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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Go Back

I need to go back and tell her.  I need to tell her that the first time she holds him and feels that her family is "complete" is exactly the moment that will be her coffin when he's no longer there.  I need to tell her that all the times she buries her face in his soft neck are precisely what will bring her to her knees on a daily basis once that neck has been kissed for the last time.  She needs to know that the first time he gets really sick will seem like a skinned knee compared to the anguish and unknown of what is coming.  Somehow I've got to tell her that coming home from the hospital after that initial illness doesn't mean that she's "won" anything.  I have to go back in time and have the conversation that lets her know that no matter how many parts of her die, no matter how hard she "fights", no matter how many pieces of her life that she gives up along the way, she cannot make him stay. There has to be a way for me to warn her about those memories she thinks she's making.  I need to tell her that the happy times full of smiles and laughter will eventually become razorblades.  That they'll know exactly when and how deep to cut in order to leave her a gaping sieve of pain, but not enough to completely end it. They'll tear at her flesh until there is nothing left but a shell, and she'll be expected to be ok with living in that shell.  She'll be expected to want to wake up another day, only to be cut again and again.

She looks so happy right now, but I know what awaits her.  Shouldn't I be able to warn her?  Shouldn't I be the one to tell her that what's coming will leave her a dead woman among the living?  But, I can't.  It isn't possible for her to know what lies ahead.  No one will tell her.  No one will turn her face away from that soft neck for fear of the future pain.  She'll bury her face in it again and again and drink in his beautiful scent, all the time assuming that she can always come back for more.  When he gets sick she'll push and push and let herself die so that he might live.  She'll forget her friends and her family.  She'll ignore her own needs, and all for nothing.  For now, my inability to give her that information is her gift.  The gift of ignorance.  And although I may be wiser to what's in store, although I may know something that she doesn't, I'm grateful for her innocence. I'm grateful for my inability to crush her.  That will come soon enough, and when it does it isn't the presence of the biting razorblade memories that will be her end, it's the absence of that sweetest scent that will mortally wound her soul.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cheap Seats

I recently read in one of my MANY books on grief and afterlife, about how people surrounding the grieving person were struggling to do the "right thing" when it came to comfort.  One of the things the author talked about was going to a library and finding books on grief and coping mechanisms.  Although I know that there is no rule book for grief, and no way that any one person could possibly write the perfect manual, I do think that this is one of the better ideas.  And that thought brings me to the pieces that I would add to such a book.  I'm typically uninterested in academic degrees alone than I am in such a title playing a submissive to role to actual life experience, and am much more likely to listen to insights about grief from someone who has a PhD in pain. Having said that, these are my thoughts.

SIT AND LISTEN. That's it. It's really that simple.  Show up and sit down. But, only do so when you have nowhere to be because grief doesn't understand time or appointments.  I would advise you not to give the impression that you are constantly available because, first of all that isn't true, and secondly, you can't be all things to another person at all times.  It's just not feasible.  It's sort of the "grab your own oxygen mask before applying it to others" airplane rule.  And think about it, isn't saying that you can do ANYTHING for the grieving person sort of implying that they could be doing something differently as well?  That maybe if they worked harder, prayed harder, meditated more, reached out, etc, etc, etc, that things could be better?  Listening also means mouth closed and ears open.  This is the hardest part, but the best thing you can do is to just be. Just listen.  If, however, you sense a break in the outpouring of grief in which you feel compelled to respond, immediately remove these next few phrases from your brain, thereby making it impossible for them to reach your lips:

"You should..."
"Yes, but..."
"You have to stay strong for..."
"Maybe if you just..."
"In a better place"
"An angel now"
"Time heals..."
"I understand"

None of these things are helpful, because there is no fix.  There is no "all better."  There is no "someday."  Those possibilities have been erased.  Know that if the person you are listening to (not TALKING to) has made it this far in that particular day, it's likely all that they are capable of doing.  And the same will be true for tomorrow and for each tomorrow after that.

CRY. I'm often surprised at the number of people who shy away from talking to me because they "didn't want to break down because that's the last thing you need."  Interesting.  I suppose I might feel the same way if I weren't the one living this, but because I am I can tell you that I've never once been upset with someone for sharing in my pain in that very physical show of emotion.  How could you NOT cry?  And if crying makes you uncomfortable I suppose it probably is better to avoid talking to me, or anyone else who's grieving for that matter.  But know that your tears cannot make this worse.  Your emotion doesn't lessen ours or make it go away.  The grieving person will be able to let you know when it's too much because they'll simply move on, as they've lost the ability to take on any more.  So, just let the tears fall, at least for me.  I'll likely be right there with you.

EXPECT NOTHING. This happens to be exactly what a grieving person has to offer. Nothing.  Expect that phone calls will not be returned.  Expect that your biggest gesture of love and comfort may not be immediately noticed (although I will tell you that it doesn't go completely unnoticed).  Expect that the grieving person will say something that makes you uncomfortable.  Examples:

"I'm SO angry!  I hate everyone!"
"I can't possibly continue living another second."
"I need to drink/smoke/sleep to get through the next few minutes/hours/days/years."

Do you know what your response is to any one of these three things? It's quite simple really.  The only required response to anything related to the above statements is NOTHING.  Say nothing.  That's right.  You have absolutely no control over how this moment/day/year/lifetime turns out for this person.  You do, however, have a choice.  You can hold their hand while they do it, or you can walk away from the pain.  And although the latter may sound cruel or harsh, the truth is that it is just as acceptable as the former.  Grief is ugly and unpredictable.  It's exhausting and relentless, and sometimes that is just too much for someone whose view is from the sidelines.  And no matter how close you are to the situation, your view is always from the sidelines, from those cheap seats located in the furthest reaches of the stadium.

