Friday, February 15, 2008

Road to healing.....

For anyone who doesn't know me, I'll start this with a little background..... When i was 26, my husband of 2 months, partner of 7 years, passed away. It was unexpected and a complete matter of wrong place, wrong time. We had 3 young boys ages 5, 2, and 13 months. In as little as 24 hours, my entire life changed. It's been a long road to healing but I still think about it everyday..... and then just last week, I ran into a friend who recently lost someone. We started talking in a casual manner and the conversation eventually turned to how did I heal? How do I do it everyday?

When someone you love dies..... How do you explain your healing process to others? Not that there should ever have to be an explanation however how can others ever learn from one another?

I'm questioned quite a bit by people I know and even don't know for that matter. My life and everything I do is scrutinized by family and friends almost daily. My children's lives are also subject to scrutiny. I realize most people do mean well but when this happens it leaves me with many emotions ranging from pissed off completely to happy and willing to share my way of thinking with others. So I'll do just that, I'm going to share my way of thinking and how it led me to the place I am on the journey of healing.

One: My first thought about death.... our lives are one big circle. We are part of nature. We are born and we die. There is no way to sugar coat it or change it. Even if you involve religion in this circle, it still applies. The Lord gives life and takes it away. Some question this and think it's unfair. Personally I think it is very fair. We are all, for better lack of words, LUCKY to be born, blessed to be here for whatever amount of time we are given. I feel that in this time many lives can be affected by that one single life. As soon as "but it's just not fair" is removed from this equation, it can help immensly. I never once said this when Ryan died. It may NOT be fair, but it is what it is. I can't change it, I can't deny it, I can't fix it. The only thing I was able to do was to let it be and accept it. I miss him everyday but I feel blessed everday that his circle of life included me. His circle is now complete.

Two: For those who are unaware, there are stages of grieving for the dying and those who are affected by death. It is the Kubler-Ross model: 1-Denial, 2-Anger, 3- Bargaining, 4-Depression, and 5- Acceptance. I think the steps are very true to this process. I can pinpoint exactly when I went through all of these steps and sometimes I do still go back. However the important thing to remember about this process is that it is a PROCESS. Stagnation in any stage is unhealthy. Also, some in the psychiatry field believe that this is the ONLY way to heal and we should spend time in each phase otherwise we may later regress. This is all speculation though and each person is allowed to have their own journey and time frame for each phase. I remember my trip through these phases and do you know how long it took me to get through them all? 24 hours. Yep, that's correct, only 24 hours. I have been accused of this being unhealthy but let me detail it a bit..... Denial hit me on the way to the first hospital. I remember praying to God that this was not happening, this was all a bad dream. Anger hit me when i had to tell his family what the doctors (locally) told me, that they didn't think he would live. I was mad as hell that this was placed on me. I got to watch so many faces go into total shock when I was the informer. Bargaining hit on the way to the larger hospital where he was life flighted to. It was intermixed with some denial still at this time. I remember talking to Gary (thank you for helping me here). Saying things out loud to the manner that this wasn't going to happen. That my children could NOT lose their father and that I would sacrifice my time to help Ryan heal. I would be by his side to take him to therapy and help him heal if only he would live. Depression set in watching him slowly die. Realizing what the end had in store for me. Lying on his chest and just crying, feeling I was helpless to what was bigger and larger then anything I had seen in my life. Acceptance happened when he died, when he took his final breath. It was almost instant. It was final and complete. I was ready to accept it, that soon, otherwise I would have been unable to start healing. Sure sometimes you still go back to a few of these phases but I visit and then leave again.

Three: Medication.... Why when ever something bad from mild to severly traumatizing happens are individuals so eager to ask for medication or doctors are eager to perscribe medication? Why do we believe this is a healthy way to "deal" with our problems? Is it really healthy? In my opinion, it is not at all, it's just a whole lot easier than facing what we fear. I resisted, for my own well being, against trying ANY form of medication at this time in my life. When my life gets turned upside down I would MUCH rather face it, head on, looking it square in the eye and feel every emotion that comes my way. If you face your emotions at the time then you won't regress to them later in life. Taking antianxiety meds, sleeping meds, or depression meds is a great way to NUMB your mind but people are really just hiding from what they truely feel.... I've met quite a few widows/widowers who were advised to take these meds to help them through the tough times and you know what I saw? I saw people who didn't begin the healing process until years later, who didn't face the sadness and then were sad for years beyond what they needed to be. Lives left stagnant and living in the past.... For myself I wanted to heal and move forward. I didn't want to waste any bit of this precious life I had in front of me. I wanted to learn how to live by myself, how to fall asleep at night with out him next to me, how to be stronger than I ever thought possible and one of the most important, I wanted to learn how to be happy by myself once again and learn how to love again. Granted, there are times for medication, I won't deny that. Severe depression can lead to things such as suicide, but getting to the point of medication for this could be prevented early on if signs are met with appropriate intervention. For those who choose to medicate, then it may hurt a lot longer, for those who don't, it's a hard damn time in the beginning I can promise you, but it feels great being able to surpass the sadness in a much quicker time than others.

