Keening

A ramble…
Grief is universal.
We all experience the suffocating moments that change lives. There are no bromides that actually move the process along. Cultures build the box and most times grief lives in that box.

In our home we joked about the John Wayne School of Communication, the stoicism that pushed grief down and never let it heal in the light of other humans. Prayer is a common crutch offering the illusion that something helpful is happening. Moments of gasping for breath as the sobbing overtakes are inescapable.

Keening isn’t often part of our culture. The sound is animal like. Men and women give over to being consumed, lost in the grief. Maybe keening is a hedge against depression of unresolved grief, of grief swallowed not sounded, of self medication to bearable.

Men and women lose a job, a home, a life time of expectations. They, as they knew themselves, are gone, emptied out of all they found dependable. Nothing works, no boot strap pull matters.

A person hears the partner’s declaration that the union is over, the love simply isn’t. A maze of hurt, insecure and confused, marks the lives within the ripple.

The devastation of illness is a grief played over and over, every day a family tears in the grip. Long range plans dissolve. Hope in a different future becomes one-foot-in-front-of-the other. Joy shuts down and pretend takes over.

Maybe we do keen, but not in a way that helps. Too much silence, too much John Wayne and not enough bellow against the pain. Too much stiff upper lip and not enough rage.

Last evening, a conversation about healing from cancer ended after an hour but the thoughts continued most of the night. A compassionate doctor told the patient that some of the most difficult times were the days, weeks and months when other people pronounced healing over, but it was not. Times when fear, loneliness or depression still shadowed every day, but other people felt enough was enough. Time to move on…stop dwelling on fear. Get over the grief compelling acceptance of a new life, a life of threat. Keening seems so very much in order.

Know what matters? What helps? What heals?

The touch of family/friendship, understanding of new ways that seem to mock what was once a life. The touch of family/friendship that is the knowledge that someone hears the silent keening, someone reads fake words and finds the truth, someone would respond…even when it feels impossible to ask. Someone is willing to give all the time needed. Talk about wonderful creatures!

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I Believe

Alan Stark wrote I Believe.

On page 128, Stark wrote:
“I believe the definition of a friend is someone you call when you have really great news or really sad news.”

On page 111, Stark wrote: “I believe couples should hold hands at least three minutes every day.”

On page 156, Stark wrote: “I believe that memories are treasures worth more than gold.”

Three is that good number, the one that can mesh the unrelated and find a new truth. So I have an addendum to Alan’s beliefs, my big three for today.

I check myself off the definition of a friend. Today has been one of the saddest days of the last 11 months. There is no one I will phone to share the sadness. There is no one with whom I have that kind of comfort. There is no one to whom I could even begin that conversation, share that deep and penetrating loss.

Holding hands is vital, an intimacy to be cherished. Going out alone today, I did a virtual hand holding via four area wide garage sale events. Bob loved them. We trudged up the driveways as he searched for his bargain of the day and until he was too worn to continue. I bought three things just so the experience would be true, a book, a light switch, a leather purse. Three dollars ventured and a memory gained.

That brings me to those memories worth more than gold. My brain is odd. My memories are rarely specific in detail but definitely specific in feelings. Bob and I had two love stories, one in youth and the second in middle age and onto his last years. Between those chapters, I had another love story with a good man, the father of my children.

Today is not really an empty day. It is a day of far too many memories, far too much emotion, far too heavy with a sadness I cannot shake. I feel ashamed, weak, to be as I am today. Wonder why the amazing goodness that is so much a part of my life cannot handle the overflow of memories?

I believe that time as healer is a ruse. What really happens is that we get really good at covering over, pretending and doing make-believe. Today is my birthday and I want what I cannot have. I miss him.

Yesterday’s Gone

Yesterday’s Gone. Song lyric? Think it is. Know it should be. Yesterday.

Everyone has a yesterday, one to touch with nostalgia. Even an unfulfilled yesterday is a respite from the newest today.

Yesterday’s blog was lame. It didn’t come close to what was waiting.
For weeks, this spot stood fallow, lost in the yesterdays of so many people who I love–family/friends, the church of my formation, the community both local and global.

