I Know Exactly How You Feel…

Part One – I know exactly how you feel
In this post, my desire is to try to explain why that statement is typically far more hurtful than helpful and how it robs the bereaved of their unique grief.
Let’s start with the obvious – and that is that there is absolutely no way you can know exactly what anyone else is feeling at any precise moment in time, let alone when they are dealing with great loss and sorrow. It’s impossible. You may have had a similar experience, but grief is not so generic that anyone, you included, can conceive of exactly what someone else is thinking, fearing or feeling. My grief is unique to ME, just as your grief is (or will be) to you. We will all face the death of someone we love at some point in our life, but the circumstances that surround each death is diverse, and people’s response to the same loss can be vastly different as well.
Take two siblings who lose a parent. They can each respond in very distinct ways. They may process this death from different perspectives. Perhaps one had cared for the ailing parent and is relieved that their mom or dad is no longer suffering, and the other sibling feels guilty because they couldn’t ‘be there’ for their parent or help their sibling share the enormous load of being the caregiver. Same loss – yet very different reactions and emotions fill each person. This is such a universal reality that I could write a book about it. But suffice it to say that there are a myriad of reasons two people, suffering the same loss, can feel exactly the opposite of one another, and regardless of why, it occurs and an it occurs often. So, doesn’t it make sense that if two people who loved the same person and both had the same relational title can feel so differently in their grieving, that the rest of the world would fit into the same box?
And yet, “I know exactly how you feel” gets said so often it makes my head feel like it’s going to explode. I honestly believe people mean well, but when you are already ragged and hanging onto life by what feels like frayed dental floss, that statement has the ability to set one off like a rocket blasting into space. Unfortunately, most of the time the grieving individual feels forced to stand there, smile and nod politely at the person, instead of expressing the total rage that is brewing inside them. I believe what people are trying to say is that they understand certain aspects of the loss you are experiencing and are trying to reach out and make a connection with you. Perhaps they want you to know that you are not alone in feeling angry or scared, or maybe you aren’t feeling what you think you should, and they can relate to that as well, and don’t want you to feel like you are grieving poorly.

I realize that with shared experiences comes similar emotions – but when you are grieving – it’s just different. You understand that you may share something with this other person, and in time they can be a source of comfort and validation, but right now, what you are feeling is yours, it’s not anyone else’s.
I’ve been widowed twice, and still wouldn’t assume my emotions onto another widow or widower. Yet that is precisely what we do when tell someone we know exactly what they are feeling.
To be blunt and in my opinion, I think it’s an insulting thing to say to someone.
It’s ok to express that you too lost your ________ and that you felt __________________. You can even ask them if they are feeling similarly, but give them the chance to tell you if that is an emotion they are currently dealing with or not. It doesn’t mean they won’t feel that way at some point, but you just can’t assume that because you felt it, someone else will feel it too, and at the same time you did.

That’s why I feel it’s an insult. It’s as if you are telling someone that you can fully comprehend exactly how they loved their deceased person. But you can’t – and why? Because you didn’t know them the way the griever did.
The relationship that they shared is only theirs to know. No other person can or will ever understand it, in its entirety, except the two of them. And now that half of that exclusive pair is gone, they have literally lost a portion of themselves. There is an irreplaceable distinctiveness that existed solely within the context of that relationship, that now exists no more. And for you to say that you know exactly how they are feeling robs them of that intimacy. It’s as if you are stealing something sacred from them and now taking it as your own, and that is a pain and hurt I don’t really know how to fully convey.
Grief is so deeply personal because the one we are grieving is so exceptionally exclusive to us, and to project our feelings onto the one grieving, cheapens not only their sorrow, but the relationship they had when their loved one was alive.
Can you say you know how they smelled to the one with whom you are speaking too? Do you know how their touch felt to the one who is bearing this grief? Do you know the things they laughed about together, the private moments that they shared? Do you understand the brink that they may have fought back from to even have a relationship, now to have it lost forever? Do you understand the guilt they might be feeling for things said or other words that should have been spoken but never were? Did you grow up sharing Christmas Eve with them as you both waited in anticipation for Santa Claus to arrive? Can you know the things they laughed at while they were on family vacations together? Can you recall what they were doing in that picture that now hangs on a memorial board? Do you know what this person was thinking the last time they saw their loved one? The answer is no – because you are not either of those people. While you may have loved them deeply and miss them terribly, your grief is not their grief.

