Monday, June 30, 2008

Some Insight into Grief

I read an article recently about loss and grief. As a widow of four years, I can offer some insight into the grief process. I am 51 years of age. I was 47 when my husband of 20 years died from esophagus cancer at age 59. I took care of him for 11 months while he fought his best to survive. All cancer is devastating, but esophagus felt doubly so, since you cannot eat. He survived as long as he did only because he had a stomach tube inserted. My book is about mine and my family's experience during caretaking, my husband's death, and the emotional and mental turmoil following his passing. Not only for myself but also for my children.

The first thing I would say, based on my experience, is don't make any major changes in the first 12 months, and actually, for some people the time frame may be longer.

Grief is a constant up and down for many months and even years. Although I felt compelled to clear out my husband's clothes within the first month of his passing, at four years I still have moments from time to time where the loneliness of being a widow hits me and brings me to my knees for an hour or two. I consider myself in good form emotionally, mentally and psychologically, but again, loss still bites from time to time. It comes in quite softly and nips at me, and then I move on.

My life has taken unexpected twists and turns. I love my life, but also know that keeping my heart and mind open to living is part of the solution of living a full live. It's so easy to close down and be fearful, afraid to live or experience anything again. Many days in the beginning of loss, you operate in a numb state, where each day is an uninteresting series of events. I remember at one point being afraid that the numbness might never recede. I was afraid I would stay in that limbo. I had no interest in anything, except the wellbeing of my kids. I didn't care about my health, I just wanted each day to be over.

Thankfully, I grew into who I am today. I've learned to live on my own, support myself and be happy for the person I am. I've made some mistakes along the way, but I also learned from them.

In the early days I thought I would get through the grief quickly. I wanted it to be over and resolved. Of course, that's not how grief works. It takes its own time. Just when I thought I was doing okay, I'd get hit up the side of the head and emotional turmoil would take me on a ride.

One thing I did learn is "normal" is no longer what it used to feel like. I have created through trial and error a new normal, a new life. I have slid into it the last four years; sometimes with hurt and sometimes quite simply.

I never tried to break away from my past, afterall, my husband and I had 23 years together and three boys. But I came to realize for myself, I needed to redefine me, minus my husband. It's not easy. But it is possible.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Standing in the Face of Grief

If you allow grief to knock you down, get back up, because chances are it's not done. Grief can be a long, drawn-out process with valleys and huge hills. You think you're doing okay, you're keeping busy, but then suddenly, in a quiet moment, it hits you in the back of the head. The tears run unchecked.

When grief is done, you get back to your life. Don't fight it, but don't let it control your life either. Eventually, it'll seep away, you'll see what's around you once more, and your life will take on a sense of normalcy again. Accept that "normal" may be different than what you knew before. We all know that's life, and life is full of change.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Portion of Proceeds to go to Make a Wish and HospiceWit in S. Africa

Portion of Proceeds from book sales go to Make a Wish Foundation . Also HospiceWit in South Africa to buy board games, Magical AIDS Journey and Magical Maze Journey, to help children with AIDS and children grieving the loss of a loved one, respectively.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Complicated Grief" Study by UCLA Scientists

A new study by UCLA scientists suggests that long term or "complicated" grief may trigger neurons in the reward center of the brain.
http://www.virtualmedicalcentre.com/news.asp?artid=11842

We all experience grief in some measure throughout life. We live through the painful adjustment of the loss of a loved one -- the emotional and psychological lows. But for those suffering complicated grief, the normal grief reaction remains painful and debilitating, sometimes leading to suicidal thoughts or an inability to resume life, even many years later.

If you look at the MayoClinic site
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/complicated-grief/DS01023/DSECTION=symptoms/
you will see symptoms that apply to the grief process. I recognize my own grief journey in these symptoms.

What moves the grief into "complicated grief" is the extended period of time that these emotions continue to be apparent in the grieving individual. While I understand the grief process personally, I disagree with this article where it says "normal grief symptoms gradually start to fade within six months or so". From my own experience, I was just beginning to lose the numbness at six months and therefore becoming alive to my grief at six months. Does that mean I've suffered from complicated grief? I don't believe so.

