The Advice We Give but Do Not Take

advice

She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it). ~~ Lewis Carroll

Zach,

I have realized that so many of us, myself included, are capable of giving wonderful advice to our family and friends but are also wonderfully able to ignore our own advice.  Even since I lost you, I am still able to occasionally pull myself out from under the rock, AKA grief, that I live under and offer solid advice to my family and friends.

“I think talking to someone would really help you.”

“You have to take some time for yourself.”

“You have to eat.  Not eating will magnify everything and make you feel worse.”

“Getting some sleep would really help you.”

“Try not to think that way; you could not have changed anything.”

“Just ignoring it won’t make the problem go away.”

“Drinking yourself to sleep every night isn’t the solution.”

“You can’t just hide from this.”

Oh, the advice we give but do not take.  Most days I feel like I am exactly where I was October 9, 2011.  Most days I don’t feel like anything has changed other than that I manage to get through my day a little easier at this point.  This is probably because I am working myself to the bone between my extremely hectic job, my teaching schedule, my own classes, and my homework.  Denial, denial, denial.  If I keep running, I won’t have time to think.

But is that the same advice I would give my struggling friend, my best friend having relationship problems, a mutual friend of ours having severe coping difficulties, to someone I love whose marriage is quickly failing?  No, not at all.  When it comes to them I take on an air of wisdom.  I become the wise one who imparts snippets of wisdom that will help them face their problems.  I can offer that outside perspective that is just what they need to hear.  But do I do any of it myself?  Nope.  It is the advice I can give, but I cannot take.

They say, “Those who cannot do, teach.”  Maybe that is what is happening.  I can’t do it myself.  I can’t let go.  I can’t take care of myself.  I can’t take a moment to breathe for fear of completely and utterly falling apart.  I can’t take the time to go talk to someone.  I can’t make myself eat, sleep, or live like a healthy human being.  I cannot do it, so I guess I will teach.  But Zach, that is so hypocritical, right?  How can I expect my loved ones to take care of themselves if I cannot take my own advice?  Does it only apply to their situation and not to mine?  Is it easier to help fix their problems than to confront what is going on in my own world?  Probably.

Zach, I know I can’t continue like this.  I am broken down, beaten up, and in a state of perma-exhaustion.  My body constantly hurts, I never feel caught up, and am always struggling to keep moving.  And yet I still cannot take my own advice, or any from anyone else, because I am afraid of what will happen if I stop and just let myself breathe.  I’ve kept going for so long now that if I put everything else on hold I am sure that I will collapse into the million tiny shards of what remains of me which is only being held together by a busy schedule that necessitates being held together. If I let go, even for a second, I think it would be irreparable.  And then what?  I just don’t know nor am I even fractionally curious to see what would lie behind that closed door right now.

I came across two quotes a few weeks ago about how to give advice to someone who is grieving and they truly resonated with me.  It is hard to see clearly when you are deep in the throes of grief and even harder to see a way out of it.  But I have been blessed to have family and friends who understand that I am just not there yet.  I think they understand that I don’t ignore their advice on purpose or intentionally act hypocritical by offering advice I don’t take myself, but instead they show their support and love for me just by being there.  Zach, I am truly blessed to have the people who have stood by me through all of this so I close with these two quotes as a thank you to them.

