An Open Letter to Bereaved Parents and Others

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore


The only way to stop feeling grief is to stop feeling. 

Right in the center of our very wise hearts is the realization that we feel extraordinary grief because of extraordinary love. If we can become still enough, if we can listen to our hearts, it knows that grief is not the enemy.

Some will say to choose happiness instead of grief. But happiness and grief are not competitors. That is a myth perpetrated by a culture that is foolishly obsessed with pursuing one and dangerously avoiding the other.

This is mine, and you have no right to take it!

And no matter what, no one and nothing can take from us what is ours, once we trust it.

🔗 https://www.centerforlossandtrauma.com/single-post/2018/01/20/An-Open-Letter-to-Bereaved-Parents-and-Others

Some links worth sharing and exploring

🔗 Saying Goodbye: Talking to Kids About Death
Death is very difficult for young children to understand, and it can be tough for parents to explain. The best advice: Keep your answers as short and simple as possible, and use these responses as a model.

🔗 Preparing for the Death of a Terminally-Ill Loved One: What to Expect, and How to Help the Entire Family Move Forward
Some might think knowing of a loved one’s impending passing in advance somehow eases the pain, but anyone who’s experienced it would tell you it’s one of the most difficult challenges a person could ever face.

🔗 Letting Children Share in Grief
“Twenty-five years ago, children were ‘invisible grievers,’ ” said Vicky Ott, executive director of Fernside, a nonprofit center in Cincinnati that served 1,300 children and adults last year. There was an attitude, she said, that they “are resilient, they will bounce back, we don’t need to talk to them about death. I think that’s changed a lot.”

🔗 The Bereaved Employee: Returning to Work
After a death in the family, the time comes when grieving family members begin to re-enter the routines of everyday life. Out-of-town relatives return home. Children go back to school and grieving adults must get back to work. For some, returning to work is a welcome change...

🔗 How to Create a Peaceful At-Home Hospice for Your Loved One
Given the option of spending the end of your life in a hospital versus in your own home, what would you choose? For most of us, the answer is simple, especially for those with a spouse or family. We would much prefer to live out our days and die peacefully in the comfort and privacy of our own home, surrounded by memories and the people we love.

🔗 Keeping the Peace While Settling a Family Estate
Yes, you can settle a family estate without fighting. Here's how.

🔗 5 Things You Must Know as the Executor of an Estate
 
The executor of an estate can be asked to take charge during a frustrating and stressful time, but it can also be very rewarding. What can you expect as the executor of an estate? Here is a list of five things to pay close attention to if you’ve been named the executor of an estate.


Suggested by Jennifer Scott at spiritfinder.org
 

First Kiss - August 8, 1981

36 years ago today I kissed Jackie for the first time. It’s been nearly 5 years since Jackie died.

My life has changed, dramatically, and traumatically at least a few times in those 5 years - but I am more myself than I have ever been. 

I have made mistakes over the last 5 years. Hell, I’ve totally fucked things up over the last 5 years, a bunch. I’m glad I did.

I’ve hurt people and I’ve been hurt, I’ve loved people and I’ve been loved, and I’ve helped people and I’ve been helped. Sometimes, it’s all the same person.

I have learned. 

I’ve learned to hold back, to not be so open, so expressive, so willing, and so vulnerable. I’ve been hardened, a little, and I don’t particularly like it. I’ve not been hardened by loss and grief, I’ve been hardened by you. “You” who are uncomfortable with my pain and sadness. “You” who are uncomfortable with my love and happiness. “You” who are uncomfortable with the changes in my life. “You” who are willing, even eager, to assume my intentions, my purpose. “You” who expect from me that which I cannot give or who reject from me that which I want to share. “You” who denigrate me from your own place and experience in life. “You” who are willing to shame and shun me for my mistakes and failings. And “you” who judge me not for the person I am but for the person you perceive and assume me to be.

“You” who think I’m doing it wrong because I don’t follow the rules, go through the phases, or get back to normal.

“Me”.

I’ve learned that grief is not a phase or a series of phases. It’s not something to get through or to get over. Grief is a way of life. And “normal”? Normal is all fucking new. Five years and I miss Jackie, every - single - day. I still have many mornings when I wake up… and wish that I hadn’t; where my very first thought is “Damn! Still here.”