What I do believe is the grieving process is very individual. I also believe that if grief continues and there is no quality of life resumed, then there is the possibility of complicated grief and professional help should be sought.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Grief is One More Journey in Life

In my habit of reading blogs of other's who have suffered the loss of a loved one, I am reminded again and again of those early, deep and entrenching emotions. In today's society where many want to just "get through it" or get it over with quickly, no matter what IT is, grief is just a process that takes its own time. It has its own agenda, based on you, the individual. No amount of prodding, sweet talking or ranting will make it move any faster through your life. The good news is, it does move on and we become a different person, and we can control the process, to some degree. We can seek help, support, and remain open to life. Through my four years of "widow" experience, I can attest to the fact that life does take on a new normal, as long as we don't shut down and close in upon ourselves.

I am sorry for the loss anyone suffers in life. It's not fair, we rant and cry, and I recall like it was yesterday the lost, desperate feelings. For a time I buried myself in my grief, my loss, and in the end I found that talking about it to a professional really helped me sort through my feelings, fears and emotions. I wasn't going crazy, even though at times it hurt so bad I didn't know which way to turn. I also started a journal, and if I felt desperately unhappy, I would write in my journal. So cry, be angry or just stare out the window if that's what you need to do today, but don't be stuck in it day after day. I learned in the beginning to get through each day as best I could, with no expectations of anything. It's just the way grief is. Take your time to naviagate this new life, and you may find, as I have, that keeping your arms and heart wide open to life, will bring you unexpected joys and experiences. Trust me, there is life after loss, it just takes a bit of traveling to get there.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mom Minus Dad Resource Guide

"In her groundbreaking book, Jamieson Haverkampf shares how she and her sister, in their early 30’s, found success and managed struggles during their journey after their father’s death. This jam-packed resource guide is filled with more than 500 invaluable Web sites, companies, government resources, U.S. laws, books, and nonprofit organizations to assist adult children who seek support while they aid a newly widowed parent." From http://www.momminusdad.com:80/

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Getting Hit with the Alone Bug

I got bit yesterday by that loneliness thing again. I wish I could figure out the trigger, because then I'd seek it out and chop it off at the knees.

Elaine Williams' Review "Beyond Belief" Documentary

"Beyond Belief," is an award-winning and inspirational documentary film by Beth Murphy, about two 9/11 widows who cope with their grief by forming a cross-cultural foundation to raise money for widows in Afghanistan.

The film was featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" last year and is now being released on DVD by Alive Mind at http://www.alivemindwoman.com/category/films/beyond-belief/

With your help, $3 from each sale of this DVD will go to the organization formed by the two widows, Beyond the 11th at http://alivemindwoman.com/beyond-belief-featured-organization-beyond-the-11th/

REVIEW by Elaine Williams, A Journey Well Taken: Life After Loss
http://www.ajourneywelltaken.com/

"In tragedy, often times it is the strongest who step forward and dare to make a difference.

As 9/11 widows Patti and Susan work through their own grief and loss, they move outside of themselves to highlight the extreme poverty of Afghanistan widows. Their personal journeys are enhanced by their efforts to empower these same women, strangers, half a world away.

This emotionally charged film draws you in from the first moment - it is a beautiful testimonial to the strength and courage of the human spirit."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Crafting a New Life as a Widow

Elaine Williams ©2008

When you become a widow your life changes and there is no guarantee of sanity in the transition. Some days are topsy-turvy; other days have a numbing calm. You wonder if life will ever be joyful again. You’re not crazy, you’re grieving.

Joy has a way of creeping up on you when you least expect it, yes, even in the midst of loss. I discovered it’s a waste of energy to feel guilt over a moment of joy while in the pain of loss. I used to tell myself I had to stop being so serious and cut myself some slack. I refused to be a victim in life and I vowed not to become bitter over my husband’s loss.
Sure, it was unfair that my kids lost their dad at 11, 18, and 19, but inside each of us are life tools, and we do the best with what we have learned in life.

