Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reflection, Renewal and Healing

It has been less than a month since my father's death and I have been doing a significant amount of reflecting on grief, loss and the way our society deals with these issues. At work, no one and I repeat NO ONE, acknowledged my father's death. Not one "I'm sorry" or "How are you doing?" I know that I am a new employee and that some of the people I work with are younger. But not one acknowledgment seemed so bizarre and insensitive. What are we teaching our young people in school, what are parents teaching their children about life and death?

I know that an elderly parent's death warrants less sympathy in the grand scheme of things than a young person or even middle-aged one. There was sympathy provided when my husband died. But somehow this blatant disregard in acknowledging the loss of my dad hit me very hard.
When I mentioned that my father had died on 12/21 to the group of friends I went out with on New Year's Eve, one of the women actually told me to stop talking about it because she did not want to ruin her evening. I wasn't planning of dwelling on the subject. I just mentioned it because it was a big factor in my life. To have such a major event dismissed is troubling to me.

The last week has been insane. Dealing with the repair of two vehicles, getting the boys through finals, filling out the college financial aid reports, going to work, trying to shop for an outfit to wear to my father's service (unsuccessful), and dealing with all the requirements of getting my oldest to the talent contest, in addition to all the other normal duties of life as a widowed mom pulled me under the waves. There was just too much on my plate. I was exhausted and absent minded. I ended up losing the key to our mail box and having to pay $40.00 to have the lock changed. I also lost my knitting bag and all my expensive gadgets, implements and a skein of yarn from the project I was working on.

We got home from the talent contest at 2:00 a.m. Sunday (I'll post about the talent contest in another entry). I awakened tired and still had to quickly go through boxes and bags of my father's photos and awards to take to the service, starting at 1:00. I was upset with my family for being put in the position of having to jump through hoops to attend the ceremony. I felt more consideration should have been given to my situation with the talent contest where we could have held the ceremony either the week before or after that event. Again, I constantly struggle with how so few people get how hard it is to be an only parent. To just get through a normal week is challenging enough but to add on extra ordinary events pushes me beyond my limits.

I certainly was on an adrenaline rush last week. But now I seem to have crashed. I am exhausted and it is so cold here. I just want a day to myself, to take some time to reflect on my father and to renew my spirit. I am reminded of my husband's death and how there is approval for grief during the funeral and early period which gradually dissipates around the three month mark. Now that my father's service is over I'm supposed to be magically recovered, only I am finding that I'm not. The problem becomes trying to find the time to reflect and renew. As a widowed mom there is even less opportunity to fit this into my life.

I read in Dr. Phil's column in this month's "O" magazine about a woman who feels smothered by her husband's attentiveness - she lost both her parents in the past year and he apparently is worried about her well being. She feels he is being overattentive. Good for him I want to say. There are some of us out here dealing with grief and life on our own. We don't hear many words of kindness or concern or receive the support of a loving, caring spouse.

I recently was told that phrase I have absolutely grown to hate - "God doesn't give us more than we can handle." First of all, how does God really know how much I can handle? I've pretty much reached my limit as this past week has demonstrated. Message to God here - "You can stop the challenges for awhile. They are not making me stronger. I am becoming weaker, in fact. Ease up on the worn and weary and especially the widowed. We already carry such a burden in our hearts and souls." For those who believe adversity brings on strength, I will counter that sometimes that is not the case. I know it is contrary to what one would expect. But people only can handle so much before breaking.

As for the weeks and months ahead. If I have learned anything from my husband's and my Mom's death, it is that I will not stop grieving or put my needs aside because of the discomfort of others. I need time for healing, reflection and renewal with this new loss. I won't stop talking about it. Maybe I'll ask for a day off.

The dead deserve respect and we provide that with services and memorial. But so do the living and somehow we seem to shortchange the ones left behind. We are expected to go on demonstrating strength and courage. The reality is that without taking the time for renewal and healing, it isn't really possible to go on successfully.


  1. I am a widow myself, a year and 9 months out, and I find it hard that 8 years into the widowhood adventure, you seem to be very upside down. I am not judging you, but that is what scared me when I went to griviance couseling when I saw widows further out than I was still struggling like it happened yesterday. I didn't ever want to be in that position so I didn't go to the next session.

  2. It makes me furious when people misquote the Bible like that. Beyond furious. That is NOT Biblical. NOWHERE in the Bible does it say that God will not give us more than we can handle. NO. WHERE.
    That verse is so very often misquoted to people who are grieving. I wanted to scream at the people who said it to me. I do believe that God knows what I can handle, but I also believe that has nothing to do with what I'm given.
    I'm sorry that you were exposed to someone who doesn't know what they're talking about. Some people are so pious that I wish God would slap some humanness into them.
    (and for anyone who's interested .... the verse says that God will not tempt us beyond what we can bear. TEMPT ..... not handle.

  3. Janine, I love that you squashed that platitude, because it is a platitude. And now that you have taught us that it is entirely mis-quoted ... I am going to use that as my reply next time someone dare utter those words :-) It's a little like saying "time heals" ... which as we have learned, it untrue ... time gives us time to learn and incorporate coping mechanisms and embrace the pain so that it becomes part of the "new normal me". I agree people shouldn't speak verbal diorrhea.

    WITM - I am so so sorry that no one has given you support, even adding pressure to you at a time when you should have been cocooned. I lost my Mom when I was 29 and didn't grieve for her till I was with my husband (a year later) and three years later my dad died. I read your post and thought, wow I was fortunate .... Cliff carried me through those years and helped to heal me so much. I wish you didn't have to shoulder this alone.

