We attended our first bereavement group last Tuesday. The four widows and young woman who lost her mother all felt sorry for us. It dawned on me what an amazing gift it is to be going through this with a partner. The other grievers managed alone during more protracted and actually more horrible illnesses (impaired mental function from brain cancer, “loopy;” facial disfigurement from aggressive surgery).
It actually could be worse…
We asked these other mourners, some with over a year’s experience with grief, “How do you deal with it when people ask how you are?”
Boy did THAT resonate. Each of the five had comments, anecdotes, and advice (“I say: one step at a time.”)
As many of you know one of our responses to how-are-you is: “I’m an emotional wreck but thank you for asking” We started this while Kirby was still alive in preparation for the Temple Micah craft sale when I knew I’d see a lot of friends, family, Micah members. It has been very helpful to have a pat answer for the omnipresent salutation.
Since she died a new mantra is “I keep telling myself I will be ok.”
The reason this question is so hard is that it makes us cry. Not the best lubricant for social intercourse. And, as we disintegrate it makes it hard to proceed with anything else: conversation, other people’s lives, tasks at hand.
This is why I declared a moratorium on hugs. I was getting incredibly sympathetic, caring hugs from people I barely knew, Kirby’s nurses, the palliative care people, the hospice people. Those hugs telegraphed I’m-a-professional-in-this-area-and-it-is-looking-so-bad-I-know-you’re-going-to-need-a-LOT-of-sympathy-very-soon-and-here’s-a-down-payment. I got the message loud and clear and even while being touched by the caring and kindness those hugs drove another spike into my heart. The message changed after she died (this-is-truly-unbelieveably-awful-I-can’t-imagine-how-awful-but-I’m-grieving-with-you) and all that loving sympathy just abraded already raw wounds.
Before Kirby died, some of us were already availing ourselves of the anesthetic gifts of alcohol. Most nights going to bed was a matter of giving up for that day. The alcohol for me extends the time before the surrender.
(And thank you to everyone who has shared the anesthesia with us and to those who brought booze to us: G & Ts in the hospital even by Saint R. And really a lot of premium alcohol from our Saint and a number of others.)
Before Kirby died, one family member attempted to model control by cleaning/clearing the kitchen counters. At the end of just about every day and certainly by the time he was up an hour or two, the counters would be TOTALLY clear (with the possible exception of flowers) and CLEAN.
Even I, never a neat freak, have been attempting to create order in my environment as if that would create order in my emotional life. I actually installed a rubbery drawer liner material in a couple of drawers, scrubbing away two decades of gundge in the process.
Two of us are listening to recorded books more or less non-stop as an antidote to gerbil-brain.
I, with a lot of company in the over-60 crowd, wake a number of times in the night. I wake even more than previously. While Kirby was sick (little noises, “Is she vomiting? Do I need to go down to help?). Or just waking in terror. Or monkey brain repeating, “etoposide, cisplaten, emesis, carboplatin, pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, irenotecan, LESIONS, progress, survival.”
Since she died, sometimes I can’t get to sleep because of the regret and grief devils who are also there for night wakings.
The distracting help of a recorded book lets me get to sleep and go back to sleep.
We both cry. A lot… I do a lot of tears and snuffling and nose blowing…
I’ve been to the gym more often and regularly than ever before in my life. Currently probably because I have so little actually scheduled. Before she died because gym was one of only two activities: Kirby and gym.
Owen is at school, which is a full out marathon for him. Work, exhaustion, and party weekends may be enough distraction for him for now. He’ll be home at the end of this quarter to help us recreate our abbreviated family.
When the seven day candle began to burn very low, I felt a fresh sense of loss so we are now burning multi-day candles continuously.
And, of course, the support from friends/family/community continues…dinner at the drop of a hat. Pot luck Shabbat. Endless indulgence, good advice, help.
So we muddle along. With a lot of help from our friends. And grief.
Some others of Kirby’s friends and family have shared their coping strategies. Please feel free to add yours.
22 February 2012
It comes and goes in waves, this week and last has been sorrow, deep painful sorrow. i have been working more or less 20 hour days, but still am feeling haunted, whenever i sleep for more than a few hours i have dreams about her sickness, or death.
two weeks ago it was numbness, empty void-like numbness. i think i was numb when i talked to you on the phone.
I am trying to basically not drink, and when i do only with friends, and never to drunkenness. it seems like a bad road to go down, although an easy one.
i feel ok when i am planning for the future. i have been emailing with sam about projects, txting with devin, and talking to scott (who is gonna be working for william mcdonough) or fully engaged in the present (sometimes that doesn’t work). i went skiing and was ok as long as i was going down the hill but the ride back up was back to thinking about kirb.
i struggle to do anything that is not fun/something i really want to do. It’s hard to see the point of writing my English essays and such.
i am going on a lot of “bro-dates” to plays, the symphony etc. i tried asking a woman out, but it turns out she has a boyfriend, and really i just wanted company. my friends are better, they go to places with me that i would otherwise take a woman, but it becomes just about enjoying the event.
i bought basically every book that Billy Collins has written, it seems to help to read a poem. i am popping poems the way others pop pills.
i am eating too much, although the lack of sleep has so far kept my weight constant so far.
i gave away my last cigar, and hope to be done with smoking.
i am growing increasingly fond of the sleep-deprived haze that i am living in. it makes it easier to just focus on one thing here and now.
my studio project makes me happy…. i think it is going to have some nice parts.
i look forward to being in dc, with you guys, and sam and devin and carson.
(“aaw” is from AFS days: it was shorthand for “alive and well:” the mimimum communication to home.)
I have been thinking about you all so much these last weeks and have meant to email you anyway though. It is absolutely mind boggling to me that Kirby is gone.
There are moments during my day when I am reminded of her- sometimes I don’t even know what has led my mind to the subject, but suddenly she is in my thoughts. Maybe because in many ways, it is so difficult to make the transition in my thinking from my friend, who for all I knew was always going to be a part of my life, to my friend who died of cancer at 28. She is not a memory yet; my heart is so wanting for her not to be a memory that I think of her as though she might still be here. And then, I am reminded; my brain engages and wins out over my heart at the knowledge, at the fact that I helped to bury her, that she is not here anymore.
I think of her when I look at the string of cranes hanging in the corner of my living room, when I gaze at the paintings I bought in Italy that she brought back to the States, when I open my closet, which has bracelet of beautiful beads from Ghana hanging on the knob. I think of her when I talk to Lana, when I am in the shower, and when I think of spring coming.
And most of all, when I am in bed with the lights out and have said good night to Leo, I think of her.
Sometimes I just cry so so much.