A Thought for Fellow Grievers: A Picture Says a 1000 Words

A-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words

They says a picture is worth a thousand words and as an obsessive photographer I have always agreed with that.  I have also always been a big fan of quotes in that I am constantly saving ones I see or writing them down from the books I read or posting them on my fridge or sharing them with my best friend, Lauren.  Since I lost Zach, my fiancé, I have either come across or been sent various pictures with quotes about grieving that have so strongly resonated with me that I now have an extensive collection of them saved in my phone or in my email.

I would like to share them here with you today because maybe you also have found yourself trapped in a similar journey with grief and you feel like me in that it gives you a small degree of comfort to know that other people are thinking and feeling the same way as you.  Maybe you can also look at a picture of someone who has experienced loss, recognize the raw emotion, and know exactly what they are feeling in that moment.

That’s the worst part about grief: to feel like you have lost your mind, that no one could ever feel the way you do, and that what you’re feeling isn’t normal.  Our grief stories might be different, our loss can have a completely different face, but grief is grief and we experience it together.  So maybe you have already seen some of these pictures or heard these quotes or maybe you won’t even get anything out of me sharing them, but I am doing this today because I need the same reminder that grief is shared by all….. even through the pure kindness of faceless online supporters.

These pictures depict, describe, define, and demonstrate grief whether it be through words or just a picture.  I hope you draw the same thing from them as I have.

From me to you,

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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.

The Natural Progression of Life

grief progression

Zach,

With new responsiblities at work, the end of an intensely hard semester at school, and now with the holidays requiring a brief return to Canada to be with my family, I have had not a spare moment to sit down and write.  But seeing this picture stuck with me so profoundly, I couldn’t resist taking a moment to share it.

I came across this picture the other day and I cannot even begin to describe how much it stuck with me.  The simplistic beauty of the progression through life: childhood innocence to tragic loneliness.  I have never claimed to be special or different or even the only one to ever experience loss.  But this picture shows the natural progression through life and that is how it should be.  That is what I was robbed of.  This is what has been taken from me.

I am angry because we never got the chance to grow old together.  This is what our life should have looked like.  I have been told it is OK to feel this way but it still feels wrong to feel this resentful and angry.  Zach, you and I should have had the opportunity to become withered, wrinkled, old, and needing a cane together.  We should have been able to experience a full life together, but now all I can do is watch as life passes me by.  A numb observer of my own life.

Right now one of my best friends is going through something I would never wish upon her and I can only try to send her as much love as possible because I know I can’t take the hurt away.  It hurts my heart because although our situations are different, I completely understand the anger she feels looking in on other people’s lives, happiness, and joy.  Its hard.  It is so damn hard.  The bitterness you unwillingly feel knowing you don’t have the same thing everyone else does is an unmerciful master which threatens to consume you.

So what is the answer?  What do you do when you resent what others have?  Do you hide away, distance yourself from friends because you don’t have what they do, avoid Facebook so you don’t become hostile seeing pictures of their happy lives?  I think that answer lies within each of us because each of us will feel better doing different things, but I know what has worked for me even if it is only a slight help.

I know I am not the only one to feel this way so I wanted to take a moment today to remind everyone of the same thing I am trying to teach myself.  It is OK to feel resentful that your life doesn’t look like everyone elses.  It is even OK if you find yourself withdrawing like I have because it lessens the anger you feel even if only remotely.  It is OK to be angry that you will never have everything you always dreamt of.  I know its OK.  I remind myself of that.  But how to fix it?  Your guess is as good as mine.

My Third Guest Post ~~~ How to Acknowledge Their “Death-versary”

Back in April, I had the pleasure of speaking with the lady who coordinates online articles for the Hello Grief website and she was interested in what I could contribute to their online community.  This website is an extremely helpful resource for people who are grieving and provides much needed support and advice to its followers.  I was honored to be asked, but the time was just never right.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to share.  As I have hesitantly approached the year marker of Zach’s death, I found myself with something to say.  I tentatively approached Alisha again, because I was unsure if she would even remember me after so much time at passed, and she immediately loved the idea and provided the encourgement I needed to put into words what I wanted to say.  It was honor, not only to be published on their website, but because these truly important words were shared online on Zach’s actual day, October 9th.  It has meant the world to me and I thank Alisha for her motivation, encouragement, and for being a listening ear via email as I attempt to process my own grief.

 

How to Acknowledge Their “Death-versary”
http://www.hellogrief.org/how-to-acknowledge-their-death-versary/

Many people refer to the date of their loved one’s death as an anniversary.  I can’t bring myself to do it.  It actually makes me cringe every time I try to say it or explain what October 9thmeans to me.  The word “anniversary” has an intended association with joy, celebration, and happiness, so why would I want to acknowledge the loss of my beloved Zach with this word?

None of us ever imagined having to say good-bye so soon, so suddenly, so tragically to the ones we love, which leads me to believe that none of us are feeling particularly celebratory as the date draws near.  We all have that one day.  A day filled with dread and loaded with dismal realizations; our own person D-Day.  No, I can’t bring myself to call it an anniversary so “death-versary” it is.  Sounds a bit morbid, I know.  But how else can I honestly begin to approach this day?

October 9, 2012 marks the one year death-versary of my fiancé, Zach.  It is unimaginable that he has been gone that long.  I have alternated so many times over the last year between feeling like he was just here a minute ago and feeling like he has already been gone for four lifetimes that I think I have given myself whiplash.  Life has continued to go on while I feel frozen in place.  Days have come and gone, and yet I feel like nothing has changed.  Over the last year my friends have gotten married, had babies, gotten new jobs, found new boyfriends, and bought houses.  My crowning accomplishment is that I woke up every day and went to work or school.  I got out of bed.  Seriously? That is my accomplishment?  That is all I have achieved?  Is that really all I am capable of doing now, without Zach?  I guess I should see it as surviving, but I have a sneaking suspicion that my aspirations should be higher than just getting by.

