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 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 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 Toliet Paper Roll

toilet-paper-roll

 

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”
~~ John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany 

 

Zach,

I should be used to this by now considering how long you have been gone, but the smallest things still catch me off guard, slap me in the face, dissolve me into a sobbing mess, and then leave me shocked of where it came from.  Sometimes they are expected things like a song on the radio that we played at your funeral.  Sometimes it is obvious things like coming across a picture of us that I hadn’t seen in awhile.  But other times it is the most minute ridiculous things that set me off.  Minute things like a toilet paper roll.

You were hilarious about the toilet paper roll.  It was almost as if you were allergic to actually changing it.  It became a joke between us of how you would manage to avoid this 2.5 second task.  Either the current roll would just be empty, there would be a new roll put on top of the toilet tank, or the new roll would be precariously perched on top of the empty roll.  So much effort put into retrieving a fresh roll from the hall closet without any follow-through.  I can’t even begin to count how many times I would have to holler from the bathroom for you to get me some or come out and toss the empty roll jokingly at your head.  It was almost as though you got more satisfaction and enjoyment from how you could not change the toilet paper roll than just actually doing it.

The funny thing about it, Zach, is that you weren’t lazy.  Not at all.  You were the most hardworking, dedicated, busybody I’ve ever known.  Always busy, always moving, always fixing things.  But this one small thing?  The toilet paper roll?  It was never changed.

This morning at work, I ran into the bathroom to blow my nose and froze on the spot.  Someone had left a new roll of toilet paper sitting perched on top of an essentially empty roll with one pathetic little half of a square hanging off of it.  Someone took the effort to walk through our new spacious office (an old house), through two rooms to the hall closet, and back again just to not change it.  As I stood there staring at it, the tears came.  A simple quick run into the bathroom to blow my nose resulted in a 15 minute sob session which ironically required much more nose blowing.

I was taken aback by this small stupid thing, someone else’s moment of laziness, and how much it reminded me of you.  Reminded me that you’re gone.  Reminded me that I will never see that in our home again unless I do that myself.  Crying over toilet paper, Zach.  I was horrified at myself, but once those tears start coming they can’t be stopped.

It was just another piece of you that I have lost, that is gone, that is irreplaceable.  Another thing to miss.  Another thing to grieve over.

The “Happy New Year” Wishes

New Years 2010

Tonight’s December thirty-first,
Something is about to burst.
The clock is crouching, dark and small,
Like a time bomb in the hall.
Hark, it’s midnight, children dear.
Duck! Here comes another year!

~~
Ogden Nash, from Collected verse from 1929

Zach,

Let me just start by saying this: if one more person wishes me a happy new years I will most likely scream.  What is so happy about it?  This year has not been any type of crowning accomplishment, there has been no change in the torture that is my life, and I have not stopped missing you for even one second of it.  But here we are finally at the end of the holiday season and all of the wishes for good tidings have just about driven me mad.  I know it’s just what people say, but each and every time someone says “Merry Christmas”, “Happy New Years”, or even asks “Did you have a good Christmas?” I want to slap them because they clearly must be blissfully ignorant people who have never experienced grief before because if they had they would never ask such a damn stupid question.

Obviously that is my gut reaction talking there.  The one that wants to snap at people for the brutal things they unknowingly say.  The one that chokes back hostility every time people look at me with such high expectations like this will be the holiday, the moment, the dinner, the outing to change it all.  Zach, the reality is that I know they mean well.  I know they do truly wish it for me.  I know they mean nothing by it.  I know I am not the only person to have experienced loss and that everyone will lose someone at some point even if they haven’t already.  I know this.  And I have gotten better at taking a step back, taking a breath, and hearing you say to me “PBEB, its OK.  Just let them say it and move on.”  I know.  I know all this.  But all of these hopeful greetings catch me off-guard every single time and I fear I may scream at the next person.

Over the last year or so, I have had to encounter the most impossible of situations, endure the most torturing of circumstances, survive the overwhelming and excruciating loneliness of grief, and to simply put one foot in front of the other simply because I have to.  Strong emphasis on “have to”.  I don’t want to.  But I have to.  I have had to go through all of these things alone, have had to do them without you, and have had to shrug on a decently composed demeanor every time I leave the house.  And now this horrible year has accumulated into one big festive holiday season to cap this miserable year off with an even more wretched ending.  Feel free to call me Scrooge because I want none of this holiday season.

December 31st.  Another year gone by that everyone seems to be celebrating.  Celebrating what?  Should I celebrate the fact that 365 days have just flown by without me even feeling their existence?  Seasons have passed, time has gone by, semesters of school have finished, kids have gotten older, but I still feel frozen in place and as though no time has passed.  But its New Years and I am supposed to feel what?  Hopeful for the next one?  2012 was hell without you and the arrival of 2013 isn’t going to change the fact that I will still be without you.  It isn’t going to change the fact that my life has been so truly altered that I still don’t know which way is up.

