Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Grief archives

 * I post these today for several reasons.  First, I'd like to link them from my Grief page on this blog, since they are the earliest writings I have in my journey of loss, but they were written before this blog existed, in notes on facebook.  Second, there may be some readers out there who would find connectedness in hearing how another person felt walking through the initial weeks of loss.  Everyone is different and grieves in different ways.  Perhaps because I'm a writer, I found comfort early on in other peoples' words, when I stumbled across another soul who could understand some of the confusing, overwhelming and intense emotions of loss.  It helped me not feel so alone. It helped me feel that my grief, in all its varied expressions, was normal. I hope my words may offer that for someone else. *

When silence falls

Saturday, August 9, 2008 at 4:19 pm

One thing about hanging out in a hospital all day is that there's a lot of time to think. And thinking is the very thing I try to avoid doing much of right now. I'm still feeling in a state of shock, that surreal "this-can't-be-happening-to-me" state, where I keep hoping to wake up from the nightmare. But the reality of what's going on is rumbling right beneath the surface of my shock, pushing, like an earthquake against my heart and mind. I'm not ready for the earthquake to hit, but I don't know how long I can hold it back. 

So I'm finding some comfort in dwelling on other people's words, like the lyrics from some of my beloved worship songs. The words from this song by Tim Hughes hold a raw new meaning for me and my family:

I've got questions, without answers
/ I've known sorrow, I have known pain
/ But there's one thing I will cling to/ 
You are faithful, Jesus You're true/ 

When hope is gone, I'll call You savior
/ When pain surrounds, I'll call You healer/ 
When silence falls, You'll be the song within my heart

/ Through the lone hour of my sorrow/ 
Through the darkest night of my soul
/ You surround me and sustain me/ 
My defender forevermore

/ When hope is gone, I'll call You savior
/ When pain surrounds, I'll call You healer
/ When silence falls, You'll be the song within my heart

/ I will praise You, I will praise You
/ When the tears fall, still I will sing to You
/ I will praise You, Jesus, praise You
/ Through the suffering still I will sing

/ When the laughter fails to comfort
/ When my heart aches, Lord, are You there?
/ When confusion is all around me
/ And the darkness is my closest friend/ 
Still, I will praise You
/ Jesus, praise You 

One last thing. I experienced this dark night of the soul worship as I never have before last night. I brought my guitar into my Papa's room and sat with a dear friend, playing softly and singing over him for over an hour. Through the tears, it's like I could hear Jesus singing over my Papa. He didn't make any promises or raise dad out of the bed. But His presence filled the room and I felt in my spirit that God was ministering to Papa, some place beyond his coma. No matter what happens, I know He loves my Papa. And He loves us. I hope I can cling to that in the darkness and in the silence.

Groundhog day

Monday, August 11, 2008 at 6:45 am

6:15 am. Day six. You know that movie where the guy keeps waking up and experiencing groundhog day, every day? That's kind of what life feels like. Suspended. Repeating itself. Refusing to move forward. Waiting to see if the groundhog sees his shadow. I want it to move forward...and I don't

Everyday I wake up and it starts almost the same way . Disappointed, heavy, sad, without much hope. I see him lying in the bed, I hear the doctors speak his poor prognosis, I want to cover my ears and wish the talking would stop. I cry, I feel overwhelmed, and then, as the day wears on, I begin to feel nothing. I even laugh and joke around, and by the end of it, I feel a strange calm, like the calm before a storm or maybe in the eye of the storm. And then I go to bed, attempt to sleep, and wake up and do the same thing all over again. Except now, it feels like these repeat days are coming to an end and some inevitable change is going to happen, and I don't feel ready for whatever it is.

Yesterday we had a meeting with some doctors. They told us his most likely prognosis is that, if he wakes up, he will be severely disabled and may require long-term nursing care the rest of his life. Or, they said we can choose to remove the tubes that are sustaining his life artificially and let him go, naturally and peacefully. They want to know what my dad would want. You can't imagine being faced with this decision until it smacks you in the face. So our family is asking for prayer that God will be merciful and take this decision out of our hands. We very much want a miracle. But if that's not in God's plans for my dad, we're praying God just takes him home. 