But my life is remarkable! Remarkable in ways that never would have happened with Jackie. There are amazing people in my life. People I would not have met with Jackie. People whom I love dearly, and who love me. I’ve developed incredible relationships with many people. Relationships that would not have come to be if Jackie were here.

That fact caries with it both intense sadness and incredible joy, all within the same breath! It is irreconcilable.

I have tried to say this to a few people but I never feel satisfied that I’ve conveyed what’s in my heart. I am in awe! There are so many new people, new experiences, and new loves in my life that, at times, it feels incomprehensible, overwhelming and even unbearable.

Often I desperately want to share this with Jackie. I want to tell her all about you. I want her to know you, and I so want you to know her. So many times I come home and just want to tell Jackie what a wonderful experience I had. And so many times I force myself to go out wishing so much that Jackie was with me.

She’s no longer here. 
(that is not only a complete sentence, it’s an entire book)

But you are, and for that I am immeasurably, intensely and passionately grateful.

My life is full of love. Love that I didn’t know or understand could exist. I lost the one inexpressible love, but what I gained, what - I - gained…

I’m proud of the life I’ve made (so far). I may have done it wrong, I may have fucked up, and I’m truly sorry if I’ve hurt you (that was and is never my intent), but all I have to do is look around me and I know I’ve done something right, more right than I would have imagined possible.

I Love You… Radically!

And Jackie, I love you and miss you! I carry your heart in mine and I try, meagerly, to show it to the world. You still live in me and I still live because of you.

"I'm not afraid of you, and I'm not afraid of your snot"

I once said that to someone very dear. At the time I meant it both literally and metaphorically. It was, perhaps, the most loving thing I ever said.

So what do I mean by "snot"?
You know... it's all that "stuff" inside of us when we're not feeling well. It's what clogs us up, makes us feel miserable, makes it hard to breathe, makes it hard to sleep, keeps us from enjoying, even living life. It's messy, it's ugly, it's sometimes disgusting. It's what we more often suck in instead of blowing out and it's something we certainly don't want others to see... and we don't like seeing somebody else's snot.

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

So why am I writing this? It was prompted by reading this article:
- Stifled Grief: How the West Has It Wrong -

Although the article is very much about grief, it can be applied to many other human afflictions and difficulties (our snot). Ironically, as said in the article, the intended audience is the least likely to read it. Even those that do read it, when it doesn't apply, may not fully grasp or appreciate the words or the emotions conveyed.

I suppose it was this...
"I’d like to point out that we are a culture of emotionally stunted individuals who are scared of [our mortality] and have mastered the concept of stuffing our pain" 
...that made me think of snot - We're afraid of our snot, and, more so, the snot of others.

"...many will discount my words and label us as “stuck” or “in need of good therapy"... those who are honest with the emotions [that surround loss] are the ones who are the least “stuck” and have received the best therapy around. You see, getting in touch with our true feelings, embracing the honest emotions [of death] only serve to expand the heart and allow us to move forward in a genuine and honest way."

There's much in the article that I thought to expand on, but it can stand on it's own (maybe another time). My intent is not to limit attention to grief but to all types of snot.

I've dealt with a lot of snot over the last several years; my own and others. I've caused snot too; and I've learned about snot, mostly that (I think Joni Mitchell said it) I really don't know snot at all. I've said before that, culturally, we don't deal with snot very well. We do our best to suppress it or hide it; we want fast fixes and instant cures; we stigmatize it and even criminalize it; we are very good at drugging it; everything but effectively facing it and honoring it. You can hide your snot, you can suck it in and act like you have no snot (but it's going to come out). We need to help others deal with their snot more effectively (around 50% of lifetime snot issues start around age 14). To do that, we all have to deal with our snot and stop being afraid of it.

So I'll say this: whatever your snot is, I am quite willing to stand in witness of it. I may be a little unsure or insecure. I'll probably offer advice or opinion when I shouldn't. At times, I'll say or do the wrong thing. I won't always understand, but, I'll try. I'll try to listen; I'll try to share with you; I'll try to be honest; mostly, I'll try to be present. And when I fail, I'll try again, if you let me.


