Tuesday, July 28, 2015

07/28/2015

     In my journey through grief, there were several realizations that came to me that helped me to try to put things into perspective in dealing with my grief. These did not usually dawn on me in a single moment of clarity, rather they more often appeared over time as I tried my best to work through what I was facing. In some instances, they were things I had to learn more than one time. Oftentimes I was not at a point in my journey where I was ready to accept a particular concept as being something that was true in my situation. There were many times when I refused to believe or accept what I suddenly perceived to be a truism about dealing with grief. I was fearful that if I believed and accepted this new thought regarding grief I would be led down another difficult path where fresh challenges would await.
I thought it was better to stay on the road that had become most familiar to me, and where I felt most comfortable, even if that meant I was often going in circles. Grief is like that. You can honestly believe that you are doing what is best for you and the people around you and that you are making good progress, when in reality, you are spinning in circles. You find yourself passing the same landmarks over and over again, dealing with the same issues over and over again. The question becomes: How do I get off of this not-so-merry-go-round of grief and keep moving forward?

Monday, July 27, 2015

07/27/2015

   How does a man learn to deal with grief? It's been almost a year since I posed that question at the end of my last blog entry. I'm again not sure why I have not been writing for so long, except to say that I was so focused on work and other issues that I just didn't have the energy to write. Oftentimes, my writing about grief takes me back in time to those first horrible days following Curtis's death, dredging up emotions and memories I thought were long gone. I realize at such times that there are still residual issues with which I am not finished dealing or now may need to deal with in a different way. I also understand that it is ultimately to my long-term benefit to face such things as they arise. Even all these years later, there are still ways I can help myself continue to move forward with my life. This situation again points to one of the most difficult aspects of grief-its unpredictability. I think as human beings (especially as men) it's this characteristic of grief that is so maddening-the uncertainty of it all. We may realize intellectually that each person involved in the same situation will grieve in their own way and follow their own timeframe, but emotionally, men find this to be a most frustrating factor of grief. We like to know how long something will last. We like to know how much time and energy we need to invest in this whole process. We don't like to think there may be no end to this entire thing. We don't like to think there may be times when we believe we have reached some kind of ending only to have to deal with the same things over and over again. The thought that we may never feel "normal" again terrifies us. We begin to feel paralyzed and hopeless that we will ever feel anything close to normalcy again. Why can't we fix this? Why can't we just make it all go away? Where is the magic spell or magic fairy dust that could make me feel like myself again? Dealing with grief may be the most emotionally, spiritually, and mentally challenging thing we may ever face in life. It can even leave us physically drained years after the initial event. So, after all these months between posts, the question remains: how does a man learn to deal with grief?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

08/17/2014

   As a society, we Americans are not particularly well-prepared to deal with grief. Some cultures don't  even expect a grieving person to be ready to re-enter society in any meaningful way for up to a year or more. The person or family is given that much time to process and deal with all the numbing effects of grief. I went back to work three weeks to the day after my son's death. Mostly I did that because I was afraid that the longer I delayed the inevitable, the harder it would become to ever go back. I also wanted  something besides grief to occupy my time and energy. I had been back only a couple of weeks when it was time on our school calendar to hold Parent-Teacher conferences. All of the parents with whom I met were sympathetic to a point, but one parent remarked that I must be over it all since I was back teaching. I was incredulous. It took all of my self-control to not scream at her. This was my son's death we were dealing with not a pet goldfish. How insensitive could she be? In hindsight, it was probably much too soon for me to have to deal with people in that kind of setting, but, again, our culture does not look favorably on grieving for too long, especially not for men. We are raised to be strong, physically and emotionally. We are the providers, the guardians, the protectors. We are taught from an early age that big boys don't cry, that we should get over it (whatever "it" is) and move on. We are supposed to "fix" whatever is wrong and move forward. These kinds of attitudes are especially not helpful when men are dealing with grief. They are among the reasons that many men seem to get "stuck" in one spot
many different times in their journey through grief. Often when I would be faced with a new obstacle
grief had set in my way, my first reaction was to avoid it somehow, to try and go around it or pretend it wasn't there. I tried to lose myself in work. I tried to pretend that I wasn't really feeling what I was feeling. I would try to push away what was making me feel so bad. That only made things worse. As I stated previously, grief demands to be dealt with, but much of the time, I didn't know how to do that. I was feeling guilty that I had failed to protect my son in the first place, and now I was constantly faced with a situation I could not fix, not for myself, not for my wife, not for my surviving children. I was frustrated and angry about the entire thing. How does a man learn to deal with grief?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