I realize this is probably fairly heavy and depressing to read. Writing is one of my outlets right now, so you'll have to excuse my candidness. It is somewhat relieving to write. And again, I want to say thank you to those of you who are holding onto the hope for us that we feel is slipping away. I guess that's what people do for each other during times like these. Be the holders of hope.

The day before

Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 7:10 am
I just "woke" up. Been lying here in the waiting room, semi-conscious since before 4am. Trying to prepare myself for the day. Today is the day before we take Papa's feeding and breathing tubes out and let him go. How does one prepare herself for such a permanent goodbye? 

I dread this day and the next few days, more than I can comprehend, more than my brain can process the emotions. I already feel myself letting go, accepting in some way that he's been gone from us for the past 7 days, but I don't know what I'll do when I can't crawl up next to him and rub my hands along his arm and kiss his face. I feel the anger rising more often as I stand over his bed and see his chest struggling to breathe... no one should go like this... I broke the hand sanitizer dispenser on my way out of the room last night, accidentally. And then I kicked a few large safety cones outside for good measure. They really should consider having a room with punching bags up here in the ICU wing. Or at least Wii boxing.

It's not that I don't feel all the prayers. I do. And I know... I know that I'll live through this. We'll all live through this. We'll live on. But the thought of doing it without him is more than I can bear at this moment. My Papa is more than a dad - he's one of my best friends. And I never wanted to be thinking of what to say at his memorial service at 27. 

Life is precious.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 10:07 am

There must be two kinds of forever. The forever of "the rest of my life" and the forever of life beyond death. Right now, the forever that looms before me is the forever of life without my dad. I know that someday the forever beyond this life will be a joyous reunion with him. But all I can see before me at this moment is that my life from here on out is forever missing him.
My thanks...

Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 1:07 pm

It's a bit too overwhelming to try to contact everyone personally, though I wish I could right now, and thank you for your love and support. Though I may not respond to your calls, emails or notes on facebook, please know that each and every one is a blessing each day. My family is definitely in need of your continued prayers and love. 

My dad died last night a little after 6pm. Thankfully, he finally went peacefully. It was an experience words cannot describe. I can only speak for myself: I am in shock right now, dipping in and out of grief. It feels like Papa's gone on a trip, and I know it will feel that way for awhile. It's way too much to take in right now. I asked my dear friend, Naphtali, who has been with my family through every step of this nightmare, what I looked like yesterday. Shell-shocked, she said. Like I'm trying to process things I know I can't wrap my mind around, and yet I'm trying to. 

Yesterday I was too exhausted to grieve much. It will probably feel like that for a few more days at least. I know all the grief and bereavement information in my head... I've done it for the past year at my internship. But it's a world of difference figuring out how to apply it now to my own life. How surreal.

Bittersweet denial

Friday, August 15, 2008 at 1:17 pm

I never thought much about what the first day after losing a loved one would be like. But I was not prepared for it to be anticlimactic. Yesterday, I woke up and was in active denial. The sun was shining, we weren't in the hospital for the first time in over a week, and life was strangely going on all around us as usual. I think we all tried to do things that helped us feel some semblance of normalcy. Walking to Starbucks. Visiting the library. Having a picnic outside and reading in the sun. Going for ice cream. Laughing. 

I felt more incongruent yesterday than I've ever felt before. Not happy, by any means, but having a decent day. I told myself, denial is sweet while it lasts, so I'm going to live it up while I have it. I will have plenty of agonizing days once this reality has sunk in, but for this day, I will let myself be in denial. 

Maybe the last week has been so exhausting and traumatizing in itself that, for one day, a tenuous relief set in. I just can't believe yet that he is gone. Even being a bereavement counselor, I couldn't fully appreciate denial until now, because empathy only takes you so far.

On another note. I kind of chuckled at myself yesterday when I realized I'm the only person I know who uses facebook like a blog. I guess I don't want to maintain two different sites so it feels easier to consolidate. 

One thing I've been yearning to do since this all started is write. Not just "blog," but really write. It feels too early to commit myself to anything, but maybe I'll write a book... I don't seem to be able to express myself verbally right now, but I can write in ways my brain won't formulate words to come out of my mouth. I like the thought of honoring my dad by writing. He always loved to read my writing, and he's always been one of my biggest advocates for dreaming. I need to carry that on. He would want that.