I'm not afraid of you, and I'm not afraid of your snot ™

How to Transform Our Discomfort Around Death and Loss

Shifting the way we prepare for and understand mortality can radically improve our ability to be compassionate, caring, and whole in the face of death.

http://www.sonima.com/meditation/death-and-loss/

http://www.sonima.com/meditation/death-and-loss/

Our cultural discomfort with death—and its residue, grief—often results in unreasonable expectations that people will mourn in a private and subdued way within a limited timeframe. But, as Reynolds reasons, “Grief and loss are things that are going to happen in ways that you can’t plan for. You can’t fast-track the grief process.” And grief is neither an abnormal nor inferior response to loss.

Thoughts on Grief

🔗 Grief Intelligence: A Primer

  1. Grief is a normal reaction.
  2. Grief is hard work.
  3. Grief Doesn't offer closure.
  4. Grief is lifelong.
  5. Grievers need to stay connected to the deceased.
  6. Grievers are changed forever.
  7. Grievers can choose transcendence.

So I invite you to reflect on these grief principles, how they might be true for you and how they might be true for someone you know and love. Share and share again so that we might spread grief intelligence far and wide. Perhaps we can effect a change so widespread that grievers will know what to expect. Hopefully, we all can be comforted, in small ways, by that knowledge.
— Ashley Davis Bush

In order to take my grief away, you'd have to take my love away.

And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.
— C. S. Lewis - A Grief Observed

The pain is only part of the joy

Somewhere along the line, I turned "The pain now is part of the happiness then" into "The pain is only part of the joy." Meaning that if there was no joy in the past there'd be no pain now. When all you have left is the pain, hold on to it, it is the joy, the love, of the past.

Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.
— Shadowlands (1993)
Trauma upends everything we took for granted, including things we didn’t know we took for granted. And many of these realities I wish I’d known when I first encountered them. So, while the work of life and healing continues, here are ten things I’ve learned about trauma along the way:
— Catherine Woodiwiss
If you’re on this grief path, no doubt you have heard a zillion and one suggestions about how you can do your grief better. You’ve been encouraged to get out of it fast, to go back to “normal” life.
...
Grief has your heart working as hard as it can. When you are in pain, you don’t need to be fixed. ... What you need are those things ... that come up underneath you and give you roots. You need those things that nourish you, that help you do the work your heart already knows how to do.
— Megan Devine (Refuge In Grief)

Psychologist, writer and innovator, Geoff Warburton has spent the last 25 years studying love and loss. Geoff challenges conventional apathy about grief and loss by offering an approach that evokes curiosity, openness and compassion. His approach synthesises Eastern wisdom traditions, in-depth psychology and common sense. The emphasis of his message is towards thriving after loss -- and not merely surviving. He presents a perspective that challenges Western thought by saying there is no 'right' way to grieve and advocating that grief can be 'the ride of your life'. Working from both his personal and professional experiences of bereavement, he goes so far as to say that loss through bereavement can become an adventure to be had, rather than a problem to be solved.

"If I let myself feel my emotions, I won't be able to function" ... The thing is, we're much more likely to NOT function, actually, if we block our emotions. Research shows that we're much more likely to get anxiety, depression, eating disorders, even become violent, if we suppress our emotions.

You need to embrace everything that grief brings you.

In grief you're going to meet hate, you're going to meet anger, you're going to meet emotional pain, you're going to meet rage, you're going to meet terror. If you get through that you're probably going to feel torn to pieces. You might feel crazy. You might end up in a total emotional abyss. You're probably very likely to end up in an emotional abyss. You need to feel that emotional abyss. You need to let that abyss swallow you. ... Close off your experience of the abyss and you close off the flow of life.

Block that anger and you block your vitality. Block that fear and you block your excitement. Block that deep emotional pain and you block your access to compassion. Even block your hatred and you block your access to peace. Block your experience of that abyss and you will block access to the depth of who you really are and the energy that's going to take you forward.

Right in the center of that abyss ... you'll find your liberation. 

Let loss be a life adventure. And the way to do that, stay with it, breath, and let your inner experience guide you.


