I have been pondering comfort, self-care, and help – what each of them is, to me, and what makes one or other easier and/or more accessible than another. Here is where I am at. And no, I have done no Googling or other research into what each of them is. Just research in my own life and experience. They are oft-used terms in Griefland – wobbly yet somehow vital components in this messy puzzle called life. Components that I have been shining a bit of a light on this week, supported by my therapist Catherine, and my grief guru Tom Zuba. This piece of writing won’t be particularly deep, nor complete. Just reflections at a point in time.
Self-Care, and more specifically, Extreme Self-Care. I pride myself on being excellent at “extreme self-care” – a concept I readily stole from Cheryl Richardson, having purchased her book with the same title, some 9 or so years ago. I’ve never done more than flick through her book but read enough to determine my own version of Extreme Self-Care, which has been about learning to trust what is good for me, how to monitor my health and energy, and how to restore energy when it was getting low.
My ability to self-monitor is pretty damned good (she says), and my strategies for (re)filling my bucket are vast. More to the point, my strategies provide enjoyment and are readily accessible. I have long been a bit of a guru, mentor, or role-model for others (specifically professional working mums) when it comes to extreme self-care, and the same skills have served me well in the land of Grief. Nothing makes the loss go away. Nothing makes anything better. But knowing if I am moving towards more pain, or able to shift microscopically towards some ease is often the difference between an awful day and an okay day. My ability to provide myself extreme self-care is second to none. For that I am grateful. And I know it helps me live and function as well as I currently do.Read more
Yes. I know. I have a funny thing about time. And dates. I take time to reflect on time and what time is, or might be.
Linear? Circular? Fluid? Fixed? Conceptual? Real? Polychronic? Monochronic? Measurable? Full of meaning and emotion? Or void of emotion and meaning?
Time takes on such a different meaning, a different feel, post-loss.
People say “Time stops”. I don’t think that’s true. I think “Time hangs, and grows pregnant, fit to burst”.
People say, “Time heals”. I don’t think that’s true either. I think healing is a choice, and you can heal from day one. Or even before. But it’s a choice.
People say, “In time you will just remember the sweet stuff”. That may be, over a long long long time, but not within 5 months, or 2.5 years, or even 3.5 or 4+ years. Yes – perhaps the sweet memories can start to outweigh the hard memories, but again there’s a massive element of choice, of intentionality, at play. It takes no effort at all for me to remember the hard stuff, if I choose to. And it takes no effort at all for me to remember the good stuff, if I choose to. If I am in a funk, only the crappy stuff comes. And if I am in a good space, more good stuff comes. It all hurts though. It’s either sweeter, or more poignant. Both hurt.
People also say, “It will get better”. I ask back, “What is the ‘it?’” My body’s aching? My fragile, hurting, bashed up heart? My quality of sleep? My engagement with life? My incessant fear about having another child die before I do? My roller-coaster emotions? What exactly gets better?
It’s all such hollow talk. Such shallow reflections. And totally useless. An abhorrent waste of time.
Here are some deeper – to me – reflections about time, post-loss.Read more
One of my favourite widbuds is Charlotte, who I met last year at the Soaring Spirits Camp Widow event in Toronto 2018. She is beautiful and strong and capable and clever and funny. And she’s grieving. And despite her grieving, she attended my daughter’s funeral, “just because she happened to be in Europe at the time”. We are both in a WhatsApp group of five widbuds, all of whom were at Camp Widow. Our Whatsapp name is Mourning Glories, which I love and think is rather brilliant. That was Pamela’s idea.
Despite there being just five of us, we rarely go quiet on one another as a group. I am sure that once a week “something happens” to one of us. Something of a trigger. Something hard. A challenge outside of the normal challenge of grieving. A challenge where we just wish our partner were there with us to pick up and carry the blanket of weight for a while. Or at least a corner of it. Or failing that, just witness it being carried.
Like Pamela attending the funeral of a dear, way-too-young friend, and witnessing the left-behind wife, and 7- and 9-year old kids.
Like Charlotte packing up a holiday home in the mountains, putting belongings in boxes, crying out past memories and future dreams, then driving home alone, for hours, to an empty home.
Like me packing up my youngest child’s bedroom this week, two hours a day over five separate days, this time wisely accompanied by friends who care.Read more
A little over 6 months ago, at the end of April 2019, two months before my 15 year-old daughter Julia died by suicide, and 2 years after Mike my husband died, I met a man on a dating website. He’s called Medjool, after my favourite kind of dates. Big, chewy, tasty, sweet. Yum.
Since there seems to be some kind of annoying gender difference whereby (many) single men prefer women who are quite a lot younger than them, and since I was only interested in meeting a man (approx.) my age, this Medjool was the only Medjool I met. He didn’t seem to share the common belief that prospective female partners should be 10-15 years younger than him. As it happens, I am 6 weeks older than he is.
I had one date with one Medjool. I had planned on having quite a number of Medjools but this Medjool was the one and only. As it happened, there were other women on the dating website interested in him, and Medjool was juggling not just me but another woman who too was dating just him. It took Medjool a little while to figure out – openly and transparently – that he needed to make a choice, which he did some 6 weeks later. Two weeks before Julia died.
Julia wouldn’t have liked the news but I am sure it was not a factor in her decision to take her life. I had planned to tell her and her older siblings just a few days into July, when the four of us were to be in Munich together seeing Elton John in his final tour. Julia never made that concert. She died 5 days before.
Medjool chose me.Read more
One of the patterns I have noticed in friends’ responses to whatever I happen to post on social media is that, when I post some good news, “happy photos”, or an achievement, I get 3 or 4 times as many “likes”, comments, and whoopy doos, than if I post something hard, messy, painful and tough. There the sorrow just hangs out its forlorn head alone, unnoticed.
