Home

Are You Tired of My Grief?

20 Comments

It finally happened, the thing my grief counselor warned me about. I was in a local pub with a couple of friends and one of them said, “I’ve been reading your blog . . . don’t you think it might be time to move on?”

From my brother’s death, is what he meant.

The question didn’t surprise me – my friend is definitely not a “feeler” when it comes to personality types, and he’s not one to intentionally process his emotions. Like many people, he sees “bad” emotions like grief as troubles to be overcome, wrestled to the ground.

I, on the other hand, am an off-the-charts feeler who firmly believes that uncomfortable emotions are meant to impart life lessons. They are spiritual teachers, and we should sit with them and listen to them. 

In my experience, if psychic pain isn’t fully processed, it comes back as depression, anxiety, anger, or – in the case of my dear departed brother – death. 

Fall 2012 c 015

Living in the Land of Grief

What that processing entails and how long it takes is unique to every individual and to every loss. Nevertheless, my grief counselor told me that at some point, someone would probably decide on my behalf that it was time for me to “move on.” 

So I had to smile when my friend used that exact phrase.

I can’t remember what I said to him, if anything, but the answer to his question is: No – it is not time to “move on” or “get over it.” That’s not what happens. Ever. A major loss will gradually become a part of you; you adjust. You do not get “finished” with grief. 

It’s like learning a new language in a new country. You will, over time, get used to it and function fairly normally. But it’s still a different country than the one you used to live in.

Bottom line: stuffing my feelings doesn’t work for me anymore, so I won’t be pretending that I’m “over” my brother’s death. If you’re uncomfortable with that, simply don’t read my blogs tagged grief, even if they are brilliantly written and sometimes maybe a little funny.

Deal?

Six Month Check-in

It has been six months now. I have little memory of the first three months, except for a great fear of losing my mind because that’s what my mother’s death did to my brother. I was relieved to find that several others in my grief support group shared that fear. That’s mostly gone now, thank God. 

When I try to analyze or control my grief, to tell it what it “should” be doing now, I still experience anxiety. 

If I get too busy or spend too much time with others and don’t take time for rest and reflection and writing, I find that the tears come rushing back as soon as I’m alone. Pacing myself is key to recovery.

I’m still having trouble doing the things that need to be done: lawyer crap, social security and medical bill crap, house cleaning crap. Crap, crap, crap. 

Sometimes I’m angry at Biff, at God, at life. At crap. But in general, I’m doing OK. I am feeling better, not worse. 

Write, Cry, Celebrate

I will continue to write about grief when I need to because it helps me, and because I hope that it might help others who are grieving to know that they are not alone. 

I want you to know that it’s OK to talk about your grief. Talking and talking is an important part of the healing process. Don’t feel that you are a burden — just make sure you choose safe people who won’t judge. There’s no right or wrong. If someone doesn’t understand, don’t share your grief with them. Simple as that. Your journey is unique. But it does help to have company, so find a support group if you can.

Write about it. Cry if you need to. 

Celebrate when little things get back on track. I can now go to the grocery store without losing it. This is big. Sometimes I can listen to music.

Six months is nothing, really, when you’re putting your soul back together, but every day is a small victory.

Worlds Collide — My Green Faith

14 Comments

“Bible study! Bible study!?” My friend’s saliva sputtered across my desk and graced my hands, which were now clenched and starting to sweat. His reaction was just what I had been fearing.

“Hey guys,” Carl bellowed down the hall, “did you hear that? Mel won’t go get a beer with me cause she’s got BIBLE study tonight!”

I still cringe at the memory. For months, I’d been trying to figure out how to tell my agnostic/atheist coworkers at the Sierra Club that I had – gasp – become a Christian. I’d known Carl a dozen years, and he was a good friend, often flying from California to D.C. to help me lobby his congressional delegation. This trip, he had mentioned that he’d recently discovered Zen Buddhism and been on a retreat. Since he’d confided something of his spiritual journey to me, I thought he might be a safe person to tell about my decision to join a church community and tag along after Jesus. Wrong.

