Monday, December 29, 2014

How to deal with Grief during the holidays.

Grief, in short, is the process of how we deal with loss. Loss of a person when they die, loss of a job when we get fired, loss of our self esteem when we are dumped by a romantic partner, even loss of our faith when tragedy happens and we can't make heads or tails of why it had to happen.  I've learned a lot about this process in my 4o years, and in my experiences working in the Emergency Room.  Here's a list of how to get through it during the holidays (or any day of the year).  These are just a few of my opinions - feel free to give other suggestions that have worked for you!

  • Find Fred Flintstone: That's right.  Eat your vitamins.  Your body's response to extreme stress can be at best just getting by to a full on depression, infection, rejection state of being.  As cortisol levels rise, you may gain or lose weight, and you are much more susceptible to real illness or all over body pain.  Each day you might feel like you got hit by a different Mack truck than the day before.  Same pain, different day.  Combat this by eating healthfully, limiting sugar, getting enough sleep, and drinking enough water.  
  • Where's Waldo?  Feel like you're searching for something, only you really don't know what that something is?  Answers to life's big questions? Where is God? Why did this have to happen?  Will the mean person who did the mean thing get punished, ever?  When you cannot find yourself, you definitely can't figure out those higher order questions.  So get away, preferably by yourself so you have ample time to think and reflect, cry and throw things, or indulge in a tiny bit of retail therapy.  Meditate, go for long walks, find a cabin in the woods, or let the highway be your guide and your favorite music be your companion.  Don't try to figure everything out all at once, but trust that you will figure it out in it's own time.  
  • Get your face licked:  Yup.  Go where you can find some furry friends.  A petting zoo? Your grandmother's cat? The pet store? Let them crawl all over you.  Watch their tails wag.  Contemplate what they are thinking! Let them lick your face and know you won't die from it!  There's something incredibly healing in developing a relationship with an animal companion.  While you're at it, give yourself a point for every time you notice a baby's laugh.  When you get five points, go get an ice cream! This is to remind you that LIFE goes FORWARD.  You have to hop back in and jump some more rope!
  •  Give a gift.  To someone else.  Not that there isn't value in treating yourself with something special when you are being hit by a proverbial asteroid! But giving to others leaves a longer lasting feel good type of high, and it reminds you that you still have something to give, even if you aren't in the same role, relationship, or job that you used to be.  Bake the mailman some cookies, go volunteer at a local hospital, or make something for a friend that you know she'll love.  Do that thing you've always wanted to do for so-in-so!  You will feel better at the end of the day.  Trust me, you will. 
  • Refocus your Life Lens: This is the one, huge, overarching lesson from my years working with aggrieved, homeless, and hurting people in the emergency room.  Although this may sound harsh at first, consider it.  Your life can always be worse.  Read that again.  Your-life-can-always-be-worse.  And believe me, it can.  Your entire house could have just burned down with all your pets and family inside.  Your company could have handed you a pink slip, and you totaled your new car.  Your child could have just been diagnosed with a fatal disease.  You might have just caught your partner cheating with your best friend.  Your best friend might have just died leaving her three kids to you.  All sorts of horribleness can happen out there.  Try to be thankful for the things that didn't happen, the people you have left, for the one person you can trust night and day, 24/7, or for the disease you don't have.  Someone else always has it worse.  Or equally as bad in a different way that you wouldn't want even more than you don't want what's happening to you now.  Widen your lens.  See all the horrible that could have happened so you can appreciate what you still have going.  

Anyone need a (really) old car?

This is a 1928 Overland Whippet.  Other than a little TLC, it only needs points and a 6-volt battery.  I've ridden in it myself and it's very taking a walk back in time.  We are taking serious bids over $6,000.  Thanks!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Blower's Daugther

There's nothing quite like a song you have never heard that strikes such an emotional chord that you know you've just been hit by a freight train, only you have no idea where it came from and why it's here.

And there is nothing quite like a song that can bring to the front of the stage in your head one of the most dramatic moments you lived and re-examine it in such a way that you hear, see, feel, touch, and taste it all again, like a bruised piece of fruit.  The thing is though, reliving these utterly devastating moments helps us heal.  Reliving them from an older and wiser perspective also helps us empathize and forgive.  It helps us unpackage the tender glass shards our hearts are ultimately made of and oh so gently place them back together in a way that feels a bit more whole and that doesn't prick us so painfully again.

It took me two full days but now I get why this song claimed such a giant space in my head.

When I was fourteen, for a moment, my father got really upset with me, and he sent me packing to live with my mother in Jacksonville.  The leaving was bitter, and nearly ripped my heart to shreds, but the thought of finally getting to know my mother and exploring thoughts of new experiences for myself kept me treading water, kept me wanting to engage, and ultimately to stay here and live my life.  Teenage angst can make you want to jump off a bridge.  The hope of having my mother kept my heart beating.

That hope slowly lost steam when, even as young and as naive as I was, I figured out she was a drug addict.  These were the days before she loved prescription pain medications.  Yes, these were the days of coke, and pot, and booze.  Only God knows what else.

Two weeks in, she left the small two bedroom apartment that we shared with her boyfriend Darrell and his brother (I had the couch), and she never came home.  At some point, Darrell shook me awake and took me to the hospital to see her.  She was hooked up to all sorts of monitors and wires and she was flat out unconscious.  She'd overdosed on cocaine.  Darrell left me there with her because he had to go to work.

Now I know what the medical staff was probably thinking.  "That poor girl. Who's going to take care of her now?" I remember the psychiatrist coming in to talk to me, and asking me questions about my mother that I clearly didn't know the answers to.  I remember when the line that showed how her heart was beating fell flat.  I remember them all running in and slapping my mama in the face to try to wake her.  Ushering me out, then back in again when they'd revived her.  For hours and hours I watched her as if she were lying there a superstar in a movie about some poor woman who'd gotten overwhelmed and overdosed.  Surely this was all an act.

For many, many years the feelings I have had that are associated with those six weeks I spent in Florida in 1989 have been buried very deep.  I went through therapy.  I dealt with the angst, the grief, and the loss of so much of my innocence, of my hope in better days for my mother.  I know now that those fear-filled days in that hospital in Jacksonville, and many of the strange days afterwards have helped me form my own understanding of my mother that I could never have had otherwise.  Some experiences just must happen.

I hope not to sound preachy here, but in the end, our love and understanding of one another is quite simply, all we have.  This song takes me back to those visions of her, the different times I tried to understand and feel things with and for her so that she could take a bigger space in a heart filled with only the ghosts of all the lost days and nights in between.  I get why she couldn't be there for me.  I get it and I understand it and I accept it, but unfortunately and quite fortunately at the same time, I can still feel the loss, the frustration, the anger, and the fear.

Never ever let yourself close up so tight that you cannot feel the emotions you need to keep feeling to consider yourself alive.  The heart will not stay hurt forever.  Use this song, or any that strikes your own emotional chords, to help yourself remember those painful experiences and continue to heal from all you have learned and been able to do since.