what became of this blog, you might possibly be excited to see that some of the stories have been included in my latest book Freak of Nurture. Freak of Nurture is a collection of humorous essays & stories, many of which reflect the rather dismal (but of course hilarious) circumstances which led to the Grief Sucks blog. To try and explain the content of the book I made the following Venn Diagram
Anyway, the book includes adaptation of some writing that was originally developed on Grief Sucks including Widow Camp and Lulu the Cat (Said Screw You). You can order right now through the publisher, Topside Press. And if you’re in New York, make sure to check out the release reading on May 18th and (for realz) the Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home.
I always tell myself that anniversaries are just a date, that they shouldn’t matter, the calendar is made up anyway etc, but I’ve found myself emotionally reeling on anniversaries I didn’t even consciously remember so I’ve learned to respect the calendar that my subconscious keeps.
We anti-celebrated the year anniversary of Cheryl’s death on June 18th. What I really wanted to do on the date itself was to throw myself a good ol’ fashioned pity party. I wanted to turn off my phone, log out of facebook, eat cake and drink diet mountain dew and just spend the day feeling sorry for myself, maybe watching a rerun or two of Law and Order SVU (which is probably the healthiest coping action of all those listed).
But I remembered from last time (one of the lucky parts of having a second helping grief experience;I’m not starting each phase of grief over from scratch) that self-pity gets SO DAMN BORING after a while and you can really only stare at the wall for so long before (as a grieving friend once said) “you want to throw up on your own head”
Here’s my two cents about planning for hard days. Because each person and situation is difficult, your mileage may vary.
1. You’re the expert on what is difficult for you. Period. End of story. Maybe it’s the anniversary of your partner’s death, maybe it’s their birthday, maybe it’s the anniversary your mom was diagnosed with cancer. Maybe it’s Groundhog Day. Whatever. I remember a friend of Heather’s once told me “it didn’t make sense” to feel sad on the anniversary of Heather’s death, that instead “we should celebrate her life on her birthday.” Bullshit.Other people don’t get to have an opinion about when you should feel sad.
2. Have a plan for the day. On the anniversary of Cheryl’s death, I took some phone calls, did a little work, and spent time with a friend at Coney Island. It was a day of sadness and also reflection but I didn’t make it worse for myself by trying to make an event/gathering happen for other people.I chose someone to be with me who wasn’t as close to Cheryl as some of our other friends; she was able to be present for me without her own sorrow overwhelming her.
3. Make sure people know. It’s really wonderful when people remember anniversaries, important dates, times that are hard for you, etc, but them not remembering probably has more to do with the level of activity in their life and little to do with how much they care about you. So, don’t set yourself up for emotional failure by making people guess. Send out an email “hey beloved friends, this Friday is going to be hard for me, here’s why, could you please…” and then give specific concrete suggestions. Things like “give me a call” or “text message me” or “make a few hours to spend doing x or y with me.”
4. Have a plan for social media. Cheryl was a writer and known in our community, so she was facebook friends with many people she was not actual friends with. On the first time her birthday passed after her death, people kept writing birthday greetings on her wall that made it very clear they had no idea she was dead. Things like “Have a great day, Cheryl, eat lots of cake :)”. This made me livid, and so I set out to answer each of those inane comments with “she’s dead.” This, of course, was a great use of my time and not emotionally draining at all (this is sarcasm). I suggest having a trusted friend address this kind of stuff. If you’re having a hard day, you don’t need random strangers making it worse.
5. Don’t require yourself to be in any certain kind of emotional place just because an anniversary has passed. After Heather died, the two months after the year anniversary were just…horrible. I couldn’t stop crying, I had nightmares all the time, I wanted to stab someone 24/7. This time, I’m not in the same state. I spent a lot of time with my therapist trying to figure out what made the difference until we arrived at “who knows, I’ll just enjoy it”
One year after Heather died, I printed this out about one hundred times and taped it everywhere in my room. Keeping the capslock for the sake of keeping it real…this may have even originally been in comic sans font:
I DECIDE. MY RATE OF PROGRESS. THE MEANING I ASSIGN TO WHAT HAS HAPPENED
i DECIDE WHEN I GO ON TO THE NEXT STEP IN MY LIFE
I DECIDE. TO BE THANKFUL EVERY MOMENT THAT I POSSIBLY CAN. TO USE ALL THE RESOURCES AT MY DISPOSAL (INCLUDING CREATIVE EXPRESSION) TO MAKE THIS A CONSTRUCTIVE, RATHER THAN DESTRUCTIVE, EXPERIENCE.
