Day reminds us that blood and tears are the same in any language. Every life is precious and every loss must be remembered, mourned and honored.

These thoughts and reflections are an excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

Get Over It!

Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter (Excerpt)

“What are you so upset about? It was only your ex-husband.”

“Come on, get over it. You can always get another cat.”

“Hey, you hadn’t seen your friend in years anyway.”

“They were drunk half the time. Who cares?”

“It’s not the same as being married. You just lived together.”

“You only knew them for two months!”

“Weren’t they old? They lived a long life.”

“No, you can’t come to the funeral. You aren’t part of the family.”

These are just some of the comments that people hear and a small sampling of how their grief is disregarded after they’ve had a friend, acquaintance or family member die. The losses they have experienced don’t match the images of who and what is acceptable to grieve in our society. And it’s not just others that cause such pain. We are often our harshest critics. We internalize the conscious and unconscious messages we are fed daily and are often confused with the intensity of our emotions and reactions after a death, when our head is telling us we should not be feeling much at all.

Our response to any kind of loss, especially from death, is our bodies natural reaction to the human condition, even though we analyze it, distrust it and, at times, find it hard to believe.

“Why am I getting so upset over my ex-husband’s death? We never got along and I’ve been better off without him.”

No matter what the relationship was like, it was a relationship. There were attachments, habits and shared time that will always effect one’s life. For some, the never-ending hope of reconciliation will have died as well.

“It was only a cat. I know it’s not the same as a person.”

Your cat or pet was a living creature. We can grow just as accustomed and fond of an animal as we can with a human. The same kind of attachments and memories occur.

“We were best friends during high school, but that was ages ago.”

Some friends stay with us forever, whether we see them often or rarely at all. The time we spend together can leave us with lasting imprints, influences and memories, as well as regrets, bitterness or pain.

“This is crazy. His drinking ruined our family and our lives. He was mean and abusive. Why is his death so hard? I thought I’d be relieved.”

Even abusive, negative relationships can cause unexpected mixtures of emotion. Though we may have separated ourselves from the individual and learned how to fend for ourselves or are still in contact, there is usually some deep feelings of loss over the years they were not the parent or partner we had wished for. The realization that they have died can also awaken the fact that the opportunity for them to change or be different has died as well.

“We were only housemates. It wasn’t like we were married or anything.”

Whether as a friend, lover, roommate or relative, living in the same household is one of the most intense experiences in our lives. It’s where we learn how to interact with others and provides daily reminders of our differences and similarities. Whether two people living in the same household have their arrangement sanctioned or accepted by others does nothing to diminish the powerful lessons and connections that develop. We are intimately shaped; both good and bad, by those with whom we live.

“I just met them two months ago, but I can’t stop thinking about them.”

The length or duration of a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that it is of greater or lesser importance or impact. Some people we’ve known for years, yet have little connection, do not effect us deeply upon their passing, whereas others we’ve just met leave lasting footprints. The grief and mourning that result from the loss of a recent or longtime acquaintance is VERY individual and unique to that person, as are our needs in grieving their loss.

“Grandma was eighty-five years old. I knew she wouldn’t last forever, but it feels so sudden. I loved her so much.”

The longer someone you know lives, the harder it can be to accept the reality of their death. Even though you may have had time to prepare and say and do what you needed or wanted to, it can still seem like it came too soon. There are times when no matter the person’s age, you want them to stay forever and their death is devastating.

“They never accepted me. I should have known this would happen.”

You have a right and a human need to attend the funeral and/or memorial of your partner. Your relationship with the deceased was between you and them, not their family or friends. How your relationship was seen or accepted by others is important in your adjusting to the loss, but not dependent upon it.

There are times when those you expect to be of help are not always able or willing to do so. For some, it is too painful. Others find it impossible to stop judging long enough to listen. When you can’t attend the funeral or memorial, due to the deceased’s family, distance or other circumstances, create your own ritual or ceremony of leave-taking. Invite those who will be present to you and share your loss.

Relationships with people and other living creatures are what make us human. It is normal to question, criticize and judge our selves after someone in our life has died. It is also normal to feel pain, frustration, anger, sadness, relief and confusion.

If you don’t get the kind of support and acknowledgment you need from family, friends or colleagues, then find it elsewhere. Don’t minimize, trivialize or try to forget your loss. Find ways to acknowledge, respect, honor and validate your experience and the reactions that have resulted.

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Who Dies?

Who Dies: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying by Stephen Levine (excerpt).

Working With The Dying

The other day, I received a phone call from a old friend saying that her brother had just returned from a general checkup where it was discovered that he had tumors in his lungs. A biopsy was in process. What should she do? How could she help a loved one who it seemed might be about to go through a very difficult time?