Therefore, don’t cheapen what anyone is feeling by stating that you know exactly how they are feeling, Instead of assuming and projecting our emotions onto others, here are some phrases that might be helpful.

“I can’t imagine what you are currently feeling”
“Even though I’ve lost a ___________, I still don’t know how you are feeling right now”
“I imagine you are aching inside”
“I imagine you hurt more deeply than you believe anyone else can understand”
“I know that your pain is your pain and I would never marginalize it by pretending to say that I know exactly what you are feeling”
“I do understand some of the overall hurt and heartache, but I am just so truly sorry you are going through this and must walk this path”
“If I had any way to take your pain and carry it myself, I would”

 

I still have no idea what to say to another widow. I don’t know if she is in shock, terrified, relived to be rid of a terrible marriage (it happens), numb or just getting by from minute to minute. I don’t know what she fears in the dead of night when she wakes up alone in her bed. I don’t know if she wants people around or to be left alone. What I do know is that I don’t know her pain – precisely. I do understand it. I can relate to certain aspects of her loss. But I am not her and she is not me – and we each deserve to experience our grief in the unique way with which it occurs.
There is a passage from Isaiah 55:8 that says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. While I in no way mean to appear blasphemous, I think we would do well to recite this passage before we open our mouths to those who are grieving. My thoughts are not their exact thoughts and their ways of coping will not be exactly the same as it was, or is, for me. I must be mature enough to ask questions instead of imply truths I am not certain of. I must seek to know their heart and their hurt, and not project my pain and my grief onto them. I must desire to truly be there for them and I must be willing to keep my mouth shut when I have no idea what to actually say that can be comforting.
I must be capable of understanding that at certain times, the only comfort a grieving person has, comes from a place deep within, and not from the words or deeds of another person. And finally, we need to understand that there are times where there is no comfort to be given that can adequately quench the unspeakable ache the grieving heart is bearing, and it is we, that must learn to be comfortable with the pain and utter despair that often accompanies grief, and allow ourselves to simply sit with this person and mourn quietly alongside them.
The following quote from Henri J.M. Nouwen best conveys this idea.

“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.”

Let us go forth and be the friend who truly cares. The friend with no answer, the friend with no quippy prose, and the friend who can understand that they will never fully know the depth of sorrow and the ache that will forever be carried, due to the substantial loss that is being mourned. Let us be a balm to the heart of the wounded and may our words, when offered, be received in the manner that helps and not hurts.

And please – never, ever, ever say, “I know exactly how you feel”….

When words bruise…..

