Monday, April 26, 2010

It's About Time

We have a curious event in April in Michigan. We call it "daylight savings time" and what it basically does is cause all of us to change our clocks. Now we do this twice a year; spring and fall and I've had some difficulty remembering which way the clock goes - forward or back - pretty much every time the clock requires changing. Well, in April we move the clock forward and this means we lose an hour of sleep and that generally requires a good week or so for my body to make the adjustment. For a week or so nearly everyone in Michigan walks around tired and out of sort as their internal "body clock" makes the shift. I have no idea who thought this up but I wonder about the wisdom of it all. It also points out the reality that time really is a relative thing; an arbitrary construction of man.
I find it curious that in some cultures time is only marked by the sun - morning and evening and everything in between is just there. In our culture we are so time-centric that we strap little clocks to our wrists and program alarms in our cell phones to keep us ever aware of the time. What does all this have to do with grief?
We really are formed and informed by our culture and our western culture tells us that there is a time to grieve (preferably done in private so as to not upset others who really don't want to be confronted with such "negativity") and that time is as short as humanly possible. Anything over a year is pushing it and when you get into the third or fourth year, like I am, you are pretty much out of time.
Well-wishers will tell you that it's time to move on down the road and get on with your life. Look to the future and forget about all that loss and grief in your past. It's all behind you now so just get on with it! Wouldn't it be great if we could just take off grief like an old coat? It would be so much easier if at the one year anniversary of the loss of a loved one we could change our "grief clock" and put all that sadness behind us. We could "spring forward" into a new season of only happy thoughts and feelings. If anybody out there has a clock like that - let me know.
I have not found any grief-clocks. I've actually made the mental adjustments at key points along the way to attempt a "time change" from grief to anything better than grief. At the first anniversary of David's death - and then again at the second and third I set my mental clock forward. I gave it a good try at our 30th wedding anniversary and at my 50th birthday. I did my best to set my mental and emotional state ahead to brighter, springy days. I can't say that it worked all that well. Time is a relative thing; prone to change and subject to our whims and perceptions. Some days I am clearly living in "springy" thinking and other days I am falling back to grief's darker days. Grief does not work like a clock; always moving forward and making progress. Grief is all over the map; forward and backward and sometimes unmovable and stuck. It's all pretty relative.
So give yourself a break and take your time. There is no point in rushing through it because grief will do it's work in all of us according to its own good time. I think I'm making progress - but then again, tomorrow I may find it time to "fall back" again. I'm resolved to finish the work no matter how much time it takes.
Now if only I could get our culture to stop watching the clock and let grief keep its own time. Well, that's another topic and one that you and I are not able to change. so... tick tock... time's a wasting! I'm closing down the pink mini laptop and getting on with the day without any clue as to what "time zone" I'll be in today. Grief or gladness? Forward to new days, backwards to memories of great days with David? Probably all of the above in no particular order. That's the nature of grief. Whatever the day holds I am certain of one thing (really, I'm not certain of anything these days except for this!) God has my heart in His hand and He will help me through this day. He is with me. He is for me. -
He is with you too! He's not in a hurry - He's got all the time in the world and He's willing to spend it with you. Go God!!

Well, get on with the week - Time's a wasting!

