grief

Explaining a chronic illness

Posted on February 12, 2018. Filed under: grief, Health, Suicide | Tags: , , |

If you want to know how people REALLY think about mental health, read on about my little experiment.

When strangers or acquaintances learn that my husband passed recently, they may broach the topic of how he died. I don’t mind. This is what I tell them:

“My husband was very sick for a long time. He unfortunately was misdiagnosed for about 20 years. The medication he was given definitely kept him alive – it wasn’t an ideal life, but we didn’t know any better. Then, with a new physician, we got his proper diagnosis, but then we had to go down this path of trying to find the medication that would work without the side effects that he couldn’t tolerate, especially the horrible insomnia. Sleeping only 2 hours a night for 3 weeks is just not sustainable. We tried everything! We just ran out of time before we could find the right medication. We found the true diagnosis too late, and we couldn’t land on the right treatment for him before he passed.”

I get the sorrowful looks, and the kind words of sympathy. Then, they ask what his illness was.

“He was bipolar. He completed suicide.”

If I had a nickel for every shocked look I get…


That’s right. It wasn’t cancer. It wasn’t an autoimmune disorder. No congenital defects from childhood. It was mental illness. And nothing about what I said is any less true about his illness or the search for treatment or his death.

When I start out by explaining that he was sick and completed suicide, there is incredible judgment about his “abandonment” of me and our little girl, or his “selfish choice” or whatever. Come on, guys. Would you EVER tell the loved one of a cancer patient that their chronic illness resulting in death was an abandonment or a poor, selfish choice? Completely ridiculous, right?

 

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I’m excited about life

Posted on August 12, 2017. Filed under: grief, Health, Suicide | Tags: , , , , , , |

I have so much to do and accomplish. I’ve done an incredible amount of work this summer on myself, and I think it has been valuable, productive work.

But I felt guilty. Did my husband have to die for me to realize all this potential? Am I using his death to serve me? Is that wrong?

I realized that he taught me incredible lessons about life that I can take forward. He may have completed suicide, but really, that was a single moment in time and doesn’t erase an entire era of living according to his values that I can keep close as I grab ahold of everything that is new again.

These values include:

  • Preserving working class values and addressing income inequality
  • Volunteerism
  • Commitment to education and ongoing learning
  • Questioning authority, finding independent validation
  • Appreciating and protecting nature
  • Doing the right thing, even if it was against rules or guidelines
  • Seeking help when you need it
  • Travel, exploration
  • Voting, active participation in the political process, local organization and engagement
  • Being neighborly, helping each other out
  • Creating and maintaining distance from toxic relationships
  • Honesty
  • Financial planning and financial responsibility
  • Following through, keeping your word
  • Investing in relationships, putting in the time and work necessary
  • Health and fitness
  • Animal rights, loving and valuing and respecting them
  • Sustainability in everyday practice/ life

Despite his death, he lived his values every day. Those who knew him know this is true. I don’t need to feel guilty about moving on and loving my life, if I keep the values close.

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My daughter’s process

Posted on July 28, 2017. Filed under: Family, grief, Parenting | Tags: |

My charming, delightful 4 year old is processing her father’s death in very normal and healthy ways. I think.

Mama, will we get a new Dada? Can’t you just buy one?

No, honey. That’s illegal.

But who’s going to shave and make popcorn?

I can do those things, kiddo! But yeah, Dada was the BEST shaver and popcorn maker ever, huh?

I follow you around the house because I don’t want you to die and suddenly I’m in a house of ghosts.

Ghosts can be cool, so if you see one, let me know because I’d like to meet it. But you can certainly follow me around anytime. You’re my mini-me!

I’m sad because Dada’s spirit hasn’t visited me yet, like Moana’s grandma visited her.

Sometimes their visits are just a feeling. Does anything remind you of Dada? Guess what – he’s there when you think of him. It’s MAGIC!

Mama I’m afraid of the dark because of ghosts and monsters. But I can defeat the monsters. Will you take care of any ghosts?

I’ve got your back, kiddo.

Kids are so cool.