During my grief journey, I’ve come to learn that there are a myriad of words and phrases that can be meant for good, but ultimately end up causing greater heartache to those we intended to help. I almost feel like a certified professional in this area. Having lost two husbands (in addition to experiencing some other traumatic, life altering events) I’ve been on the receiving end of every trite, but well-intentioned cliché and misused passage of scripture, one could imagine. For a while, I just complained to my close friends, but once Don was diagnosed with ALS, my filter was dismantled. In its place, I began honestly sharing how hurtful those well-meaning comments and passages of scripture were.
Since then, several things have transpired. First, I do hear fewer insulting comments – so that’s a win for me – however, I’ve also learned that people are now hesitant to make statements about grief or feelings, for fear of upsetting me. So, it might appear that I’ve unintentionally created a double-edged sword for myself.
Therefore, I’m writing a multi segment piece in an attempt to address some of the more common phrases that get flung at the wounded hearts of many. It’s my hope to shed insight and perspective’s not commonly discussed, and to give those who genuinely want to offer empathy, some information that enables their success. While the statements and sentiments I plan to focus on are fairly universal (amongst the hurting and grieving), they are couched from my perspective.
I know people mean well, but however well intentioned a statement may be, it can still cause a great amount of unnecessary suffering. There also seems to be this unspoken expectation for the person on the receiving end of such comments, to keep their mouth shut, smile and say, “Thank you” – rather than for society, as a whole, to pause and delve into a study of what is and isn’t helpful. What often happens instead, is that someone offers up some cliché banality, that is about as helpful as a hot poker stabbed into one’s soul.
Many of these comments aren’t just hurtful to people who have suffered through death, but for anyone who has experienced a situation that is truly devastating. Perhaps you have a child who has an addiction problem; a family member who is struggling with their marriage; you know a person who has been traumatized by rape or other sexual abuse; someone you know is facing a medical situation that is terrifying or a person or family is staring at a terminal diagnosis …. the list is endless, but I hope you are getting the gist of what I’m trying to say. Pain is pain and sorrow is sorrow. Fear and anxiety grip us all and for every reason under the stars – and in each case – our hearts hurt, we are ragged and worn out, and what we need is fresh authenticity and not stale, overused, phrases.
Words can hurt – we all know this. We’ve all experienced it, but to me, there is no hurt like words that are flippantly tossed my direction the way one tosses a used tissue towards a trash can. If it falls inside, great, and if not, meh. Words spoken with no regard as to how they make me feel not only pain me, they can actually make me furious. When words and statements leave us feeling like a grenade has gone off in our heads and wounds us at our core, something is wrong – especially when we are already holding onto life by the barest of threads. It’s in those times that we need words that soothe, not burn; words that offer sincere compassion, not placated sympathy; words that express our utter lack of understanding and leave us speechless as to how to truly express our sorrow and concern, not ones that just hang in the air, suspended like a balloon on a string. We need words and emotions that are genuine, authentic, vulnerable and raw.
I hope these next series of posts offers some validation to those of you whom may have had the equivalent of verbal vomit spewed all over you, and serve to offer some awareness as to what is soothing and helpful to those whose world feels ripped apart and spinning.
After all, it’s just as easy to say, “I have no words…” than to pelt another person with a slew of utterances that do no more than marginalize their suffering.
Let’s get on the same page. Let’s begin to be willing to say exactly what we are thinking. After all, the person enmeshed in heartache is likely already thinking whatever it is you are not saying. Let’s get on with ‘being there’ instead of talking at the situation. The heart that is in a prison of agony needs a companion, not a visitor. True empathy stays and grieves. It brings a pillow and a blanket and says, “I’m here for you in whatever way you need me to be”. It doesn’t show up for a moment and then leave, and it is often quiet. Don’t get me wrong – we want people to talk to us, but sometimes the words steeped first in silence, can very well be the solace our tender hearts need.
Join me as we discover the unfiltered truth of grieving, and learn what it can feel like to be bruised instead of soothed, and why anger can rise up so easily when this occurs.

 

 

Frozen but Thawing….

As I write this post, it’s freezing cold where I live. It’s the kind of cold that slices through you. The kind that makes it hard to breath because the air is so icy it feels like it’s burning your lungs as you inhale. And yet, it’s also been sunny all day. As I look outside the sun is casting long afternoon shadows across the trees, and if I didn’t know better, I could easily be lulled into thinking it was a much warmer day than it actually is.
Have you ever had days like that? Where you can’t tell what the temperature is really like until you step outside?
My life has many days that are similar to that. I may seem sunny and bright to a passerby, but internally my heart can feel frozen. It’s conceivable to feel fixed in time, seized in pain and it can also feel stuck – making me feel suspended between the past and the future. And on certain days, those feelings are more prevalent. New Year’s Eve is one of those ‘frozen’ days for me. I look at the past and see what was, I look at the present and see what is, and I still hope for the future and what can be.
I miss Greg, and even more so in 2018. Our son will welcome a baby girl into the world in February and our daughter will be a most beautiful and shinning bride in May, and he won’t be here to share in either of those events – and neither will Don. And that hurts. I miss the traditions I shared with each of my husbands and the laughs that no one else understood. But I also dream about the future, and that’s when I find myself stuck. Aching for what was, and hoping for what might be. And New Year’ Eve brings out the eternal romantic in me. I firmly believe that on New Year’s Eve, you should have someone standing right beside you – someone who makes your heart stir and your head spin – and at the exact stroke of midnight – you should be able to turn to one another, smile, close your eyes and kiss each other with a tenderness that conveys a genuine, “I love you” and also with a longing that says, “I want to spend the rest of my life kissing you every single New Year’s Eve” (I’m a sucker for a good love story). I’ve had those type of New Year’s Eve most of my adult life, and I am blessed to have those memories. But I desire to have them again…I have a longing in my heart for something wonderful. Something that is better than anything I’ve had before (and that’s a big expectation!) As I looked back at this day a year ago, I can see how far I have come, and how much my heart has expanded – and that my thawing has begun.

Last New Year’s Eve I made the following post on FB….

