Living with Grief

Like the most beautiful butterfly, colorful and free, letting the wind stroke it’s wings with the utmost gentle touch. Watching the world below as a playground. That’s what life is like for a child. No care in the world. Just beauty and innocence. I used to pick flowers, lovely crimson red poppies at the side of the road. I used to play with friends, laughing so hard we cried with enjoyment. Feeling my newly platted hair dance in the whirlwind of a pirouette I was doing out on the ice. Falling in and out of love with feelings as innocent as a newborn child. Life was easy when I was young. Life was not demanding, it wasn’t rough and I never ever felt anything but love and caring. Unconditional love. Life was good. And it still is. But as an adult you’re served with choices, demands, responsibilities and you are unable to escape heart ache and pain as you’ve never experienced before. Grief.

It really matters little what age you are, if you are single and on your own or if you have a family and your own children. Grief can and will strike you at any time and there is no way to be prepared for it. Not really. My father was sick for many years, having heart problems, COL, having several strokes. Nine, I counted. Yes nine. And he was a fighter. My God did he fight. Not until the last stroke was he unable to walk, talk or make himself understood. That was after years of hospital visits, meetings with doctors, surgeries (quadruple heart bypass) and suffering like you wouldn’t believe. But he was hanging in there, until that last stroke. That’s when he lost the will to fight. It was very hard for us to understand him and even harder for him to realise that he couldn’t make himself understood. He no longer could live on his own but had to move in to a nursing home, something he had said he never ever wanted to do. There he stayed a few months before his health started deteriorating even more. He got worse and ended up in the hospital where he eventually took his last breath after me telling him how everything would be alright, he shouldn’t be scared. A piece of my heart died with him that morning. My father was gone. Even though I had been his care taker for years and he no longer was the same energetic father I used to know, he still was my father and would you believe, even on his death-bed he managed to smile and find humour in the things I was talking about. The music I was playing for him. And then he left me.

My mother was my very best friend. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. It was a night mare not knowing what it meant. Was there any treatment? What could we do? My mother was always totally against chemotherapy. She had witnessed in other people how it broke down not only their souls but also their organs and eventually they died from organ failures. She was opposed to taking radiation from the word go and I respect that. My mother and I were extremely close. She was the one I turned to when I was happy, the one I came to when I was sad. She was my support in life and I don’t know how I would have been able to handle some of the things I went through (especially all the hard time with my father) without my mother. They were divorced but she sat there comforting me when I was worn out, crying that I couldn’t handle it anymore. Listening to problems that I might have about work, relationships or life in general. And it was vice versa. As I grew up the line between parent and friend was wiped out and replaced by a beautiful friendship between two women. My mother and I. We did everything together. We talked, we laughed and we went on holidays together. As big of a part my own family holds in my heart, as did my mother. And then she got sick. I thought my father was extremely strong in his fights. An even stronger fight I watched my mother battle for her life. She was working full-time for four long years, taking her mind of things that she didn’t want to think about, earning money to support her family, keeping social with her friends in work. In her spare time she painted, beautiful paintings of Provence and Tuscany. Places we visited together on holidays. She would do her doctors visits, constant blood tests that should various results. She would fight her way through the hospital systems to try to get her own wishes be heard. No chemo but maybe something alternative. She was abroad for treatment, she got local treatment at home. I honestly don’t know how she did it. How she managed to stay so strong and never lose her faith. She wanted to live and even though they said she would probably live 9 months after they found the cancer, she beat the odds and survived for 5 years! The last year was rough. The cancer had spread to her liver and started to affect her organs. Fluids started building up inside of her. She had to constantly drain it. immense pains in the stomach. She had to take pain killers. She never did take anything stronger than paracetamol, though. She didn’t want to feel like she lost control. I am in awe at the strength she had all the way to the end. My mother never wanted to be in hospital. She hated them. And yet she had to be there more than she could ever had imagined. During the years for tests, surgeries, more tests… And she did draw her last sigh in the hospital. We didn’t know what to do, we had to bring her in as she was getting worse, falling in and out of unconsciousness. We thought they could help. I wrote about that last night, if you want to read about it *here*.

When she died and we left her lying there like a beautiful angel in the hospital bed, to go home to what would be an extreme pain and emptiness, the rest of my life started. It was the same for all of us. But we all handle grief differently.

