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: 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.

*****

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.

*****

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 – 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.

Not a New Year’s Resolution

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Exercise

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions and I rarely set goals. I know those who succeed in life at many things do set goals, I just always end up disappointing myself by not following through. But this past year, as difficult as it was, taught me an important lesson – go with your gut. So I decided that I want to par down my weight and get into better shape. That’s not a resolution, it’s a personal goal, but not one I feel I have to keep, though…now that I’ve put it out there for others to read…

Anyway, after belonging to a gym for 15+ years, and using the pool often and rarely doing much else, I decided to meet with a fitness trainer and I have to say I got the perfect match. He’s also a physiotherapist. Why’s that important? Well, let’s just say I was armed with several reports from X-Rays and CT scans. But the point is, he can provide me with a workout that won’t compromise my physical issues (bad back and a host of small things) and maybe even make them better, while helping me to meet my weight loss target.

I had my first session (gratis  trial) tonight and decided to continue with it. So, diet and exercise, though totally cliché in January of any year, are part of my routine now. I figure if nothing else it may increase the positive endorphins which, I understand, may actually give me a feeling of euphoria, or at least a more positive outlook during the bleak, cold days of winter. And so yet another lame cliché: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Are you doing something new this year?

I Am With You

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Someone told me that when a loved one passes away you should look for messages from them. I’m more of a pragmatic type gal. If I can’t see it I generally don’t believe it. I’ll admit I have been looking though, but no messages from Bob until just before Christmas. Then it started.

Someone sent me a text message giving me information about something they said they would get me. They told me the guy “who waited on me was named Bob – go figure.” I didn’t think much of it.

On Christmas Day I was programming a new land line phone and reading the directions. It said: “You can name your phones. For example, call one Bob and one Upstairs.” Yep, really.

On Christmas day I was at my brother and sister inlaw’s. One of Bob’s (our) nephews and his wife came in. She is expecting their second child. Someone asked, “When is the baby due?” She said “June 8th.” That’s the day Bob died. By now I’m shaking my head. Could this really be happening? And then it happened again…

Today I went to the dollar store and bought a package of toothbrush covers, along with a few other items. I was taking them out of my basket for the cashier to ring in and I looked at the toothbrush cover package. It said: “Dr. Bob OraCare.”

And I believe this was his message. “Don’t overreact (he always said that if I got upset about anything). Things will start getting better.” Maybe he was even saying he’d work to make things happen. But whatever the message was, things changed for the better starting on Christmas day and it’s been going that way ever since then.

Do our loved ones really come back or just stay with us to take care of us? I never thought so, but now I do believe.

Saying Farewell to Facebook Posts on Grief

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It was six months on December 8th since Bob Donaldson died. Half a year. It’s hard to believe. And with this anniversary I want to tell you that I won’t be posting about my grief on Facebook anymore. This decision wasn’t done lightly, but I realize that those I love most are on their own grief journey that doesn’t parallel mine. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that we need to respect each person’s grief journey, not to judge it. I don’t want to cause pain. That wasn’t my intention. But how could I not cause pain when I reveal raw grief? I realize that now.

This has been an amazing experience. Writing has always been my outlet. I found some magical things happening when I posted. It began as my need to reach out and get support. It’s actually ironic and sad that my best writing is done through pain, and without Bob I have no one to talk to or confide in. You were my support system.

A true gift came when I began to learn that my posts helped others. What kept me going were those personal messages, or being tapped on the shoulder by someone on the street telling me how their experiences paralleled mine, or how they respected me so much for what I wrote. I also learned that my posts educated others. Many cultures bring together learning of life and death. North Americans try to avoid death, and the topic, so when it hits home for them, the devastation is raw and unparalleled by anything ever experienced before. I see it over and over and over again; the newly grieving who can’t stop crying. That was me and sometimes still is, but less often now.

Thank you to all who have called me, sent cards and gifts, who have come by to be with me, shared your private stories with me and posted words of wisdom here. Your interactions have helped me so much. I am forever grateful for your love and kindness.

I will post my messages on my blog now and put the links here so you can choose whether or not to read them.

Bless you and thank you for your sharing and caring.

Painful thoughts after he is gone

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The world is upside down and backwards. I am in a bubble surrounded by a haze. I don’t want to push it. Reality will seep in and take over.

I am sure I will wake up and find that this is a cruel joke. You will walk by and say “Hi Sweetie Pie,” and I will say “Oh Bob” and laugh.

Instead I cry every night. As the the days grow shorter your lack of presence is more pervasive. Pain slips in easily behind the darkness at the day’s end. And when I think I am done crying I start again.

My emotions rule me. I am not in control. Today I had to go to a hospital. I walked through the doors and my heart was pounding. My breathing erratic. I realized it was the first time I had been in a hospital since I left you there.

“This isn’t the way it was supposed to be.” That’s what the grieving always say. Now I understand what it means. There is no normal. Routine is gone. This isn’t reality just a cruel joke; a horrible nightmare. When will I wake up? I bounce back and forth. I am so tired. It is easier to allow my emotions to control me. I can’t control them. I give in to the sadness because fighting it is just too hard.

I am so afraid to continue this journey called life without you. I am strong, but am I strong enough to go on without you? Most days I feel like a leaf being pushed around by invisible air, never touching the ground, just brushing past it. Push and pull and toss me around. I am not grounded without you.

I don’t know if these words will help me through this. I would rather believe that you will be here with me when I wake up. We will know that every moment is precious. We will be comfortable in our silence as we were.

But now the silence is forever. Your voice is in my mind but not my ears. The bubble is starting to fall apart. There are small cracks as pain seeps in and the haze that was my buffer is pushed aside by the knowledge that this is not a dream no matter how much I wish it was.

I know that I will need to face reality that you aren’t coming back, but I can’t do that right now. Not yet.