Oh Grief!

I haven’t written for a while, because quite honestly, I’ve been lost in grief. In October my “Gifted mother” (GM) went home to my dad in heaven. So, not only am I going through the grief of losing her, but also because we need to sell their family home, I’ve been feeling like I’m losing him all over again. I have to say goodbye to a home that offered so many loving memories, when truly I so desperately want to hold onto it. I’m financially not in the position to do it. My dad, GM and I talked about me having the house many times because it was my dream home for the kids and I to live. I have pictured them growing up there a million times. So, not only have I lost them, I lost a dream of a life. I know in my heart if I was meant to have the house, a way would have presented itself, but it hasn’t. I have to believe its because that is not the direction I’m supposed to be going, but right now that reality is very hard to swallow.

Every day since I found out my GM was dying has been a struggle. So many thoughts and feelings have been eating at me. I’ve been endlessly spinning. My life has paid the price for being out of balance as I’ve watched my children suffering in their own ways and I’ve watched my joy be tainted with so much questioning. I’ve been watching myself, thank GOD with awareness; I haven’t been able to stop the thoughts from coming, but at least knowing that my natural childlike defenses are on heightened alert.

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I’ve been keeping myself endlessly busy, which is very easy to do as a single mom during the holidays. My goal was to get through the holidays and get a fresh new start in 2017. On December 28th, my 98-year-old grandmother died. She is the last of my grandparents and her and my grandfather have lived in their house since before my dad was born. So, another door closes and once again the house needs to be sold. All the memories of the house will be left to my head and heart. My kids and I visited her on our road trip this summer. Her humor was still fully intact and her love for us was abundant. She was an amazing example of a life well lived. I feel her loss to the core of my being.

In my Intro to Human Development course in college, the book Life-Span Development by John W. Santrock said, “Grief is the emotional numbness, disbelief, separation anxiety, despair, sadness, and loneliness that accompany the loss of someone we love.” Grief doesn’t just surface when people, pets, and living things die. It surfaces anytime someone or thing we have feelings for leaves our lives. When we leave any part of an old life behind, such as: loss of work, divorce, addictions, changes in location and/or lifestyle; we grieve.

Kübler -Ross developed the idea of the 5 stages of gief that came from what was considered originally as the 5 stages of dying. They are the same:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

I’ve seen this process again and again, but somehow I think I can escape these losses without going through the each stage. When I read through it in class, I could relate, but only as a past tense experience. I keep trying to believe there is some magic way to not experience the feelings of every stage. Now at least, I’m able to slow down and look at the list and go OK, I have to just let it pass through me with awareness. Most days I have to remind myself daily or I forget and spin it into a drama that I don’t want added to my life. I can spend time questioning every detail and letting all of the progress of these past years whirl around me as I’m swept up in this tornado.

Sometimes we forget that grieving isn’t exclusive to adults either. Some cultures have rituals they follow, which I believe helps them stay present to the grieving process. But in other cultures, living in a fast-paced society; the busy doing world of single mothers; teachers stretched so thin they can’t see the whole student; and mental health systems that are too interested in labeling kids quickly; we can miss what grief is doing to the children. I just recently got a taste of how some educators have become numb to a child’s emotional pain. This is not entirely their fault, teachers are stretched so thin that sometimes all they can see is behavior and they don’t find the time to see that a child may be grieving.

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My son has been struggling for a long time, but more than ever this year. Our last six years have been full of losses, but even I missed that some of his acting up may have been because he was grieving all these tremendous losses in his life. We tried therapy but they couldn’t label what they saw in the short time he had covered, so it was missed on all kinds of levels. I didn’t see it until it got so bad that it was impossible to avoid. I started researching how grief comes out in students. The results came out like a checklist of all the behaviors he has been exhibiting in school. This experience has reminded me of how easy it is to expect children to do what we can’t do ourselves. Who acts normal when they are grieving? As an adult with lots of experience with grief, I’m watching myself be totally chaotic and lost at times. How is it an 11 year old, who hasn’t studied it and is only at the beginning of understanding meaning of life supposed to process all these losses like death, divorce, addiction, moving, etc.?

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Grief is something that has been studied and documented for years. There is a formula but it is complicated and not linear. There is no escape from the process. We must face it in order to move through it. If we try to avoid any of the stages we stay stuck. Sometimes we will try to fill the void and we will endlessly fail. Other times we try to cover the void with alcohol, drugs (illegal or prescribed), food, sex, and/or some other form of addictive behavior. Once again staying stuck and digging ourselves into a deeper pit of endless sorrow. I’m deep in the grief process right now and I’m not running, but I feel far from normal. I’m just trying to stay aware of where my head and heart are and doing the next right thing. Today that meant spending 30 minutes reading with my kids before school; taking a long walk while listening to an inspiring audiobook; meditating; having lunch with a friend; and reading and writing about grief. In my research, I found one of my favorite authors, Louise Hay wrote a book with David Kessler about grieving called, You Can Heal Your Heart. I love how when we ask for help and mean it, we find exactly what we need.