Whether I like it or not, the first year has passed.  One whole year without the person who gave my life meaning and filled my heart with unimaginable amount of love.  So how am I supposed to acknowledge this day?  How are any of us, the unwilling members of “Club Grief,” supposed to recognize this day for what it stands for?  For most of us this day signifies one of the absolute worst days of our entire lives,  filled with loss and devastation, questions that can never truly be answered.  So how should this day be spent? I wish I had the answer, any answer, but I think every single one of us must slowly live our way into our own answers.

I truly believe that even among those grieving the loss of the same person, there will be differing opinions about how to approach this day.  Some members of the family may want to do something to commemorate the day while others adamantly refuse.  Throughout grief we are forced to constantly make decisions like: what to do with their belongings, how to celebrate the holidays, what traditions to continue on with.  These difficult decisions are ones that family and friends may agree with or firmly disagree with.  The death-versary is just another one of those decisions and one I am currently faced with.

As October 9th has slowly crept closer I have been questioning what his family and I should do.  My initial plan was to organize a fundraising event in his memory and donate the money to the school Zach had been working at.  He had recently switched from teaching to being the Parent/Teacher Liaison, a Social Worker of sorts, for a county with tremendous struggles and needs.  The resource center he created during his time there was renamed the “Zach Zone” after we lost him.  The teachers have continued his work and tried to fill the gaping void he left behind, but there are still many community needs such as food, clothing, and school supplies.  I thought organizing an event for this would be the perfect way to honor his memory, his life, and his work while giving something to the community he did so much for.

But as this day got closer and closer, my plan started to lose its appeal.  I didn’t think I had it in me to coordinate an event like this and his parents agreed it’s just too soon.  It’s something we would like to do in the future, but for right now it’s simply too daunting of a task.  Our grief is too fresh and too painful to take on something like that right now.  So now what?  I am back to the original question of how to acknowledge this day.

Should I ignore the day and just go to work and school like normal and hope it will be distracting?  Should I take the day off and spend it hiding under the covers?  Should I go spend the day with family and rely on each other for support?  Should I visit his grave?  Should we have some kind of organized service?  Should our family go visit the family of his best friend, who was killed in the same car accident?  Should this day be no different than any other day?

I think it comes down to this; whatever ends up being the final decision it will never be enough or give me any sense of comfort.  He is still gone and the excruciating pain will still be there.

So how will you acknowledge your loved ones death-versary?  How will you honor their memory?  Have found yourself ignoring the day in the past but feel ready to honor their life now?  The answer to the question of how to acknowledge this dreaded day only lies within each and every one of us, and it is my hope that we will all one day manage to feel some semblance of peace.

The Hostility That Lurks Below the Surface

 
 
Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” ~~ Aristotle
Zach,

I am ANGRY!

Not angry in a “I want to talk about the 7-stages of grieving” bullshit way, but just angry.  The amount of hostility that I feel seething below the surface has a mind of its own and I feel as though I am ready to snap.  This anger is like a slowly brewing pot of water that is almost to its boiling point.  Sometimes I feel it clawing its way to the surface like its going to burst out of me.  I’m talking about a complete lack of patience, an annoyance for people, and an aggravation over the mundane.  I don’t know where it has come from or why it has gotten so bad, but I can feel it getting worse.

I’m angry at the ignorant people in my classes who have a complete lack of respect for their teachers and fellow classmates who talk throughout the entire class.  These are people who clearly aren’t paying for their own education and just because they don’t care they think everyone else must not care either.  I’m angry about getting up day after day to work towards this degree and feel like its going nowhere.

I’m impatient with people asking stupid questions like, “You seem like you’re in a bad mood.  What’s wrong?”.  I want to scream at them asking why they are so stupid and how they can ask that.  I have to hold back the words on the tip of my tongue to point out their ignorance and tell them exactly how I feel about their questions.  I’m more impatient over things that I know I shouldn’t be.  I’m annoyed with people who blabber on and on about nothingness just to fill the silence and to hear themselves talk when I’m trying to work, or read, or study, or write a paper, or just be in a quiet space.

I’m angry at people daring to ask if I’m dating yet.  I’m angry with people assuming I should be OK by now and trying to put a time limit on my grief.  I’m frustrated that because they have recovered faster than I have, they assume I should be OK too.  I’m disappointed in the people I thought would be there to support me more that seem to have forgotten.

I am hostile towards the people who think going four days without seeing their boyfriend or girlfriend is the most devastating separation and they fail to realize what separation really is or how lucky they are that their loved one is coming back in a few short days.  I am hostile towards the people who still make irresponsible decisions and don’t appreciate the reality that each and every day could be their last.  I am hostile towards undeserving people being granted one more day to live and you’re gone.

I hate myself for not doing more for other people.  I hate myself for still feeling so lost.  I hate myself every day I get out of bed and every night I go to sleep.  I hate myself for being so unfocused and non-functioning.  I hate myself for being impatient yesterday with my students while teaching when usually I control it.  I hate myself for being so angry.  I hate myself for not being able to hide it better.  I hate the emptiness I feel inside of me.  I fucking hate life without you.

I hate myself for feeling like this and for even needing to write these words which has only made me feel like a terrible, ungrateful, selfish person.

I’m angry at how my life has turned out and the nothingness that has arisen.  I’m angry at this dismal outlook on life that shows no hope of improving.

I’m angry.