Tuesday, August 3, 2010


At some unknown point in the recent past, I started to heal. It was a subtle thing at first. A day when I didn't cry too much or when I managed to not think about grief for whole hours at a time.

In January though, life started to come together for me. I took the first week of the year off, sort of my way to use the new year as a new start. One thing I did was go to a chiropractor for the first time ever. She had been at a company health fair the previous month and talked about how chiropractic could help migraines. At that point I was having three or four migraines a month and I thought, what the heck, maybe it will work. For the first time in along time, I was willing to try to feel better. As it turns out, she helped the migraines; she also helped the ankle swelling, the hip pain, and the insomnia and the digestive problems. And my energy level was up and my depression was milder. As I started to physically feel better, suddenly rebuilding my life started to seem possible.

Next step was starting this blog. There were things I needed to express that were hard to just say to someone in person. Holding things inside wasn't helping and when things did come out, they came out in an out-of control cranky, whiny way that I hated. So I decided to write. It helped. I shared the blog address with people I knew and we had some good talks about things I wrote. That helped even more.

I started making more changes to the house. I put in a new door and a new kitchen counter. Well I paid someone to do that. I painted the dining room and filled it with antiques I inherited from my aunt. I hung more pictures of my art on the walls. I worked hard to clean out some parts of the house. It's not done by any means, but it's better. With each change I felt a little lighter and a little closer to building a new life. I decided I needed to be more social and started to go to a photography club and invited friends to dinner. I invited my sister and mom to come visit – I cleaned the house frantically in anticipation.

Then in sorting through some books I came across something I had read earlier but which didn't resonate with me at the time. I started the Artist's Way program (Thank you, Julia Cameron) and started writing morning pages and going on artists dates. I started making fractals again. I worked some on creative writing.

July was my best month in at least five years. I adopted a rescue chihuahua, my family came to visit, I took another vacation, I wrote to my Alma Mater and showed them my fractal art and ended up with getting to have a permanent display of my fractal art in the Math department. I got a promotion and a pay raise. I started painting again. My life is starting to move in positive directions.

About the same time Karl died ,a friend split-up with his wife. We shared our grief and frustrations for two years. He too had a good July, his life is finally moving on as well. I'm happy for him.

In the darkest days, it doesn't seem possible that life will ever be good again. There is that voice telling you there is no point - there can be no future. When you are in that place, hang onto this thought – that voice is lying. There is a future out there, you just have to hang in there to get to it.

To all who are reading this, take care.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Feeling Guilty

You have no choice but to remake your life when your partner dies. You can't keep the same old life; it just isn't possible no matter how much you loved that person or that life.

So you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you want now and how to go about getting it. For months, maybe even years, you may not have a clue as to what you really want your new life to be. Part of what holds you back is guilt. You feel guilty for wanting something you didn't have when you and your partner were together. It feels like maybe you didn't love him enough because you want something new. And so you feel guilty for wanting to build that new life that you have no choice but to build.

When you live with another person, you make compromises. Decisions are what we want, not just what I want. Some of those decisions will be revisited in creating a new life. Many of those compromises no longer serve a purpose, yet it's hard to do the things you wanted, but he didn't. It's hard to admit there are things you want that you didn't have before. It's hard to realize that there are new possibilities that were out of the question before. Not because you didn't want them, but because we didn't want them. Of course your partner made similar compromises for you, but logic doesn't come into emotional blackmail - especially when the person doing the blackmailing is yourself. (Hey who knows your weak spots better than you do?)

It's taken two years, but now I know that Karl wouldn't want me to keep making compromises that are no longer relevant. He would want me to be happy and reach for a new life because he loved me. It's OK to want something new or to bring up dreams that were left behind when we got together. It doesn't lessen the love we had or mean we didn't have a great life together. It just means it's time to go on something else.

Still not sure what form my life will take, but I'm starting to take the steps now. And if, in three or four years, I look back and realize I'm wondrously happy, it won't mean I was unhappy when we were together. You can love more than one person or more than one life. There are times when the right thing right now wasn't the right thing 10 or 20 years ago. And that's OK. No need to feel guilty.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Sense of Safety

Karl was my Rock - -the person who was always there for me. When he died the world got a lot scarier. I had money issues, I was hurting, I was lonely. And my Rock wasn't there to help. In short, I was terrified.

