Upon This, I do Insist~

I wonder, frequently, when grief changed from a normal, human response to the death of a loved one, to a condition that, seemingly, must be gotten through (with all due speed, thank you very much for your consideration), with clinical protocols assigned to it?

When did grief get designated as complicated and unhealthy and uncomfortable and perceived as an enemy to be overcome?  When did our culture start demanding of us that we, as grievers, choose life again as quickly as possible, focus only on the happy memories of life and not dwell in the layers of sorrow that come with death? When did grief become something to hide from the world at large?

When did we medicalize grief so that our approach is clinical instead of soulful?

Years ago I read about traumatic stress and the military, what is seen and done in war, and the suffering that occurs as a consequence of what is seen and experienced by our military. I read that it wasn’t always called traumatic stress. In past times it was called combat fatigue, shell shock, war neurosis. The term that most appealed to me and best described it was from the Civil War era. It was called soldier’s heart.

An apt description, don’t you think?

Science has discovered neurons and all sorts of scientific stuff about the brain and grief; our brains that are, of course, involved, when it comes to grief. We feel crazy and our thinking and focus goes all to hell and back again, ad infinitum. Maybe drugs calm all that shit down sometimes, and it’s good to have options to treat the crazy.  Modern times and all that…

Speaking only for myself, I see grief as a matter of the heart. I believe that every grief is potentially complicated, simply because our worlds disintegrate after our loved ones die, and that’s kind of, you know, complicated. I believe that every death potentially is traumatic because grasping the forever-ness of death is beyond human comprehension, and trying to grasp that particular concept is kind of, you know, traumatic. And once we work our way, sometimes with a good therapist, through the worst of the trauma, layers of grief remain that we must muck through and that takes a fuck load more time than the 6 months that the DSM allows for complicated grief.

A matter of the heart…

Thursday, April 21, at 11:21pm will be 3 years since my beloved husband, Chuck, died of a cancer that ate him up and killed him dead.  I was present when he died and I wonder when was the last time he looked at me and saw me before closing his eyes forever? After he died, I bathed him and dressed him and wrapped him in beautiful blankets because I didn’t want him put in a body bag uncovered. Before the mortuary took him away, I spoke with them and told them his name, that he served in our military, that he was a dad of 4 kids-3 of them step kids who never, ever, felt like step kids. Before they took him away, I told them that he was a man of honor who loved me every day of our 24 years together and that I knew they would treat him with all the respect that he deserved. And made them promise me that they would.

Before he was cremated, I opened the box that held his body and covered him with stunningly bright and beautiful flower bouquets. After gently closing the box over him again, I pressed the switch to open the doors of the crematory and watched as his body slid inside and felt sick to my stomach. After he was cremated, I retrieved his cremains that were still almost warm to the touch. I know because I touched them and buried my hands in them, bringing my hands to my face as I huddled into myself and sobbed.

In the years since, Chuck’s cremains have traveled shotgun with me, next to his flag that was presented to me at his memorial service, the jacket from his BDUs, and a picture of him as a flight engineer on the 141’s. With these precious tangibles of our love story, I’ve criss-crossed the country 8 times in my PinkMagic rig.

All of this…all of these memories, all of these tangible reminders of his existence in my life, all of the reminders that our existence together is no more…these are matters of the heart. Matters of the soul. Matters that deserve my time and attention because they were…they are…sacred times.  I have Widows Heart.

We are not bound to what our culture teaches us about grief.

Grief, in reality, has the potential to bring us to a place of our strongest connection to life. It smashes open our hearts and souls and insists on recognition of all that is holy and sacred in life. It is, perhaps, one of the few times in our busy lives that we are forced to slow down, waken to our souls, and listen to what makes us human.

I will not see grief as negative or positive. I will not see it as an adversary, something to be gotten through. I will not force it away by doing whatever it is that I’m supposed to do so that I don’t feel it, or feel it as strongly. I will not push it and shove it and force it in one direction or another. I will not run away from it. Nor will I wallow in it.

What I will do.  I will continue to be honest about grief’s impact on my life. I will continue to connect with my widowed community and the community of love that surrounds me on the road and as I tarry in one place or another.  I will continue to become familiar with my grief, because that is, I believe, how it will ultimately soften around the edges. It is not my enemy, as much as I detest its’ presence in my life.  Grief is an emotion to be honored. It is the twin to Love.

And, in the end, this grief…my grief…in the end…it is about my dearest, most beloved husband, Chuck D, the man I will carry with me in every breath I take, forevermore.

