Category Archives: Writing

After he was gone: confusion and grief consuming

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TorahThis week I went to Jewish Yom Kippur services. This is the part of the Jewish High Holidays celebration and this particular day is called the Day of Atonement, where we atone for our sins throughout the year and ask ‘God’ for forgiveness for our everyday transgressions – large or small – and promise/vow to do better in the coming year.

An integral part of the day included a lengthy Yizkor service honouring the memory of our dead loved ones.  We read poems and Jewish death liturgy. It was an intense service where the words spoke to me again and again. I was enveloped in mourning those who passed before me. I believe this was the beginning of my week spiraling down into another deep grief depression.

This week I met with a friend – an editor – who agreed to talk about a submission I wanted to write for a book anthology on death, and to bounce around some ideas with her for an outline. As we talked, the memories flooded back again. Tears welled up. I was living the last moments of his life, questioning the rationale for what happened – Why did he die? Did I do all I could? Why couldn’t I save him this time? Could we have done something differently?

writingAfter my friend left, I tried to start writing my piece, but it didn’t seem genuine. The words and thoughts were stilted. It didn’t capture what I felt. It wasn’t conveying my feelings. I began wondering whether I really wanted someone to judge my personal writing and possibly reject it because it didn’t meet their standards. When you pour you soul out and others dismiss it as substandard would it be too difficult to bear?

Even after evening with my weekly meditation group didn’t relax me. The act of meditating became a futile attempt to calm a wandering mind focusing on finding words for the anthology story and coming up with empty platitudes, stale remarks and boring analogies.

The fact that our Canadian Thanksgiving is this weekend probably added to my muddled mind. Another holiday without Bob. The enveloping sadness that was taking over.

That night I couldn’t stop thinking. The yearning of my loss morphed into a need to be held, but there was no one there to hold me and tell me it would be alright. I was, again, back in the time of feeling bereft.

Today, I am wrung out from crying, wailing and flailing my fists at unfairness, aloneness, desperation. Can someone please bring him back, reverse time, make this as if it never happened?

Grief is a never-ending cycle. Slowly, through time, the positives in life begin to outweigh the negatives. We are more present, living in the moment rather than living in the past. The bad days don’t go away but we begin to see the triggers and rationale. But  that doesn’t negate the grief. It slowly heals, then we fall back and, like a Band-Aid® being ripped off quickly and without care for the pain it inflects, the wounds, partially healed, are revealed and the anguish and heartache return.

It’s been 16 months since he was gone. I have fewer people to turn to. Who wants a call in the middle of the night from a woman who can’t stop crying? Shouldn’t I be over it? Is that what others think? And yet the grief continues. It doesn’t take a holiday. It is part of my life and comes up unexpectedly again, and again, and again.

I know I did all I could to try and save him, but it was his time. And now I must live without him. I still don’t know how to do that. I haven’t figured out what my purpose is. After a day and night like I just went through I just feel wrung out. It’s easier to crawl into bed and never come out.

A belated farewell to Robin Williams – sometimes it feels like it’s about me

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Robin William’s death was beyond tragic. If I could have been with him I would have told him how I struggled with this myself. I wrote a few blogs about a recent bout I went through. One was a suicide note: After he was gone: Darkest Days.

A friend  wrote me an imploring e-mail reaching out to me. I changed the wording after I had settled down… a bit After he was gone: Darkest Days 2.

I obviously have a strong affinity for those who are left behind after the death of a loved one. When Williams’ wife posted about allowing them privacy during their “profound grief,” I was struck again by my own personal journey. I have used that exact phrase in my own blog. Ironically (not in a funny way), I recently posted a blog about my grief journey and my own battle with depression: My new reality.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone even reads my blog (save for a few good friends). A few people post on Facebook and other social media, and some tell me they read it. Some say they don’t read it. Fair enough. But without the tangible feedback those in the world of their own depression feel alone.