Love you all. Thanks, again.

In the clouds

Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 12:10 pm

I have always loved to worship. For me, there's nothing like sitting with my guitar and singing to God, pouring out my heart. Though I haven't much felt like praying or reading my bible lately, singing I can still do. So I was sitting out on a dock by the lake this morning with my mom and several dear friends, worshiping. The clouds started rolling in a little over the lake, and in the midst of singing "It is Well", we glanced up and saw a cross in the clouds, clear as day. Then the thunder rumbled. And we sat in quiet wonder.

The infamous question

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 at 11:26 pm

I don't blame people for asking. I know most people regret it as soon as it rolls from their lips, and I know it's largely born out of habit and social convention and a sincere desire to know, but "how are you doing?" is a really strange question right now. As a grief counselor, I felt weird asking bereaved family members this question in my outreach calls, and I wrestled with the awkwardness, trying to find different ways of phrasing it or couching it in empathetic disclaimers, or normalizing their inability to provide a clear answer, but really there was no way around it. It's just a poor question in the face of loss. 

Or maybe it's not so much the question that's poor, as it is the social norm of how one feels she is supposed to respond to the question. It would take me awhile to string together coherent sentences to adequately communicate "how I'm doing" at this time, which is probably why I say very little and I write much more. 

So, how am I doing? See, even as I type this, I had to pause and stare blankly at the cursor blinking on the screen. I feel oddly, uncomfortably, as normal as I can feel under these circumstances. I feel people who are not immediate family are reeling more from this than I am; that I am often in the position of comforting others over the loss of my dad, as if it's not my loss but theirs and I'm somehow removed from the situation. 

If I could describe my grief at this time, it would be a shapeless mass, a vague sense of loss. My grief seems stashed in a box under lock and key, buried in some dark corner in a basement, and I don't know what key opens the box. There seems to be a sense of comfort and honor found in experiencing the deep pain of grief, but I feel little pain. I better understand now why some of my clients felt so disturbed by their inability to cry. I better understand now how feeling pain is intertwined with feeling connected to my dad and how it can seem like a betrayal of that love not to feel pain. And I know, in my head, that the pain will seep in over time or it may come in like a flash flood, but right now I'm just on auto pilot and I'm wondering when I'll make that transition from observer to participant. 

I must tack on one last piece to that "how are you doing" answer, though. It's a big piece. For lack of stronger words, I am blessed. God has showered my family with love and provision in amazing ways since all this happened. I am rich in friends and I know I am loved.

The journey

Friday, August 22, 2008 at 9:34 pm

The transition between "is" and "was" is like a cavernous gulf, beset in fog, with a long, shaky extension bridge loosely connecting the two worlds. For the one who dies, the transition from "is" to "was" happens in an instant. But for the ones left behind, the journey is a treacherous passing, while clutching the sides of this teetering bridge and squinting to see through the fog. I'm not yet ready to refer to my dad in past tense. He is still my Papa.


Friday, August 29, 2008 at 12:32 am

One month ago, I had planned on being on the road right now, driving with my dad to Minneapolis. Starting a new life, a new adventure, in a city I had never been to. Living with 5 other girls I had never met, finally living in the inner city where so much of my heart is drawn to. Learning how to be a Northwest transplant in the Midwest, gearing myself up for the frigid winters, preparing to trade in my flip flops in the winter for boots. Putting my hard-earned degree to paid use, finally. I was so excited to share that time with my dad. I was so apprehensive about saying goodbye to him at the end of it...

Perhaps the only thing I feel strongly right now is that this life I have, for the time being, is pretend. My life as I knew it several weeks ago has been suspended in time, while life for others goes on as usual all around me. If I could make a silly analogy, it's like I totaled my car in a wreck and now I'm driving around in a rental car until my other car (or, life) gets fixed. Except I know that I won't get my car back the way it was. It's going to be strangely familiar, but so very different than before, but it's all a big unknown at this moment because I'm still deeply entrenched in denial and unwilling to yet embrace my new reality. 