This is the experience of Stumbling in the Dark. A time of Second Crisis. Bleak. Hopeless. Empty. The structure, shape, focus, and direction of the past are gone, and there is absolutely nothing to take their place in the present. Every assumption one has ever had about how life works and what an individual’s role is or can be is assaulted. You have been completely knocked off course. You don’t know what to believe, what to think, what to hold on to. The underpinnings of your life have been destroyed. The world as you knew it has been shattered. And you have neither the desire nor the resources to rebuild it.
— Elizabeth Harper Neeld
It’s one thing to remember the past, the good and the bad, and you remember both. But it’s another thing to grieve over what’s not happening now that would have happened if the person were still here. ...
... It has taken me many months to get to the point where I can say, “All right, the future is not going to be what you thought it was. It’s gone and you’re not going to get it back.” ...
... I just miss all the things that are now never going to happen.
— The Disappearance of the Future
My life was liquid — it had no form. I didn’t know who I was; I didn’t know where I was; I didn’t know where I was going. You see, I had been defined before. I was Sandra’s husband.
— The Loss of Identity
The first thing I took out of the box was a Mr. Coffee. Well, as I unloaded the coffeemaker the glass decanter fell out and broke on the tile floor. I was so heartbroken that I just sat down, broken glass and all, and cried. ...
... I shook a lot; my voice trembled. I cried easily, I was angry and short with people without notice. I began behaving erratically. ...
... I lived a life of nobody-ness. It was a time of being helpless and hopeless.
— Feelings of Despair
While we Stumble in the Dark, we are dealing with much more than the loss of someone who was an essential part of our lives, as central as that loss may be. We are also dealing with a loss of meaning and a loss of those purposes that determined not only how our life had been but also how we thought it would be in the future. We’ve lost the structure that informed our life, the mental map that served as the source of our choices and plans. We’ve lost our “assumptive world,” the life we expected to have. ...
... Now, not only must we mourn the absent one but we must mourn the loss of the future we naturally assumed we were going to have.
— Elizabeth Harper Neeld
Many powerful feelings well up as memories of the relationship are sifted through: regret that more was not valued when the partner was alive; resentment over those things that were not made right or over being cheated by death of what was hoped for in the future; ineffable sadness over what was and can no longer be; sorrow for the lost past and the younger years that are gone with it; anger at life, the dead person, the self for what one did not have and now may never have - perhaps children, perhaps love; guilt for the love that was not perfect, for the hate that was nurtured, the care that failed; release from the suffering of illness, from the suffering of relationship; triumph that one did not die oneself; guilt that such a feeling could appear; depression at the emptiness of self and the world; and envy of those who have not lost, but live unscathed by death.
— Dr. Beverley Raphael as quoted by Elizabeth Harper Neeld

Practical Experience

I posted this on Facebook on 4/27/14 for family members shortly after my nephew, Frankie, died...

Sheila, Mark, Josh, Gena,

I know that everyone's grief is different and that your experiences will not be the same as mine. I don't know what it's like to lose a son, a brother, or a fiancé. I don't know what it's like for YOU to lose Frankie. I only know what grief was and is for me. 

I found it very helpful to read other's experiences. Although different, there are many commonalities. So I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts from my experience. I'll try to do this from a practical view rather than emotional (although there is no removal of the emotions involved in grief). 

If there is anything here that hurts or upsets you, I apologize. That certainly is not my intent.

Here's a couple of things I had written before...
This a couple of months after Jackie died:
http://www.missjackieshouse.org/on-grief/2013/3/19/on-grief
And this a year after Jackie died:
http://www.missjackieshouse.org/on-grief/2013/10/1/in-loving-memory

and some snippets and links to things I found meaningful and helpful:
http://www.missjackieshouse.org/on-grief/

And my "list" (in no particular order)...

-----

- Your daily "to-do" list
1. get up, 2. survive, 3. go to bed.
If you can check them off, you had a good day.

- Not only will you grieve what was, you will grieve what was supposed to be.
But you know that.

- There is no time line and there is no finish line.
In the early days after Jackie's death, I naively expected that in some reasonable amount of time I would "get over it" and "get back to normal". It didn't take me long to realize just how naive that was. There is no getting over it and normal has forever been changed. Grief has it's own life span and in many ways, it will be there as long as you are. You should not expect things of yourself nor should you accept the expectations of others. Your timeline is your own.

- There is no right way (or wrong way) to grieve.
There's only your way and whatever way that is, how ever long it is, it is right.

- There are no stages of grief.
There isn't some neat formulation of grief where you move from one stage to the next until you are "healed". Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about the "5 stages of grief" (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) decades ago. Although you will very likely feel those emotions, there will be many others as well and they will not be a in any kind of order nor will they be single or fleeting occurrences. Unfortunately, many people accept this as the de facto standard of what we're "supposed" to go though in our grieving. It is not.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/megan-devine/stages-of-grief_b_4414077.html
(I like this from the article: "Your love, and your grief, are bigger than any stage could ever be. The only way to contain it is to let it be free.")