Reaching out is scary. No one touching you when you reach out is worse.

The other night I had a friend over. I read my bog post My new reality to her and she cried. I realized that it’s too painful for people to read. So if they find it too painful to read about other people’s struggles then it’s no surprise that we keep our demons to ourselves.

Rest in peace Mr. Williams. Your demons are purged. You are missed profoundly by those who loved you most. but you aren’t in pain anymore.

After He Was gone: Still Sad

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imageI got a cat last week. I call him Joey.  He is sweet and young but he doesn’t reply if I talk to him. He doesn’t like me to hold him for too long.

When I was in university I took a poetry class from (then) renowned Canadian poet, Irving Layton (now deceased). It was the 70s, a time of ‘free love’, flower children and experimentation. Mr. Layton told his young, shy naive students to reach down deep and write from inside. Don’t hide emotions. Talk openly about sex and feelings. The only feeling I felt was discomfort with his ideas. I had not lived a full life. I had never been in love.

Now I can tell you about those feelings and emotions and love that takes your breath away. It will make young people blush with discomfort. But I will tell you there is nothing better than to have loved, physically and emotionally.

I can graphically detail the most intimate moments between lovers.

One year after he was gone I remember love and lust. I know about the intertwining of bodies and minds. I have felt writhing souls touching each other in need and desire.

We are human.  We are not meant to be alone. So I will not get over my loss. Did I feel the last passionate moment of my life? But then again, at least I have felt that passion in my lifetime and I can write about it with clarity. Mr Layton would be proud.

 

After He Was Gone: My new reality & my old demon – depression

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I haven’t written a blog since May: After He Was Gone: Darkest Days. It was just under a year, the long weekend in May, when I had a breakdown, actually one of two, leading up to the one-year anniversary since Bob died, June 8, 2013.

Image courtesy of FrameAngel / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I found myself sitting with my doctor in her office, another blog in my hand: After he was gone – 11 months, I am. I’d been crying for two days. I felt like I was going through the first days of loss all over again. It was like being violently thrown back in time and crashing against the grief wall, living the first days of loss over and over and over again.

She read my blog, raised her eyebrows ever so slightly, then said “O.k….” We talked at length, actually, she talked. I cried, in between getting out a few straggling thoughts of depression and hopelessness. After what seemed like an hour, and having assessed my state of mind enough to feel she could trust me not to do anything rash, she asked me to increase my antidepressants and made a follow-up appointment.

It takes a while for the medication to kick in, but when it did I finally realized it wasn’t a place I wanted to be either. I was numb. I couldn’t cry. I didn’t care about anything. There was no sadness, but there was no joy either. I was existing in a fog of daily to-do chores. I could work because I could focus again, but my creativity was nil. I went back and told her I needed to decrease the medication. She agreed, but continues to monitor me. I am on the lower dose now and started to feel emotions again. It actually felt like relief when I cried again. But I wonder why I’m doing this balancing act with antidepressants.

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For me, there is a hairline difference between existing and living. It’s called antidepressants. Given the right dose I feel ‘normal.’ When I go off them I find myself in a deep, dark cavern. It’s been going on for years. I have not found the antidepressant antidote that works for me. I must stay on them, even just a low dose. I’m not crazy, but they make me feel, well, ‘normal.’

So what is normal, or abnormal? Our Western society, dictates that we must smile and be happy. No matter how far we fall, we need to get up, brush ourselves off and move ahead. We need to “get over” anything that happened in the past and focus on the future.

Things get more complicated when you set out on a grief journey. It changes life in a way you can’t imagine. I try to learn as much about it as I can, and about ways to get through this, because I know that I will never will get over it. One of my lessons has become a new buzz phrase in Western society: “being in the moment.” It’s done through conscious effort but has been used in meditation for decades. It’s a place where you don’t think about the past or future. If your mind wanders back or forward, you need to pull it into the present.