I'm supposed to be sleeping right now, but it's now that my mind starts working, working, working, like an old camera reel, replaying the last three weeks as if searching for something tangible to hold onto. I could try to wrap this up with some positive statement, something hopeful or courageous or inspiring - but that's not really why I'm writing. For now, I just feel lost.

 Thanks for all the prayers. I don't really need a lot of words, but I do need prayers.

Think on that

Saturday, September 6, 2008 at 11:48 pm

Now that I have time on my hands to read, it's been a challenge to find something that I can actually stay focused on, something that isn't too heavy, thought-provoking or overwhelming. Which pretty much rules out most of the books on my "To Read" list, unfortunately. But I was at a thrift store the other day and saw this lone book on a shelf of craft and beauty products, totally out of place. It's called Without reservations, by a journalist named Mary Steinbach, and it's been a Godsend at bedtime (since my body decided to convert to insomniacism). 

This is the travelogue of an intelligent, ambitious, independent woman who set off to rediscover her self through a long sabbatical in Europe, and what I love is that she's a journalist. I can relate to the way she talks about observing the world and how the art of drawing out another person's story as journalists (and counselors) do is different than the vulnerability required in revealing yourself in friendships. I can relate to her independence and ambition, as well as the challenge to not define yourself by those ambitions. 

But what I wasn't expecting in her book was to come across some profound statements about the experience of loss. 

I appreciate the art of conveying emotion through words. Much of the time, it is truly satisfying to find my own words to convey an emotion or experience that it seems no one else can fully understand and that I've been working so hard to make sense of... and other times, it is hopeful to read someone else's words and realize that, though they may not have had the same experience, they have put into words something I have been struggling to say.

These words leapt off the page at me: "the fragility of permanence - the stunning ease with which an entire life can be broken and changed, in minutes, on an ordinary day." Even these words, poignant as they are, don't do justice the experience of suddenly, tragically losing someone you love. But they give an idea, and something to think on. No one wants to think about these things, because they don't happen to "us" they happen to "other people." Yet uncomfortable as it is, life is fragile. It's not something I can make sense of, but when it comes pounding down your door, there's no denying it's true. It certainly flies in the face of my own tendency to live in the future - who I want to be, where I want to live, and what I hope to be doing with my life - instead of in the moment. When an entire life can be broken and changed in mere minutes on an ordinary day, I guess the best thing to do is to enjoy the life you have in the moment and the people you love, for there are no guarantees for the next moment. Easier said than done.

Friend or foe

Friday, September 12, 2008 at 12:07 am

Denial and I seem to have a strange love-hate relationship. I know a lot of my notes are laced with this theme, because I'm realizing it takes many little steps to move beyond it. Tonight, I refused to watch the slideshow of my dad, the one I haven’t seen since his memorial service. In the very beginning after Papa’s death, my mind was straining actively to process what happened, to let the reality of this loss sink in, to somehow make sense of the non-sensical. But after a month of vacillating between denial and some beginning stage of acceptance, somewhere along the way I’ve given myself over to denial. No more flirting – I’m committed. And denial works for me, at least for now.

That is, until this thin veneer that has become my fortress is threatened, and my heart starts racing, while deep within the panic starts to rise, reminding me that denial cannot protect me forever. I push the panic down and force my thoughts back into the closet, where they belong. For now.

I can’t decide whether or not denial is friend or foe. It’s not unlike that “friend” most of us had in elementary or middle school. You know, the one you could never quite figure out. The flaky, we’re-like-best-friends-this-week friend, with whom you feel comfortable, most of the time, who even invites you along on family vacations. The one who, the very next week, is whispering about you to your other friends while still being sweet to your face. And it’s a pattern that repeats itself again and again and again, until you want to grab your friend and shake her (not too hard, of course – I’m more of a pacifist, remember?) saying, “Hey! Are you my friend or not?” In other words: Can I trust you?

I really do know the answer. I’m not dumb. But right now, I want to believe denial is my friend, because I’m afraid of what it will feel like when she’s gone and I’m all alone, just me and reality. And if tonight was any indication of what it may feel like not having that fortress to shut myself up in, I’m not ready yet to go there. 

This week, denial is my friend.

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