The answer to that question is, of course – you relate to one who is ill the same way you relate to any being. With openness. With an honoring of the truth we all share. Work to dissolve the separateness that keeps one lost in duality. Become one with the other. No help, just being. See the conditioned illusion of separateness. Break that ancient clinging. Allow both of you to die. Go beyond the imaginings of separate bodies and separate minds. Come to the common ground of being.

You are with one who is dying in the same way you are with yourself. Open, honest, and caring. You are simply there, listening with a heart that is willing to hold the joy or pain of another with equal capacity and compassion. With a mind that does not separate death from life, that does not live in concepts and shadows, but in the direct experience of the unfolding.

If it hurts, it hurts. If it makes you happy, it makes you happy. Not trying to change things. Not trying to make something or someone other than it is. Just hear the truth that the moment has to offer.

It has become increasingly clear with each being I open to, whether it is someone who is dying or a taxi cab driver or a cashier in a restaurant, that the more I open to that being, letting go of what blocks the heart’s contact, the more I open to my own being, the more we share the essence.

When you speak from the heart you send love, not your needs or desires for people to be any other way than they are.

When you are working with seriously ill patients, it is important to remember that it is not “you” who has to do anything. All you have to do is get out of the way so that the appropriate response to the moment can manifest itself. You don’t have to save anyone except you. Working with the dying is work on yourself.

We perhaps forget the root out of which the word “care” arises – it is the same root as for our word “culture”. To care is to become one with another, to join with a person in the greater “culture” of mankind, of life itself. For, in truth, there is no “other.” There is just being, experienced from different focal points. When you are fully present, you see there is no such thing as “another person.” There are just two perceptions of the one existence. There is “your” unfolding and there’s “mine.” Our work is to come together in truth. To become the perfect environment for each other’s recognition that there is no other, but just the One to be shared.

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Reading About Death

Excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

How much information about dying, death and grief can we handle?

Jackie told me that after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer she was inundated with information, suggestions, advice and stories. She felt overwhelmed, confused and disoriented. Not only was she trying to make sense of the diagnosis and all its implications, she was also suddenly having to make decisions about what kind of treatment to choose, if any.

On top of such monumental choices, friends, relatives and health professionals bombarded her with written material on statistics, outcomes, recovery, remedies and self-help and self-care groups and organizations.

I asked her if she would rather have not had all the information and she said, “No, I’d rather it was there than not. It isn’t the information per say; it’s how it is presented. I want it when I ask for it, not when others think I need it. I want to decide which things I wish to research for myself and which things I’d rather have someone else look into. I want to have some control about what comes my way and how I process it. There is enough out of control in my life as it is.”

When I inquired as to how people would know when and how much to provide she replied, “Simply ask. All they have to do is ask and do so without judgment or ‘should’ attached to their question. Support offered when requested, without someone else agenda attached, is the best medicine.”

How may pamphlets, handouts, magazines and books can we read when we are taking care of a loved one who is dying or have just had someone die?

Brian took care of his wife (they’d been married for thirty-three years) for four and a half years until she died from complications of Alzheimer’s eight months ago. He told me that, “There were days when I could barely read the road signs, let alone an entire book. Taking care of Samantha took every ounce of energy and attention I could muster. One day a good friend of mine dropped off a little pamphlet about self-care. At first I didn’t think much about it and just appreciated his show of concern. But every once in awhile I’d sit down, pick the thing up and read a sentence or two and try to do what it said. It wasn’t anything monumental, but it helped me step back from my situation off and on and take a deep breath. After Samantha died I tried to read a book or two again, but found I couldn’t concentrate for more than a few minutes. I’d read the same sentence about three times before I realized what I’d just done. People gave me books about grief, but most of them were too big and intimidating. Again, it was this same friend who simply gave me a few handouts which had some common reactions and suggestions for coping with loss, which helped the most.”

Do the words written on a page help us prepare any better for the inevitable or make the process of mourning any easier?

When Francis’s mother was dying of congestive heart disease and came on to hospice services, the social worker gave her a handout that had information on a variety of topics (about hospice care, advanced directives, how to provide bodily care, etc.). It also included a page called “Signs of Approaching Death”, which provided information on what physical changes “usually” happen as the body begins to shut down. Francis told me that the information helped her think about planning (both health care and financial) a little sooner than she might have otherwise and that the section on Signs of Approaching Death were especially helpful.

“Not long after I’d read that page, she started to decline.” She explained. “If I hadn’t known those things ahead of time it would have been VERY scary. As it was, I was able to relax a little bit and not freak out when her breathing changed and she began to slip away.”

Francis echoed Brian’s reactions about reading books on grief after her mother died and added, “I don’t mind something more extensive, as long as I can keep it awhile and look at sections I need to, when I want to, then put it down and come back to it. The books have helped normalize my experience. They’ve let me know that many others have gone through what I’m going through and that I am not going crazy.”