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s often a fight to get the busy (sometimes referred to as ‘monkey’) mind to settle down. Even those who have been meditating for years still find their minds wander. But the entire act of control over your mind and where you focus is achieved with repetition. The idea is to bring the practice into your present life. Don’t think too far ahead. Don’t focus on what happened before. Live each moment as it comes, every day.

In grief this is the biggest challenge. When we lose a loved one, we are thrown into a frenzy of making arrangements for their burial, or whatever our tradition requires. We are surrounded by family and friends who hold us up. We console others on their loss of our loved one. Then, suddenly, we are left on our own. Life goes on for everyone else. The grief-stricken don’t have a life as they knew it. Being in the moment means pain.

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As time moves on we move further away from the intense grief but there are times when the loneliness of our new reality makes us apprehensive, fearful and sometimes depressed. For me it’s long weekends. I am alone, not by choice. So I post on Social Media, hoping to connect with someone out there:

“I don’t like weekends. I especially dislike long weekends. Why? Because I feel like everyone is with family hanging out or getting away, especially in the nice summer weather. Not that my preconceived idealist notion is true, but it feels like it to me. I don’t have my guy, or cats…or anyone to be with, consistently, throughout the weekend. I used to, but not now. Yes, I do try to make plans but sometimes it seems like a lot of work. I never had to do this before. [This is] Another part of my new reality.”

I am greeted with support. Some say they feel this way too. Others say this is a revelation to them. Over a year ago it would have been a revelation to me. But not now. And so I continue on my journey, after a year has passed since he was gone. I will be on pills that make me try to feel normal. I will smile and some days I will feel happiness, but nothing is the same, or will ever be the same. There is a huge gaping hole in my heart, but I’m the only one who can feel it. I didn’t sign up for this, but this is my new reality.

*****

As I write this it’s the last day of a long weekend. I have seen some friends. I have spent time alone. It feels like it’s been a week, but I made it.

After He Was Gone: Darkest Days

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Suzanne Boles:

I sometimes forget the power of words. I have edited this to be more supportive and hopeful.

Originally posted on Write From Here:

In your darkest days everything becomes confused and skewed. Thoughts aren’t always rational. There is an innate need to get rid of the pain. Body shakes. Tears become sobs. Sometimes tears are healing, but in your darkest moments they just wring you out and toss you around.
Darkest Days 2In your darkest days you start to question life and your purpose here. You hang on – people who will miss you, there are things to be done but everything feels dark and heavy. The things you held onto as constants in your life recede.

I tell my story about where I’ve been to purge my feelings and I hope that someday, when you feel this way – and there’s a good chance you will – that you will visit my words and say “now I get it.” But maybe that time hasn’t come for you. That’s o.k. I will document this pain for you to…

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After He Was Gone: Darkest Days

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In your darkest days everything becomes confused and skewed. Thoughts aren’t always rational. There is an innate need to get rid of the pain. Body shakes. Tears become sobs. Sometimes tears are healing, but in your darkest moments they just wring you out and toss you around.
Darkest Days 2In your darkest days you start to question life and your purpose here. You hang on – people who will miss you, there are things to be done but everything feels dark and heavy. The things you held onto as constants in your life recede.

I tell my story about where I’ve been to purge my feelings and I hope that someday, when you feel this way – and there’s a good chance you will – that you will visit my words and say “now I get it.” But maybe that time hasn’t come for you. That’s o.k. I will document this pain for you to prepare you for your losses when they come.

There is no ‘happily ever after’ when it comes to grief. We never get over it. Time dulls the painful piercing in our heart, but it never really goes away. When we see someone freshly grieving it hits us face first and we re-live it over again.

Those who grieve commune with others who feel the same. Sadness brings together kindred spirits and lost souls, binding together naturally. Others sit outside, afraid to be touched by the sadness. Most don’t know what to say. Sometimes saying nothing is all that’s needed; a hug, a listening ear and a few kind words are more healing than platitudes. You can’t really take the pain away, and the grieving never ask you to because we know it’s not possible.