The Unholy

I didn’t blame my fellow environmental lobbyists for distrusting Christianity. Ultra right-wing politicians had formed an unholy alliance with the conservative Christian Coalition and several polluting industries to deny climate change and promote a false jobs-versus-the-environment message. (But we can’t afford to protect air and water, it will hurt poor people!)

More fundamentally, environmentalists and even many Christians misinterpret the ancient Judeo-Christian concept of “stewardship” as meaning dominion over nature, or license to exploit – even responsibility to exploit. (God put those trees there for us to use, so we must cut them down even if they are a thousand years old.)

Some Christians just figure Jesus is coming to get them any day, so why worry about the planet?

I was a different kind of Christian and a different kind of environmentalist. Could I ever put the two halves of myself together?

The Holy

For me, love of nature and reverence for God are integrally connected and biblically sound. One of Jesus’s early followers, Paul, wrote in the Bible, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

If you believe God is the Creator, then God is revealed in the created world and we should honor it. Duh. But what seemed like a no-brainer for me wasn’t as obvious to either my environmental or my Christian friends.

The Rift Widens

The day after the offending Bible study, I was at a Christian leaders’ retreat focused on identifying and using spiritual gifts. I had determined that my deep love of nature and my passion to care for it were both gifts from God; I was starting to hope that perhaps my spiritual life and my career could become integrated after all, grounded in my new faith.

During an afternoon break, I leaned against a rickety ping-pong table and surveyed what I now recognized as common church-basement fare: store-bought cookies (Oreos) and paper (non-recyclable) cups of juice.

I was chatting with the first missionary I had ever met. He asked what I did for a living and I told him, with perhaps more pride in my voice than God would have liked. In the cavernous pause that followed, I could feel the rift between my two selves widen.

He said, in precisely the same cringe-inducing tone that Carl had used the night before, “Sierra Club! Sierra Club? I wouldn’t think someone from Sierra Club would even be in a church, let alone at a leaders’ retreat.” Apparently he bought into the political rhetoric that all environmentalists are misanthropic atheists who care more about trees and spotted owls than people.

I had no allies in either camp, unless they were in hiding.

Becoming Myself

Today, millions of Christians recognize the responsibility to care for creation as part of their faith tradition, although many older ones still distrust what they mockingly call “tree huggers.”

Unabashed Tree Hugger

Unabashed Tree Hugger

But twenty years ago when my “identity split” took place, the false dichotomy nearly broke me in half as my two selves battled for balance and acceptance. I didn’t feel at home with my old hard-partying, competitive friends in progressive politics anymore, yet I didn’t quite fit with my new faith community either.

During this period, I had the opportunity to meet former President Jimmy Carter. I asked him how he managed his dual life, immersed in cut-throat politics but also reflecting the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control that the Bible says are gifts of the Holy Spirit.

He gave me one of his penetrating icy blue stares that I imagine unsettled many a foreign leader and said, “Contrary to popular opinion, God lives in Washington, D.C., too.”

We laughed, but the deeper meaning of his words took root: God is always at work and inviting me to join in wherever I am. It’s my job to pay attention and respond. Best of all, I’m not in charge of what anyone else thinks of me.

Over time, my commitment to spiritual growth – which includes connecting with God through the natural world – has given me the confidence to become the unique person I was created to be; other people’s opinions be damned.

**************************

I’ve written this post in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge, which points to our many personas and asks us to “tell about a time when two or more “yous” ran into each other.” You have a persona story to share?

 

 

Breathing Room: Journaling in Space

7 Comments

Last night while I slept, a miracle occurred: a new room was added to my house! I know this sounds unlikely, but the painters and carpenters who’ve been crawling all over my house are apparently using some pretty good amphetamines.

OK, maybe it was a dream. Only it wasn’t. It’s the WordPress Daily Prompt: An extra room has magically been added to your home overnight. The catch: if you add more than three items to it, it disappears. How do you use it?

This prompt is so obvious, I can’t pass it up. My three items would be my journal, a pen, and a chair. I’m hoping that my tea mug doesn’t count, but if it does, I’ll choose that and lose the chair.