I found that many of the issues that I had thought I dealt with earlier in my life came up. I had been attacked in the office when I was in my 20s. I hadn't really thought about it in years, suddenly, I couldn't work in an office if people could approach me from behind where I couldn't see them. Thank God I had a workplace that was willing to let me have a cubicle that backed up to the outside wall. And they didn't make me move when the new team I got assigned to was in another space with no walls. I can't even begin to express how much it has helped that I have an understanding workplace.

I am slowly feeling more confident. I'm not totally there yet, but I'm not as afraid as I was two years ago when Karl died. I can see that someday my sense of safety will return.

Writing this blog is helping with that - being able to express the way I feel has helped reduce the fear. Another thing that has helped is starting a 12 week Artist's Way group. Week one is about safety and part of that is talking about the fears and negative things that have caused us to be creatively blocked. People need a feeling of safety to be able to take the risk of being creative. Writing about what has caused a lack of confidence helps you see that other people's opinions aren't always the truth about you. Thinking about the source of some issues and seeing the positives as well as the negatives makes it easier to feel a sense of safety.

My safety has to reside inside me; I know that now. There will be backtracking and bad days, I'm sure but I can do this. The worst has happened and I'm still here, still coping.

As my sense of safety is starting to increase, I want to reach out to help others. There is a dog that I am considering adopting who has been abused and needs a good solid home and a person who will be patient and help him get confidence in people. I have to take my current dog to meet him, but I'm pretty sure he is the one I will try to help. But even if he and Rusty don't click, there will be another little dog who needs my help soon. It's important to me to help an abused animal. My mom said on the phone, you can't help all of them and that's true, but I can help one of them. I suspect it will help me as much as it helps him.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Reason to Keep on Living

Before Karl died I thought that “broken heart” was just a phrase. I had no idea that it would one day describe exactly how I felt. It really did physically feel as if my heart had cracked into two and wouldn't keep beating. But it did and I didn't really know what to do about that. You read about how couples who have been together a long time often don't survive each other by very long and now I understand that as well. Karl was central to my life and at first I didn't feel as if there was a reason to go on living with him no longer in the world. I mean, what was the point anyway? The ones who die soon after those they love are often those who never find an answer to “What's the point?” At least it seems that way to me.

Two things kept me going, my dog Rusty and my job. Rusty bless his greedy little heart kept wanting to be fed and wanting to go out and wanting to be with me as I cried. I wanted to stay in bed and never get up again, but he insisted. At length, some days. He was a rescue dog and I couldn't just die and leave him homeless again. I had given him a forever home, damn it, and I was going to keep my part of the bargain as he had kept his. He had more than kept his part of the bargain (which was to keep us company and make us laugh). Rusty was (and still is) a genuine hero dog in my eyes. One night when I was asleep, Karl fell and couldn't get back up. With emphysema, he didn't have the breathe to yell loud enough that I could hear him, so Rusty came upstairs and banged on the bedroom door until I woke up and then he led me to Karl. I couldn't send a dog like that back to the SPCA if his owners were gone, so I had to keep going.

And work needed me. We were shorthanded in the group I worked in and my bereavement leave had put us further behind. So I had to get up everyday and go in and try to work (I worked much more slowly than usual and I cried every day at work, but I went in). I'm not sure what would have happened if I had lost my job those first two years, might have been the last straw that pushed me over the edge. But I didn't and so I avoided the edge until I had healed enough to start thinking about building a new life.

And now I'm rebuilding. Still not sure what direction to go in, still not sure what my new life will contain but now I'm sure I will rebuild. That's progress of sort.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Death At A Funeral

You go through the full gamut of emotions when someone close to you dies. I knew Karl was dying, so I expected the sadness and the pain and the anger. What I didn't expect was the funny side of it all. Sometimes when things are so bad they can't get any worse, all that's left to do is to laugh.

Funerals bring out the dysfunctional in families. Whatever things annoy you the most about your family or his family will be quadruply annoying during the lead up to the funeral.

I still laugh about how I had to get my sister (who had sensibly gotten a hotel room with my mom) to spend the night with me as the guard sister to keep Karl's daughter (who grieved by getting wasted drunk and crying all over people as well as slobbering on them) out of my bedroom at 2 am. It worked too!