Darkest Days 1When the pain recedes depends on the recipient. Some hang onto it. Others float in and out. Some try to run away from the pain, but it always catches up with you.

I tell you this to help prepare you. Our culture doesn’t teach us that death is part of the circle of life. So when we see death firsthand we are shocked into a new reality. When this happens I can tell you that you’re not alone. You can seek out others and connect, but that’s your choice. Because it helps me doesn’t mean it will help you.

Let your heart rule, not your head. Your mind will deceive you. Your heart will always be true to you. It will comfort you like a blanket, caress your weary mind and body when others have moved on with their lives.

In your darkest days you believe that you are alone. Your head tells you this. Your heart aches too much to listen. But you are not alone.

In your darkest days I hope you have someone to hold you and comfort you. Don’t give up hope. You are not alone.

After he was gone – 11 months, I am…

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touch fingersIt’s been 11 months since I touched his hair, smelled the cologne on his shirt, traced his fingers with mine.

I haven’t marked every month through writing, but I instinctively know the day. It smacks me in the face unabated. No warning. A song plays and tears streak my cheeks. For me the pain is good. It keeps his memory alive.

I remember someone telling me that it’s o.k. to keep telling your story because every time you tell it, it’s different. I’m now keenly aware that each time I share our story it’s becoming more of an abbreviated version: “On March 11th, 2013 my husband called me from work to say he had to go to the hospital. On June 8, 2013 he died.”

Sometimes I invite the listener to check out my blog, if they want to know more, but really, I write about my journey for me. It is catharsis. Like tears, writing purges my anguish. It’s a temporary liberation from sorrow. Re-reading the words brings him back to me, for a moment.

In addition to going to a grief group, I started seeing a therapist. I was desperate the first time I walked into her office in the midst of another bad week that came out of nowhere. “One more time telling his story…our story,” I thought. I’m so tired of telling it over and over again.

TearsI start to talk and words tumble out on top of each other. The tears are embedded in the narrative. “I don’t understand why this keeps happening,” I say, about these days that side swipe me out of nowhere. She explains the ebb and flow of grief and that it’s natural to feel all these emotions weeks, months, years later. “Years? Really?” But I realize my desperation to keep his memory alive. Feeling pain is my tribute. Forgetting him isn’t an option.

This week she gave me homework: “Exploring sense of self by completing the phrase ‘I am…’ (or related phrases).” So I mark 11 months since he was gone by looking at who I am now.

  • I am…no longer someone’s wife. And this starts the tears again. I lost that definition the day he died. I hate the title “widow.” I’m not that…but I am.
  • I am…not who I was. I was me, but I was also Bob’s wife. I planned my days around “us.”
  • I am…not as bereft as I was months ago but still missing him terribly.
  • I am…lonely but getting used to being on my own. But I am still lonely. Everyone went back to their lives. Mine is shattered and unrecognizable.
  • I am…reinventing myself. Without being a wife and losing half of me when he died I’m an emerging as new person. My acts and actions aren’t always predictable.
  • I am…unpredictable.
  • I am…stronger than I was 11 months ago. I’ve learned to do the jobs he did – get propane for the barbeque, putting up curtain rods, painting, reaching that top shelf (he was 6 foot 2 and I’m 5 foot 2)…but that doesn’t mean I like doing these things on my own.
  • I am…trying to be a good mother, but I am not the same mother I was. You must try to hide your feelings from your children (sorry if they’re reading this). My journey isn’t theirs.
  • I am…truly happy that I chose to move from “our home” to “my home.” I feel safe here. I brought pieces of Bob with me to create a new place for us. I don’t live with his ghost, in a physical sense – seeing him in a spot in the house where he used to be. But he is here with me in a positive way.
  • I am…living a dream. I would like to believe that this chapter in my life isn’t real. I am watching it from outside. I will wake up and he will be next to me. But it doesn’t happen.
  • I am…not over it. I never will be. Slowly the pain will fade, but the loss will always be there.
  • I am…grieving, and this is what it feels like.