CHEAP SEATS. Keep this important aspect in mind as you watch this person navigate their own grief.  You may be extremely close to the situation.  You may have your own pain to deal with associated with the loss (and if this is true, it is unlikely that you are the one being sought out by the grieving person). And as much as you feel for that person and as often as you think/pray/meditate on their behalf, you are still viewing it from the outside.  You have moments when you can "forget" for a time.  You can get dressed without feeling guilty for continuing to live.  You can drive a car in silence and not be completely blind-sided by a horrifying image that you only wish were a nightmare, but that you know you actually did experience.  Those times of mental playback can be so incredibly vivid and can drop you without a moment's notice.  The grieving person doesn't have the luxury of experiencing this from the periphery, so remember when you think you have an "answer" or a suggestion that you've rested.  You've stepped away for a moment.  You've lived. Take that moment of reflection on your view from the outside and be grateful that you missed out on the front row.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


I've got an idea for a new "reality" tv show.  First I'll explain how I came to this mind-blowing discovery.  I happened to be flipping through channels and I had to get up and attend to something else, so I left it on the current channel.  When I returned to the tv I noticed that the commercial was over and the show that was on was called, "Say Yes To The Dress."  I was sort of preoccupied so the show remained on my tv and I started to catch glimpses of what the people were trying to do.  Here are a few gems from the episode I saw:

"I just want everything to be PERFECT for this wedding because I'm kind of OCD about it."

"I'm getting really nervous because I haven't seen the dress in so long and I'm just hoping I like it as much as I did then.  I mean, can you IMAGINE if I didn't like it?!?"

"I can't believe it, but this ISN'T at all the dress I remember wanting.  For one thing, it's a little more white than ivory..."

This got me thinking about some clips I saw (by accident) of the show "Toddlers In Tiaras."  I specifically remember a mother telling her child that her hair looked awful and that she needed to keep her fake teeth in because her regular ones were "hideous." You know, hideous in the way that only a 5 year old can be...the nerve those children have, losing their baby teeth at such an inopportune time.  I also saw one of the girls talking about how she would "just die" if she didn't win grand cupcake supreme al a mode or whatever the hell it was.

How can I put this in a way that is tactful, yet gets my point across?...ARE. YOU. FREAKING. KIDDING. ME????  Screw tactful, I'm just pissed.  You've GOT to be joking.  We're talking about a perfect wedding dress?  Really?  Perfect teeth on a five year old?   A perfect ivory versus a less than perfect white????  This is absolutely ridiculous. And people WATCH this crap.  Tell me you don't get all teary-eyed when the bride's dress doesn't fit like a glove.  Tell me you don't wait with baited breath as the entitled, self-centered, ego maniac deliberates her final say on whether or not this piece of fabric is up to par.  Please tell me that's not what's driving people to watch these shows.

Needless to say, 45 seconds of the show was all I needed to see before changing the channel and seriously considering throwing the remote through the tv.  This brings me to my original thought, the new reality tv show.  I would call it PICU vs. PITA.  This is how it would work.  The show would feature just a room with chairs lining opposite walls.  One side would consist of the "characters" from these two shows, and the other side would feature PICU moms.  For those of you who don't know (first of all consider yourselves extremely fortunate) the PICU is a pediatric intensive care unit. Each time someone from the aptly named Pain In The Ass group complains about anything, the PICU moms get to choose someone from their team to "teach" a little perspective.  For example:

PITA Mom: "My daughter had to go up on stage with an imperfect hairdo!  The horror!!"

PICU Mom, whose daughter just had to be consoled as she cleaned up the clumps of hair that fell out onto the pillow as a result of the poisonous chemo treatment she just received, doesn't need to say a word.  She's simply allowed to meet the idiot in the middle of the room and slam her in the head with a 2x4.

PITA Group: "But, if my dress doesn't come in a sweetheart neckline, I may as well call off the wedding! It wouldn't be perfect anyway. I never get what I want!"

PICU Mom with no malice in her voice, only fatigue and endless pain: "Do you know what the perfect day would be for our family?  The day that we even get to hope that there could ever be the possibility of a wedding."

PITA Mom: "I hate to see her mess up on stage like that!  She's worked so hard!"

PICU Mom: "Hard? Today I had to watch as the medication that has the same potential to kill my son as it does to cure him, drip from the top of his iv pole into his battered arm. And I told the doctors to give it."

I know this probably seems extreme and crazy, but guess what?!?!  Just because you don't WANT to see it, doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.  REAL people deal with this every day.  They have no idea what it means to feel anxiety over a botched pirouette. Their anxiety comes from countless sleepless days and nights.  Their fear lies in how much longer they can scrape by, having not eaten in 4 days because food isn't a priority.  And as awful as all of that is, as painful and insane as the PICU existence can be, there are those of us who would give everything we have to get the chance to fight through that Hell again.  We'd give it all up for one more smile, one more whiff of our children's perfect scent, one more grasp of their hands. So, yes, your dress may be less than perfect and your child may not be named little miss candy corn princess, but I have to say that I don't really give a damn.  Unless of course you're signing up for my show, in which case, let me be the first one to greet you...with my 2x4.