If anyone is reading this blog for the first time, I will quickly get you up to speed. This past year, 2009, has been challenging for many people - and I'm no exception.
At the beginning of the year, I stopped working because the business I was in tanked (real estate.) I can't say I ever really loved it, but I enjoyed the people I worked with, being of service, and having an income.
In April, my husband and I decided to separate after 24 years of marriage. Then in May, my mother (who'd already survived two hospice stays) got very sick and on June 9th, she died. A few weeks later, my 21 year-old daughter (whom I adore) moved to San Francisco (she couldn't have picked Boston?) For all of August and September, I was left alone to sort through everything in our loft in Brooklyn, selling much of it, tossing a lot out, having a stoop sale, etc., and pack up what I could to move into my dear friend's loft in Soho. Did I leave anything out? Death, divorce, moving, empty nest, loss of income, no, I think that's it. Could it be worse? Yes. Is it a lot to deal with? Yes.
With all of that on my "plate" - I have to say that in one way I got very lucky. My move back to Soho, where I lived with my husband and daughter for seventeen years, has brought me a block away from a place that has saved thousands of lives over the past twenty years, Friends In Deed. I have discussed it before, but briefly it began in the late 80's to help people cope with the AIDS crisis and it has grown into dealing with illness, caregiving and grief. It's an amazing place that offers counseling, groups, body work, nutrition counseling, you name it, they do it. I've written about it before.
Last night I went to a seminar on grief led by Dr. Eric Schneider, who is the spiritual advisor to FID. On Tuesday night, after hearing me share in a big group, a woman came up to me and said quite emphatically: "Thursday night. 7 pm. Dr. Eric. Grief and loss. Come. Trust me, he's amazing."
I've done plenty of reading on grief, but I have to say that I got what I needed to hear last night and it rang true for me. Take what you like and leave the rest, as they say:
Loss: a perceived change in circumstances plus a perceived change in personal identity
Grief: the natural response to loss
Grief is endless.
The five stages of grief as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about are not linear and perhaps there are better models. Those five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. What about relief? What about guilt?
Another model for grief is shock, disorganization, reorganization.
Another one: awareness -- alarm -- emptiness (three levels - first level is the loss of the person, the life. Second level, practical issues, the loss of income, a home, etc. Third level, the constant reminders: you pick up the phone to call the person, you cook for two instead of one, you look at the chair he or she sat in.)
Disintegration- then reintegration..."the new normal." The spaciousness and the possibilities begin to return. Grief is natural, like breathing. You try to let it happen, let it run its own course.
Myths: You'll get over it. You'll transcend it. There is a right way to grieve.
Truth: Your loss will transform you. We need to get out of our way. This is the experience, it is what it is. Tell your friends what you need. Let them know you can use their help. If they ask, and you don't know what you need, thank them for asking and ask them to maybe ask again. Soon.
The transformation is often for the better. Not always, but usually. I know that I have become a much more empathetic person these past few years.
What is not ultimately helpful: drugs, drinking, eating too much, these are all distractions from the process. The one thing many people talked about was taking something to sleep - and Eric said that dreams help keep the grieving process moving forward, so maybe it's not such a great idea to take Ambien or Lunesta very often.
Human beings are resilient. We are amazingly strong.
What helps with grief?
Not talking helps
Writing (in your own handwriting)
These are all the tools I have been using, so it felt good to know that I am on the right track. There are other tools I find helpful - music, laughter, nature, and I would put Friends in Deed at the top of my list. This weekend I'm doing what is called "The Mastery" at FID. I honestly have no idea what it is, but I'll let you know.