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.   -Henri Nouwen 

 ~~~~

At some of the darkest moments in my life, some people I thought of as friends deserted me-some because they cared about me and it hurt them to see me in pain; others because I reminded them of their own vulnerability, and that was more than they could handle. But real friends overcame their discomfort and came to sit with me. If they had not words to make me feel better, they sat in silence (much better than saying, “You’ll get over it,” or “It’s not so bad; others have it worse”) and I loved them for it. – Harold Kushner, Living a Life that Matters 

The Lost Me

lost

“I’m not sure this is a world I belong in anymore. I’m not sure that I want to wake up.” ~~ Gayle Forman in If I Stay

 

Zach,

Lost doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel right now.  I somehow managed to finish the spring semester and even more insanely somehow managed to finish with straight A’s again.  Dean’s List for the third year running…. yay, right?  But there is no yay.  There was no joy.  There was just a weekend of relief then back at it again.  The summer semester is already one week underway and it is brutal.  The great thing about the summer semester is how wonderfully quickly you can get through a full class.  Who needs the typical five months to complete a university class when you can accomplish the same thing in a matter of mere weeks?  Of course that does mean work and teaching 8-5:30, class every night from 6-9 PM then home to read a full textbook chapter, take a quiz, do an assignment and somehow be up at it first thing in the morning again?  Hell.  Is it any wonder that I feel lost?  Probably not, but this is an ongoing thing since I lost you.

There is no concept of time anymore.  Wasn’t it just Christmas?  Or Spring Break?  Or last year?  The other day I told someone that I lost you last year.  It hasn’t been a year.  That’s just not true.  It is has been over a year and a half now so why would I say that?  I have not only lost myself, but I have lost my grip on everything.  What I haven’t lost is the ability to fool everyone into thinking I am coping better than before.  My mask has been pretty firmly in place for awhile now, but by now I just am the mask.

I go to work, I do the job and I am great at it.  I’ll pat myself on the back for that because I do good work and I love my job.  I teach my students, they learn, they enjoy class, and they love me as much as I love and am indebted to them.  I go to class, I succeed, I learn, and (without sounding like I am tooting my own horn since it is their words and not mine) the professors are impressed by my work.  And yet there is still nothing there.  It is empty.  It is vapid.  It is meaningless.  It is lost.

But am I actually lost?  Like the picture says, in order to be lost you have to know where it is you are supposed to be.  I definitely don’t know that.  I am supposed to be with you, living my life with you, and without that?  I just don’t know.

Zach, I started this blog and began writing in this space, not only to help process some of the thoughts in my head, but to share my story so others might know they are not alone, and to maybe help someone else one day.  Now I feel I am even failing at that because I cannot pull myself together, cannot overcome the constant exhaustion I feel to sit down and write.  I am so lost, what I used to be is so lost that I don’t even know where to find a smidgen of a piece of me.

But aren’t we all lost?  Isn’t that what grief does to us?  Spins us around, dumps us upside down, twists our realities, and makes everything tainted with a bitter disdain for our own lives?  I know I am not alone in this.  All of us found in excruciating vortex of grief have felt the same way at one point or another.  I don’t know how to find my way back, but I think this space is a good place to start.  This space was the only place I could be myself and express myself when my grief was the freshest.  So this is the space I am going to try and find that one small smidgen.

The Man and His Dog – part 2

lusie collage

“Owning a dog always ended with this sadness because dogs just don’t live as long as people do.” ~~ John Grogan in Marley and Me

Zach,

Is it still a childhood delusion to think that all dogs go to heaven?  Is it wishful thinking that right now Lusie, your faithful and loving companion, is up there with you frolicking and exploring?  I went to your parents this weekend and when I pulled up, I knew something was wrong.  She didn’t come greet me and I walked around the whole house looking in places she normally snoozed.  Your mom pulled up just a few minutes after me and as soon as I said ‘Where’s Lusie?”, I knew.

Poor little Lusie died last Saturday.  They didn’t tell me because I was in Canada for the Spring Break and then came back to an insane week.  Apparently she got so much worse that weekend.  Makes me so sad that I wasn’t here, but she was at home and she was with your dad and brother.  Poor little Lusie.

Your mom and I hugged and cried and blurted out at the same time, “Zach would have been so devastated.”  You would have been so sad to lose Lusie, but maybe that childhood delusion is true.  Maybe the two of you are together now.

