JAN WARNER INTERVIEW…………www.Facebook.com/GriefSpeaksOut and www.griefspeaksout.com.
Grief: My Reluctant Journey
When my husband died a little over four years ago I was surprised and the depth of my grief. He was older than I was and I thought when he died I would be very sad and miss him very much. I never expected to feel completely annihilated. For the first 3 months I honestly thought he was coming back to get me. I used to lie down on my bed and cry and hold up my arm so he could grab my hand and pull me up. Eventually that made me laugh. I lived on the second floor of a 20 story apartment building. What was he going to do – come down through a series of apartments all covered in angel wings – saying as he went through each one, “Sorry to bother you. I’m on my way to get my wife.”? After that i got this rather upside down idea that if he wasn’t going to come get me, I was supposed to join him. I researched suicide. Luckily, first for family and friends and then for myself I realized that also was not what I was supposed to do. What was I supposed to do?
Without my husband Artie I felt that my life had no meaning. I used say “We died.” by mistake when I meant to say “He died.” I went to therapy where I first heard of complicated or morbid grief. It is a dangerously ridiculous idea that you if you don’t stop grieving in 6-12 months there is something wrong with you. If you don’t grieve deeply for someone you are not uncaring. However, most people who deeply love their Mom, their Dad, a sibling, a child, a grandparent, a friend, an animal – any living being at all grieve for them the rest of their life. Whatever you are feeling is normal. What you learn is to find ways to transform your grieve into something that inspires you instead of deadens you. You are on a path of discovering who you are now and how to create meaning in your life. Your beloved dead can help you do this. If you believe they are with you in spirit you learn how to develop a new relationship with them. If you believe death is final; you can still use your memories to guide you. I truly believe that love triumphs over death. Every time. If you let it.
I am serious about everything being normal. I went to a bereavement group and shared that I hadn’t changed the sheets for 3 months after my husband died. Someone else hadn’t changed theirs for a year. I got tired of the sadness of therapy and bereavements groups and started taking comedy sketch writing. The teacher asked why we were taking the class. My replay was, “My husband died, I thought I’d do comedy.” It is important to find things that make you laugh. If you can’t laugh you will learn to laugh again.
There is a lot of pressure to be silent about grief; to move on, to get over it. People don’t understand that you can have a full and happy life – what I call being alive with grief – and hold on tight to what has gone before – if that is your wish. If you have lost friends and family; or had people be unkind to you, unfortunately that is common. I wasn’t going to be silent. I wasn’t going to lead a double life and pretend that I didn’t miss my husband every day. I would be foolish not to miss him. I am very grateful for our love story. When I decided to live I had to figure out how to answer grief’s repetitive question: Why bother? One of the best ways to answer that question is to do something to honor the memory of your beloved dead; to keep their smile and their story alive. My husband was a recovering alcoholic. Whatever he failed at, he was always available to other alcoholics and addicts. I decided that I would make myself available to other grieving people.
I decide to start writing a blog; knowing that it would only be meaningful if I was honest about my feelings. It is called Stop Thief: Don’t Steal My Grief and is at www.griefspeaksout.com. I have been writing it for over three years now. I thought at the beginning that if I only reached 1 person it would be worth while. Many people read it. Anyone: grieving people. teachers. grief counselor can use any post with or or without attribution. Then 3 months ago someone asked me to start a Facebook page. It is called Grief Speaks Out and is at www.Facebook.com/GriefSpeaksOut. It already has 148,000 likes from almost every country in the world. Why is grief such a common language? Why have I picked these titles? Grieving people have a lot to say. They need a place to say it. It is hard to find joy and love to counterbalance the pain and sadness if you cannot say what you need to say. I want to listen. We are given a full rainbow of emotions and we have the right to express all of them without judgement.
I used to say my husband Artie was the most alive dead person I know. That isn’t true. He is only one of millions. Dead people stay alive through us. There is an Irving Berlin lyric, “The song is over, but the melody lingers on.” I sing Artie’s songs for him now. I tell his stories. I have had many experiences that indicate that there is some type of consciousness after death. I love my husband. He loves me.
We are all grief warriors. We wake up in the morning and remember that today is another day we will not get to see our most loved person or hear their voice. We miss the touch of their hand, the look in their eye. We want to share things with them. We don’t want to share them with anyone else; just with them. I am lucky in my friends but my darling husband is who I want to hold me. And yet – as warriors do – we fight on. We fight to make ourselves fully alive. I look into Artie’s eyes in my memory and I see myself as he saw me – as he sees me still. I know he says he is proud of me and he wants me to love life as he did. He doesn’t want me to waste a minute of it.
I don’t believe that grief comes in stages. Neither, by the way, did Elizabeth Kubler Ross. This has been misinterpreted. There are stages of grief but you don’t necessarily go through all of them and you don’t go through the ones you do go through in any order. Not only that, you can go through them over and over again. It helped me when two people warned me about what I call the fifth year blues. There is something exhausting about having lived without my husband being physically alive for so many days and nights. I am not doing anything wrong if I have what some people call “grief bursts”. It helps me to know I am not alone. Grief isn’t a series of stages, it is a crazy carousel.