“It’s hard to close the year out knowing Don won’t be here to kiss at midnight or to celebrate in this new year (and the ones to come), on earth – with me and all those he loved and treasured. But I know heaven is timeless and one day we will be together again. Until that day, I’ll go forward drawing from the wisdom, life lessons and love he shared with me. So even though he isn’t present in all the new memories I make, his presence will always be with me. My picture represents the past, the present and the future – and the mix of joy and sorrow and elation and heartbreak and overwhelming loss – while still anticipating a future where my heart will smile and laugh again.”

What really stood out as I re-read that post was the line that said, “…. while still anticipating a future where my heart will smile and laugh again”. And I grinned…because while I don’t know what the future holds, I find myself focusing on it more and more as each day passes. I’ve come to the place where thinking about the future doesn’t terrify me or hold me in a prison of tears and heartache, like it has in the past year(s). And as I ponder my future I find myself smiling more than crying, anticipating instead of being afraid, and ready instead of hesitant.

I know I’m healing because when I think about loving again, I don’t feel sick inside. I’m ok. I’m willing to risk, and to be hurt. I still intensely love and miss both Don and Greg, but I know that I desire to love in a deep and profound way – the way I have in the past. To experience knowing that there is someone who will always be there when I need them, and even when I don’t. To be with that person who smiles at just the mention of my name, and who’s look can make my heart leap, and whose kiss can make my entire body feel like’s it on fire. I want someone who will pray with and for me. Someone who holds my heart within their own and will guard and protect it at all cost.

I want the person I can stand with at Midnight on the 31st of each December, and kiss in that same kind of way that only people deeply in love understand. I’ve not ‘gotten over my losses’ (you never get over them), but you are able to move forward with less pain on a daily basis, and I’m finally at a place where I can unashamedly anticipate my tomorrows. That is my heart thawing. That is my heart softening at the edges and the fear melting away. That is my heart making room for a future that includes many wonderful things, and an all-encompassing love is one of them.
So, as I said goodbye to 2017 – which was my year of ‘firsts’ without Don, and look towards 2018, I do it with a heart that is joyful for what this year will bring.
I know it won’t be perfect. I know I will experience great days – euphoric days – but I will also have some very dark and heavy days as well. And to be honest, sometimes, they will be the same day.

When my son holds his daughter for the first time and when my daughter walks down the aisle – I will be overcome with both elation and gratitude as well as profound and resonate grief. My heart will be more ecstatic than ever before, and yet, it will also be splintered into a thousand tiny aching pieces all over again.
But this is life. It’s messy. It’s complicated. It’s not stagnant, and I have to choose daily, whether I will live in the past, or whether I will lovingly and respectfully honor the past, by fully living and being present in each tomorrow I am given.

I choose the later.

So, welcome 2018….and all the changes that will come. The laughter and fun – the tears and sorrows – the uncertainties and the absolutes. I will be there for them all – and I will continue to share my journey with those of you who desire to follow along with me.
To those of you who are hurting in the deepest part of your soul, may you find peace in the midst of heartache and find a way to look forward (not as to anticipate) but to a time where your heart will smile and laugh again…. I promise it will come….in time. And when those days occur, it doesn’t mean you don’t still hurt or grieve. It doesn’t mean that you don’t ache for what was. What is does mean, is that at one time your life was exquisite, and while it may not ever look or feel exactly the same, it doesn’t have to be horrendous either. To hope for grand days and beautiful moments, just means that you have found a way to carry all the rich love you’ve shared, into your future. The person who is gone, will always be a part of you….so let the best of them shine through you – as you bravely move into this new year and the ones to come.
Happy New Year my friends,

With Much Love,

Berkley

 

 

Pardon the interruption….