When there is nothing to say, we don’t seem to know silence. We grasp at the inane rather than simply hold a hand or hold the phone. That is a good thing even though it shouts at our inadequacy to do much more than care.

Valiant has a tradition of matching with war, with swords and guns and horrible battles. That is not right.

Valiant is a word for keeping on keeping on, for men and women who step up when slipping away would be so easy. Valiant is day after day after day of staying because leaving would simply trade pain.

There are no words to sooth the deep depression of those we love. We try. We stumbled along, but there are no words. When distance means that words are all we have–and there are no words— we feel the depth of inadequacy. So we talk along, trusting that our love and support are felt, knowing that more is required.

Private, Inescapable, Ubiquitous

Grief. Sorrow. Sadness. Loss.
Inescapable.
Every life tastes the bitter; serious health threats, death, loss, feeling trapped by circumstance.

Every life stumbles on the communication that might heal with understanding. Every life must find the safest way to dismantle anger.

One of the worst days is the day when awareness folds down, enveloping the belief that wholeness can ever happen, the belief that time has any power to heal. The trap suffocates.

Grief festers contaminated, cluttered with wrong assumptions, with feeling ripped raw, with a loneliness that diminishes light, leaves physical and emotional exhaustion.

Experience allows no deception–people don’t like tears. Some dismiss the need for memories, discount the search for the comfort of answers when there are none. Friends hurry past tossing out a caring pretense, choosing to ignore, wondering at the weakness that takes so long to heal. They tire of the unraveling. They tire quickly.

Those who might have shared worship question the depth of sorrow and loneliness. Some want to patch with platitude and scoff at sorrow that reduces platitudes to emptiness.

A few professional mourners constantly play one-up-man-ship, as in “My life’s sadder than your life…let me pour it out”. Their lives scorched, locked on hold, never able to give.

Getting over grief is not the point, not even a possibility.

Getting though grief is the only way round, the only way to understanding. Time cannot be the measure. Touchstones are the measure.

Touchstones, many so brief that the power comes later, are the only measure.

Sons are a Touchstone, phoning when there is little to say but much to communicate…checking in, making contact, holding a long distance hand. Sons who come to work, and stay to comfort. Sons who tiptoe away from judgment yet always respond to any request. Sons are responsible for most of the good days.

Grandchildren who smile, who comfort with their youth, who let me love them as they are, stand firm as Touchstones.

There are friends who do not let you down. Old friends who offer a rare Thursday off to do whatever, who give perfect gifts of time and thoughtfulness are Touchstones. Friends who understand depression and know when to step in and when to stay on hold are Touchstones. Friends who phone or email, so the thread is unbroken, are Touchstones. Friends who share exclusive time and attention are a rare gift in a multi-tasking world.

Neighbors who mean every nuance of “Let me know if there is anything we can do” are Touchstones.

Healing, surviving, is a private process and becoming one’s personal Touchstone is required. Be easy. Offer the care you need, for body, emotional and spiritual. You are the only one capable of doing it exactly right. You are the one person who understands. Ask for what you need. Give way your anger and helplessness. Find your Touchstones.

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Her Journal

About a year before Bob died, an acquaintance experienced the death of her husband. Because we shared an ongoing activity we also shared many conversations about her grief. She told me that she started a journal in which she wrote about every aspect of passage.

For this blog, her name is Karita. She is in her seventies, has grown children, attends church, is a constant volunteer and reaches out with open friendship. Her husband, Ray, with no advance warning symptoms, died at home.

When Bob died, Karita opened her journal. The writing is harsh, angry, filled with pain. Her attempts to excuse what she perceived as abandonment by friends does fail her even as she tries to understand with compassion. There are even pages of self blame as she wrote about her failure to adequately express her needs.

As expected the early journal entries poured grief and loneliness onto the page. Fear and uncertainty overshadowed everything but most days ended with comfort, a list of names offering “Whatever you need, just ask. You are in our prayers.”