I miss you, my dearest love. I miss you. I miss you, I miss you…

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24 thoughts on “Upon This, I do Insist~

  1. Monday, February 25, 2013 I lost my wife of 40 years, 8 months, 3 weeks and 2 days. We started dating half way through my senior year of high school and her sophomore year and dated for 5 years as we went to college. The best help I have found dealing with grief is the Grief Share program. The one I attend, yes I still attend on or near significant dates, I helped me. I don’t know if you have attended any of these, if you have not it’s something you may want to check out.

    • Ron, yes, I’ve heard of griefshare. I haven’t participated in that particular one, but have joined various widowed groups to connect with those in similar circumstances. Peer support is crucial in my thinking. And the trauma therapy I did while in AZ helped me work through some of the worst parts. Reaching out to you over the miles as you find your way…and thank you so, so much for taking the time to write to me here~alison

  2. Dearest Alison, it has been twelve years since my Handsomest Man in the World, Jerry, died. I understand everything that you wrote. All widows’ grief is different and yet the same and we all make our own journey.

    Much love, Darlene

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  3. Your piece resonated with me – it is so beautifully written and the images so vivid. I am very sorry for your loss. I remember putting a time limit on my mother’s grief for her father (“OMG, it’s been 8 years, aren’t you done being sad?) – my biggest regret is that I never had a chance to apologize for my thoughtless remark. It’s been almost 21 years since she, and Grief still bodyslams me every once in a while. The sneaky thing about Grief is that he doesn’t affect everyone the same way, which makes it difficult for some people to understand why we’re “not done yet”.

    Your husband sounds like an amazing man. I have no doubt that he’s traveling with you still…

    • Death certainly brings an awareness of our own beliefs about it, doesn’t it? My mom and brother died back in 1996, 6 months apart, and that was my introduction to grief, and that was when I became conscious about it. That’s when my thinking changed about life and it made me pay more attention to my interactions with Chuck and it ensured that I took care of issues on a daily basis rather than letting them drift day to day. I wonder, have you ever thought of writing a letter to your mom about what you said? And, part 2…writing a letter FROM her to you? I used to do that exercise in the support groups that I facilitated and it gave an entirely different perspective. Grief really does have so many variables that make a one size fit all work. I thank you so much for responding to my writings, and I wish a day of love for you. And, yes, Chuck was an amazing man. He loved me beyond measure~alison

  4. Alison, I posted here a few times some time ago, have mostly been following your Facebook page this past year or so. My husband died just over 2 years ago, and I am still a work in progress in terms of dealing with it. I admire your strength, your courage, your creativity, and your unabashed expressions of feeling.

    I am always struck by statements such as “When did our culture start demanding of us that we, as grievers, choose life again as quickly as possible, focus only on the happy memories of life and not dwell in the layers of sorrow that come with death? When did grief become something to hide from the world at large?” And “We are not bound to what our culture teaches us about grief.”

    I think to myself when I read these things “where IS that in our culture?”, as I have never once had those sentiments expressed to me nor read them in anything I went to for solace and comfort. Where IS that, Alison? That you perceive that kind of negative pressure is troubling to me, and very, very sad.

    We move at our own pace, some days and moments better than other days and moments. I do cherish the years I had, and memories shared, with my life partner of 27 years, and I work to be grateful for whose while trying hard to carve out a new life without my beloved….who is not returning to me, and I must go on. I am grateful for our time together, still devastated by his sudden death. I do pretty well, sometimes not, but no one I have ever shared better, worse or in-between moments with has ever criticized me or rejected the legitimacy of my feelings in any way, shape, or form. Neither has anyone ever suggested I express and/or show less grief, move forward more quickly, make a new life, etc. I have experienced nothing but support.

    It sounds like you have had some really difficult and painful experiences, dealing with your grief, and I am sorry for that. I have to say I don’t believe our culture in general takes the positions you attribute as generalized and widespread. The support for grieving in our own time and our own way is there.

    I wish you peace, Alison. I hope that you find what you need and can feel more supported.. Look away, and stay away, from any that simply don’t get it. You don’t need them, and they don’t define you nor the right or wrong of how you work through this. It is an individual path.

    I wish you all the best, Alison. I also travel, in a small motor home tho not full time…I will look for you on the road and maybe we will meet some day.

