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Uncovering laughter, joy and sanity in everyday life.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell."

* This post is dedicated to a young man who recently lost someone tragically. You are in my thoughts. 

There is no right or wrong way to grieve — but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain. Grief that is expressed and experienced has a potential for healing. Grieving is personal intimate and an individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss. 

The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried – and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. It takes as long as it takes and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. If you are sad it's okay and everyone else can fuck off give you some space when you need time alone. 

Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

MYTH: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.

Fact: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.

MYTH: It’s important to be “be strong” in the face of loss.

Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.

MYTH: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.

Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.

MYTH: Grief should last about a year.

Fact: There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. How long it takes can differ from person to person.

Are there stages of grief?
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.”

The five stages of grief:
  • Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
  • Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
  • Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
  • Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
  • Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”
If you are experiencing any of these emotions following a loss, it may help to know that your reaction is natural and that you’ll heal in time. However, not everyone who is grieving goes through all of these stages – and that’s okay. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal. In fact, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages. And if you do go through these stages of grief, you probably won’t experience them in a neat, sequential order, so don’t worry about what you “should” be feeling or which stage you’re supposed to be in.

Kübler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone who mourns. In her last book before her death in 2004, she said of the five stages of grief, “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”
Grief can be a roller coaster
Instead of a series of stages, we might also think of the grieving process as a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, highs and lows. Like many roller coasters, the ride tends to be rougher in the beginning, the lows may be deeper and longer. The difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to work through a loss. Even years after a loss, especially at special events such as a family wedding, we may still experience a strong sense of grief.

Common symptoms of grief
While loss affects people in different ways, many people experience the following symptoms when they’re grieving. Just remember that almost anything that you experience in the early stages of grief is normal – including feeling like you’re going crazy, feeling like you’re in a bad dream, or questioning your religious beliefs.

• Shock and disbelief – Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what happened. You may feel numb, have trouble believing that the loss really happened, or even deny the truth. If someone you love has died, you may keep expecting them to show up, even though you know they’re gone.

• Sadness – Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptom of grief. You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness. You may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.

• Guilt – You may regret or feel guilty about things you did or didn’t say or do. You may also feel guilty about certain feelings (e.g. feeling relieved when the person died after a long, difficult illness). After a death, you may even feel guilty for not doing something to prevent the death, even if there was nothing more you could have done.

• Anger – Even if the loss was nobody’s fault, you may feel angry and resentful. If you lost a loved one, you may be angry at yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning you. You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that was done to you.

• Fear – A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears. You may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure. You may even have panic attacks. The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone.

• Physical symptoms – We often think of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief often involves physical problems, including fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains, and insomnia.

1) Get support 
The single most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people. Even if you aren’t comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it’s important to express them when you’re grieving. Sharing your loss makes the burden of grief easier to carry. Wherever the support comes from, accept it and do not grieve alone. Connecting to others will help you heal.

Turn to friends and family Now is the time to lean on the people who care about you, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient. Draw loved ones close, rather than avoiding them, and accept the assistance that’s offered. Oftentimes, people want to help but don’t know how, so tell them what you need.

Draw comfort from your faith - If you follow a religious tradition, embrace the comfort its mourning rituals can provide. Spiritual activities that are meaningful to you. Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help. 

2) Take care of yourself
When you’re grieving, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself. The stress of a major loss can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time.

Face your feelings - You can try to suppress your grief, but you can’t avoid it forever. In order to heal, you have to acknowledge the pain. Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process. Unresolved grief can also lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems.

Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way - Write about your loss in a journal. If you’ve lost a loved one, write a letter saying the things you never got to say; make a scrapbook or photo album celebrating the person’s life; or get involved in a cause or organization that was important to him or her.

Look after your physical health - The mind and body are connected. When you feel good physically, you’ll also feel better emotionally. Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. Don’t use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially.
Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to yell at the heavens, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
Plan ahead for grief “triggers.” Anniversaries, holidays, and milestones can reawaken memories and feelings. Be prepared for an emotional wallop, and know that it’s completely normal. If you’re sharing a holiday or lifecycle event with other relatives, talk to them ahead of time about their expectations and agree on strategies to honor the person you loved.

When grief doesn’t go away 
It’s normal to feel sad, numb, or angry following a loss. But as time passes, these emotions should become less intense as you accept the loss and start to move forward. If you aren’t feeling better over time, or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem, such as complicated grief or major depression.