“But I don’t know what to ask…I am too lost to figure out what I need…help me…do something…do anything but do something…don’t pray for me…help me…give me your friendship, your time…damn the words you give me about time and tears and triumph…I gag at your audacity telling me that I will find a new normal while you do nothing to take me there…don’t speak to me about anything except about what actions you are doing to show me that my pain is important to you…cram the cheerful stuff…I need help.”

Karita never told her friends how she felt. She told her journal holding little back as she learned to understand that friends spoke the words, did not rally but moved back…moved away from her emotional needs.

Karita took my hand, blinked back her tears and spoke with a softness that only pain can produce.
“You are alone”, she said. “Your old friends won’t speak it, but they have no room for you now. You have become casual to them. You have family and maybe some neighbors, but your old friends are old now…gone except to use platitudes and then pretend like you don’t exist. Don’t believe? Count. Count what you have experienced as you hoped for their help.”

Karita invited me to a grief support group. I went once. Last Tuesday. Tonight should have been the second time, but I am here. Not there. Not in a room full of strangers gathered to talk about an unavoidable human commonality…death. I cannot build on death.

When The Going Gets Tough

When the going gets tough this stutter-stepper gets more than I deserve, a gentle push, a leg-up to a new awareness, giant steps of help most needed.

On Friday, Mark drove nine hours to get here so he could spend nine more hours driving Miss Daisy (moi) to look at real estate.  He knows the city, my budget, my temperament and my tangent jumping mind.  His notebook was filled with possibilities by zip code.  At 2:00, Saturday, he redid the nine-hour trip back to his home.    He actually helped me find two perfect houses:  the one I now live in and another about 15 minutes from this home.

My current  home is perfect in every way— except for long-term old person independence which will be an issue in the unforeseeable future.  The 15 minute trip takes me to a place where that old person independence would be stretched a bit, give me more years with less upkeep.

One of my major stutters is getting ready for an auction spelled with an ‘o’ as in overwhelming.  With his usual calm, Chris laid out a plan so perfect in simplicity, a reality check for me that  defined doable.

During all my self-imposed drama, I knew I could call neighbors Steve/Lisa and Dave/Laurie.  They would talk me down from uncertainty about 101 property and maintenance issues.

Bob’s voice lingers.  “We don’t need to bother people.  We can handle this together, by ourselves.”    Right–when there was a ‘we’.   I am inching closer to those phone calls.

On Wednesday, Chris gave me Cub Cadet Lesson 101 and I cut half of the 2.34 acres without damaging anything but my hearing.  Duh.  Ear plugs?  Ear muffs?  Next time.

Well, to tell the truth, my mowing might have been less than perfect, better described as ragged.   A very few days after I mowed, I decided on a short escape-from-reality-fake-errand, one of those times when getting away was mandatory.   Returning,  I drove up the long driveway.  A red mower flashed behind one of the sheds.  Wait a minute–my mower is yellow and I’m not on it.

Brian, another neighbor, handled the grass to crisp, clean perfection.  Speechless.  I was speechless.  He just did it.  Brian used his Sunday afternoon to mow this place in addition to his own multi-acres.

Indeed, with my family and my neighbors, this house is close to perfect.

I  want to be independent, to depend on resources that I muster, relying on myself by doing, or by compensating for the labor of others.  It is tough, but after a brief hiatus from reality, I am going again.  And this new chapter of going is definitely not because I am tough.  Rather it is because I am surrounded by walls of strength.

Now, Do It Now

There are many clichés to cover the idea of’ reading between the lines, of mindfulness  in awareness, of reaching out before a need is voiced.  This is a good day for that.

We all know people who struggle, short-term or in a sort of perpetual depressive state.  Some struggle with loud bumps and moans letting the world know that this is a bummer.  Some struggle with times of being overwhelmed, drowning in details and no life-preserver in sight.   Others struggle with a quiet, “Fine–I am fine” when we know fine does not cover the pain.

So in case anyone is listening, this is Now, Do It Now Day, a day to put our personal concerns under the stack and take an action that will surprise and soften the life of someone in our prism.  A note, a phone call, handling a task that isn’t getting done, anticipating, understanding with true compassion and taking action.