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Here’s one super crummy aspect of grief – it interrupts our life at the most unsuspecting times and in the most unexpected ways. It catches us off guard and completely ill prepared for the hailstorm of emotions that follow. It stomps around in your world, and on your heart, and it doesn’t give a rat’s ass how you feel or what its interrupting. It comes when it wants and you are helpless to defend yourself against the attack, and the holidays seem to provide the perfect time for this to occur.
As I talked about in my first blog, the unpacking of Christmas decorations can bring grief to the center of our hearts. Seeing certain ornaments or hearing a song can push you over the brink, when you had no idea you were even near the edge. Christmas Eve morning of 2016 was one of those days for me.
It had been 18 days since Don had died. I sat on my couch with a cup of coffee, my phone in hand, and mindlessly opened FB. I was not prepared to see the memory FB was sharing, or experience the surge of emotions that flooded over me as I sat staring at a picture of us, from last Christmas Eve. We were standing in front of a Christmas tree at church and smiling – and as I looked at that picture – I was filled with a mixture of emotions – but for a moment – I was simply numb. It was as if my mind and heart were having a conference call to decide how they were going to handle this moment – and unlike most conference calls I’ve ever been on – this one was very quick and efficient. Evidently, the unanimous decision was that I was going to come undone.
I felt the grief quickly rising up in my body and within seconds I was sobbing. Not just crying. This was an immediate explosion of tears and gasps and sobs. And with each sob I emitted, my body shook and bent me forward just a little. I felt like I was turned inside out.
I was no longer in control of me – grief had taken over and was routing my emotions, and my entire body was in full surrender to its commands. It was evident that this was not going to be a short-lived interruption – this was a full-on grief attack – lamenting without the ashes and sackcloth.
I went back to my room, grabbed a picture off my nightstand of me and Don, and then fell into my bed and wept – hard. As I pressed that picture to my chest and sobbed, I curled my entire body around it like a ball. I held that picture against my body with such intensity, I’m surprised I wasn’t bruised. It seemed as if I thought that if I could wrap myself around it tightly enough, I could bring Don back. And as I held onto our picture, I could feel sorrow penetrate every part of my body and I physically hurt. I was experiencing the kind of grief that is so consuming, so cavernous, you wish you could pass out and find some momentary relief from it – but that has never happened for me – and so instead – I laid there in a state of what felt like unending agony.
At some point my kids came in my room and in a form of role reversal, they got into my bed and just held me – and together we cried. I knew they were hurting as well, but in that moment, they hurt more because they understood the deep-deep despair I was feeling, and they knew there was nothing they could do or say to take it away. I eventually feel asleep and when I woke back up, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I just wanted to stay there and die. I wanted to be raptured to heaven and escape the torment of living. Unfortunately, that wasn’t really a viable option.
Like I said earlier, it was Christmas Eve, and I hadn’t yet decided whether or not I was going to go to church for the Christmas Eve service or stay home. As I lay in bed, I considered each option and the subsequent emotional landslide I would likely experience with each choice, and neither really seemed like a win for me, and for a while, the thought of staying in bed and waiting to die, still seemed like an acceptable possibility.
After agonizing over whether or not I would go to the service, I finally decided I would – and yes – it was horrible. I cried from the beginning to the end. My shoulders shook, tears streamed down my face and snot dripped from my nose. But I was with people I loved and people who loved me and Don – and even amidst the pain – there was a connection to the past that was comforting. As we held up our candles and sang Silent Night, I looked around the room and I thought about Don. I thought about how much he loved this part of the service, and then I thought about heaven – and I wondered what it must be like to sing that song in front of the very one it was written about – and for a moment – it was beautiful. Even my heartache seemed to have a place within the beauty, and grief finally relinquished its control. It was almost like it ceded to the tranquility and holiness that this occasion was due – and in reverence bowed its head.

 ≈≈

As I look back, I remember lying in bed on that awful day and reminding myself that these feeling wouldn’t always be so sharp – how did I know that? Because I’d been down this path 10 years before when I lost Greg. I have a knowing that seems almost unfair at times. I know that I won’t always have to give grief the attention it requires in these early stages of loss, and in some odd way, that’s comforting to me.
I know that these grief interruptions don’t ever stop, but it won’t always be so acrid and vile. Is it traumatic in the early days and months and even the first year(s) – yes. I don’t want to say that grief necessarily softens, but as time moves forward and we are forced to amble along with it, the frequency that it visits, subsides – and I say this not as one who has never felt the searing pain of a devastating loss, but as one who has had her heart taken apart and reassembled numerous times.
Finally, regardless of where you are in your grief journey, know that there are other people who understand how devastating these interruptions can be – especially during the holidays. Sometimes just knowing we aren’t alone and that times of celebration can be filled with unforeseen landmines can be a comfort. So, from my reassembled heart to yours, may you be reminded that you are not alone and that your pain is real and when you fall apart for seemingly no reason – those of us who have been there and will be again, understand.

 

Looking Back…..

This picture was taken one year ago today as Don and I lay in his hospital bed waiting to go home via an ambulance transport. It was about the happiest I’d seen him in a long time. His eyes literally twinkled and danced, and he smiled all day long. There was a lightness in our hearts that had been absent since Don had been admitted to the hospital, and unlike the day before, this day was full of hope.