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Grief Observed

C.S. Lewis wrote about his experience with grief in his book, A Grief Observed. After the death of his wife he said, "An odd byproduct of my loss is that I'm aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet...perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers." That observation produces a knowing nod from me. No one has ever actually suggested I should be locked up on some kind of commune until this grief thing passes but I'm not so sure they haven't thought about it while interacting with me over these past 3 years.
When my husband, David died everyone was so kind and understanding. I cried often. (I called it "leaking" and carried a box of tissues with me at all times for about a year). But somewhere between the first and second year of my grief I seemed to have crossed an imaginary line where public grief is no longer to be greeted with understanding kindness. I'm not really sure when I crossed the line but I'm pretty sure I did. If I get teary or (God forbid) cry over my loss I often sense that my emotion is not received well. My grief makes others uncomfortable.
Now I'm just enough of a people-pleaser to not want to make people uncomfortable so I have learned in the third year of grief to give expression to it only when I'm alone and not in public. I'm now a "closet griever"!
That sounds wrong. I think it's wrong that I feel the need to suppress honest and appropriate emotional response to a significant loss. Society seems to tell us that if we openly express our feeling of grief that we are immature or overly-emotional or flat out crazy. I don't think giving expression to grief is crazy. I think society's response to grief is crazy!
Truth is I'm not uncomfortable with my tears. I believe God gave us the ability to cry for a purpose and if the death of a loved one isn't one of those purposes then I don't what tears are for. It is not in the honest expression of emotion that we become "crazy" or unhealthy. It is in the suppression and denial of our feelings that we are often driven to unhealthy lifestyles. We pop pills or rush into other activities (shopping and new relationships) to avoid the pain. That's crazy!
So, though Mr. Lewis has a point I'm not going to succumb to societal pressures and deny or suppress my grief. I have given myself to fully feeling what I feel and working through my grief rather than avoiding and denying it. I think I'm healthier for it. It's not been pretty or neat but it has been honest and healthy.
So how are you doing with expressing grief? It's tough. It's ugly and messy and sometimes embarrassing. I remember having to flee from a Hallmark card shop because something I read caused me to break out in a tsunami of tears. I'm pretty sure they thought I was crazy. Oh well... grief happens sometimes. All I know is that grief in all its messy, ugly parts is still the only healthy, reasonable response to life's losses.
We grieve. It's the only response that makes sense. Now if only the folks that have to observe our grief could understand a little longer. Who decided where that line should be placed anyway? Perhaps some of us need to grieve longer or shorter. Who's to say what is right or appropriate here?
As I grapple with all that stuff I turn to God to help me plow through and maybe even make some sense of it along the way. I am thankful that God doesn't have time limit on my grief and even helps me laugh and smile through much of it. Apparently tears don't rattle God. I am truly thankful for that. Aren't you?


Monday, April 12, 2010

Point of Reference

Today I attended one of those all-day meetings we usually dread. Mine was actually quite nice and I had an opportunity to reconnect with an old friend, pray with a peer facing surgery and take in some pretty inspirational stuff. Not a bad day all in all....until my way out the door. I was leaving at dinner time and just happened to hit the door at the same time as another pastor friend. He held the door and quite corgially said "hello", and asked me how I was doing. I replied, "Oh just fine." And wishing to be honest (as honest as superficial smalltalk will allow) I qualified the answer with, "Just fine...for a widow". I chuckled and so did he. And then he said, "Well that's good, I guess, if that's your point of reference".

HMMM. That definitely falls under the category of "things that make you go Hmmmmm.
So I did that most of the drive home which took the greater part of an hour. That's a lot of hmmmmming. Here's what all that reflection produced:

That pastor friend is a kind and considerate man and I believe his comment was genuine puzzlement not judgement or indifference. I trust his heart to be true.

Nevertheless, the phrase "point of reference" is a curious statement. Does it mean that if I would just choose not to think of myself as a widow I wouldn't be one or at least not live in its reality? Widowhood IS my reality. I am reminded of it the moment I open my eyes in the morning and it is the last thing I am reminded of as I lay my head on my pillow at night. And all throughout the day in dozens of ways I make choices with that point of reference. Because I am a widow I drive to most places alone and often eat at restaurants alone. These events are just reality and most of the time that reality doesn't make me sad or angry - it just is. I deal with that with a matter-of-fact, positive attitude.... most of the time.

But make no mistake about it, it is my point of reference. I can no more forget I am a widow than I can forget I am a woman or a redhead or an American. It is what I live every moment of every day. To think by simply changing my perspective I can live above or aside from my widow status is naive. If I am anything, I am a realist and I try to live with both feet firmly grounded in reality.