Writing Process Blog Hop

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Thanks so much to Doreen Pendgracs for inviting me to participate in my first Writing Process Blog Hop! The purpose is to give you insight into each writer’s writing process. But first let me introduce Doreen.

Doreen PendgracsDoreen’s intent is to educate, entertain and inspire writers and anyone interested in creative and cultural endeavours. You’ll find twice monthly posts about virtues and life on her writing lifestyle blog at http://doreenpendgracs.com. If you’re a chocolate lover and love to travel, you will enjoy Doreen’s chocolate travel blog at http://diversionswithdoreen.com/. If you’re interested in her latest book, Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate, visit  http://chocolatour.net/ for updates about the book, and chocolate tours, tastings and events. In addition to non-fiction books, Doreen also writes magazine, newspaper, and online articles and blog posts about travel, lifestyle, chocolate, volunteerism and other topics for various publications. You can read some of her published articles on the “Samples” page of her static website at http://www.wizardofwords.net. Doreen loves making contact with readers and hopes you will enjoy her posts and articles.

Doreen’s previous title, Before You Say Yes … A Guide to the Pleasures & Pitfalls of Volunteer Boards was released by Dundurn Press in 2010 and has been renowned as the “volunteer’s bible” as it was written to serve as the ultimate guide for anyone sitting on a board of directors in the non-profit sector. In addition to books and periodical assignments, Doreen has also done writing/editing projects for various corporate clients, and conducted writing and public speaking workshops for numerous writing and community groups. As a Distinguished Toastmaster, Doreen’s speaking abilities have dazzled audiences on Celebrity Cruise Lines and in other forums–most recently, the Hawaii Chocolate Festival where she shared tales about her chocolate travels.

I’m pleased to add that I joined Doreen on her Chocolate travels, in London, England 2010 and this year, February 2014 to Hawaii.

Now it’s my turn.

1) What am I working on?

I’ve been freelancing since 1996. I specialize in writing profiles of people and businesses. In 2013 my life changed forever when my husband, Bob Donaldson, became ill on March 11th. He died on June 8th. Since then the main focus of my writing has been on my grief journey and educating people about grief.

My blog, here, started out about writing with a personal focus as well. When Bob got sick I began to write about his time in hospital and our daily challenges. I was posting daily to Facebook as well. My hope is to put this together in a cohesive format, but I haven’t decided what that will be yet. In the meantime I am moving back to writing for publications and clients. I also teach Writing for Publication and Copywriting at Continuing Studies, Western University, London, Ontario.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Everyone has their own, unique writing voice. I have been told, and I believe, that mine is very unique. I try to get my message across in a way that’s easy to understand and that will make some kind of impact on the reader – to learn something new, laugh, cry. I want my writing to touch my readers and make the story memorable for them.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Sharing my thoughts and feelings is a personal catharsis. I feel fulfilled to have put my truest feelings out for others to connect with. I want to make an impact with my writing. Just to touch a few people with my gift of sharing through written words is truly self-fulfilling for me.

4) How does your writing process work?

It differs depending on the project. If I am working with clients on a project, or writing an article for a magazine I do my research and interviews. I transcribe my notes. I write. I go back and edit. I edit again. Then I use a program that reads my words back to me. When you hear them read aloud you find mistakes or bumps in the writing that make it difficult for the reader to wade through. Then I edit again. When I write posts for my blog I write, edit, edit, edit. The first draft is never the final draft.

I highly recommend William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well. I use it in my teaching. I live and breathe his mantras about the importance of editing your work, and removing clutter and onerous words and phrases.

Now, I’d like to introduce two other blog hoppers, who I admire. Please visit their websites on March 31st for their Blog Hop posts.