Twenty years ago there were only about twenty to thirty books available about death, dying and grief. There are now hundreds. The disadvantages to having so many are the difficulty in knowing which are right for you and your situation and which are not. The advantage is that there is far greater choice, they are more accessible and you are more likely to find something that speaks to you directly.

Like Jackie said, “When in doubt, ask?” Find out what kind of information they are seeking and how much they want at any given time.

If something you’ve read has deeply touched you, changed your life, provided comfort, understanding or direction, the words will speak for themselves. You don’t have to sell your experience or convince someone who is confronting illness, death or loss that the words you found so helpful will touch them in the same way.

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Take It Like A Man

“Be strong.” “Bear up to pain.” “Be sexually potent.” “Provide for others.” “Endure.” “Don’t give in.” “Compete and win at all costs.” “Be in control.” “Remain rational, unemotional and logical.” “Accomplish, achieve, perform.” “Be assertive, in control and one step ahead of the next guy.”

These are some of the messages given to young boys and men for thousands of years. We’ve heard it from lovers, parents, families, friends, religions, governments, the media and other men since birth. Some of the messages of expected behavior are blatant and others more subtle. Some are proclaimed orally or in print and others are non-verbal and observed by actions and deeds. “Don’t cry.” “Never, ever, express or convey fear, dependence, loneliness, emotion, weakness, passivity or insecurity.”

It’s only been in the last forty years, since the modern women’s movement (in some areas of the world), that these cultural, familial and religious norms and expectations have been questioned, debated, challenged and/or changed. Within this short span of freedom from such rigid conditioning, some men have chosen (consciously or unconsciously) to embrace these norms and continue the cycle. Others have revolted against them altogether and thrown out the positive attributes of such expectations, along with the negative. And others swagger back and forth between the past and the present, in a state of confusion, bewilderment and loss.

Regardless of how one lives, when a man loses a loved one, by death or separation, they can be thrown into an unknown world of pain that casts their beliefs, personal expectations and accepted ways of being into an ocean of doubt, turmoil and isolation. Loss causes an eruption of feelings, fears and thoughts that fly in the face of what it has meant to “be a man”. Feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, emptiness, doubt, confusion, helplessness and indescribable pain can assail our very concept and perception of who we are.

Efforts at avoiding, “toughing it out”, controlling or “getting rid” of the pain of loss, only result in temporary relief, often at the expense of long-term health and rarely change the reality of our condition. The pain of grief is one of the few kinds of pain in life that are best dealt with head on, by doing something men are often taught to avoid. The pain of grief and mourning tend to change and heal with time and attention, when we can honestly acknowledge what we are feeling, thinking and believing and externalize such reactions in a positive, healthy environment and/or manner.

Men and women all experience the pain of grief and loss and both genders feel its impact, in many of the same ways. What tends to be different about the sexes is the way in which we talk about and verbalize such feelings and experiences. We filter them differently. Men often talk about the things we did for our loved one, how we took care of them, what we’re “doing” now and what we “plan” to do in the future. We blame others or ourselves for something that did or didn’t happen or something that could have been different; something that would have spared us the pain we are now experiencing. Our anger, guilt and reasoning; are ways we try to control and make sense out of our grief and the situation it has put us in.

Though it is a generality and never true at all times, with all men or all women, men tend to speak “about”, instead of “of” or “with”. If I asked a gentleman how he’s been “feeling” or what had been the “most difficult” about the loss of his wife, partner or parent, he might look at me as if I was speaking Russian. If, on the other hand, I questioned his “reactions” or asked him to tell me a story “about” the deceased, he would begin to take the road to the same valley of pain that a woman experiences, but get there from a different route.

Ironically, men often seem to be more emotionally dependent on women for their sense of self, than the other way around. (Again, please remember that I am speaking in generalities and there are thousands of exceptions.) The women in a man’s life are who he tends to share his most intimate needs, desires and fears with, as it is seldom safe or accepted to talk about such things with other men. Thus, when a woman mate, friend or mother dies or leaves, men have nobody to whom they feel they can acceptably turn to and their need for intimate human contact and emotional well being is left in a desert of thirst for companionship, friendship, validation and/or physical contact.

Many men, though not all, also connect physical touch with sex, because it is one of the few occasions in their lives when they are permitted or expected to touch or be touched. To hug, kiss or embrace another man or woman, aside from the sexual act, is frowned upon and charged with a variety of expectations, judgments and fears. Thus, after the death of a loved one, men often do not know how, where or when it is acceptable or possible to have any human contact that is not sexual.

Luckily, there are people, men and women, who are willing and able to listen to men’s lives and experiences surrounding grief and loss. There are places where a man can be held, without any sexual involvement or expectation of such. There are people within families, churches and communities that honor and respect our gender’s differences without putting limits or expectations on what those differences can or should be.

If you or a man you care about, has experienced the loss of a loved one, give yourself or him, the comfort, permission and love that all humans need, regardless of gender and provide the personal or community resources that can help the hurt change to healing and positive action.

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