Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Shadow Boxing~

Caves and shadows and darkness and not being able to see around you.  It could be frightening.  Or it could be maybe okay.

We live in a hurry up culture and we live in a culture where you're supposed to be happy and positive and everything is feel good.  With an occasional momentary break for a worldwide tragedy but life gets very quickly back on track and the world goes on.  And maybe that's good and necessary but maybe we need to re-think this happy, happy culture.  Maybe we need to give space to the particular darkness that comes about as people grieve.

My daughter had a conversation with me shortly after Chuck died.  I told her I was just in this dark place and she, very wisely, said that maybe there's value there in the darkness.  Maybe the shadows and darkness weren't to be feared.  Maybe beauty could exist in that darkness.

In this past 15 months since he died, (and oh how it freaks me out to write that), I've thought often of that conversation and I've realized how correct she was.  And is.  With a note that, of course, you can't live forever in the darkness etc.

But.

When grief hits, as it will, and that darkness comes, as it does, and we lose our vision, as we do, then maybe, just maybe, our other senses become heightened.  Maybe our hearts see more because our eyes are filled with the veil of tears.  Maybe we trust our instincts more deeply because we know, (or at least I do for me,) that our brains aren't working as they once did, fogged as they are with grief.  

My eyes don't see-there is darkness all around.  So I stand still to get my bearings and I listen more acutely.  I wait to feel my feet solidly underneath me before taking a step, my hands out in front of me, searching for something to grasp.  My sense of touch becomes sensitized as I strive to identify my surroundings.  It's all very tentative and I'm learning to trust my other senses and they become stronger as I rely on them.  When the day comes that I emerge from this darkness, from these shadows of grief, I know I will be deeply aware of myself and life in general because I gave the darkness the time it needed instead of struggling against it and fighting it.

This daughter of mine who is now on the road with me for six months.  She's pretty damn smart.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Avoidance


Avoidance has been a common theme for me in my journey.

I avoid thinking about or dealing with Ian's death by overloading myself with work and study.

And I'm still doing that to a degree, but I have a counsellor who's poking and prodding me along the journey of dealing with it all.

But now I find I'm avoiding going back into the workforce.  I kind of want to, will need to at some point, but this week I've been feeling really scared of the prospect.  Even if it's 6-18 months away.

Six years ago, after my mum and step-dad died in quick succession, plus unemployment hit at the same time my step-dad died, I took a chunk of time off, simply doing nothing, giving me time to deal with the fall out.  After about six months, I was ready to go back to work.  I reached the point I needed work, rather than hours of watching TV, reading and crafts, for my sanity.

This week I sat a supplementary exam granted because of John's hospital stay, and thought I'd done really well.  But the results that went up on Friday for the supp seem to say otherwise.   A fail, but an offer of an academic supplementary exam.  Probably technically available since the supplementary I sat was on medical grounds, so still have the academic option.  But is confusing since the supplementary exam period is over. 

Or it could simply be a quirk of the reporting system, and a true grade will come up a bit later. 

I of course emailed the school to get the situation clarified, but no response yet.  Not what you want additionally rattling around in your head over the weekend. 

But here's the thing.

I'm actually not that worried about the extra time (and cost) having to repeat the subject, and juggle pre-requisites this semester, will add to my studies. Nor am I worried that I wouldn't be able to go back to work at the end of this year to carry the load I need to in order to finish at the end of next year.

Heck, I'm tossing around that I could even take the option of pushing for an extra semester or even year to finish.

I guess it's partially because I've not actually taken that chunk of 'nothingness' time after Ian died.  I've really been on the go, except for uni holidays.  And even now I have other commitments I didn't have 6 years ago. 

But I know I'm really not ready to head back to work. 

Into the real 'real world'. 

Right now, I could happily not go back ever again.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Identities

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I had a session with my beloved therapist the other day. I filled her in on what had happened since I'd last seen her and then she said "What do you think about coming to see me? Do you think you're ready for a break?" and it was as if I'd expected her to ask me.

I was only slightly hesitant to say yes. She asked me what came up for me as I'd acknowledged that our time together for now was possibly over. I told her that it felt right, but it also felt scary to drop the identity of trauma victim or someone who needs therapy. I said that it feels like my identity for so long has been wrapped up in my losses, especially in widowhood. Who am I if I'm not a widow, an orphan and an abuse survivor?

How interesting that I'd cling in any way to the most horrific phase in my life. But it feels connected to Dave and our love and it feels like I'm betraying him to let it recede even a little.

After acknowledging and validating my fears she said "Who are you, in addition to those things?"
An artist, I replied, a writer, a good partner, a good friend, a singer, a student, a performer, a teacher...

I began to feel the identities of loss lose their grip as I rattled these off to her. It was as though I was giving myself permission to be more than my losses. I felt the guilt of admitting that I'm doing so well start to ease.