Complicated grief - The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but it shouldn’t remain center stage. If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming your life, you may be suffering from a condition known as complicated grief. Complicated grief is like being stuck in an intense state of mourning. You may have trouble accepting the death long after it has occurred or be so preoccupied with the person who died that it disrupts your daily routine and undermines your other relationships.

Remember, grief can be a roller coaster. It involves a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days. Even when you’re in the middle of the grieving process, you will have moments of pleasure or happiness. With depression, on the other hand, the feelings of emptiness and despair are constant.

"Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. "

Saturday, August 6, 2011

"Looking back, I have this to regret, that too often when I loved, I did not say so."

I've waited all my life to be a real mom. I've wanted to be the comfortable safe person I remember my Poppa being... once-upon a time.

  • I've got some questions for God: 
  • Is it okay for babies to be born exposed to harmful drugs? 
  • To people who never wanted or cared for them, even in the womb? 
  • Did god say it was okay to molest children? 
  • To beat them? 
  • To deprive them of love and affection?
  • To neglect them? 

When I walk through a store with my foster daughter and foster baby boy, everyone stops and assumes these are my kids. They even look a bit like me, as all of us have dark hair. Some people start asking questions about my pregnancy, when the baby was born and so on. When it gets to this point, I can't lie and pretend, because these children aren't mine. I mention I'm a foster mother as I'm cornered with the baby birth questions. Say I can't take credit for my babies great hair - and joke what an easy pregnancy I had. 
Then come the baby questions:

"Where is his mother?"
"Why is he in foster care?"
"What happened?"
I can't answer that, life happens, things happen.
"But… how did you get him? Will you keep him? Do you want to keep him?"
Yes, I'd love to keep him, but the situation is complicated. 
"That's not fair - You've had him for so long."
Yep... not fair. But, I'm a foster parent, this is my job.
"Why is he in foster care, what happened to his mother and father?"
Again, not a question I can answer.

I'm getting ready to loose it. Hormonal I guess or verging on an emotional breakdown. I keep shouting to myself in my head - Get over it…. this is something you wanted to do. You knew what foster care was. You knew what you were getting yourself into. 

In the last few weeks baby peanut has learned to crawl all over the house. Each day he learns some new skill. He seeks me out whatever room I'm in, finding me without difficulty. When he does find me, he tugs at my dress/skirt/pants, whatever he can reach. He will pull off my sandals when I'm sitting down at a chair or at the sofa. He has started to babble a word that 99% resembles the word "mommy" or "mom". He even now responds to his name. 

But here we are tonight - I was laying on the floor with baby peanut who is now just over six months old. We were playing with his toys, changing his focus, trying to wear him out. He was tired but just wanted to keep going, playing, climbing on me like I was a jungle gym. I picked him up and danced with him around the room to some classical music. He puts his head on my shoulder while I take the lead, twirling him around the room, dipping him and spinning him. He laughs at me and grabs on harder, taking it all in. We do the two step, then we lead into a waltz. Later after playing, we lay on the sofa together. I was talking to him about what parts of his body were most ticklish. I poked him gently in different spots, trying to pin down magic locations, each time he lets out tremendous belly laughs that make me laugh too, which makes him laugh even harder.

All of a sudden an image pops into my mind - What life would be like without THIS baby as our son. 

Tears started streaming down my face. I had a flashback to me as a little girl, in my pajamas, climbing onto my Poppa's lap so he could read me a story.

I heard his voice in my mind. 
I could remember the smell of the air in my grandparents house. 
I remembered the texture of his chair and stroking the fabric. 
Where my Poppa picked up the book he was preparing to read to me. 
How he used the remote to turn off the T.V.
The precision of how he took off his glasses.
I remembered my grandmother across the room in her rocking chair, knitting.
I could hear the sound of their dishwasher in the kitchen working. 
I saw in my mind the painting of trilliums on the wall next to Poppa's chair and the framed poppy needlepoint next to the painting.

My heart jumped then ached. I suddenly was thinking with my grandfather gone, I may never get the chance to have a memory like that with baby peanut. A beautiful, pure memory of him talking, walking, bringing me a book to read him... Some unfulfilled future memory of knowing I was his mommy.

It's painful to think that the dancing will stop - the laughter will stop. He will no longer know who I am.

To be honest, it is really very easy after all to love someone else's children like they were your own. The hard part is, letting them go. Tonight most of all, I miss being a little girl and the feeling of being loved and safe in the arms of my Poppa. I know baby peanut feels my love for him and it breaks my heart that it's not permanent.