    Take care and be well,

    Maggie

    • I very much appreciate your comments, Maggie, and my heart reaches out to you as you find your way through widowhood. This post wasn’t written so much personally, as it was in a broad base way. I’ve been very fortunate in my support community (many of whom follow my writings), with only a few exceptions. I see what other widows write, however, both in their own space and in emails to me, and what other grievers experience, and that drives me to be proactive in addressing the issue. It’s sad indeed, that there are so many who are subtly pressured to feel there is something wrong with how they grieve, or the intensity or length, because there isn’t, of course, a timetable to it. There can’t be, because there are too many variables in each person’s grief. As time passes since Chuck’s death, and I hear from others, and observe life, and read articles, I see and hear these things, so, because I love to write, I write about the issues that present themselves to me. I’m so grateful for the community I have, even though it is spread around the country. What part of the country do you live in?

  5. I do understand your points. I think that the reason grief is getting more medical attention is because you can actually suffer real medical problems after the death of your loved ones related to their death and the changes in you. That is the best reason I can see. I have suffered an elevated heart rate ever since so I see the issues there. I appreciate how they looked after me after he died but I did not remain in that place of grief and illness. I watch my heart rate and want to live my life long and happy again!

    • I agree, Jennifer, that our medical world is more attentive to the physical symptoms of grief, so they’re paying attention. That’s so necessary. A dear friend of mine, who has suffered so many deaths in her life, began having seizures. Not necessarily because of the grief, but from that stress and others that her body underwent and thankfully, she got medical attention. It’s all about finding our way with it, isn’t it? I’m glad you’ve been able to bring your heart rate to a good level-and I very much appreciate that you took the time to write me here ❤ alison

  6. One last thing, Alison…your absolute anger at Chuck’s daughter is almost palpable, and it is so legitimate. Death and dying sometimes bring out the worst in people, and it sounds like that’s what happened with her.

    I have a couple of people like that in my orbit, as well, and have stepped back from them emotionally since my husbands death…giving less of myself and expecting nothing in return. It is self preservation.

    First, the Chuck you describe, and whose absolute love for you shines through in every single photo you post, would never, ever, ever, have said the things she attributed to him, nor pushed you aside at such a critical time. He simply would not have done this, and you need to believe that.

    This is about her, and the peace she now needs to make with her actions during that dreadful time. It is not about you.

    I suspect you regret having stepped aside, letting her take over Chuck’s medical advocacy, but you would have been in shock at her words and actions and of course did not want to make that terrible time worse with a fight and power struggle at hospice. You did the right thing for Chuck and the rest of the family at the time.. Let it go.

    Chuck knew, tho, that you did everything you possibly could to ease this transition and to love and honor him and your relationship. It is his love for you and between you that you need to try to focus on. Let go of this bitter and mean spirited young woman, who took this opportunity when you were at your most vulnerable to stab you to the quick.

    Step back from her emotionally, tell yourself as often as you must that her behaviors are a reflection on her, not on you, nor on Chuck and your relationship….most of all, they do not reflect any denigration of what you and Chuck had together. He would not have said those words, nor hurt you in that manner or at that time. He did not have it in him, and if he had been torn or wavering at all about your medical advocacy, you would have known it and felt it. This is about her. She did it for herself, and to hurt you, for whatever reason.

    You did the right thing at the time, stepping aside, and you have loved Chuck as deeply in death as you did in life.

    He was a lucky man to have had you, and you him. Those kinds of relationships are rare. You were two of the lucky ones.

    Post all this or not, Alison, I simply wanted to get the words to you. Email me if you like.

    Be well and take care,

    Maggie

    • I so appreciate your words, Maggie, and they are very much on the mark. It was a stressful time for all of us, of course, and we all did what we could. Part of what caused me so much agony after Chuck died was that I even allowed the horrible words to make me doubt him, and that made me feel as if I’d betrayed him. I’m glad I sought out counseling recently, trauma therapy also, and dealt with the words in that time, so that I could put them all in place. I was so blessed to have him in my life, as yes, he was blessed to have me. We nurtured each other and our marriage and made it all happen. Returning your good wishes to you, and thank you for taking the time to write so beautifully~

  7. You so eloquently nailed my thoughts and emotions. Sometimes I fear I will always be deep in my grief and other times I ask myself how it could be any other way. My grief keeps me connected to the one person who completed me as myself. My husband Tom and I were married 1 week short of 29 years. He was killed on his motorcycle in front of me August 31, 2014. I appreciate your honesty and heartfelt words. I too have widows heart. Bless your travels.

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