Now widowhood is not who I am. We are far more than the titles we hold or the roles we play and those titles and roles change with the seasons of life. Five years ago I was a full-time wife and mother; Now my children are adults and I am not a wife.
I am a widow and sometimes that makes me sad or lonely or a bit frustrated but so does being broke or being overweight or being over 50. Life is full of hard stuff and being a widow is hard stuff. But for all the hard stuff of life I do believe I'm doing "just fine".

Perhaps the next time someone asks me how I'm doing I'll just tell them what they want to hear and not qualify the answer with a hint of reality.
And then again... probably not! I will continue to try and "keep it real" as I share my life with others. For some that will be uncomfortable. For some it will be an invitation to share their reality with me and I consider it a privilege anytime someone trust me enough to "be real" with me about their life. It's a sacred kind of thing and I pray God helps me to respond with understanding and compassion. Before widowhood I know I did not always respond to other's hurts as I should. Widowhood has helped me to "get a clue" and that's a good thing. You see, I really am doing just fine...for a widow. How about you?

Keeping it real,


Monday, April 5, 2010

Top-down Days

I love my car! I realize I'm a middle aged woman and that statement is a bit out of character. At least it feels like it to me. I've spent most of my life seeing cars as nothing more than a mode of transportation; something to carry you from point A to point B with relative speed and ease. What the car looked like or what kind of engine it had never concerned me. I drove a minivan for over 18 years and the only thing I ever cared about was where the cup holders were located and did it run well enough to get the three kids to the event of the day.

Then one sunny afternoon David and I were out and about and we pulled up to a stop light. A sleek, red sebring convertible slid in beside us and it caught my eye. I grabbed David's arm and said, "Look! Some day I'm going to drive that car! David laughed and said, "The boys will love taking it on dates and the Taco Bell wrappers they usually throw into the back seat will just blow away when the put the top down. Good idea!"
I assured him that "some day" meant when I no longer had any teenagers in the house. We both knew that I would probably never own such a car since it was impractical and pricey. I'd probably drive an old minivan the rest of my life.

And then David was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Everything changed - including my ride. A few months before his death, and several weeks beyond his ability to drive David announced he was trading in his car (a gold, Lincoln. He bought it used but he loved his "luxury" ride) I told him we didn't need to do that because trading in cars was complicated and expensive and time-consuming. I didn't want to waste a moment of our time together dealing with cars. David insisted and so we went car shopping. (how do you tell a dying man NO?)

That's the moment I learned why men love their cars. They become emotionally attached and now I too am quite emotional about my bright red, sebring convertible. David traded in his "love" to buy me that "ride" I once said I wanted. I was amazed he even remembered that I said I liked the car; even more amazed that he searched online sites to find the red one.

Today was a sunny, warm day and I took her for a spin with the top down. The sun felt so good after a cold, grey winter in Michigan. I smiled and I cried. Every time I get in that car I am reminded of David's love for me; sacrificial, self-less love from a dying man.

I love my car! I gave her a bath this past week in anticipation of top-down days. I named her; Princess. I don't let my sons drive her and she has never been sullied by anything that even remotely smells like Taco Bell. I plan to keep her for as long as possible. She reminds me that I was once loved and cherished by a good man. She helps me to think about the best parts of life with David instead of dwelling on the tough times and the loss. I figure anything that can help me to do that is worth keeping. Princess has earned her keep!

May you find those things that make you smile; those little daily touches that help you to embrace the good memories and divert your attention from the grief and loss. May you hold on to those "touchstones" in life that remind you of all that was good and right in your relationship with the one you lost. Princess is my touchstone.

I love my car! I am praying for record-breaking top-down days! If you see a middle aged redhead tooling around town in a red sebring with the top down - honk! It's probably me and Princess. I'm quite a spectacle and I don't care. Did I mention, I LOVE MY CAR!