My Clutter

In my home, there’s barely room to get dressed in the morning and little floor visible to vacuum. Let alone space on the couch to have a friend over. Every potential sitting spot is stacked with papers and books and piles of folded t-shirts, jeans, and socks. There’s no longer room in the bookshelves or dresser drawers to put stuff away.

My Morning Room

But enough of my woes! I have a new room – a breathing room. I will call it my morning room, and I will sit and journal for hours, undistracted by the guilt, shame, and despair I feel when I’m sitting amidst my clutter. Lots of light will pour through the latticed windows, outside of which flowerboxes will overflow with red geraniums. A hummingbird feeder will be hanging above the geraniums.

geraniums 001.b

Am I cheating by filling up the area outside the window? I think not. There are still just three things in my room. My journal, my pen, and my chair, which will be a wing-backed chair of the deepest royal blue – maybe even velvet! Or perhaps it will be a recliner with a foot rest, still blue velvet. The walls of the room will be various shades of purple and blue, and since it’s a magical room, I can change the wall colors just by imagining.

My Journal

My journaling will remain the same, a combination of here’s-what-I-did-and-here’s-what-I’m-going-to-do and an outpouring of anxieties and prayers and lists of things I need to work on – emotionally, spiritually, and in the material world. I’m sure if were to read back over the years I’d see helpful patterns, but the lack of progress might be depressing, so I don’t.

My blog readers tell me they like it when I share random journal entries, and this seems as good a place as any to include a few recent rambles.

  • May 23, on grief:

Five months. A few minutes ago, the phone rang twice and then stopped. His secret ring. Then I found a sheet of paper I’d been writing on the day he died. Notes about nursing homes and insurance coverage, and in the upper right-hand corner I had scrawled the room number he told me he was moving to after the test, except that the test proved fatal. Room 43461, it says. I had a wild thought to go visit it.

That’s all I want to say. It will be years and years before this penetrates. Those little reminders can slay you. Today I am able to choose whether or not to be slayed by the grief. I think I will not. My plan is to spend the day submitting my writing.

  • May 24, on meeting a stranger:

Got in a convo today with a guy named James. Interesting old fellow, actually only sixty-seven, but guzzling booze and living on the railroad tracks have left their mark. He talked of liberation and miracles. His turning point came when he was in his twenties, he said.

He was sitting on the railroad tracks with “another wino,” and the other guy started crying. “What’s the matter, Pokey?” James asked. “Don’t worry, we’ll figure out a way to get more wine before we go to sleep.”

“It’s not that,” Pokey said. “It’s you I’m worried about – you’re not going to make it.”

“That was the low point,” James said. “I thought about it all night, and after that I had a miracle and God took away my desire for alcohol.” Pokey died of alcoholism in his forties, but he saved James’s life. {Stories of James fill three more pages.}

  • May 28, on the morning:

Such a pretty morning here on my porch. It’s humid – we had a big storm last night. The birds are calming down a bit, settling in to the work of raising babies. Not so much boisterous ecstasy at dawn. A hummingbird is at the feeder, and a cardinal serenades from the big pine. The honeysuckle fills the air with sweet. God is so, so crazy gracious. Well, I have a ton to do before I head for New Hampshire.

  • June 3, on eavesdropping in NH:

I don’t have much privacy with these painters just outside all the windows, but for a writer, this material is priceless. They come around the corner and I hear, “That happens every time I get arrested.” How can I not tune in to their chatter?

“I got major heartburn. Downed fourteen beers last night.”

“Oh man, me too. I got that every day. I’m embarrassed to look my mom in the eye. What do you drink?”

“Budweiser.”

“I used to drink that, but I can’t afford it anymore.”

“So Ernie’s dead now, huh? Last time I saw him he wailed on me. Punched me right in the jaw for no reason. Guess he was just too drunk . . . Yeah, I lost my brother to heroin.”

“I don’t touch that stuff. I did coke once. Took a hit of acid once. Walked around town with a box of elbow macaroni and an Elmo doll, burning bugs on the sidewalk. It was a bad night.”

And on that note, I will sign off.

%d bloggers like this: