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Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Grief

By Sharon McKinney

I felt a chill and put on a long sleeved shirt. Still cold, I put on two pairs of socks. Then I added a sweater, long pants, a sweat shirt, a jacket, an overcoat, a lap robe and went to bed with extra blankets. I could feel nothing and I could not move.

As I lay there immobile, I worried about everything and everybody I could. Anxiety grew. I found it difficult to remember what I was worrying about and it became impossible to communicate and certainly, it was impossible to initiate any solutions.

Little by little, I had limited my world until I could not drive out of town, make plans, or deviate from the well-used pattern of activities. By turning down social invitations, I essentially cut myself off from friends and fun. I lost and misplaced many items, and checked the calendar a hundred times to be sure I wasn’t forgetting an appointment.

Then came the annual physical exam. The doctor told me something was wrong with my heart and lungs. I was huffing and puffing at the tiniest exertion and my pulse was erratic. Suddenly, I was nothing but a pile of fear and isolation.

I had enough life force left to call a friend and ask for the telephone number of a therapist. At the first appointment, the therapist named my condition as post traumatic stress disorder. It was the result of unresolved grief. Years of saying “Oh well” and moving on without giving the losses any attention.

Grief does not go away by itself. It deserves to be cared for and given tools so that it can go into history and not stay in the present.

There is no point in enumerating my losses. They are the ordinary misfortunes that are part of the human condition: people, places, things, physical well-being, opportunities, beliefs, and self-confidence. Our language is full of platitudes about loss. I was told to “Hang in there”, to “Roll with the punches”, to “Get over it”, to “Move on”.

Unfortunately, these advices had no recipes attached and I was so numb by then that I could not see or hear from under the dozens of layers that I had applied to myself in defense. Some people are so full of grief that they cannot eat. I was so empty that I could not get full. Thirty pounds later, I am aware of trying to get back to wholeness by stuffing myself with food.

The biggest loss was my sense of humor. I love to laugh and find the funny side to life. When the tears won’t come, neither will the belly laughs. The senses are not selective. I could not say to myself, “I won’t feel pain” without wiping out the ability to feel joy. So I chose the gray area with very low highs and very high lows. It is hard on mind, body, and spirit to live in the neutral zone.

I am so grateful the part of me that wants to live well, robustly and vigorously that pushed me into saying out loud that I could not do it by myself. I needed a hand up, a guide back to a healthy outlook, another chance to fully participate in daily living without carrying around a ton of ghosts and goblins on my back.

Imagine my delight the first time I had real tears, felt excited, looked for something new to do, and drove by myself out of town. Life does go on, with a little help from our friends.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

That "got to me." And here I was thinking this blog was an only "Make Nice" thing. We've all had grief, of course, and, I think, this helped.

Ronni is right. This is powerful. It demonstrates what grief can do to you. There are as many ways of dealing with grief as there are people. We each must find out own way so we won't get stuck in grief.

Yes, it is hard to live in the gray area. Fortunately you danced with grief through the difficult steps until the music changed for you. Good to see some color in your cheeks again.

Thank you, Sharon, for sharing your story with us. I reread it several times because it is unadorned straight shooting, and I could easily see, empathize, and identify with the feelings and behaviors you describe. Who hasn't known all this? I could feel the weight lift as you, hitting bottom, instinctively (pulled/pushed by the life force) called for help. In this way, reversing the downward spiral, you recovered hope, without which we cannot live. May you continue to go from strength to strength. And thank you for the reminder that turning to someone for help is probably the biggest, most life-saving first step.

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