With Love and Gratitude,

Rachael Wolff

Facebook.com/FromAlovingPlace

When the Pain Is Real

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I have been writing about emotional pain and suffering since I started this blog, but until last week I hadn’t had much experience with the concept of dealing with so much emotional pain and physical pain all at once. I like to believe I’m a very compassionate person, but until I suffered from what I’m going through right now I didn’t know I had ways to open up even more.

In a matter of weeks, I found out my “Gifted mother” (GM) (my dad’s partner of 21 years and too special to consider step or anything less) had stage 4 lung cancer and would not be fighting it. She was ready to be with my dad once again on the other side; a strange foot thing making my foot swell and sharp pains run over the top of my foot; discovering I had a basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) right above my lip; my book proposal needing to be finished; and my kid’s father stopped paying child support. I showed up for my GM as much as I could, and dealt with my foot issue including having to wear a soft cast on my right foot as I traveled  an hour and a half to go be with my GM as frequently as I possible.

I had surgery on my face that turned out to be a lot more intense than I thought it would be. The worst news I got from my Dr. was that I wasn’t supposed to smile, laugh, or excessively move my mouth for three weeks. I’m a positive person and all I could think about was not being able to help my GM feel comfortable in what could be her last week of life. After leaving my surgery, I get a text letting me know that my GM was unresponsive. I drove right down with a fully bandaged face. Her friend sent me a message saying she was waiting for me, and that she was talking now.

When I got there she didn’t recognize me because I had a bandage covering most of my face. If I had painted a little nose on, I would have looked like on of Dr. Seuss’ Who characters from Whoville. I knew I was where I was supposed to be. She talked and laughed all night passing messages of love and even humor with one of her best friends and I, then later her daughter arrived from a very long drive to get to her. She still was having beautiful moments until I left late that night. I wouldn’t have missed that time for the world. The next morning, I came in and sat quietly across the room as her and her daughter slept. My GM had a rough night and was now on a morphine drip and anti-anxiety  meds. She was so peaceful, we thought we would have a little more time, but at 9:43am, I was holding her hand in my hands as she took her last breath.  All of this happened within six long, never-ending weeks.

I sit here now with stitches still in my face, feeling out of sorts and not quite like myself. I didn’t have any idea of how much of my identity I put into expressing my emotions through my face. I have never stuffed any kind of pain, so to have to constantly restrict what I can do and how my face moves, along with watching my tears because I need to make sure to keep my wound clean, has proven to be more challenging than I thought it would be. I see now how people can feel like they lose their identities when they have an injury or illness that restricts them from doing and acting the way they usually do. I get how it takes time to process the feelings that I never even knew I had inside.

My lesson is one of compassion for others. As I walk by people and they look at me and smile a sympathetic smile, I have to look down instead of smile back, because it causes too much physical pain. I am now more understanding to people who are suffering from emotional, mental, physical, and financial distress, because I truly have no idea what might have happened to that person in the last week, month or year.

On a logical and practical level, I know not to take other’s actions personally, but going through everything I just did in these last six weeks, I finally fully understand it in the heart now. I have had to let people have their journeys and experiences through all of this. Everyone views the end of life journey so differently. My kids had to see me after surgery and get the news that their JoJo passed all at once. I had to understand how scary seeing me stitched up and covered in bandages was for them and that it was also embarrassing in a way. I get that, I still get a little embarrassed, I can’t expect they wouldn’t. I feel like I could talk about it openly and help them deal with the guilt of feeling embarrassed. I could also let them feel the way they needed to about their JoJo, which is still not quite real to any of us yet.

I know there is still a lot of powerful lessons in all that happened over these last six weeks, but I also know how blessed I am. So many showed up and helped me and my kids through this piece of a very big and unfinished puzzle. I’m blessed because all the right things came together for my GM to have the most peaceful journey possible. I’m blessed because though these next few weeks will be rough as I have to control how my feelings release on the outside, I still have my fingers to type and so much love in my heart to continue on and know I will smile again.

I believe the world is filled with Earth Angels and I’m so grateful that so many have crossed my path and helped me to continue to see all the beauty in humanity. Though I’m going through some tough life lessons, I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be-Itchy stitches and all. Even when the pain is SO real! The love can still always shine through if we keep our hearts open.

With Love and Gratitude,

Rachael Wolff