The previous day had been an emotional rollercoaster. Before removing Don’s breathing tube, the doctor told the family that he had “minutes to possibly hours (to live)” – the air in the room became heavy with shock and sorrow, and the silence was punctuated by sobs of disbelief. It felt like someone had sucked all the air out of the room and left us choking on the potential outcome.
I remember going back to his room where he was resting comfortably. I sat in my chair, and in a state of utter disbelief that was riffled with fear and anxiety, I thought to myself – he has to live…I don’t have a plan B. I don’t have anything to do or place to be – unless it’s with him. I just sat there feeling lost – terrified that my life with him was hours from ending.

I hadn’t planned on that or even entertained the idea that he could die that day. I thought we had another month left with him, or a week or two at the least. Those minutes before they came in to take the tube out and transition him to the NIV, were a living hell! I felt like I was floating somewhere between reality and outer space, and the pressure to cope with all of this made me feel like I was being stretched beyond my capabilities. I needed to be there for Don, for myself, our families – and still have something left to function with if he didn’t make it. I felt like I could pass out from the all the stress but knew that wasn’t an option.

We needed to get the family back to see him and so
began the process of what we feared would be goodbye – but without hinting to Don about how bad the situation currently was. We were living a nightmare. How do you say goodbye to someone without saying goodbye? I don’t know, but we did it.

I watched all our kids come and be with him. I watched his grandkids hold his hand and tell him they loved him. I watched his mother and brothers and their wives come in, and my mom as well. It was every agonizing feeling you are probably imagining just by reading this – and worse.

The Dr. and nurses came in and as they pulled the tube and went to place the mask on, I leaned in and quickly stole a kiss, and then I held my breath. Seconds ticked by and turned into minutes – and he was doing well. His numbers were up and stayed elevated. After a few minutes we knew he was holding his own. And I could breathe again.

I don’t remember who went and got the family, but in shifts they all came back in his room – but this time there were tears of relief and nervous laughter. We went from utter despair to exhilaration in about an hour. It was unbelievably taxing on all of our hearts and we were all exhausted.

Don looked great – not just good but truly happy and the most alive I’d seen him in weeks. And my heart was happy – still scared – but happy.

Monday the arrangements were made to get us home and we had some time to ourselves as we waited for all the paperwork to be taken care of and that’s when I took this picture.

It became the last real picture we ever took.

Those last two days were amazing. He watched me anywhere I moved in the room. Hanna even commented to him that he was just smiling and watching his cute little wife – to which he gave a huge smile and a thumbs up.

I don’t remember what time we finally got to leave the hospital, but as we were walking out of the ICU, his nurses, as well as the charge nurse (whom I’d not meet), came over and gave me huge hugs. They told me I was a great wife and that he was truly blessed to have someone not only love and care for him as I did, but who fiercely advocated on his behalf. And then Sylvia (one of our favorite nurses) said, “You all are an amazing couple! Your love for each other is not something we see very often, and my best wishes are with you both”. As she released me, I took a few steps forward, stopped and turned to look back – mouthed thank you and waved. I turned back around – and as I began to walk towards the stretcher he was being transported out on – the tears began to flow. All the fear and worry of this not happening began pushing their way out. The realization that we were actually leaving the hospital was occurring. We’d done it. We’d made it past this daunting hurdle and we were actually on our way home. I just kept thinking that we would finally be able to stretch out in our bed, and that I could actually sleep next to him again. To lie in his arms and rest. And with those thoughts circling in my head, we were loaded into the ambulance and headed home.

I held Don’s hand as I told him what landmarks we were passing (so he’d know how close to home we were) and as we pulled up to the house, with tear filled eyes and in a breaking voice – just above a whisper – I looked at him and said, “We’re home”…..he smiled and a few tears rolled down his cheek. I squeezed his hand and we smiled at each other. And while neither of us said it – I knew we had both feared that this moment would never actually occur, and because of that, there was an enormous amount of gratitude being shared between us. Gratitude that we were still together. Gratitude for the love that grew stronger with each adversity we faced, and gratitude that we were home.

I don’t know if Don knew or sensed what was coming – but I certainly didn’t.

In just a little over 30 hours Don would once again hear the words – you are home – but this time they were spoken by his Lord and Savior, and as he entered Heaven I entered into widowhood for the second time.