  4. WITM: My thoughts are with you. Both my parents are gone. To Anonymous: I don't know if you are a widow with children, but I am, as is widow. It is a different and difficult widowhood. You are not only responsible for your own grief and rebuilding,but also the for your children. That is on top of the normal parenting and running of the household which you are now doing alone. It is very overwhelming. I find it is hard to move on until your children are up and out. You really don't have time to focus on yourself.

  5. I think you're right: people don't respond so much when older people die. I realize I don't either, so I've learned from your experience. What a nasty thing to say, for you not to speak of your loss and ruin that lady's evening. Lots of people are insensitive.

    Please take it easy.

    I hope your son did well in the talent contest.

  6. Anonymous - I think Leslie said it very well and am certainly sorry if I scare you. But all of our stories are different as are our circumstances and my life is what it is. I more than anything wish it were not so upside down and I have truly done my best to parent, battle financial hardship and a host of other losses. I post because I want people to know that 7 years out (not yet 8) doesn't mean our lives are magically restored and we are all healed. I wish you well and all the best in your journey.

    Janine - I did my own research after this was said to me the last time and came up with the same info. you did. It doesn't help that the person who told me this is a former minister! Thank you for clarifying this for other readers so they'll know this line for what it really is and that it is not a part of the Bible.

    Dear Boo - Thank you for checking in. I wrote about this because I wanted to describe how tough it can be as a widow to face even more loss. People really don't have a comprehension of how hard it is to face a loss on one's own.

    Leslie - Thank you so so much for describing a little about what it is like to parent as an only parent. I feel 7 years of exhaustion upon my heart and soul not to mention the three years before my husband's death when I was caring for a sick and dying husband as well as parenting. Just knowing there is someone out there on the same page is very healing to me.

    Thelma - Thank you for your comments. I do my best to treat any loss besides death at this point (animal dying, financial stress, job termination) with compassion and sympathy toward those dealing with it. We all need kindness when we're down and suffering.

  7. and another thing ... just because a grandfather or a mother or whoever you are mourning lives to be say ... 99 years old, does NOT mean that you will grieve LESS for that person. You miss the person, the pain is the same ... their reaching a "good age" doesn't make it more bearable. By suggesting that, it completely demeans what that person means to you, how much you love them and how much you miss them, the pain you endure over them dying. It's just the stupidest thing to say. It's equivalent to the "well at least you are young" platitude said to younger widows. What difference does it make if you are younger. Why should it make any difference if your Dad died in his 80's? The pain remains the same!

  8. I first want to say, that I have missed you and am glad you have posted. I know this last weekend has been especially hard with all that you have had to deal with and take care of.

    I don't know what else I can add, because so many of the above have expressed the thoughts I had after reading your post.

    I did want to say to Anonymous: I am VERY sorry for your loss -- it is a frightening journey to travel, and although we are on the same journey, our paths take different twists and turns. I am also 7 years out. I still grieve, sometimes deeply, sometimes not. It's there always ready to rear it's ugly head. With other responsibilities on top of the grief, 4 children, sick parent, financial issues, it gets tiring and adds to the grief journey. There is no room to judge how each widow handles their path -- compassion is what is needed.

    As far as losing a parent -- wow, the thought of losing my parents, especially in light of my mother's health condition, is overwhelming. It doesn't matter how old my mom and dad are, when they pass away, I will grieve hard!

    As far as that "stupid" phrase that is thrown out as from the Bible, Janine couldn't have expressed it better!

    WITM: I continue to lift you up in prayer. You have taught me so much through your experiences. You have gained such ground and I am inspired by your courage despite the obstacles you have endured.

    Much love!

  9. I love all the comments here. What I admire about you, WiTM, is how you have not allowed your grief to isolate you. Here we can validate how absentminded we can become when we are pushed past our limits to cope. Been there!-even drove up the off ramp once. Lucky for me car horns 'woke me up' and I survived.

    I'm so sorry you lost your knitting bag, on top of everything else. Darn!! All of this is awful, so I send you my hug. Regarding the platitude so incorrectly used - in my mind I turn it around. God DOES give us more than we can handle, so we will reach out to each other. I have learned so much about kindness this way. I often feel inadequate on my own, and when grief revisits me I am forced to my knees. I can't snap my fingers and make it all better. We need each other. Thank you for making this community a safe place to share.

  10. It's taken me a day or so to be able to even comment here as your words just struck such a strong chord within my soul. My father has been gone almost 2 years and it hurts just as much and even more on many days. I, too experienced the people who just do not want to hear about my grief and loss. Co-workers were very sweet and caring at the time and many traveled long distances to attend my Dad's memorial, but very quickly it just never felt right to discuss the after shocks, so it lives in my soul eating away. When I am in a strong place, I am fine, but the second anything rocks my world, I am right back to the depths of the grief and it seems even more profound and harder to lift. I visited my brother and family yesterday and we realized that visits have been very few and far between. I do think it was just too hard to see a reflection of our own grief in their faces. We hope visits will become more regular again.
    It affects everything I do. Even my dear partner, who is always there for me cannot deal with me bringing up the grief. He doesn't say anything but conversations of the struggle don't go much further than my words. He has had his own grief and loss, he knows, but cannot discuss or act any more....just a hug and an ear.
    Struggling financially must exacerbate things for you and that is so hard. I wish I had more of way to offer relief but know that you have kindred spirits caring and traveling a similar journey.
    As for the platitudes, they drive me crazy, too. People just do not know what to do.
    May today shine sunshine on your spirit, and as always, thank you for sharing in such an honest way.