Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This Happens to Me a Lot

In two weeks my class in the spiritual direction program will "graduate," and yesterday I had to call the program secretary about some of the details.

"You know," she said, "when you wandered in here last fall to talk about coming back, I thought, No way; I wouldn't even be able to stand up if I were you. And then ~ you did an incredible job."

"Well, those first months," I responded, " every hour or two of doing something was followed by several days in bed."

"I'm so sorry," she said, sounding somewhat startled. I suppose she had thought that if I were dressed and articulate for an hour or so at a time, I must have been like that all the time. Instead of almost never.

Other times, people have been far more negative, and told me I have "done" too much too fast. They, too, see only what they see.

What is enough? Or too much? Or nothing? It varies for each of us.
There are two families linked on this blog who have moved cross country in this past year , soon after terrible losses. That seems like a completely impossible feat to me. But I have driven the 2.5 hours to school and spent three nights there every week ~ which works for me because both here and there I spend most of my time either with people who know and shelter me well or in complete solitude. And it requires very little organization ~ none at all in comparison to a household move.

I haven't come close to acknowledging all the flowers and letters and contributions that arrived last fall. I work at it steadily for a couple of days and then I stop for a much longer period. I can't believe how much energy a short note takes. Far, far more than a 20 page research paper. I haven't even begun to deal with my son's belongings. Surrenduring his car was so traumatic that it will probably be several months more before I can open a closet.

As far as I can tell, everyone is about the same in that they deal with the concrete details of death and the getting-back-to-life erratically at best. Some things are accomplished quickly; some perhaps never. Some kinds of work one can do, and do well; some kinds are not possible. Some people almost immediately take up tasks that require considerable concentration; others can't even read trash novels ~ for years, they say. Some go to Europe; others can hardly go to the grocery. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to any of it.

I think I mentioned that I was once asked whether I have used other things as a distraction. I don't think so. (Well, maybe some things!) I do things not because they are distracting but because it seems to me that I am invited to do them, because I am part of something more than my small self. And if they help me to regain my footing and find life, then they are steps forward rather than mere distractions.

One can only focus on loss and grief for so many consecutive minutes or hours or days without going quite mad. It is life-giving rather than death denying to step forward, and and also to retreat as necessary, both in whatever measure one can. Self-awareness, I suppose, is the key.
The reality is that I cannot be distracted. I can, however, focus on some of my work, and I think that that is a good thing.


Lisa :-] said...

I remember getting to a point where I wanted to be someone c ompletely other than the person who had stood by my sister's bedside and watched her die by inches for nine weeks. It seemed like the "old" me was too damaged, too sad, too traumatized to just come home and "go on with my life." Eventually, I found a life that I could go on with, but it was not the one I had before. And there is no prescribed timetable for doing that...

Kathryn J said...

Oh and if only all the thoughts and prayers I have for you could materialize into tangible support. Those of us on the outside can only see what we see and only do what we can do - not much.

Sending love.

Karen and Joe said...

You are right about the "no rhyme or reason". It's strange. Moving cross-country was an imperative for me,like breathing, but took every ounce of strength and anger I could muster. I collapsed afterward, and still live with unopened boxes. Will it ever get put away? I don't know.

My life barely resembles the one I once knew--so focussed, organized and purposeful. Now, I wake up, wander around, visit my computer friends, wander around, make my bed then wonder what I will do today. I can't read any thing of length. I can't undertake long projects. I can't socialize for long periods. I distract myself plenty just to get the quiet in my head. I don't like my life, and try to order it, but quickly run out of drive. I'm in the hands of grief and God and feel somewhat powerless to will it any other way.

Your focus and concentration always amaze me. I simply attribute it to that bright mind you have. And yet as you say, you are doing the thing that is easy for you. Academics are do-able, and the rest of it--well, one small, difficult, exhausting step at a time. I understand.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

One thing I am learning from you . . . and which I hope I never forget . . . is the presumption of commenting on someone else's grief process from the outside.

Presbyterian Gal said...

Being able to focus is a great gift!

And I believe that each of our temperaments are as unique as our fingerprints. Everyone processes grief uniquely. It is what it is.

Even so, it's a wonderful thing to have support around.

karengberger said...

Your observations of your own process, and that of others, is keen. I think of my husband, who goes to work every day in an office, and how that is a coping strategy for him. I don't think I could do that, at this point, for many reasons - and it's been two years since Katie passed! Like you, I do what is in front of me, and like Joey's mom Karen, I know that I distract myself, at times. It's imperative to rest from the intensity of it.

No one but you knows how this feels, so no one can prescribe your way for you. It's an ultimately creative way of living, isn't it? That illusion of "competence" is GONE from my life, so in good moments, my reliance on God is clearer. But it's still part heaven and part hell, for me. Heaven is the connection to God, and hell is the separation from Katie.

I decided not to write "thank you" notes for condolence cards. I am a meticulous "thanker," and I did thank for gifts, but I could NOT face replying to all of the cards, and decided that people would simply have to understand (or not). My friend calls it a "free pass," & I took it. I hope you will be very, very kind and gentle to yourself as you do this task.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that God is showing you a new "dance"... of forward... back... pause... reflect... re-group... step out again. Dance it to the rhythm that God gives you... and we will watch and pray... with love.

Anonymous said...

I am an "outsider" meaning I have only lost people when I should have; grandparents and then parents to old age... But something about the sentence describing surrendering your son's car and how traumatic that was hit a spot in me I had never thought about. I tried to imagine losing my husband and having to do "something" with his little truck. It's just a small one-a bridge between the city job he has and the rural life we live. It hauls him to work during the week and and compost, the dog, the garbage and Saturday shopping sprees from Lowe's. If he were to suddenly not be here, no way in heaven or hell could I give up his truck. I think I would have to sit in it sometimes just to breathe in the smell he has imparted to it and think about all our little jaunts
to the aforementioned Lowe's. No, I would have to keep that truck.

You are incredably brave. One breath at a time, one foot at a time, you keep going.
Cindy (Mitford)