So how do you craft your new life as a widow? Time and patience are the best advice I could give. I had never expected my husband would die, even though he was diagnosed with end stage esophagus cancer. I was so determined he would get well, he would beat it, that losing him never was an option until the last three weeks. So I wasn’t prepared for his death, but who ever is? Stuff like this didn’t happen to me. I’d always considered myself an upbeat, lucky person. I still consider myself in that category, which is why I know from my own experience you can create a new life and be happy and feel joy once more.

I recall many days up until about two and a half years into my loss where I felt weighted down by uncertainty and indecision. I wanted nothing more than to just hide away in some safe, dark place where no one else could find me. Many days I felt a complete lack of enthusiasm for life. I worked because that occupied my mind, and in deepest grief, I often wondered if I’d ever experience true joy again. I felt off kilter, as if an essential life force had been pulled from me. I had a big hole.

For months I hung in a kind of limbo. I asked myself what was it that I wanted to do with my life? Was this empty feeling all there was? I knew I had to contribute something more – that there was a purpose for me. I wanted full knowledge of what my the next step was in my life.

As a writer I attempted to pick up my writing, but there was no passion there. I have always been a writer and to think that that well had dried up, felt devastating.

Slowly, I began to find a new me, one that I had never fully tapped into. I wondered had experiencing loss uncovered the stronger, more independent me? I have learned to live fully on my own, taking care of my children but also taking care of myself.

When I made myself step outside my comfort zone, I often found a new world waiting for me. I discovered that living a full life is all within my own control.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Processing Grief

Sometimes you just want to rush through the grief process. There's confusion, pain, fear and a pulling inside, wanting to hide. Just take it slow and let life unfold gently, doing the best you can without making yourself do anything new until you're ready.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Children in Grief

Elaine Williams copyright 2008

I have three boys who were 11, 18 and 19 when their father died from cancer. They all reacted differently to this loss, and many times I felt at a loss myself in trying to determine the best way to help them through their grief.

My oldest son moved away from home a year and a half after my husband’s passing. It was a move for the best, a need for him to establish his independence, but at the time it was very difficult for me. My son had relationship problems, moved into a dumpy apartment and associated with people I didn’t know. He fell into a drinking and partying lifestyle.

My middle son retreated emotionally, becoming distant. Even though he still lived at home, I had to wonder many times what was going on in his mind and his heart. I knew he was as wounded as I felt at the passing of his father, but he was unwilling to share even the most minute details of what he might be feeling.

My youngest son clung to me as if he were afraid to let me out of his sight. He asked me once what would happen to him if I died, as his father had died.

I calmly reassured my youngest that I expected to live a long time, I still had a lot to accomplish. But I also reassured him that his grandparents or aunt would take care of him if something did happen to me.

Being newly widowed, at times the struggle threatened to engulf me. Day-to-day living felt hard and there was no getting away from it or retreating. Frightening, hard, taxing, tiring, exhausting. In the beginning. The first two and a half years I now look back and realize yes, I came through it, as did my children, and I would never want to live through it again, but we did okay. We lived it each day doing the best we could.

We made some bad choices, but we learned and came away with something valuable. Speaking for myself, I felt ripped in two many days. When I made dating mistakes, it hurt incredibly, and yet the biggest wounds, after my husband’s death, were the wounds of my children. I felt like I could handle anything at any time that happened to me, but when it involved my children, all bets were off. I wanted to take away their hurts, soothe them over, make everything okay again. But that’s not how real life is, and indeed, it’s not how it should be.

My kids grew through their own experiences, and that’s how they learned that life does go on. Mom supports them and helps to a degree, but they have to learn to deal with their own things that come to them in life. We held together as a family and I like to think my husband is still watching over us, keeping us safe in his way, and admiring how we’ve all come through this trial of grief and loss. No one ever said it would be easy, but then again, no one every really brought this subject up before we had to experience it first hand. That’s just he way life is, sometimes it smacks you in the back of the head and you don’t see it coming, other times you see it but hope it’s going to miss you. If we’re lucky, we rise to the occasion in the best way we know how, without bitterness or undue pain.

Life wounds each of us in various ways, it’s how we come out of the wounding that tells the truest sense of who we are, or can be.