Zach, I look back on this picture of us from New Years 2010 and I almost don’t even recognize my own life.  How could it all have changed so much?  It isn’t fair and I don’t think it ever will be.  I think about two people so hopeful for the future that we could have never imagined it all coming crashing down.  Who would?  So is it wrong that the thought of celebrating Christmas and even pretending to be the right amount of socially acceptable happy makes me nauseous?  All I can say is thank God it is over.

“Duck! Here comes another year!”  I think the quote says it perfectly.  Duck and run for cover because another year without you is coming whether I like it or not.

The Eighth Month

 In time, in time they tell me I’ll not feel so bad.  I don’t want time to heal me.  There’s a reason I’m like this.  I want time to set me ugly and knotted with the loss of you, marking me.  I won’t smooth you away.  I can’t say goodbye.
~~ China Miéville, The Scar

Zach,

Here we are at yet another ninth of the month.  Another month which passed with the blink of an eye.  Still as shocking, still as unbelievable, still as dreaded.  Will that ever change?

I was in Eastman with your parents as per usual this weekend, so Rob and I were together Saturday night having a few drinks while sitting around a bonfire at his house.  Side note: it is terribly confusing that you had two best friends named Rob; one who was with you that tragic night of October 9th and one who was not.  The friendship he and I have developed since you were taken from us is an odd one.  We were always friends and always got along great, but this is different.  It began as a friendship because of you and because the three of us were often together.  But now it is a much stronger friendship partly built on a desperate need to cling to you, to cling to how it was, to remember.  I always joke that he got stuck with me but, without speaking on his behalf, I think its something we both need.  He has become like my big brother looking out for me, checking up on me, making sure I’m OK.  I do the same for him but I know that is exactly what you would want from him, expect of him.  What you would demand of him based on your friendship which made the two of you more like brothers.

But I digress and have gotten off point.  Zach, when Rob and I were together this weekend we sat in a comfortable silence at one point staring off into the endless night sky and almost simultaneously had the same thought.  I can’t believe its been eight months.  Eight months.  Really?  And yet I am still tortured with wondering why, begging for it to be different, hoping it is isn’t real.  I hate to be repetitive and continuously say the same thing over and over, but when will it ever feel real?  When will I stop anticipating your arrival home?  When will it sink in that you are truly gone forever and in this world I will never see you again?

Zach, the pain of you doesn’t fade and it hits all of us.  Even your hairdresser Pam, who was the only one you trusted with your crazy curly hair and who I have recently begun to trust with my hair since I hate haircuts, said the other day that she thinks it will always hurt to miss you.  And it will.  This will never fade.  The loss of you will never cease to hurt us.  What the world has lost will never go away.  It will always hurt me, your family, Rob, your friends, your co-workers, your students, and every other single person whose life you changed.  It only continues to be my prayer that functioning in day to day life will become easier.

But I don’t want to forget.  Zach, I want to remember every last thing about you.  About the way you talked, the way you smiled, the way you laughed, lived, loved.  I don’t want to move past it and lose that part of you.  People talk about moving on and learning to live without you but I wish I could scream at them how much I disagree.  Like the above quote says, I would rather be marked by the existence of you than not at all.  I would rather be scarred by the loss of you than to forget the amazingly beautiful soul that you were.  I won’t forget.  Your life will live on through me and through everyone else who refuses to let you go.

I have had to accept that grief is part of my everyday life.  It will be part of tomorrow and it will be part of the future.  We all just need to learn how to live with it.  To live with this new and unwelcome sense of normal.

 

Learning To Live Without You ~~  Harry J. Couchon Jr

I once thought I knew all I needed to know
But like so many times before I was wrong
Now I’m wondering how, is there any way at all,
that I could ever learn to live without you

At first, I didn’t know if I could
You were my love, my confidant, my friend
Our two lives so close they were one
I felt like half of me was missing

Things that before seemed so right
Lost their happiness and became wrong
Your side of the bed mirrored my emptiness
But I could still feel you next to me

I’ve lost love before, but never one like this
The kind of love you think will last forever
But forever, especially when it comes to love
Is only a word and never a reality

I didn’t think I could, but I am
Living without the one I couldn’t live without.

The Expectations of Communication

 

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” ~~ Anthony Robbins 

Zach,

Something I am really struggling with lately is other people’s expectations of how frequently I should be in contact with them.  It’s odd to me because I have never been the type of person who felt the need to communicate constantly with family and friends, nor am I the type of person who even enjoys being on the phone.  I hate it actually.  When we did long distance for 8 months it was a far stretch for you and I both to spend so much time on the phone but because we were in two separate countries that was all we had.  No matter how much we hated it, all we had were our words so we had to get used to spending time on the phone and learned to enjoy that time as best we could; it was a measly alternative to the real thing.  But that doesn’t change anything now.  Just because I lost you, no matter how tragically, does not mean that now I suddenly want to report my every action, explain my every whereabouts.  It does not mean I want to be on the phone constantly or magically have a closer relationship with people than once was had.  If it wasn’t there before then why should it be there now?).  I know people are worried and I do somewhat appreciate it but shouldn’t people know, understand, or remember the person that I am?  I’m still here no matter how hurting or empty that person might be right  now.