I was still suffering from what they call Burnout, which is basically where you are just so  stressed and mentally and emotionally exhausted that you have a problem coping and keep living your life the way you’re used it. It’s easy to fall into a depression and the signs are the same so I kept close contact with doctors just to make sure I wasn’t falling deeper into something that would be harder to get out of. I didn’t, thankfully. But it’s not uncommon to have these side-effects of burnout or grief after life crises. Losing your job, bad relationship, losing a parent, a pet, trauma, illness, other kinds of stresses. Personally there was also other things going on in my life, I counted four life crises at the same time.

Since my mother passed, in the beginning of this year, it’s been a constant struggle to deal with life. Life is not the same for me. It will never be the same. I will have to create a new kind of life where I learn to live without my parents. Especially my mother. Apart from my family, she was my everything. I still wake up and this horrible feeling, this psychological punch in my stomach where I realise that I will never speak to her again, never hug her or just chit-chat over a coffee. It’s an instant feeling of sea-sick combined with anxiety over the fact that I know it’s true. I hate those notions. I try to build myself up the best way I can and thank god for my beautiful children. They keep me sane and grounded and bless me with love and laughter when I so desperately need it. But I cannot ignore the fact that I am weak, sad and empty inside. It’s there. So I have to try to live with it and create new beautiful things in my life. See stunning things around me, whether it’s the poppies or the smiles of the people I love. I write (ta-da!) to process how I feel and to work my way through it. I cry, I fall apart but I also try to laugh and enjoy the life that I’ve been given.

I found this great article about grief:

There are some interesting facts in there. Like the myths. Let’s have a look at them.

MYTH: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.

Fact: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.

True. And when it’s staring you in your face you cannot ignore it anyway. But allowing yourself to feel the pain and work through it is essential. It’s there. It happened. For whatever reason, it happened. This is who you are and this is what you feel. It will help you get through it and it will create what you’re becoming.

MYTH: It’s important to be “be strong” in the face of loss.

Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.

True. My chid recently pointed out to me that I cry a lot. And yes I do. (pain and hurt or just an emotional movie has that effect on me. I am emotional)  While it’s not the only thing I would like them to remember from their childhood, it’s something that is right now. I cry. And I am happy to talk my children about why I cry and why I am sad. It’s alright to be sad.

MYTH: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.

Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.

True: I know of people who experienced loss and grief that just don’t cry. Maybe they keep on a brave face and cry when they’re alone, I don’t know. But I have seen anger and other expressions for grief and hurt. As long as you don’t try to bottle it up, you can let it out whichever way you want.

MYTH: Grief should last about a year.

Fact: There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. How long it takes can differ from person to person.

Oh my god. Knowing that some people just don’t have the understanding and empathy for someone else, makes it very stressful for someone like me. I wish that I was a bit less emotional so that I could just “get on with it” and start living my life again. But I am not. I am struck by an emotional paralysis and it will take some time for me. A year, two years. I don’t know. But stressing won’t make it better. That’s for sure. I will have to take the little steps that I can, when I can. And for every step it’s a success, a personal success. But there is no time limit for when you will feel better again.

As stated in the article there are some stages to go through when you’re grieving. I recognise them all.

  • Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
  • Anger:Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
  • Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
  • Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
  • Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”

I would say that I am now between depression and acceptance. Depending on the day I feel like I can make plans, I feel like I want to take the future into my own hands and mold it as it pleases me. I am creative and I have ideas. The next day I might have a hard time just thinking straight, none the less struggling to finish all the chores around the house. It’s a day-to-day and mood to mood.  But I can see that I am getting there. I have more happy days now. I try to ignore negative feelings and people (which is not easy by the way!) If you have ever been close to a person who lacks the understanding for whatever reason, you know that it can absolutely drag you down. What you need is caring, understanding, love and time. Just that. It’s a process. Anything else is just to ignore. It says a lot more about the person being so ignorant than you going through what you are. And that little voice in your head that’s so hard to ignore. Try. Don’t let it make you feel useless and worthless. You are not. You are just trying to cope with what life handed you.

Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to yell at the heavens, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.

So by writing this blog about my personal grief, how I feel and how I am trying to handle it, I guess it goes to show that we all handle it differently. Maybe there is someone out there who experience grief the same way and may find solace in the fact that they’re not alone. You are not. No matter how you feel or how you cope with it you are never alone.

Much Love,