After he was gone: confusion and grief consuming

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 an 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 and then there was October 11th. It would have been our 29th wedding anniversary.

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

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.

New year, new day, new hour…but the fight continues

depressionI haven’t posted anything on my blog since September 2011. I have started several posts, but never finish them. I think I have to face the demon that haunts me before I can start blogging again.

I told myself that I was going to make a new start this year. I told myself the same thing last year. Other than a few small changes, things remain pretty stagnant.

I have this hill that, at some point in my life, grew into a mountain. When I am able to climb – hands in the soil, nails full of dirt – and get near to the top, I slip back down again. It’s a recurring nightmare, but I’m never asleep.

It may seem cliché. Everyone knows someone who claims to have this malady. Those who don’t understand say: “It’s mind over matter, so get over it.” I wish it was that easy. Even with the intervention of medical remedies it never really goes away.

So no matter what people think of me I’ll post it. I suffer from depression. More often than not it’s well hidden. When it’s not I am usually alone – by choice. Everyone feels sad some times. But those of us who suffer from depression feel it tapping us on the shoulder even on ‘good days.’

To most people I look ‘well adjusted.’ I smile when I’m supposed to. Often it’s because I want to, but when I don’t, as I said, I prefer solitude.

Sometimes I swim – constant and unending laps in a pool; trying to clear my mind, empty it so I can start fresh, or refreshed. It helps, temporarily.

For me, depression has been a prerequisite for writing. Poetry was my medicine when I was younger. It helped. But now depression impedes my desire to write.

I want to write something that people will read and connect with. I want to create words that have meaning, quoted and remembered long after I’m gone. But I don’t have the faith in myself to believe this will happen. This may just be my legacy – the sadness that envelopes me in a dark shroud.

So, now that I’ve written about it maybe I can start writing something again.

My finger hovers over the ‘enter’ key. I hit it. This blog is up and posted. My soul is revealed. And tomorrow, hopefully, will be a better day.

Things I learned from my granddaughter…

We had our granddaughter (age 7) stay with us this week. I realized quickly that all the angst that goes with parenting disappears with grandparenting. Things like dishes to wash can be put off until later. Reading a book together before a chore gets done is o.k. Wearing chocolate from an ice cream cone on your face won’t permanently damage your pores. Things don’t always have to be done on precise schedule; flexibility is always a an option.  Here are a few of the other things I learned:

  • Play now, there’s time to do whatever tomorrow.
  • Don’t sit at the side of the pool – Dive In, Swim, Enjoy.
  • Fun doesn’t have to be expensive. Laughter is priceless.
  • It’s o.k. to treat yourself. Buy an ice cream treat from the corner store and eat it BEFORE dinner.
  • See the world through a child’s eyes and take joy in the little things.
  • Indulge in small pleasures every single day.
  • Laugh until your sides hurt, then laugh some more.
  • Body noises are actually funny.
  • Eat potato chips instead of salad and pretend they’re a vegetable.
  • It’s o.k. to dance around naked and sing after you come out of the bathtub.
  • Be proud of everything you do. A pictured colored outside the lines can still be beautiful.
  • Children grow up far too fast. Make the most of your time together.

What things have you learned from a child?

Because we care

My friend and fellow writer, Doreen Pendgracs, recently wrote a blog about being a caregiver. I wanted to comment on it, but what I wrote was my own mini blog. With Doreen’s gentle prodding, I realized that writing about something personal can also be a valuable use of words.  So here are my thoughts.

Most of us don’t go into relationships thinking about our possible role as a caregiver, but I knew from the day I met my husband that this would be my lot in life. I was in my 20s; so young and sure I could cure the world. It didn’t happen, and fighting it only wore me down.

We were told the original illness would eventually burn out, but if it has happened, it never really ever goes away. Like a chameleon it transforms and reveals itself in new forms, and I go into my caregiver mode again as we rush to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Our daughter grew up thinking that that all of this was normal for any family. As my husband convalesced in hospital following yet another surgery I would bring her, along with paper and crayons, and she would sit there creating her make-believe worlds with the reality of pain and suffering as her quiet background. When it was time to go I would lift her up and she would carefully navigate through the mass of tubes and IV lines to give Daddy a goodbye kiss until tomorrow. How could anything so unnatural feel so normal? And yet, for us, it always was.

I believe care giving can sometimes be more draining on the person giving the care, because of all the worry we go through. And with the health care system as it is, we have to be strong advocates for those we’re caring for.

I have had to make numerous phone calls to track down the right specialist to take on a new manifestation of the illness that was once easily diagnosed. I have had to yell at interns until someone listened. And I have cried on my own when I couldn’t take anymore, but I couldn’t let anyone else see how overwhelmed I was.

I think care giving is humbling and an important role in life. We do it because we love, and because we care. And because we care we give of ourselves.

