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.
Cheryl had this cat.
This cat really loved Cheryl.
Now I have this cat.
For the first 7 years of Lulu’s life, she lived just with Cheryl. Cheryl was a fairly quiet, extremely meticulous person. When I moved in, Lulu had to become accustomed to me.
I have seldom been called quiet and NEVER (to my knowledge) been referred to as meticulous.
When Cheryl was in the hospital, Lulu was mostly alone, except for when I came home to get clean clothes and pet her, or when our good hearted friends stopped by to change her litter or pet her.
She reverted to a wild, nocturnal neurotic state. When I would leave, she would snuggle herself into Cheryl’s pillow and cry.
It was tad heart breaking.
When Cheryl died, I moved back to Queer Study Hall, the BK intentional/unintentional community apartment I lived in before I began co-habitating with Cheryl.
Lulu moved back with me.
I don’t think Lulu had even seen a dog before.
Every night before we go to sleep, I lay on my back so Lulu can crawl on my chest. She stretches out and puts each of her cute little paws on each of my collarbones and then sinks her claws into my exposed flesh while making some mewing sound that I assume means “hey um, don’t think I’m getting attaching to you. You’re just a warm body until Cheryl comes back.”
Then I say “I’m sorry, Lulu, it’s just us now, kiddo” and we go to sleep.
All things considered, I am impressed with Lulu’s ability to adapt. I am quite sure Lulu is handling Cheryl’s death better than I am. She now chases the extra large dog around the apartment and seems to enjoy the Queer Study Hall windowsills every bit as much as the windows at Cheryl’s apartment.
But she has moments of difficulty, and at these times I can see she is indeed my beloved girlfriend’s cat. For example, although I make my bed 9 out 10 days, Lulu doesn’t believe a bed is a bed unless it’s made. Probably because Cheryl made her bed 10 out of 10 days, including days when she actually in bed because she was sick. You’ve heard of the expression “you’ve made your bed, now you have to lay in it?”
My beautiful girlfriend could make her bed WHILE she was laying in it.
Lulu can’t bear the chaos in my room. For example, Cheryl hated it when I piled my hoodies on a chair. Lulu hates this as well, and will often CLAW DOWN the hoodies left in such a horrendous state.
The following photos were taken last weekend when I committed the travesty of piling clean laundry on a chair. It might have been Lulu’s toughest day ever.