Let It Be . . . Me

I know you’ve seen the video, everyone has. It’s been emailed and remailed, Facebooked and Twittered, blogged and Gathered, clogging cyberspace with the message: Let It Be. At first I thought that perhaps this was the answer to my confusion over the death of my mate of thirty-four years. Just go on with my life and let it be. Forget my grief. Forget the pain of losing him. Forget trying to make sense of it all. Just . . . let it be.

My second thought as I continued watching this very looooong and repetitive song (Sheesh! What was Paul McCartney thinking when he wrote it? Not much, apparently) was how my mate would have enjoyed seeing all those faces as they are today. We have so many of them in his movie collection, and they are always that age, the one they’d reached when they made that particular movie (such as a much younger Sherilyn Fenn in The Don’s Analyst or a very young and fit Steve Guttenberg in Surrender).

My third thought was let what be what? And that’s where the thoughts stalled — in a semantics word jam.

I finished watching the video, thinking nothing, just watching the parade of faces, but now I’m wondering if Let it Be is really a philosophy I want to embrace. It seems too accepting of life’s vagaries and not enough of . . . well, embracing.

The whole purpose of going through grief is to process the pain and the loss, to mend your shattered life and heart so that one day you can embrace life in its entirety once again. I haven’t dealt with all these months of tears, anger, frustration, emptiness, loneliness, pain, just to spend the rest of my life letting it be. I want to let it be me —  the one who’s strong enough not to have to simply let it be.

Grief: Denying Denial

I never really had a choice about feeling my grief. It wasn’t so much that I embraced it, but that it embraced me. It took hold of my life and didn’t let go, though it is easing enough so that I am able to see the process for what it is.

People talk about denial as if it’s a bad thing. If I’d been able to deny grief and just go on living as if my mate of thirty-four years hadn’t died, I’d probably have done so. Grief is debilitating, disorienting, causes innumerable physical and emotional reactions, makes one susceptible to cancer, accidents, and other closer-to-death encounters and on top of that, it’s just downright painful.

So why deny denial? Because in the end, it’s better to embrace grief, to learn to live with the pain (which does diminish, though according to comments left on this blog from others who have also lost their mates, it never goes away completely. It can resurface even years later). By embracing grief, by learning how to cope with it, you can learn how to feel deeply again, look forward to the future, and embrace life. This in no way negates your loss, but allows you to honor his death with your life.

Another reason to deny denial is that grief will affect you whether you embrace it or not, but the effects of denied grief are not overt ones such as crying, eating too much or too little, sleeping too much or too little, feeling as if you’ve been kicked in the gut, feeling as if half your heart is missing. Instead, grief that goes underground can create in you long-term problems, including the symptoms of post-traumatic-stress disorder. Two friends — both of whom lost their husbands a few month ago, both of whom are deluged with family and family obligations that give them no time to grieve  — were diagnosed with PTSD after days of internal quivering that only responded to drugs. They do not have time to spare for grief, but grief is not sparing them.

Grief is stressful, which is why crying, screaming, beating up on defenseless sofas are necessary — they help relieve that pent-up stress. You can go into denial and hold grief in, but it’s like holding in your stomach for years on end — you can never think of anything else but your stomach. If you hold yourself tightly against memories, dreams, unexpected encounters with photos, you have no time for living. Perhaps you don’t see a purpose for living now, but if you do your grief work (and grief is work, there’s no doubt about that) chances are you will regain your desire to live. You might even be able to love fully again, and that means risking more pain, but after dealing with your grief, you will be strong enough to accept the risk.

At least, that’s the way I’ve interpreted the grief process. You might see different reasons for either denying grief or denying denial.

Spontaneous Stupidity or Vision Quest?

There are so many stages to grief one gets dizzy trying to keep up with the changes. I’ve tried to embrace my grief during the past seven months, giving in to the emotion of each stage, but the stage I’m in now is one I will not tolerate — self-pity. Lucky for me, this new manifestation of grief shows up right in time for NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo (National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Posting Month, though considering the international aspects of both challenges, they should be called InNoWriMo and InBloPoMo). The nano challenge is to write 50,000 words during November. The nablo challenge is to post a bloggery every day during November, and I signed up for both of them. Yikes. At least I’ll keep myself so busy that I will have no time to feel sorry for myself.

The nano site says: “Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.” By doing both NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo I’m inviting more than just a little spontaneous stupidity into my life, but I’m looking forward to it.  I’m a very slow writer, so I’ll probably end up writing stream of consciousness, which is a cheat since it’s not exactly writing a novel, but I’m doing this more as a vision quest than a writing exercise. Grief digs deep into one’s psyche, dislodging buried feelings and thoughts — sort of like digging for fossils in a tar pit. I’m hoping that by forcing myself to write an insane number of words the loosened bits will surface, bringing me enlightenment. Or wisdom. Or . . . just about anything other than self-pity.

Nancy A. Niles, author of the upcoming thriller Vendetta, posted an article on the Second Wind Publishing Blog mentioning the three things necessary to maintain good mental health:

  • Challenges, or facing fears
  • Attitude
  • Support system

Well, this month I have the challenges, I have the attitude, and I’m privileged to have a wonderful online support system — people who will help keep me motivated.

I’ll let you know what happens. To be honest, you couldn’t stop me. There’s that small matter of having to fill thirty blog posts during the next thirty days . . .

Many Shades of Grief

When you lose someone significant in your life, someone whose very being has helped define you in some way, grief can be overwhelming. So many stages and shades of grief bombard you that at times you think you are going crazy — but except for the very extremes of grief — mummifying yourself so you don’t feel anything for years on end or saving pills so you can end your life — chances are what you are feeling is normal.

Many people who try to deal with the loss completely on their own have no idea if what they are feeling is normal. When you lose your husband, your daughter also loses her father, your sister-in-law loses her brother, your neighbor loses his friend. At first, you grieve together, but one by one everyone else puts aside their grief until you are the only one left crying. And they begin to hint that you need therapy. They got over their pain, why can’t you? After all, you all lost the same man. But you didn’t have the same relationship, so you won’t experience the same shades of grief.

I was in such pain after losing my life mate that I decided to go to a grief support group, hoping they could tell me how to survive the agony. I was afraid, at first, that I would be overwhelmed by everyone else’s pain; instead, I found a group of people who knew what I was going through, who listened to my sad story and who, because of their own survival let me know that I would survive. And that was comforting. I also learned that the only way to survive the pain is to go through the process of grieving.

It’s the hardest thing I have ever done, embracing grief.

Grief takes you to the ends of your limits. It makes you question everything you thought you knew about life, about yourself, about death. It can make you scream at the heavens, make you cry until you think you’re drowning in your own tears, make you want not to live. All this is accompanied by a host of physical symptoms, such as dizziness, tightness in the chest, restlessness, irritability, inability to focus or organize, inability to eat or sleep (or to eat and sleep too much). And when you think you’ve cried all your tears, finished with your panic attacks, come to accept that he isn’t coming back, grief returns, but this time it comes in a different shade, perhaps not so black as in the beginning, but still dark.

Right now I’m going through a time of pearl gray days scattered with storm-cloud gray moments. Though I’ve done the work of grief in my own way, I have had one great benefit that many people don’t have — that grief support group. Because of their support, because I know someone is paying to attention, I have felt free to embrace my grief fully without worrying that I’m crazy or that I need therapy. Because of them, I know I am coping well, I know my grief is normal, I know I am completely sane. I just haven’t finished with my grieving yet, and it’s possible that I may never be completely finished. And that too is normal.