- People (myself included) will say the wrong thing.
We will say things that hurt you or make you angry. Just remember that we are not doing so intentionally. We say things because we love you and desperately want to help ease your pain. We don't know what you're going through and we don't know how you hear what we are saying. Many times we just don't know what to say.

- You are alone (but you're never alone).
Your pain and grief are uniquely yours. No one can ever fully grasp what you are going through. It is incomprehensible (often, even to you). You are alone. But yet others have been through their own grief and do understand, at some level, what grief is. And still more love you and will stand by you and support you. You are never alone.

- You are most likely in a state of shock.
And will be for some time. Think PTSD. Be aware of this. Don't do anything permanent without being cautious and aware of what you're doing. You may regret it later. Take your time. Think and re-think your decisions and actions.

- Sometimes effect comes before cause. 
There were many times that I would, seemingly spontaneously, start to cry before the thoughts that made me cry became conscious to me.

- There are many sources of guilt and regret.
Most are irrational and unfounded. Don't beat yourself up. Don't hurt yourself even more.

- Beware the 9-month recurrence.
Your time will vary but it is common to "relapse" after some months. Around that time after Jackie's death I felt, in some way, that I hit my lowest point (it was not, really) and things turned really bad for a while. My therapist explained that this was the point that I started to come out of shock (started to). Of course, also around that time, many people will think "you should be over it by now". They would be wrong.

- You should not "be over it by now".
If anyone actually says that to you, you are quite free to spit in their face.

- Therapy is good.
But it is not intended to cure, it is intended to help. 
(and you are not crazy)

- Widow's brain.
Not necessarily the right phrase but I think it has to do with both shock and that your mind is so consumed that your thinking about ordinary day-to-day living can be, well, flawed. I know I often felt flakey or foggy, very forgetful and, at times, thoughtless; that I couldn't think strait. I had (and still have) a hard time concentrating. This can be a big source of stress. I've told the story before, shortly after Jackie's death, of standing in the grocery store looking at cat food. Before, I would just get the same food that Jackie always got. But on this occasion, they didn't have it. I was "caught in the headlights"; I didn't know what to do. I was looking at all of the cat food thinking "what would Jackie buy" and I just didn't know. I couldn't make a decision and there I was standing frozen in the store, crying.

- speaking of stress.
Dealing with stress and frustration is hard. You are most likely in a weakened state and sometimes the smallest things can bring you to your knees (i.e. cat food). So, try to offload and avoid that which you can to ease your burdens. All those people that say "if there's anything I can do...", give them something to do. Recognize that certain situations, actions, events, etc. will bring stress and find ways to help yourself through it. Plan ahead when you can. Find stress-relievers and ways to escape. Be gentle with and take care of yourself.

- the second year is (easier/harder).
Yes, both.

- This will change you.
Probably more than you think. And, in some ways, for the better. I would never say that any loss is a good thing and there are some things that we just don't need to learn, but you will learn and grow from this.

- Grief is not a disease to be cured.
It is your love turned inside out. I've said many times, "in order to take away my grief you'd have to take away my love"™. Grief is a part of you now. You will learn to live with it, you will adapt and grow and change, but you will not be cured of it. It won't go away.

- Learn to love your grief because your grief is love.
I know that doesn't sound right, but... I said this at Jackie's funeral - "The pain that is tearing my heart apart... is Jackie." It is the love that I had and still have for her and she for me. The pain now is only part of the joy then (if there was no joy, there'd be no pain). When all I have left is the pain, I want to hold it, embrace it, and love it.

- But If I let myself feel my emotions, I won't be able to function.
(I'm quoting here) ... "The thing is, we're much more likely to NOT function, actually, if we block our emotions. Research shows that we're much more likely to get anxiety, depression, eating disorders, even become violent, if we suppress our emotions." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juET61B1P98 (this, I think, is really good)

- Feeling your emotions is not weakness.
In fact, it takes courage and strength to embrace and live those emotions. Allow yourself to feel what you're feeling. Give yourself time to cry. Crying is good, it's healing, therapeutic, and, in some way, respectful and honoring.