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Conditional support

Posted on July 21, 2017. Filed under: Family, grief, Parenting | Tags: , , , |

One thing I’m learning in the aftermath of my husband’s death and navigating this new life of single motherhood is that friends’ and family members’ grand declarations of, “I’m there for you,” is TOTALLY conditional.

I’m there for you…

  • If I don’t already have plans
  • As long as it’s the same way I’ve already been there for you in the past (this is a big one, it turns out)
  • If you pay me to babysit
  • When I suggest/ offer the interaction in question, like dinner out at a restaurant or something starting at 7pm (but I decline when you make the suggestion, like an hour at the park in the afternoon or just hanging out in our backyard)

Each and every one of these conditions has come up for me. It is beyond painful because it expands the feeling of aloneness that I already have because my husband/ partner/ lover/ roommate is dead.

It is embarrassing, too. It takes a lot of courage to reach out for help. I have no problem doing it, since you never know unless you ask, and especially after my husband’s death, I needed a lot of help, and I asked all over the damn place. It still doesn’t mean that asking is easy. So when I go to the people who most emphatically told me that they’re here for us, it’s because I really need it. I’m not going to abuse your offer. I’m not asking in the same way your other friend down the street might ask you to check on their cat while you’re on vacation.

Actually, that might be a good reference point. If you would decline someone who asked you to watch their pet, don’t tell me you’re there for me and my kid, whatever I might need. (And especially don’t add at the end, “And I really mean it!”) I would have been 100% fine with, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Leave it at that.

And whatever, I get it. This is really on me. I misinterpreted the offers of support to mean that these people are willing to have their lives disrupted, when that is absolutely NOT the case at all. My bad. The healthy way to look at this is (1) they are perfectly within their rights to do whatever they want, they do not actually have any obligation to me or my daughter, and (2) disappointment and hurt is what I feel, but I can choose to have different thoughts and feelings about these rejections.

BUT. In case it would ever help anyone reconsider what they tell someone after a tragedy, or how they respond to a single mom who just asked you for something, then this post. I’m going to have to work on the other stuff about resetting my expectations and managing my other emotions on my own.

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Moving on

Posted on July 15, 2017. Filed under: Family, grief | Tags: , , , , , , , |

This has been a summer of self-discovery, healing, learning, family and friends, and – let’s be honest! – lots and lots of therapy.

And you know what? It has been FANTASTIC! What a fun summer, full of love and making memories. We’ve traveled, we’ve experienced new milestones, we’ve hosted lots and lots of people from out of town at different times, the list goes on. My daughter is thriving, learning about death and spirit, lasting love, and facing fears. I’ve certainly had my incredibly sad moments after my husband’s death, but I cry my cries, and I wake up the next day and live. He’s dead, but I’m alive!

Now, I’m preparing to go back to work. I met with my bosses, CEO and CFO, in order to plan out my priorities and re-entry to the office and our clients. And that night, I cried from 8pm to midnight.

Full. Stop.

What happened there? Turns out that going back to work triggered an emotional windfall about my husband’s death that I hadn’t experienced in 4 months, and that is the concept of moving on. I thought I was moving on all along. I’m ALIVE, remember?

Nope. Moving on is *actually* going back to regular life, a normal routine, basically the opposite of this summer. And that routine will be without the one person I’ve had a routine with for 14 years. Everyone will go back to their lives, and so will we. So I cried for 5 hours.

In my despair, I reached out to him, and you know what? He sent me a lot of soft green bursts with smatterings of pale pink. And as long as my eyes were closed, I could experience the color. I hung onto it as long as a I needed it, standing there alone in my kitchen at midnight, for I knew what those colors signified. And soon, I was able to breathe through the emotion. I am grateful he would expend the energy for a little something to comfort me. It was enough.

And now I must do the hard work of determining what I want this Fall to be like, how I should define our routine as a family of two instead of three. Others who didn’t have the luxury of taking a few months off of work might be forced into dealing with this issue after a loved one has passed sooner that I had to. But it doesn’t matter. I just need to do it now.

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