I can see how living fully, and not allowing my loss identities to define me as a way to honor Dave. Not going to therapy every week doesn't have to mean that I'm over it or that I'm done hurting. It means I'm in this phase right now and that I'm living. It means I'll probably go back to a cycle of therapy when I need to and that's fine too.

It means that I'm more than just someone who needs professional help to get through life. I'm much more than a trauma victim, though that identity has consumed me for a long time, and rightly so.

And it means that without identifying with it so much, I have room to allow other identities to flourish.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Star of Seven

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I was at an estate sale yesterday and I found this little wooden bookmark hiding away in a corner that really intrigued me. I picked it up and read on the back something about The Star of Seven Day. Further intrigued, I purchased it and brought it home to research. It turns out it is a scene depicting the story of the Tanabata Festival. And this is where it got cool. This is the annual star festival in Japan that is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month each year. It celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively). According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar.
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If you're new to the story of my late-fiance and I - I will fill you in. Mine and Andrew's initials spell STAR. And the week before we began dating, we were out star-gazing on the beach one night and we saw seven shooting stars, making seven wishes a piece. We later learned that we both wished for each other, seven times. It became a beautiful part of our story... And crazy enough our first rela date and thus anniversary was the 7th. Stars and sevens continued to show up in other ways in our time together, and they still do for me. The web address for my photography business is sevenshootingstars.com because I couldn't think of anything better for it to be named since my photography is so deeply influenced by our story. In the entryway of the hospital where my first solo photo show was displayed, there were seven large blue stars hanging. Lots of things like this happen all the time for me now. So now when I see stars, particularly in combination with the number seven, I know someone is trying to get my attention.
There's no doubt in my mind that this bookmark - which I learned was likely brought home from Japan by the husband after WWII for his wife - was meant for me to find. It is our story - two stars, a galaxy apart. Maybe it was just a hello from afar. Or maybe, on the 7th day of the 7th month every year, we too are brought closer together like in this legend. I also can't deny that, since he died, I often get very clear signs that revolve around the direction I should go or decisions I should make in relation to my art. Which makes this finding especially cool...
While at this same estate sale, I was introduced to an interior designer who had seen my solo photo exhibit at the hospital and offered me a really exciting next opportunity for showing my work this fall. We hadn't said two sentences to each other before he was offering to show my work in his space. I was so taken back, and so honored that someone would offer such a thing so immediately to me based on the work of mine that he had already seen. For this bookmark to be right in the same space as where I met this person - I dunno, I like to believe in that sort of thing. And I like to believe I was brought there to find both the bookmark and the person today - and it was just one more sign that I'm going in the right direction.

A terrible day

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of my husband’s suicide, and the day my world fell apart.  I can’t believe I’ve survived twelve months, it feels like such an unreasonably long time.  I hate even saying it out loud.  One year.  I don’t feel ready to be in my second year of grieving, it’s still too soon, too raw, too unbelievable. 

I can no longer think ‘this time last year we were…’ I can no longer tell people he died ‘recently’ or ‘a few months ago’. 

I know that in widow-terms I’m still in my early days of grieving, but to the rest of the world, it’s been a long time now.  I know people will start or have started forming certain expectations on where I should be, how I should be behaving.  I also know I need to ignore these people and listen to my heart, but I can’t help wanting the world to slow down – stop even.  To just wait until I can catch a breath and pull myself together again.

I don’t think I was fully prepared for how much the anniversary would hurt.  Obviously being on holidays overseas was a big distraction but in hindsight, timing it so that I got back to Australia the day before probably wasn’t the best decision (although, because my trip revolved around the dates of Camp Widow West, I was working within certain limits). 

Everyone says the lead up is the worst, and with our wedding anniversary and his birthday, it certainly felt that way. But with his death anniversary, it was very different.  The day kind of snuck up on me, I wasn’t prepared.  Not that I know what ‘prepared’ even looks like. 

With his birthday in March and our wedding anniversary in June I was somehow able to find positive things to focus on that day, to carry me through the pain.  On his birthday I was grateful for the amazing life he’d lived.  I spent the day with his friends and family, remembering good times, crying together, and trying to celebrate this wonderful man who was loved by so many.  On our wedding anniversary I was able to be thankful for the love we shared and cloaked myself with that.  I felt overwhelmed with gratitude that I met Dan, that I spent almost two years with him and that he gave me the honour of calling myself his wife. 

However there was nothing to be positive about on his death anniversary.  It was just a horrible, sad, f*#ked up day.  Knowing now the turmoil he must have been in that morning when he kissed me goodbye and left for work, my heart breaks for him all over again. We know that his suicide wasn’t planned – it was spontaneous and triggered by a psychotic episode caused by a bad reaction to his anti-depressant medication, but thinking about how scared and lost he must have felt just destroys me. I couldn’t get the images out of my head of him driving to work that morning and turning the car in a different direction. 