08/10/2014

   As I mentioned previously, for me the first step to surviving was the realization that I needed to allow the people around me to just love me. Many of the people closest to us felt an almost overwhelming need to do something, anything, for us in an attempt to somehow help us through this ordeal. However, often what these well-meaning people needed for themselves was not what was particularly helpful to me. Still, I slowly began to realize that we were surrounded by the love, concern, and prayers of many people, some of which we did not even directly know.
   It also began to be apparent that even with all this support around us, in many ways, my journey through grief was going to be a lonely one. While grief demands to be dealt with, it is not on a set timeline. While many people are familiar with the various stages of grief (i.e. denial, anger, bargaining,
acceptance, etc.) such stages are extremely fluid. They do not conform to a neatly set pattern or timeline. What I was experiencing or feeling at a particular moment was not what my wife or children were experiencing. What I felt I needed at a certain moment in time did not often conform to their needs. In short, everyone's journey through grief is highly personal. It ebbs and flows from day to day and often from moment to moment. This aspect of grief makes it very difficult to stay on an even keel.
Many times I would feel like I was making good progress one day, only to feel like I had taken 10 steps backward the next.
   I often became frustrated with myself because I too often felt like I had to keep dealing with the same things over and over again. Why didn't I get the message the first time? Why did I have to go through the same things again and again? Grief is like that. Make no mistake: grief must be dealt with. You can try to run away or hide from it, but it will track you down. It will slowly and methodically follow you like a stalker or a spy pursuing their quarry. Its presence will not always be overtly apparent, but you will always know it is there, lurking in the shadows, waiting patiently to strike until you least expect it, usually when you are the most vulnerable. Again, it is this relentlessly uncertain characteristic of grief that consistently serves to confound and confuse us in our journey. Yes, grief demands our attention. How we respond to that demand can make a world of difference in our journey.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

08/02/14

   Sooner or later grief comes to us all in one way or another. It is no respecter of status or station in life.  It comes to rich and poor alike. It cares not if a person is famous, powerful or well-connected. It cannot be bargained away, nor can you hire someone else to handle it for you. It strikes viciously, often without warning, with a ferocity unlike anything else we experience. It throws our lives into utter chaos, bringing into question the very principals by which we have been leading our lives. It completely disrupts our belief systems, especially when it involves the death of a young person such as a child, which seems to totally violate the natural order of things: parents are not supposed to outlive their children. Grief absolutely turns our lives upside down. Everything changes, often not for the better. We are forced to realize some very unpleasant things about our lives on this planet. We are left searching for answers to questions we never expected to have to face. We often feel lost, hopeless and alone. We want someone to explain to us why this had to happen to us. How can we survive this situation? When will our lives return to normal? When will we feel like ourselves again? We want someone to give us answers to questions which have no answers. We feel like everything in our lives has changed in the blink of an eye, and we are spinning helplessly out of control. How do we survive?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