Blog Hop Christine Peets

From an early age, Christine Peets aspired to be a teacher and a writer and she’s managed the two careers well. She started as a community newspaper reporter and then moved into the freelance writing world. Her first teaching was as an Early Childhood Educator, and Christine began teaching writing and communications courses in 2003.  She has taught in the private and public sectors, and especially enjoys working with small groups.

Christine’s freelance work is published in consumer and trade magazines, newspapers, academic journals, websites and on blogs.

For more details about Christine’s work visit Captions Communications, or contact her: Christine@CaptionsCommunications.ca. Her blog, With Humour and Hope: The Only Way to Live allows her to write on a number of topics but always keeping in mind a sense of humour and hope.


Blog Hope Luigi BLuigi Benetton
http://luigibenetton.com/ is based in Toronto, Canada. A technology copywriter, journalist, business writer and technical writer, he helps technology businesses and periodical editors explain sophisticated technology in ways that their business audiences will understand.

Luigi loves new technology and says it brings out his inner geek. He equally enjoys telling the story of standout technology, “stuff that will make a difference to others once they learn about it.”

He took an indirect route to copywriting, starting as a technical writer, providing manuals, workshop aids and training for sophisticated software. As a writer specializing in technology topics, Luigi’s goal is to demystify technology making the information accessible to non-technical and technical readers alike. Check out his TechnoZen Blog at http://luigibenetton.com/category/technozen/ .

After he was gone: Right between the eyes

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fist

Some days you think everything is o.k. Then it hits you right between the eyes. Bam!

My inner voice asks, What was that? I thought I was fine. I start to cry. I pull out my phone to see if it’s the date. The eighth of every month is an anniversary that my mind never forgets. But that’s not today. Maybe it’s a reminder that it’s coming s00n. Maybe it’s just me having a bad day.

Then I think of the times when I felt all alone, desperate and forlorn. I don’t always feel that way now. I am better, or am I? I’m always second guessing myself.

And the roller coaster ride continues. Up, Up, Up, then, out of nowhere, the enormity of everything that happened comes flooding back, playing over and over and over in my head. I pass by the hospital he died in and I turn away. Everything is a reminder. How come no one else feels this? Down, Down, Down.

Clown SmilingIt’s not a good day to teach. I have to put on my Happy Face. I can’t paint it on like Ronald McDonald. And, anyway, his is a clown’s face and it’s just plain scary. Mine is a sad face that I cover up with a fake smile.

I talk but my words are jumbled. I try to put an idea forward and get confused; another lapse into widow brain. I’m hot and embarrassed. I want time to fast forward and it does, only slowly not fast, but at least it’s moving forward. I get through it. They don’t know. It’s just me.

Everything feels tainted today. When it happens I know I have to ride it out. This is how grief works. You try to get around it but it grabs you and throws you against the wall, or hits you between the eyes. Bam!

I can’t forget him. I don’t want to. And though I wish I could get off, these roller coaster days aren’t over yet. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Now I am…who am I? I am trying to find out, one day at a time.

After He Was Gone: Who will I share my stories with now?

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Today was a good day but (the BUT) I want to post something about what I’m feeling. It is more of an information piece to get you thinking about who you share things with in your life.

I had a great day teaching my first class for a new course. I would normally share that with Bob. That, in itself is frustrating because I can’t. But something happened that only he and I would understand and I kept thinking “I want to tell him” then, “Oh, I can’t.” I started thinking “Who can I tell?” But then I knew no one else would Really ‘Get It.’ He knew the people who’ve been in and out of my life for over 30 years. He knew me better than anyone. I wouldn’t have to explain it, just say “Did you know?” and a brief sentence and he’d say “Wow! That’s interesting!” And maybe we would strike up a “remember when” conversation. But this isn’t going to happen.

It’s really frustrating when that happens. It’s like wanting to punch a wall but it keeps disappearing. Argh! Another milestone, so to speak. But (the (BUT again), anyway, it was a good day.