It is a strange thing to lose a dog.  Pets become so much part of the family that their absence is just as jarring.  Sitting drinking coffee Saturday morning and her food bowl catching my eye made me cry.  Waking up Sunday morning and coming out of your old room to see her chair empty made me cry.  Pulling up in the car after running to town and not being greeted by her hilarious howls made me sad.

But she was in pain and she was suffering so I am glad she is not struggling anymore.  I think my sadness is magnified by knowing how devastated you would be if you were here.  I feel like I have taken on your sadness and am grieving for both of us.  But again…. maybe you are together and both of you are thrilled at being reunited.

The Loss of Your Confidant

z and me

Grief is a solitary journey. No one but you knows how great the hurt is.  No one but you can know the gaping hole left in your life when someone you know has died.  And no one but you can mourn the silence that was once filled with laughter and song. It is the nature of love and death to touch every person in a totally unique way   ~~ Unknown

Zach,

I use this space to tell you what is going on, what I’m struggling with, things I wish I could actually tell you.  Maybe it is stupid or pointless because it is a poor replacement for the real thing, but I do draw some comfort from being able to “talk” to you.  Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to share my secrets with my childhood imaginary friend; my invisible, untouchable, and out-of-reach confidant.

When you lose your confidant, it becomes a one-sided conversation.  I still think all of these things; they don’t just go away.  I still want to say them and quite often I do still say them out loud to you.  I can’t tell you the amount of times I have gotten strange looks from people as I say things out loud to you.  So how do you shut off all of the things you are used to talking about?  You can’t.  This just means I have a lot of one-sided, empty, unfulfilling, and tragically lonely conversations with myself.

Zach, we talked about anything and everything all day long.  I see something funny and I still reach for my phone to text you.  I am annoyed at work and I want to pick up the phone and call you.  I want to hear about your lunch break, about your funny students making you laugh, the female teacher drama you so desperately tried to avoid at work.  I want to tell you when I’m sad, hear you encourage me when I am overwhelmed, to be told everything will be OK one day.  I want to listen to you talk about our future, excitedly dream about getting your Ph.D., passionately drone on about History I could never understand the way you do.  I want to people watch and make sarcastic comments quietly to each other, talk about the family property and our big plans for it, strategize our next travelling adventure.

When you lose your confidant even the monotony of daily life, the trivial things, the insignificant things become something you desperately wish you could say.  It isn’t just the big things that you want to talk about, discuss, and analyze.  The small things become huge when you are faced with the reality of not being able to say it to the one person you want to.  Of course I have my family, friends, and coworkers that I can talk to, but it isn’t the same.

You are the one I am used to sharing everything with: the mundane, the important, the major, the minor.  And now I don’t have that.  The silence is excruciating and it constantly reminds me of how alone I am.  I want my partner, my confidant, my best friend.

I’ve been brutally reminded of this inability to talk to you this week because I want to tell you both the good and bad news I got.  They say everything gets easier with time, but it doesn’t feel that way.  Every day it seems to feel worse.  Every day I am slapped in the face with the reality that I can never tell you anything again.

The silence is deafening.

The Man and His Dog

zach and lusie

Dogs’ lives are too short.  Their only fault, really ~~ Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Zach,

I feel like I am writing this on your behalf.  Either that or just to tell you what is going on.  I can’t really decide which it is, but either way it is sad.

Weekends with your family are the only sense of comfort I typically feel during my weeks of insane scheduling.  I am truly blessed to have them and they are the most wonderful in-laws one could ever ask for.  Your family is my family and I love each of them as if they were my own…… but I digress and that is not what I set out to write tonight so I’ll start over.

Weekends with your family are the only sense of comfort I typically feel, but this weekend was inundated with a profound sense of sadness.  I walked in the door on Friday after a long day at work followed by a two hour drive to start catching up with your mom after three weeks of being unable to come home when I laid eyes on two green plastic bottles on the counter.  Noticing me notice them, your mom hesitantly informed me they were Lusie’s.

I should mention that this is a really strange sensation for me right now because I feel like I am having to break the news to you knowing how upset you will be.  Obviously strange because you are not here, but I hope that anyone reading this would understand how horribly you would take this news and how hesitantly I would approach this.  No matter what has happened and how death has tragically separated us, I still feel it is my place and my responsibility to tell you.