Images of him writing me his heartfelt letter, trying to explain that he loved me and was sorry for the hurt that his death would cause, but that he was losing his mind and needed to make this sacrifice before it was too late and he became a constant burden on me and our families.  Images of his final moments.  Of his death.  Of his body being taken away.

It was a terrible day, and it has hit me hard.  I cried the entire anniversary and as I write this, two days later, I am still crying, feeling broken and empty.

I guess there might be one thing to be grateful for right now though.  At least now that I’ve been in this place for a year, I know how to get through these dark, painful lows.  I know how to practice self-care, mindfulness and listen to my body when it tells me I need to slow down and rest.  I am laying low and being gentle with myself.  I’m gathering my people around me and letting them protect me and carry me.  I have received countless messages, phone calls and deliveries of flowers this week.  I know I am loved by many, and these people are keeping Dan and I in their thoughts and prayers. I know I’m not alone.  I will survive this and smile again, but today it is ok to cry. It’s a shitty day.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Waiting

I think I'm confused. Am I actually doing better? Have I turned a very large corner? Is the worst of this hell actually behind me? Or is there no such thing as that being true? Am I about to set myself up for a ginormous fall? Like I said, I think I'm confused.

Last Sunday was the 3 year death anniversary. I wrote about it in here last week. I was in San Diego for Camp Widow. I watched the sunrise. I had a beautiful day and evening with some widowed friends, and I took the time to feel the beauty of the night and the sky around me, and to feel his love through music and lyrics, and how it still permeates everything around my heart. And then I waited. When the day was over, and when I woke up the next day, I waited for that inevitable "day after the important day grief hangover" thing that I always get. That delayed reaction of intense sorrow and unstoppable sobbing. I waited. It never came.

And so I came home, got back on the plane to NY, and unpacked and fit myself back into my own day-to-day life here. And then I waited. I waited for the inevitable "Camp Crash" that always happens whenever I get home from Camp Widow. I waited. It never came. Sure, there was some crying and I did go to sleep intensely missing him and feeling a bit of delayed reaction about the death anniversary, but it was subtle and quiet and didn't make much of a mark. I was able to feel it, and then still feel good afterwards. Nothing about this 3-year death anniversary devastated or destroyed me. There was no re-living of "that morning." There was no panic or anxiety. For the first time ever, it just simply didn't happen.

And now, almost two weeks later, I'm in a state of confusion and weirdness because I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. I am not used to feeling okay. I am not used to feeling a little more than okay. I am not used to feeling inspired and hopeful and like I can see a future that doesn't make me want to crawl into a hole and hide until the end of time. I am not used to this new state of "carefree" that I seem to be feeling lately. Part of me likes this new feeling, and I feel proud of myself for how far I have come. But a huge part of me doesn't trust it. What do I do with this? I don't know how to hold these feelings. I am not familiar with how they operate. And I keep fearing that maybe it is all a big dream of some kind, and when I wake up, I will be back to that terrified, hopeless, joyless person - marking time and moving around earth like a robot.

How do you know when you've made tremendous progress? How do you know when it's real, and when you've turned a corner, or walked down a different hallway altogether? How do you know that it's not a lie, and that you just think you are maybe coming into a new place in this grief and loss, but that in reality, it's just one of those "5 steps forward, 3 steps back" type of moments? How do I know?

I think I'm confused.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Mind's Eye



Sometimes I'd swear Mike is here with me. I keep getting the sensation of his presence...or maybe, my mind and heart are just working overtime to remember. To remember how it felt when he was in the room with me. The sound of his breath, his footsteps...how he looked, the familiar freckles on his forearms, his latest mustache creation, his favorite camo t-shirt. That bright, childlike smile he wore. It's like I don't want to forget that feeling of being next to him, or the way his essence permeated my daily life.

I see him so clearly in my mind's eye. I hear him, smell him...remember what it was like to touch him. To feel his hand on my shoulder. To hear his laughter, his slippers scuffling across the tile floor. And something deeper. Everyone has that unique radiance, maybe it's their soul or something, I'm not sure. We all have it. I just don't want to forget his...or maybe he really is around, somehow, now and then.

I will always remember what it was like to find him, that terrible morning. He was so peaceful...I really did think he was just sleeping, at first. But something was strange. That essence...that energy he had about him, was gone. 

Sometimes I give a start when I imagine I've seen him, walking ahead of me on the sidewalk, or coming out of a store. Maybe someone is his general height and size; maybe they have a familiar haircut, a similar gait, or the same aloha shirt. It's always a small shock of a moment to realize - no, it's not him. He is gone.

It's not just remembering moments or events we shared. How we passed the days together, or how we'd laugh at the same jokes or enjoy the same movies. Lately, it's been about remembering some deeper, essential soulfulness. Just the way he had about him. Who he really was.

I miss it. I miss him. I'm trying not to forget what it was like just to be with him. To be in his presence. How it felt when he was still around. I'm trying to hold onto it.

That is all.