While I prepare for tomorrow, for the one year anniversary of his passing, I do so with a torn and sorrowful heart. I’m glad he’s free from ALS, but I miss him with every ounce of my being.

Today – I’m trying to hold the image of his smile in my head. To remember how his hand felt in mine – and to quietly reflect on all we shared in our short but well lived journey together. Yet, at the same
time, my heart feels heavy, my bones are achy and the longing for life to be like it was before ALS is still strong within me – even 364 days later.

 

 

And so it begins….

Welcome to She-Kept-Going. I’m excited and nervous to begin this process. I know it’s been brewing inside me for a while, but what it will ultimately become is something I’m still figuring out. I hope you’ll be patient as I work to tweak the site and get all the little nuisances’ figured out and that you’ll check back soon (and hopefully I’ll have those things taken care of).

As I work to make the stirrings of my heart come to fruition, the timing is not necessarily the best. In a nutshell, I am a fifty year old woman who has been widowed twice in ten years, and December 6, 2017 will be the one year anniversary of my second husbands passing from ALS. So, taking on the task of shaping the concept of a blog into a reality, in that same week, is probably going to be something I look back on and think, “WHAT was I thinking?”. But the truth is, the need to do this – NOW – is something I can’t fully explain and it is somehow tied to this first anniversary. It’s as if this whole concept went from, it will happen, to it must happen and it must happen before Dec. 6th.

-Why? I don’t know yet. Perhaps it’s a way to not focus on this date – which has loomed before me since Dec. 7, 2016. Perhaps it’s a way to be distracted from the Christmas Tree that stands in my den half decorated, and the mantle that doesn’t have one Christmas trimming sitting upon it or attached to it. Because to decorate the mantle means I have to open up the box that has Don’s stocking inside – and I don’t want to face that task just yet.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t want to celebrate or decorate, I simply find that when I go to do it, the desire slips away and I find myself holding an ornament and looking at it as if I have no earthly idea what it is or where it goes. I feel spacey and disconnected from reality. I know if I look at that ornament, really look at it, I’m going to have to look at a picture of us from our wedding day and read the words, “Our First Christmas 2010” and all the feelings of love, and hope for a future, and what we were supposed to experience, mingle together with the reality of a disease that took him from our lives way sooner than we expected – and with his death – also came the death of the future I thought we would have together. So putting that ornament on the tree isn’t as simple as it seems or as joyous as it used to be.

Maybe your thinking, “Then put that one down and get another one”, and I get that thought, it’s logical – but grief isn’t logical – and our ornaments are a series of life events and a reflection of special moments from the past. Just about any ornament I pick up has a beautiful memory from the past attached to it, and instead of smiling and reliving those moments, they becomes sand paper to my heart.

The Dalmatian ornament or the picture of the kids encircled by spray painted puzzle pieces, reminds me of my kids childhood which is sweet, but it also reminds me that their father is also gone and that they will never get another Christmas morning with him. It reminds me that as my son welcomes a daughter into his life in February and when my daughter gets married in May – Dad won’t be there.

So, decorating for Christmas, which was once a highly anticipated event, rivaled only by my birthday, now seems like more of an emotional boot camp for my heart, and perhaps, just maybe, that’s the reason beginning this blog has become a need instead of a desire. It’s become a way of escaping the reality of what lies before me. It’s allowing me to immerse myself in something that’s bigger than me – something that has a purpose – and something that hopefully helps someone else. Someone who is facing a similar heartache at a time of year they really want to be experiencing genuine joy. Joy that’s not laced with emotional land mines every time they look at their Christmas Tree, or hear a special song, or look at the calendar.

So….that’s a window into my world and hopefully answers the question to – what’s this blog about? It’s about me, sharing my story and my thoughts and my feelings with a world of other people who just may be able to relate, and in so doing, begin to feel less alone. Especially when they are standing in front a glowing Christmas tree adorned with ornaments they love and a mantle with stocking that dangle down, waiting to be filled – they will know that there is someone else, someone they may never meet in person, who understands the emptiness and pain they are feeling, and who also wants to sing carols  and decorate their house without it stabbing them in the heart. And while we may not be able to comfort one another in person, perhaps just knowing that there are other hearts  aching as badly as theirs, will bring some sort of comfort to them today – and in the days to come.

From my heart to yours,

Berkley

Continue reading “And so it begins….”