Zach, Lusie is sick.  Your beloved little basset hound that you picked out so many years ago to surprise your mom and sister is not doing well.  Your parents noticed two weeks ago that she was breathing heavy and not eating much.  They only told me this weekend because they know how brutal my last couple weeks have been and they were waiting for me to be able to come home, but now that I know…. I am just so sad.  The vet showed your mom the x-rays and Lusie’s lungs are full of cancer which they say is common for basset hounds, but it doesn’t make our sadness any less.

I sit here contemplating how I would actually break the news to you if you were here.  I already feel such a sense of loss with knowing she is so sick, but I know you would be that much more upset.  A man and his dog.  It is a relationship that cannot truly be defined.  A dog is a man’s best friend; what more is there to say?

Lusie is like your doggie child, the same as Dakota (my husky who lives in Canada with my mom) is mine.  This is the pooch who howled in excitement anytime you came home and would do so louder than for any other family member.  This is the pup you trained, hunted with, rode with, explored with.  Man’s best friend.

This is the dog who grieved with us after we lost you.  They say dogs can grieve themselves to death if their master dies suddenly and we were so afraid this would happen to Lusie.  The first day or so that I was in Eastman, she kept sniffing me in way that made us all realize she was associating my scent with you and that she was confused why you weren’t there.  Literally any time the door would open and someone would walk in, she would limp over to the door (she had been hit by a car the week before and was quite injured at the time) and once realizing it wasn’t you, she would come over and sniff me again.  She wouldn’t eat, she didn’t sleep much, she constantly paced searching for you, and she kept coming to me to either just lay with me or to roll around on my lap asking to be pet like only you could.

I found it really strange how Lusie responded to me after we lost you.  She is such a beautiful little pup and such a sweet girl, but after you were gone she really started coming to me more and looking for some loving.  Is that because I was willing to give it or because she associated me with you?  I’m not sure, but I have adopted Lusie as my own just the same as I have adopted your whole family.

Zach, I’m so sad to tell you that she is sick.  I know you would be heartbroken.  I know you wouldn’t take the news well.  You might not be here with us anymore, but I’m still sad to tell you about her.  I am just so sad about her.  The vet has given her some medicine to make her more comfortable and we hope she won’t be hurting/struggling as much, but it doesn’t look good and I’m not sure how long she has before she is up there roaming with you….. if that is how it works.

I love you, Zach, and even if you aren’t here it still breaks my heart to tell you something that would cause you pain and sadness.  Like my opening quote says, dogs are amazing and become a part of the family, but their lives are too short.

Poor Lusie has had a hard year and five months with getting hit by the car, loosing you, and now this.  Poor little girl has been so strong, but maybe it is time for her to be with you.  Maybe she has missed you long enough.

But we aren’t ready to say goodbye yet 😦

 

A Lusie and Krista snuggle moment.

me and lusie

The Times When You Actually Have Too Much to Say

how grief works

 

There is no grief like the grief that does not speak ~~ Henry Wordsworth

 

Zach,

I feel like this is my life right now.  Clearly my life is no longer on a straight progressive line through life, but instead it has become a clusterf**k of a disastrous rollercoaster ride.  Spinning, swirling, confusing, overwhelming, excruciating.  I have said it so many times before, but between work, teaching, and my own university classes I barely have time to think.  Every single day, from 8 AM until 2-3 AM, I alternate between working in the office, attending class, teaching, studying, doing homework, making lesson plans, grading, etc. that I barely have time to even sleep.  Since January I have not felt like I can catch a break.  And I am so tired.

The worst part about it is that I have so much I want to say.  Things I need to say, to get off my chest, to get out of my mind.  I have so much I want to say to you, to write about, to process.  I just don’t have time.  I need to make more time because there is so much more I feel like I need to do.  My every intention behind starting this blog was to one day help somebody in some way with their own grief.  To show them that they are not alone.  So many people have shared their very personal experiences with grief with me and they tell me that my words have helped, but I know there is more I could probably do.  I have ideas, I have the words…. I just don’t have the time.