- There is nothing bigger, more important, more meaningful in life than love.
Everything else is noise. Live in Frankie's love.

-----

To quote Dennis Miller, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

If you don't, I encourage you to start journalling; writing to your future self. I did not, but now I wish I did. I think it can be healing and your future self will appreciate it.

Some resources:
http://www.widowsvoice-sslf.blogspot.com/
http://www.soaringspirits.org/
http://www.refugeingrief.com/
http://tealashes.com/other-helpful-resources/

I Love You
Kevin

 

In Loving Memory

Today marks one year since Jackie passed away. Not really an anniversary one wants to celebrate. It's a difficult time. A time of tragic memory for many of us.

It's hard to believe that it's been a year already. But then again, it feels like a lifetime. Many times through the summer I thought about this day. Thinking of what I should do to mark the day, what the family and others may want or expect. What Jackie would want. What I may feel or desire on this day. I never resolved my own questions and just put the thoughts away (as best I could). But now the day is here. I couldn't stop it. I woke this morning just before 1:10 (the "official" time of death) but managed to get back to sleep shortly after.

Today also marks a milestone, a success, if you will. I've survived 365 new, confusing, and painful days. 365 days of hell. Mondays, Tuesdays, Saturdays,..., Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, family traditions - all altered from my former reality. All faced new, unknowingly, and fearfully. But faced (without choice) never the less. Faced with the support, the presence, thoughts, prayers, and love of many people to whom I can not adequately express my gratitude.

Every thought still starts with Jackie. Every mood, every motion, every decision still revolves around her. I think about her always. I love her and miss her every moment. At times I still can't believe she's gone. I thank her every day. And I still cry.

I've cried every day. I've had bad days and really awful days. Days that I did not want to go on and days that I hurt so much, the emotions became physical and I thought that I may not go on. But I did. I checked off my "to do" list every day: get up, survive, go to bed.

I've learned. I've learned that time does not heal. Time adapts. Time evolves. Time continues, it can not be stopped. I've experienced that grief is not a period or an event. Like time, it goes on. I've learned to forgive myself. For the past, for the bad choices and wrong decisions I've made this last year, for my failures and for my moments and days of insanity.

For the last 365 days, every day was new and every day brought new feelings, old memories once forgotten, dreams, nightmares, hallucinations, and, worst of all, reality.

But today, grief is no longer new. I've been through the memories, through the thoughts and feelings of despair, anxiety, loneliness, hopelessness, guilt, regret, depression, and more. Today grief is familiar. Borne out of love, grief is now my intimate companion.

Like time, I've adapted and evolved and I continue.

Jackie is a part of me. She still lives in me.

 

On Grief

I originally sent this via email to my extended family a few days before Christmas. Not much later, I posted it on Facebook.

I shared this for myself and for others. Your thoughts may also be beneficial to others.


I found this blog (http://widowersgrief.blogspot.com) helpful and wanted to share (or let out) some of my thoughts. This is very self-centered but I hope it helps both me and you.

Grief is something we have to let in - not let out, and not push away. "Keeping busy" is not the recipe for getting over grief. In fact, "getting over grief" should't even be the goal. Grief is an emotion based in love. It is an emotion that we need to let in to our heart, in to our soul, and to experience it with all of it's power. To deny it, to hide from it, is to deny it's cause, it's reason, and, more so, it's purpose. Grief is change. Grief is something that becomes a part of us and further makes us who we are.

Grief is Jackie. It's the love I have for her. It's the lifetime of memories we made together. And it's the fear and loneliness of going on without her (he says as he starts to cry)... 

Although there are commonalities, everybody deals with grief in their own way. There is no right way, there is no timeline. It is not linear. It does not end.

In Mark's blog, he writes that in the first months he couldn't deal with pictures so he removed them all from the walls of his house. Eventually, he replaced them - starting with a single picture. I've pretty much done the opposite. I've been looking through all of our pictures. I have new pictures on the walls. Looking at the pictures helps me grieve. As painful as it may be, it brings me close to Jackie.

So I suspect (though I don't and can't know) that by embracing and living the grief that maybe I'll get over the pain sooner. 

Check that - there is no getting over, only getting used to. As I've said before, the pain is only part of the joy. That pain is the love and the joy that I've had for the past 31 years and I don't want to get over it. When all I have left is the pain, I want to hold on to it, feel it, embrace it, and live it.