Saying Goodbye

Lya Joy Boles, April 22, 1932 - February 10, 2009
Lya Joy Boles, April 22, 1932 – February 10, 2009

My mother, Lya Joy Boles, passed away on Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at age 77. My parents live in Missouri, but were born and raised in Windsor, Ontario (Canada), so that’s where mom was buried, February 13, 2009, near her parents and family.

My mother and father would have been married 56 years November 22, 2009. They met briefly in Windsor but didn’t start dating until they were in London, Ontario (where I live now). Mom was a student at the (then) Victoria School of Nursing. Dad was a medical student at The University of Western Ontario.

After they were married, mom worked as a nurse while dad was completing his residency. Not long after, they learned mom was expecting me. My mom always said I was a “joyful surprise,” which, loosely translated, means unexpected. They wanted kids, it just happened earlier than planned. Mom said she wanted children two years apart and my sister, Anita, (who now lives with her husband and daughters in Alexandria, Virginia) obliged.

My father was a radiologist and a specialist in cancer (treatment and research). His work took us to Detroit, Michigan, where he practiced at Henry Ford Hospital.

My sister and I grew up in a good home my parents had built in Farmington, Michigan. Mom chose to stay at home to raise us (except for a brief stint as a nurse for a paediatric doctor, but she was always getting sick and bringing home illnesses from work, so she eventually left).

Mom was loved by all and had many good friends. Because her mother (my maternal grandmother, Esther Leon) had eight brothers and sisters, who were very close, mom grew up with lots of aunts, uncles and cousins and maintained close relationships with them. As my dad reminded us in his memorial speech about mom, when someone called the house and asked for “Dr. Boles” it was always for her, not him. When friends, family or members of their families were sick they would call mom for advice. She was happy to help out. Her diagnosis was usually bang on and the remedies worked. If nothing else, she was there for support when needed.

Mom had a strong sense of right and wrong though sometimes my sister and I considered it prudish or old fashioned. When we went through a phase where we were constantly telling each other to “shut up,” mom decided to penalize everyone in the family who continued to use that phrase. Every time one of us said “shut up,” including mom and dad, we had to put a nickel in our Tzedaka (charity box, also known as a Pushka) we filled with coins, the contents regularly delivered to our synagogue to be donated to various good-will efforts. After a while it became a game. Sitting at the kitchen table over dinner someone would inevitably say those two words and everyone else would point their fingers at them saying “A nickel for the Pushka!” Many charities benefited from our bad language.

My mom wasn’t a hero and didn’t want to be in the limelight, but sometimes she was. For example, many years ago she took a flight to visit someone (probably me or my sister). When dad went to the airport to pick her up she was surrounded by everyone from the plane who were talking to her and congratulating her. Apparently a passenger had collapsed on the tarmac and the call went out for a doctor. Mom had been teaching CPR (volunteer work) and said she could help. She ran from the plane to the tarmac and started administering CPR until the ambulance arrived. I asked her if she saved the man and she said she hadn’t followed up but doubted it. But that was mom. She did what she could when she could. Her small gestures were always huge.

After my sister and I were settled and had started our own lives, dad had the opportunity to set up a private practice associated with a hospital in Columbia, Missouri, hence their move there.

Despite the geographical distance between us mom’s first priority during a shopping trip was to the childrens’ clothing store for her three granddaughters. Birthdays included dozens of presents from grandma and grandpa. The grandchildren visited grandma and grandpa during the summer for at least a week, generally at different times. Our daughter, Jennifer, has fond memories of chatting and shopping with grandma and hitting golf balls with grandpa. She went there with a half-empty suitcase and came home with one overflowing with an entire back-to-school wardrobe and backpack!

My mother knit like a professional. She made gifts for her friends’ and cousins’ grandchildren when their children were having babies. Many layettes included a beautiful, soft baby blanket knit by my mother’s loving hands. And each granddaughter had blankets and sweaters knit by grandma.

Mom knit our family together with all our diverse and colourful personalities. She was peacemaker and a good decision maker. She and dad built a life together with little money until they had a comfortable income. They raised two daughters, paid for our university education and for mom that was reward enough.

Mom was great at her job as a mother, confidant, grandmother and wife. Her cooking skills were amazing. Our house looked like you stepped into the pages of Better Homes and Gardens.

Mom became sick about two years ago. It began by robbing her of her short-term memory and, later, her mobility. She was admitted to a nursing home for physiotherapy so she could return home with my Dad. She never left the nursing home, other than some visits to their house on weekends with my dad, when she was able, and many admissions to the hospital, generally through emergency, for an array of physical maladies.

This is the woman I knew during the last 18 months of her life. But it is not the woman who she was and who we remember.

I pray that mom is at peace now. There is a huge hole in my heart, but it’s slowly getting smaller. I am sure that my mother is filling that space with her love and caring. That’s who she was. I would never have expected less.