This may be seen as an odd statement considering the amount that I am currently writing but writing my thoughts to you is drastically different than being bombarded by phone calls, text messages, Facebook messages, and emails from the same people.  I’m not referring to the occasional person contacting me, or one person using one method of communication to try and contact me because that is truly appreciated.  Those are the people who understand I will respond when I am ready or when I am in the headspace to talk.  Those are the people who accept the person that I am and get that if I want to talk about it I will!  I am referring to the people who don’t feel satisfied from one method of communication and therefore exhaust ALL other methods of communication.  I’m referring to the people who have not received their own personal gratification from their attempt at contact and therefore will continue to pursue it regardless of how intrusive it may be.  One method isn’t enough anymore?  I don’t understand that.  I’m not like that.  I’ve never been like that.  I would never impose or force myself on someone, especially not on someone who is grieving.

Zach, I understand that I have a short temper; I’m German, Irish, and Scottish….. I was born with it.  I know I am an utterly blunt person and don’t mind calling people out on things.  I know that I get easily annoyed.  And yet grief seems to have magnified this and I don’t have you here telling me to just breathe and to just let people do what they’re going to do.  I can almost vaguely hear your voice telling me to not let other people get to me.  You would tell me “Age Qvod Agis”, another reminder of your tattoo and life motto of “Do What You Do”……. you would get so aggravated of how much I let other people dictate my mood and reactions.  I’m trying not to now but I don’t have you here to remind me of this. 

In today’s age, communication has become tremendously easier.  We can reach people all hours of the day and night through various means.  But does that mean relationships have become that much more impersonal?  I won’t deny that I have taken advantage of these easy methods of communication myself.  They were made necessary because of living in another country, far away from all of my family and friends off and on for the last four years.  But has this allowed all of us to develop relationships that we take for granted?  Has this created an insane amount of expectations of communication?  How many of us make a phone call, or send a text message or email and if we fail to receive a response within a few minutes we question what the hell that person is doing?  I’m guilty of it too.  Maybe not anymore, but until October 9, 2011 when you were taken from this world, I was also guilty of relying on the benefits of all of these technological communication methods.  We become reliant on them.  We expect them.  We demand the most of them.  Because it is so easy to immediately communicate, we expect immediate responses.  But where do we draw the line?  Where do we have to stop and remember that life continues to go on, the world continues to rotate regardless of instant Facebook messages, Blackberry chats, and Skype?

Zach, my sister told me when this first happened that this is the one time in my life I am allowed to be utterly selfish, but I’m not sure if I am able to put this frustration into words properly without seeming unreasonable.  You know me.  Normally I try to make other people feel OK even if it means disregarding my own feelings…. but after losing you I just can’t do it.  I’m not trying to seem like an utter bitch (sorry for people who may want a censored post) but Sarah told me it is OK to focus on myself, focus on breathing, focus on getting through the day.  And yet so many other people don’t get that.  Their own expectations to make themselves feel better is beyond aggravating.  Is it selfish to want to tell them to go f**k themselves because I am not here to make them feel better?  That I am not here to accommodate them right now or to make them feel OK with the fact that they took time out of their day to contact me?  Regardless of knowing they might be doing it because in their own way they care, I was beyond relieved to come across something the other day that said it for me. 

This post made me realize I am not the only one who feels the pressures of other people’s expectations for communication.  Made me realize it is not totally unreasonable to feel overwhelmed and annoyed by what other people want for themselves completely disregarding how you feel at that moment.  Made feel like I am not completely irrational for simply choosing to not respond because that is not the place that I am in.  Maybe it is a natural part of life to put your own expectations on someone else; maybe I don’t personally do that (or at least I don’t think I do), but reading this made me realize it is normal to feel irritated by these imposed obligations while grieving. 

Maybe letting someone else’s words can express it more adequately. 

Beware of those that complicate your grief with their anger and personal agendas. Look out for yourself and do not be afraid to cut ties or take a break when they become a negative in your life.

So important to remember.

Especially with Facebook. We are meeting people and developing new kinds of relationships with people. Electronic relationships. When these outer circle relationships become toxic or demanding beyond reason then we need to turn off the computer, walk away, delete accordingly, etc….

In our survival, healing, and basic mental health we need to beware of those that try and manipulate what we are doing and demand ridiculous expectations of electronic acquaintance.

We may be vulnerable but we are not dumb. Shake it off and start again. There will always be those few that really may be in the middle of it…..but still just don’t get it.

~Leslie Beery, The Surviving Project

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=557783&l=8ecc27b848&id=114887251928429