Maybe what it will help me get over is the feeling of emptiness, loneliness, uselessness, that I have now. The better part of my life, all of my memories, have revolved around Jackie. All of my plans, hopes, and visions of the future had to do with Jackie. Now she's gone and the future looks barren and hopeless.

One thing I've learned is that the more you love, the more love you have. If love is a liquid then tears are the love that overflow the vessel (body). I can remember looking into Jackie's eyes and feeling so much love that I would cry. That love is still there and so strong that there's no room for it in my body and it just pours out. The love hasn't changed and the tears now are still that same love.

I go through most of my hours trying not to cry. Several times a day, I either let it out or I can't stop it from coming out and I find myself on the floor bawling, sometimes screaming. Every day is a challenge just to get through. I look forward to the end of the day, to sleep and the escape it provides. Each day has a feeling of "if I get through today, I'll be okay". But then I wake up in the morning and I have to do it again.

What I seem to spend a lot of time doing is things around the house - cleaning, rearranging, organizing, etc.. Things that I think Jackie would like. I do things for Jackie or I do things that Jackie used to do. In some way, I think I'm trying to please her. Or I'm trying to bring her closer to me. Or I'm looking for her. I go through her things - looking for memories (and trying to figure out what I'm going to do with them). Mostly, I look, and touch, and remember.

I get angry and frustrated very easily. I've thrown things, hit things, and broken things (luckily nothing of major consequence). My fuse is very short. Sometimes it seems that the world is working against me. Everything goes wrong. (I mean, the other day I was trying to fix a drip in the bath tub and the toilet started to leak. Come on, I didn't even touch the f'n toilet). I can't even count on a whole civilization of Mayans.

I hate waking up in the morning and doing this all over again. And I hate knowing that I have to do it again tomorrow, and the day after, and the next day, and...

What I hope I get over is the bleakness. As time has passed I have caught small glimmers of hope. Signs (or feelings) that, even though it doesn't look that way now, the future will get better. I do believe that but I also feel that it will never be as good as it might have been. The best is gone.

People ask me how I'm doing. I think they ask because they don't know what else to say to me and they ask expecting or hoping for an answer such as "okay" or "I'm coping" or something like that, I guess. They want me to be okay. What they don't expect (nor probably want) is the truth - I'm (expletive removed) t.e.r.r.i.b.l.e. Miserable. Depressed. Lonely. Life sucks. I kill you (Achmed).

I know it's the natural thing to ask and it's probably the same thing I would say. There really is no "right" thing to say. There's nothing magical you can say or do that will significantly change anything for me (unless you're omnipotent and can bring Jackie back from the dead. In which case, please come see me.)

So when you ask "how are you doing", I know you're trying to show that you care and I truly appreciate it. In response, I'm probably going to give you a rather light, unrealistic, untrue answer. "I'm okay".

It's probably best not to ask a question unless you really want to know the answer and are willing to sit down and listen. I am willing to talk (so don't be afraid to bring something up).

Don't say to me that Jackie is in a better place. She isn't. More importantly (to me) she isn't here. Don't say that you understand. You don't. Everyone's grief is unique. Don't say to me that faith will (or should) help me. Our beliefs probably differ. Don't ask if I'm doing better now that weeks have passed. I'm not, I'm worse. Don't ask me what I'm doing to be happy. There is no happy here.

If you want to help, simply let me know that you care. I'm amazed and extremely grateful for all of the acts of kindness I've received. Accept me in the state I'm in and be yourself while doing so. You don't have to be strong for me. You don't have to guide me or teach me. You don't have to protect me. You don't have to have any answers. You can say "I'm here for you if you need me" if you are. Sit with me, talk with me, listen, and cry. Hug me (hugs work). Just being with me - and leaving me alone - helps.

A few days ago I had a dream that I was with Jackie but only for a short time. When I woke up, I immediately started to cry. Last week I had a dream where Jackie was no longer with us and I was crying in my dream - and in my sleep. I woke up crying, because I was crying. I never experienced that before (I guess you could call that a wet dream).

This is my grief and, ultimately, it's mine to embrace and absorb. I will learn from it (I already have). I hate it, and I love it. I want it gone, and I will never give it up. It is changing me. You can't take it away, and I don't want you to.

I'm not okay -- but I will be.

I hope my grief may help you with yours. I love you.

Kevin