I DECIDE TO BELIEVE IN THE BEAUTY OF WHO I AM AND WHAT I’VE DONE.
I BELIEVE THERE IS SOMETHING AMAZING JUST AROUND THE CORNER. CONTINUING TO WALK IS THE ONLY WAY TO FIND IT
That’s the crux of all this though, right? You’re the grieving person. You decide.
If you came here after the Philadelphia Transhealth Conference looking for the handouts for the workshop on emergency care, all the info is right here.
So the great thing about being a more or less public person and having a public forum for talking about grief is that I don’t have to dig around for examples of what might work and what might not work for people in grief. For example, this morning someone I don’t know posted the following on facebook. Not on their own facebook page. On mine.
Yesterday when I posted the When Someone You Love Loses Someone They Love piece, I included the tip “Keep your religion to yourself.”
I actually thought I should maybe go into more detail with that tip, but this Carolyn Dye character was kind enough to perfectly illustrate one way religion creeps into conversations. Creepily.
Carolyn tells me that “everything happens for a reason.” but what she really means is “I believe everything happens for a reason.” The concept of attaching meaning to suffering is pretty much a core religious tenet. So here’s a tip if you’re wondering if you’re “keeping your religion to yourself” or not: if you are giving advice about what meaning a person should or shouldn’t assign to their loved one’s death, you are NOT keeping your religion to yourself.
I should add that Carolyn’s response doesn’t work on a number of levels…obviously I am not merely “uncomfortable” with Cheryl and Heather’s deaths. Their deaths are not the equivalent of having my underwear stuck in my crack.
And then there’s the “that only prepares us for what we know we can handle” which is both illogical and almost a little cruel. I think this is supposed to be a reference to the oft quoted Christian adage that “god will never give us more than we can handle.” To which I have two responses 1. Really? The Holocaust. and 2. That is actually a misquoting of Christian New Testament scripture, the verse is as follows:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Cor. 10:13 NKJV)
The promise is not that “God won’t give you more suffering than you can handle” but that “God won’t give you more temptation than you can handle.” Two different things Carolyn!
I could have let this go and used the fifteen minutes it took me to write this post to work my way down my “to do” list. After all, I’ve been pretty public about my situation and there is always going to be some character talking some bullshit, especially within the context of social media. But the thing is, the more I keep talking and writing about the way our culture deals with grief, the more comments, emails etc I get from people who aren’t as public but have had horrible grief experience AND have still had really stupid things said to them. See the first comment in response to yesterday’s post for a perfect example.
These are important conversations. I have no plans to shut up.
What upset me was the fact that my PARTNER IS DEAD.
This is a video clip from the Almost Pretty recording show. Almost Pretty is the CD that I recorded in 2008, about 13 months after Heather died.
One of the weird and, I guess, helpful things about this second helping business is that I already have my bereavement resources all lined up. I am going to the same therapist as last time, attending the same bereavement group, and I already own all the bereavement books!
Reminds me of this obnoxious song one of friends described as “a song you sing until someone hits you”
Oh the horse put his foot, put his foot on the ground/the horse put his foot, put his foot on the ground/the horse put his foot, put his foot on the ground/ain’t that a terrible song.
The chorus is:
Same song, second verse, it might get better (in obnoxious voice) but it’s GONNA GET WORSE.
I found a card from my sister, dated late in 2007 On the front is a picture of the NYC skyline and inside it reads “Hey little sis, when it is always winter and never Christmas in your heart, remember New York is the best place in the world to start over.”
Surprisingly consoling. Even the second time around.