Four: Grief is to each person their own feeling. Don't let others judge you on how you ACT. I didn't cry a lot in front of people, openly in public view. I still have a hard time discussing my sadness with others, even my own family. But I found that it's OK. I look at my grief as MINE. No one in the world can sit in your place and tell you they understand. I embraced my grief and sadness. I didn't WANT to share it with others. I wanted to cry in the shower, or in the car on a long car ride, or in bed at night, by myself. It was my own personal time and I wrapped myself in it. Crying or not crying is also a personal choice. As long as you know you are grieving, then you are not acting WRONG. And if I may offer advice to anyone out there who has been on the other end of someone crying or grieving; the best thing you can do in the world is to not say anything. I know at times like this, some feel they have to say something, but there really is nothing that can be said. I found it more comforting when someone would just hold me, in complete silence. It's speaks more in volume than words do. (Thank you Rik and Nina)

Five: Material things are just that, material things. Some find it very hard to rid themselves of that other person's being around them. One important thing to remember though is that if you get rid of their clothes, or tools, or any personal belonging, it won't rid you of the memory. In my opinion, moving those things out of my closet and drawers was liberating. It was letting go. It was me realizing in my head that this is it, I must learn to understand that he isn't coming back. It still has not affected my memory. I can still remember exactly what hung in my closet for years. However, surrounding myself with it everyday is unhealthy. Sure, I haven't thrown anything away but it's not where you can see it either. I feel like me now.

Six: I suppose this only applies to those who have lost someone they were in a relationship with but learning to love again has no time frame. However long you think it may take you to "find" love again, well you can kiss that time frame good bye. Chances are, if you find it fast, it's too early and if you have yourself convinced it will take years, it'll happen sooner then that. As long as you understand that each love you have is different from the one before. Never let anyone tell you it's "too early" or "you really should be out there trying". Just go with your heart and if it happens, DON'T be afraid of it. Don't be cautious of what happened before. If one thing we should all learn from someone dying, it's that you should be willing to jump next time, with out a net, or you may end up missing one of the greatest opportunities ever.

Seven: You are never alone. There are PLENTY of resources available for the grieving person. Counseling, individual or group, local support groups, financial assistance programs, reading material at the library or local book store, online bulletin boards, national hotline numbers (i.e. Iowa Donor Network), hospital counselors available, etc. HOWEVER, it is each individuals preference in how they choose to utilize these. Personally, I chose a support group for my oldest child, belonged to an online bulletin board (Young Widow Bulletin Board,, bought too many books that I still can't relate too, and even went as far as having ONE individual counseling session. At the time I welcomed suggestions but started to resent it after awhile. Since i didn't seem "too sad" many people would voice their concern to me that I should SEEK counseling. You know what happened? I went once and was told I was an inspiration to all widows and I didn't need to come back ever.... unless I PERSONALLY felt it was necessary. So chose your own path and do it knowing there are plenty of choices out there for you.....

Okay, well I'm sure this is just the tip of the iceberg but I feel much better now :-) And I hope maybe this reaches someone, somewhere, and maybe they won't feel so alone, or judged, or crazy, or insane :-)


3 moons and the sea said...

Dana, this post is really amazing. There is no universal 'right' or 'wrong' to grieve, that is highly personal and depends on many variables...... its not dysfunctional as long as we are growing and flourishing. We all are different and thats ok. Very inspiring- this inspires me to challenge the snap judgments I sometimes make about people. Thanks and love to you

Birdie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
johndengler said...

This really is a wonderful expression of your feelings, I'm glad to have read it and I was glad to help you proofread it.

TiffanyJones said...

Dana, after leaving you the message on myspace, I came to this and found it astounding that you had posted this on your blog at the exact point in time I needed it. Dad died two weeks ago and I found myself not "crashing" like everyone thought I would. I felt it weird. Although I have my up and down moments, I've also kept them mostly to myself, not crying at the visitation and funeral, and being there for everyone else in my family who was...thank God you posted this, it's really help me to realize that I'm not alone. You're amazing, thank you so much!