07/29/2014

   At the risk of stating the obvious, there are few emotions we experience as humans that can be compared with grief. By its very nature it is devastating and overwhelming like nothing else. It cannot be planned for, it strikes without warning giving us no time to prepare. Even when the loss involves an older person or someone who has been very ill, we may feel prepared for grief. Intellectually, we may accept the death, but emotionally we are never ready to have to live without the person's physical presence in our lives. In my case, to have my healthy, talented, loving, beautiful son ripped away from me in a matter of seconds sent me spinning. I don't think men in general are particularly well-suited to deal with such an emotional cataclysm. Most men are raised to be strong, not just physically, but also emotionally. We are taught to keep a tight rein on our emotions, with the possible exception of anger. It's usually deemed acceptable for men to show anger, at least righteous anger, anyway, but most other emotions are kept in check. Many men believe that overt shows of emotions such as fear, sorrow, or doubt are unacceptable both to others and to themselves. Besides, when dealing with something as powerful as grief what good will it do anyone to fall apart? That's not going to solve the problem. That's not going to bring my son back. That's not going to help my wife and children.
   I had experienced loss many times before in my life: my oldest brother died when I was 12, but he had been born with cerebral palsy and never had a so-called normal life , and two of my grandparents had died at about the same time. Over the years I lost my other grandparents, aunts, uncles, and a cousin, as well, so I thought I was at least somewhat acquainted with grief. However, all of those losses rolled together did not prepare me for the loss of my son.
   Those early days of grief reminded me of a time when I was young. We had gone to the beach for the day. It was not my first visit to the beach, and I felt I was prepared for the waves, but the surf was especially strong that day. A wave knocked me down and took me beneath the surface of the water. I struggled to get my head above the surface to breath. As soon as I did so another wave would again roll over my head, and I'd again find myself struggling to get my head above water. This went on for what to me seemed like forever, but was probably only a few seconds. I eventually was able to regain my feet and get out of the water.
   Grief was making me feel like I was drowning. It struck with such sudden violence that my entire life went into a state of shock. I was feeling overwhelmed and whenever I did feel like I was regaining my footing another wave would smash over me, driving me beneath the surface. This went on for months. At times I felt helpless to do anything about it. The chaos and hopelessness that grief had brought into my life seemed impossible to deal with. Would I ever feel anything else?
 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

07/24/2014

   I realize now that in addition to learning how to take things one step at a time, in the early days literally sometimes taking things one breath at a time, there were other things that helped me overcome the various fears that threatened to engulf me.
   I learned that much of the time my feelings and emotions were transitory and that what I might be experiencing at a certain moment would soon be changing. I realized that what I often needed to do was actually the exact opposite of what my emotions were tempting me to do. For example, there were many times when what I really wanted to do was to curl up into a little ball, find an isolated corner in which to hide myself, and wait for the storm to pass. What I discovered I needed to do was to lean more heavily than ever on the people closest to me, especially my wife and children. In this case, I don't mean leaning on them in a sense of dragging them down at such a horrible time, but rather to mean keeping myself available to them, leaning on each other, supporting each other as much as we possibly could to survive together. If we could not stick together and find ways to help each other through something so absolutely horrible, who else was going to help us?
   Unfortunately, we did discover during those early days that some people we thought would always be there for us, could not find it within themselves to do so. We came to realize that many people just felt so uncomfortable around us that they fell by the wayside, some early on in our journey, and others as time went by. Whether it was because they felt helpless not knowing what to say or do or how to comfort us, or because our situation brought the fear and anxiety that if something this awful could happen to a family like ours it could also happen to them, the fact remained that these people were not able to be there for us.
   Conversely, there were other people who actually surprised us with the level of on-going, consistent support they gave to us. In many cases, these people are still with us today. Of course, there is another group of people who we believed would always be there for us, and indeed they have been, every moment of every day and every step of the way. Besides holding on to my wife and children for support, I learned to let these other people who were so concerned about us all, help us in whatever ways they could. Their timing wasn't always perfectly corresponding to what I might have been feeling at a given moment, but I learned to accept that everything they were doing was done out of true love and concern for us. I discovered again that the moments when I most felt like isolating myself from the entire world were often actually the moments when I most needed to allow people to simply love me.