Then there was Karl's ex-wife (the one he divorced in 1969) who was appalled, simply appalled, that he didn't leave the house to her. Hello, divorced for almost 40 years, living with me for 26 (far longer than they were married) and living in another state. In what reality would he have left her the house? He didn't even like her.

Then there was Karl's older brother. Wink was in the hospital when Karl died. In fact Karl had gone out to Arizona to see him and died in his house. Wink's wife didn't tell him Karl died. OK she was afraid he wasn't going to live through the news while he was in the hospital. But she didn't tell him even after he got home. In fact no one in the family thinks he has been told yet (they are all kind of afraid to ask). Certainly I've not heard a word of condolence from him. On the other hand he has to wonder why he hasn't heard from Karl in two years.

I told the younger brother about Karl's death. He was playing golf when I called on his cell. He finished the round before going home.

Then there was Karl's friend from FL who came up for the funeral and told this horribly inappropriate story about him and Karl being drunk and hitting on the girls at Hooters. And Karl's son talking about how Karl made him into the man he was today and how much he loved him. Yeah right, Karl couldn't even get him to return his phone calls most of the time.

Then there was the former co-worker who emailed me after hearing the news to proposition me. Really, trust me, when the love of your life has died less than a week ago, you do not want someone to ask you out. Just another dating tip for the socially inept.

About a month after the funeral, my friend Lory invited me to dinner and to watch a movie after. She said, “It sounds weird, but you have to see Death at Funeral.” She knows me well. It was indeed the perfect funny movie for my mood. Ah yes, funerals can sure put the fun in dysfunctional.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Writing as therapy

One thing I have found most helpful about writing this blog is that I can say all those things I've kept inside because people don't want to really discuss grief in detail.

As a result, I now feel better than I've felt in years. Some of the weight of all this stress is gone because I've been able to express it. Oh it's not perfect and I still feel the grief, but I can see progress and can start to visualize rebuilding my life.

If you are reading this and seem stuck in your grief (not immediately after the grief, we need to take the time to actually feel the feelings), I recommend you take the time to write down what you are going through and have gone through as a way to clarify your feelings and release them. You don't have to share publicly as I am with the blog; you don't have to show anyone at all. But try writing it out and see if it helps. And let me know if it did.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I've been dealing with depression and bi-polar disease for 40 years. When Karl died I knew I needed help to get through this, so I immediately made an appointment to get back on Depression drugs. I thought that with my history and the grief complications that the doctor would surely send me to therapy, but he didn't and I was in too upset a state to insist. It was the first of several tries at therapy where I felt discounted and not listened to because I was in grief and we know all about that.

I tried with him for 3 months, the drugs weren't helping the way they had in previous bouts of depression and the doctor gave me something new rather than listening to me when I told him what had worked before. Then he wanted blood to check my liver function and that was the last straw. I don't do needles and I would never have consented to take a drug that required blood tests. I refused the blood test, left and never came back. But of course I still needed help. After six or seven more months of grief and depression I got up the courage to try again. No drugs this time, right to therapy. Three sessions later when we were still taking history and hadn't talked a bit about what was currently my problem, I quit that therapy too. I was starting to feel invisible. I went for four or five more months just barely getting by. I tried again, different doctor, different drugs, different therapist. She told me that I was a loser who would never be happy unless I had a complete personality change. She hadn't even talked to me and heard any of what I had to say and she thought I was a loser. It's no surprise that I never went back.

I had never had this kind of luck with therapy before. But as a person dealing with grief, I never once, through 4 different caregivers, felt that any one of them actually heard what I wanted to say or let me show them what aspect of grief I was having difficulty dealing with. I had become invisible an interchangeable part with all other people suffering grief.

Well, grief is not like that. People cope differently, people have different problems that most concern them. And most especially people who seek therapy to deal with grief need to feel they are being listened to. When I went to the therapists for depression treatment in the past, I was listened to and they paid attention to what issues I was having and how to deal with it. I was a person. Going to therapy with grief, I was no longer an individual, I was suffering from grief and steps a, b, c would fix that. One size fits all therapy isn't just wrong; it's harmful to the grieving person.