I know there are a gazillion algorithms deep at work in the bowels of (for example) Facebook’s functioning, and when one person “likes” or comments on something, a whole host of their own friends will see it too. Especially if there is a connection to me. A snowballing of likes and comments ensues.
Some “likes” are more powerful than other “likes”. I am sure I could rank order my friends in terms of the impact of their likes. But I won’t. I am not particularly interested in Facebook’s bowel-y algorithms. I am sure they are functioning healthily.
What I find somewhat more fascinating is the underlying tendency for there to be more responses and comments when things are “good” than when things are “bad”. When I am “happy” than when I am “sad”.
Good news is rewarded. Cheered. Celebrated. Raved. Hearted and clapped and liked.
Sad, tough, lonely news is barely acknowledged.
Is it even seen? I don’t know. I think it is. I suspect that some friends see every single thing I write. That I am “tagged” in some way. Tracked, like an inmate with dodgy behaviour patterns.Read more
21st October 2019 – today would be 32 years since my first date with Mike.
This is the second time I have written a blogpost with the exact same title. Hence the _v2. The first was on my work website and was written on 7th June 2014. I had just completed a 32 km mountain trail run in our local hills, a “warm-up” for a bigger event later that summer.
June 2014. A lifetime ago. Before my life had been blasted with significant, out of order losses. Back when I wrote about simple, innocent pleasures such as running (chugging) through the hills and mountains. Back when simple pleasures were not wrapped tightly in messy, sticky, complex grief.
Back in June 2014, “even” Don was alive. He wasn’t “even” ill – to anyone’s knowledge. It was two days before Christmas later that year that I got a message from him saying he had stage 4 colon cancer. He lived another 8 ½ months. More losses followed fast and furiously. Edward. Mike. Julia.
I just re-read the original blogpost. I like it. I like what I wrote. I like that version of Emma. I can still see her, just about. Her lightness, her sense of fun and community. Her thrill at being alive in nature.Read more
Today is one of those exquisitely beautiful, bright autumn days. With temperatures that would feel “just right” on a mid-summer’s day, but with the added benefit of a gentle breeze to doubly kiss my bare skin as I sit now, in the garden, writing this piece.
I have been out on a “long run”. The kind of “long run” I do in the run-up to a half-marathon. I am registered for the one in Lausanne (Switzerland) just two weeks from now. Today should be my “peak distance” run, but because I have run so little, there was nothing noteworthy about this particular peak.
I was reflecting while I was out. I don’t take podcasts or music with me. For years I have allowed myself the privilege of total silence when out and about running – for mental space as well as personal safety reasons. Where I run, on fairly remote forest and mountain tracks, I need to be vigilant.
I was reflecting on how I had been in a conversation the night before with a dear friend whose friendship goes back now 28 years. She’s known me through all my losses. We don’t see each other much and when we talk there feels to be much to catch up on. But it’s work. Hard work. Going into my grief stories, trying to find words to articulate that for which there are no words is so painful. Tiring. It hurts. Particularly when it’s what I live day in day out.Read more
I am a new guest writer here on Soaring Spirits. I do realise that it’s a site for Widowed people. I am widowed. My husband Mike died of pancreatic cancer on 8th April 2017. He was 53.
It feels like a life time ago.
It feels like yesterday.
It feels unreal.
In addition, I have lost an amazing and one and only best platonic male friend, Don (11 September 2015) to colon cancer; a beautiful younger brother, Edward (10 January 2016) to glioblastoma; and a gorgeously beautiful, clever, funny, artistic, creative, talented youngest child, Julia (30 June 2019. Yes, 2019) to suicide.
All in the past four years. Devastation on top of wreckage after bomb blast after tsunami.
Julia took her life after deciding, 2 years and 2 ½ months after her dad’s death, that life without him was not worth living.
That was the night of 30 June/1 July this year. It’s recent. Very recent.
Yesterday. Today. And every tomorrow.Read more
What you don’t know is that
People die because of Grief
People die because of a Broken Heart
People Die by Suicide
Because their Grief is
Too Much to Bear
I had a call just last night from the
Now-orphaned-daughter of a friend
Whose husband was my friend and colleague
He had helped Mike get to
Chemo treatments on occasion when
I just couldn’t manage to fit it all in
But my friend also died
Just months after Mike died
And my new friend
My friend’s wife
Missed him too much
And like Julia chose to end the
Desperately Painful Grief that had
Settled over her life and her being
Her present and future and
Even her past
Replacing the love she had once felt
And reveled in and rejoiced in
Not a fair reward for
Decades of love
In the past 24 hours…
…I collected my youngest daughter’s “personal effects” from the clinic she’d been attending
…I was told that her death by suicide most probably wasn’t pre-meditated, but an “on the spur of the moment” action
…I learned that my baby girl had been terrified at the possibility of being a carrier for Lynch syndrome – she still needed to wait three more years before she was eligible for testing
…I heard that she had included me, her mum, in the short list of “reasons she wouldn’t take her life”
It makes me heave. I feel sick. I just want to vomit it all up.
In the past 24 hours…
…I have sat in my bed and looked through the pictures and artwork that Julia had on her bedroom walls at the clinic
…I have sat on her bed and read through a calendar where she recorded her mood, what she ate, what she was thinking…it’s full of pain
…I have knelt on her floor and opened and closed and opened and closed again the cartons I collected with Pascaline from the centre
…I have put the ceremony card from her service on my office shelves
It turns my legs to jelly. My throat constricts. My tummy clenches more.Read more