And for a writer?  Not having time to do what we love, to do what is our biggest outlet, to do what helps us process so much?  Having so much to say but no time to get it written down? Zach, having no time to write is excruciating for a writer.  All of these words are just piling up in my head and I want to sit down and dedicate a whole day to writing.  But I can’t.

I don’t know if you are actually watching over all of us or if you can see how we are struggling.  But more than ever I need you to show me that I am doing the right thing, that I am on the right path.  Because right now I feel so lost that none of it seems worthwhile and I don’t know why I’m still doing it.  Especially school.  School is hard, I can never get caught up.  I am just so tired.  There are not enough hours in the day.  I don’t know if you are watching, but I need something to show me that this total lack of time is worth it.

The Big 3-Oh my God, Where the F**K Did My Life Go?

February 2011

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.  ~ ~ Douglas MacArthur

Zach,

Well the day you always teased me about has come and gone.  Yesterday I turned 30.  Where the hell did that come from?  Age is just a number and I really haven’t had the same freak-out most women do when they turn 30, but still!  What a strange thing to say.  What a strange thing to be out of your twenties.  What a strange thing to have no idea where my life has gone….. especially not the last few years.

You always loved it because I was two years older.  You didn’t care about my age, we never noticed an age difference, but every so often you really enjoyed rubbing it in that you would have two extra years before you hit this big 30 marker.  Why is it so significant to all of us?  I guess because it used to mean that you needed to have a career, a husband, 2.5 kids, and a house with a white picket fence by this point otherwise you may as well throw in the damn towel and give in to being an old maid.  It used to mean all that, but I really don’t think it does anymore.

So why is this birthday so hard for me?  If I don’t care about the socially implied meaning behind the birthday then why did I have such an impossibly hard time at dinner with friends on Saturday where it was agonizingly difficult to keep a smile on my face?  Why did I spend yesterday, my actual birthday, laying in bed under the covers with the TV on for background noise while I laid there and sobbed?

Zach, I don’t think it is that I feel as though my life is ruined because I haven’t accomplished certain things by now.  Is it constantly aggravating that I am still in school at my age?  Of course it is, but I did that to myself by only choosing to go back to school now.  Is it exhausting to run around being a full-time student plus teaching plus lesson plans plus grading plus the very time consuming job that I have in my office when none of it adds up to being an actual career at the age I am?  Absolutely.  It is absolutely disheartening.  But I know in my heart it is a step towards any future job.  So then what is it about 30 that has crushed absolutely all sense of joy out of me?

It isn’t that I should have reached a certain point by now and done certain things.  Well it is, but it isn’t.  Zach, it is not that I haven’t been able to attain these things in my life that everyone else has been lucky enough to.  It is that it was all stolen from me.  The life I wanted, the life I had worked towards, the life we had together, the life we were planning for our future was all taken.  It isn’t that I have failed in achieving these things.  It is that I wasn’t deserving enough to keep it.

I didn’t get to keep you.  I didn’t get to keep that true love you gave me.  I didn’t get to keep the life we had together which was so amazing it was one for the history books.  So what is there from here?  There isn’t anything.

So call me over the hill, call me grandma, or call me old lady like I can hear you doing right now in your overly exaggerated Southern drawl.  Age is just a number, but all I feel is that I’ve already hit the high points and there isn’t much more to go from here.  I have such high doubts that anything can beat what I’ve already had so I will just be grateful for what i have had….. even if I lost it all.

Not many people can say that they have had the number of amazing jobs I’ve had (and there have been a lot) or the experiences I’ve had.  Not many people can talk about the different countries they have lived in, the travels they have done, or even been able to understand the love that we had.  I consider myself truly lucky for everything I have managed to do up until this point regardless of whatever curveballs life has thrown at me along the way.  I consider myself truly blessed for having known you, loved you, and for having been lucky enough to have had a life with you even if it wasn’t nearly enough.  Maybe I just hit all those high points earlier in life than most and now it is just time to ride it out.

Zach, I understand why they call it over the hill now.  There is no more uphill climb.  All I envision are the monotonous steps in front of me which I will continue to take.  You would want me to and I know I need to, but I don’ t know where it has all gone.  I don’t have any idea how time has passed so quickly to leave me where I am now.  So I’ll ask it again….. where the F**K has my life gone?

It has been but a blink of the eye.