I am grateful for many things. The two actions that grieving people can take – and that I do myself – are showing up and helping others. One of the symptoms of grief is disinterest. If you make plans for fun things and you show up; if you don’t enjoy them today – I promise you that some day you will have fun again. You have to be where life is, you let it seep in and then you notice that you are having happy moments. As you read this you may have already had many happy moments and it isn’t until now you will begin to notice each happy moment. It is those moments that cushion the pain. When you help others; especially if you do it to celebrate a loved one’s life, it takes you out of your hurting and makes you think about someone else.
Are things better now? I never feel that I am better; but I am different. I have many more happy moments. i have met many wonderful friends. I am more productive. There are still times when I collapse into grief and pay it the attention it demands. I thank it for reminding me how deep my love and being loved is – and ask it make room for some joy. I try to be, as I would like you to be, gentle with myself.
I could write much more but his is enough of an introduction for now.
I wish you all courage and love. We walk together on this journey, even if we feel alone. I wish for you that you will be like a flower that grows out of a prickly cactus or breaks through the concrete of a city sidewalk. You have seeds in you that are waiting to bloom. You have things to do because if you are reading this you are breathing which means you have a strong life force pulsing with in you. Let us hold hands and support each other. Let our beloved dead add their light to ours and guide our steps. With love. xo
Grief: The Mourner’s Bill of Rights
I find this one of the most helpful things for a grieving person read. I have copied ir for you here. With love. xo
The Mourner’s Bill of Rights
by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
Though you should reach out to others as you do the work of mourning, you should not feel obligated to accept the unhelpful responses you may receive from some people. You are the one who is grieving, and as such, you have certain “rights” no one should try to take away from you.
The following list is intended both to empower you to heal and to decide how others can and cannot help. This is not to discourage you from reaching out to others for help, but rather to assist you in distinguishing useful responses from hurtful ones.
1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.
No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don’t allow them to tell what you should or should not be feeling.
2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don’t feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.
3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.
4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel ready to do.
5. You have the right to experience “griefbursts.”
Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.
6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don’t listen.
7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.
8. You have the right to search for meaning.
You may find yourself asking, “Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?” Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for the clichéd responses some people may give you. Comments like, “It was God’s will” or “Think of what you have to be thankful for” are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.
9. You have the right to treasure your memories.
Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.
10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.
Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.
Copyright 2007-2013, Center for Loss and Life Transition
Grief: Riding the Grief Train
A little metaphor I wrote for a friend and wanted to share with all of you.
When the grief train pulled into my station I got on and found a comfortable seat to snuggle into. I watched the world go by and was quite content in my unhappiness. Then I saw that other people were getting off the grief train. Some of them I never saw again and I didn’t know where they went. Others would get off and get back on again. We talked about the adventures they had. I began to realize that maybe my comfortable seat wasn’t so comfortable anymore. Maybe I could participate in some adventures instead of just being an observer. I took my baggage with me and got off at the very next station. I had quite a lovely time. Now I had a story to tell when I got back on train. I was surprised when someone told me that I could leave my baggage on the train when I decided to get off. I was rather attached to my baggage. However, I decided to try it. I was given a golden receipt to reclaim it and that reassured me. This time when I got off of the train I decided to stay off longer. I had several adventures. When I got back on the train, there was all my baggage waiting for me. I didn’t need so much of it now. The man in charge of the baggage compartment told me there were a lot of people who loved to carry a lot of baggage and he would give some of mine to them. And so it went.
I still like to journey on the grief train. Sometimes when I look out of the window I see wonderful memories of events that happened in the past. Sometimes when I curl up in my seat I spend time with people who have died. I’ve kept the parts of my baggage I’m not ready to let go of yet. I open it up and unpack it a little. It is lighter now. I’ve discovered that the people who I’m lonely for don’t have to stay on the grief train. They come with me wherever I go. I like having them with me on my adventures. I had turned the grief train into a prison. It isn’t. It’s a way to journey to new places, especially when I am willing to go through the open doors to see what is waiting for me.
I would have rather not been a passenger at all. However, now that I am, I am beginning to see that I am not a desperate or helpless passenger. I am also the person who plans the journey and makes the adventures happen. I have been given tickets to an unlimited number of places. Many colors of tickets. Many sizes of tickets. It is up to me how many of them I use. How will I figure it out? Partly by talking to other people – those who are on this journey and those who are on other journeys. Partly by listening to the spirits of my beloved dead who still talk to me. Partly by listening to my own heart. Sometimes by looking at myself and the world through the eyes of those who love me instead of my own eyes. Perspectacles. There are many maps and I have time and freedom to find the one that is right for me. Sometimes staying on track. Sometimes getting off and wandering around discovering things. Sometimes getting off with a definite plan to accomplish.
All these choices are mine because I am among the living still. The more I can do here the more I know those who have gone before me will be proud of me that I am still learning.
When you are ready to get off your own grief train I wish you many adventures and that you find that you need less and less baggage as your journey continues. xo