Fast-tracking grief

 

ID-100138671.kjnntOver the initial twelve months after my husband left me, I went through what I thought was a grief process of five emotional stages. These were shock – anger – bargaining (or guilt) – sadness – acceptance. I have come to realize since, and firmly believe, that those stages are not the stages of grief but rather the ‘five stages of dealing with catastrophic news’. It was only after I accepted (or at least acknowledged) what had happened had actually happened, that I could truly begin the process of mourning my losses and establishing myself in my new world. My true mourning therefore did not begin until at least the second year, well after most people expected me to be ‘over’ it. I had often thought since, that if only I had accepted what had happened sooner, I could have saved myself a great deal of pain.

Nevertheless, that experience has taught me of the need to reach a state of acceptance, before being able to deal with whatever it is that has happened.

When my sister rang and told me the news about my mother, I went through those ‘stages of accepting catastrophic news’ in a day. It was, to put it simply, a terrible day. All by myself feeling utterly alone in my despair I went through shock (it can’t be true), anger (how dare this marital settlement have taken so much of my energy these past three years instead of me spending more time with my mother), bargaining or guilt (if only I had done more, maybe I could have prevented this), and sadness (I wanted so much to spend some time with my mother smelling the roses). Finally, I came to a state of acknowledgement of the truth and felt that to be in that place of acceptance, I could be strong for her.

The next day – having had only one hour’s sleep – I flew north and arrived at the hospital in Sydney. It took me one minute to survey the situation and understand that my three siblings were still coping with shock and anger. Having fast-tracked myself to ‘acceptance’, I saw the advantages it gave me and understood it was therefore up to me to be the one to stay calm. Over the next few days my siblings did find a similar place. We all realized, for our mother’s sake, we had to focus on her needs and her comfort, rather than our own feelings of immense loss.

As a family, we then all grouped as one to weather the storm ahead together.

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ImageCourtesy[kjnnt]:FreeDigitalPhotos.net

mother

“All that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother”.
Abraham Lincoln

I received some bad news about my mother ten days ago.
I have been away spending some time with her.

My mother has always been there for me and has made me who I am.
My mother has been my rock of support and an inspiration to be the very best that I could ever be.

Mum, this song is for you.

 

 

Divorce and weddings and families

 

 

ID-10067121.Stuartmiles My second son is to be married. This will be the first major milestone since the break-up. This will be the first time as a family where we will all be together, yet apart; where we will have to face not being a united family; and where my and my ex-husband’s siblings will see each other. I remember my eldest son’s wedding six years ago when we had that coming together of the two families and what a joyous occasion it was. How I so wish for this wedding to also be filled with joy and togetherness.

My son spoke to me by phone about some logistical arrangements for the wedding and I was dying inside as he spoke as I had been blocking those things out. I did not let on how anxious I felt. It was going to be his big day and I needed to put my angst aside. After the call ended I broke down. Everything hit me hard and I felt all mixed-up inside. I felt joy and sadness, fear and wonder, all mixed up together. I felt so alone that I could not share those feelings with my children, those whom I held dearest to my heart. The cruelty of divorce hit me as hard as it had ever hit me before, knowing that we were no longer the strong united happy family that we should have been.

About half an hour later my son rang me back. He had sensed there was something wrong with me. By then, I was in the middle of a puddle of tears. There was nothing to do but tell him how I felt. Out came three years of frustrated loneliness of never being able to talk to him and the other children about how I really felt. I felt that I had to protect them all from the pain of the broken family unit. I told him I felt I was supposed to put on an appearance of a happy united family for his wedding and yet we were broken. I felt that I was supposed to put on an appearance of his father and I being ‘friends’ when I did not feel that way. I felt that if I had to pretend we were that united unit, when we were not; and that his father and I were friends, when we were not; then I would be acting untrue to myself. I explained I wanted his day to be special but I did not want to live a lie. I wanted to stop pretending and hoping for the united family. We were two families now; my family and his father’s family. I could not act like the united family unit when we were not. From now on in my life I wanted to speak my truth. I wanted to act by my true self.

I had never spoken to my son about the break-up in that fashion before. My son assured me that I could always speak the truth with him. I no longer had to pretend. I felt a surge of bonding with my son that was stronger than I had ever felt before. I no longer felt lonely and that I could not share how I felt, with those whom I love. I no longer had to put on a mask. I had found my voice. I had spoken my truth. I was acting by my true self. I felt a huge weight had lifted from my shoulders because I did not have to pretend anymore. I felt free.

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Now that the suffering weight has lifted, I have six weeks to become strong and work out my self-strategies to ensure my son’s wedding is the joyous occasion it is meant to be.

 

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ImageCourtesy[StuartMiles]:FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Loneliness and daffodils

Down my driveway

A host of golden daffodils!

 

I was struck by loneliness a few days ago.

Loneliness is something that comes and goes for me. It was intense when my husband first left me. That was because I still cared for him deeply. I missed him as my soul-mate. I missed his companionship and I was hurting quite badly. I wanted to be loved and cared for. I wanted to be hugged. I wanted to be appreciated and respected. I wanted someone to think that I was special. I wanted someone to watch over me. A special person.

Loneliness moved on to a dark cold place of feeling rejected, discarded, unwanted and unloved. Loneliness kept me feeling insignificant, that I did not matter, that I was meaningless. Loneliness became a feeling that I would never see the light out of my darkness, that I would never feel any warmth again.

Loneliness became a feeling of having no direction in life. It became endless worrying and worrying about endless worrying.There was the loneliness of sorrow and grieving with no end. It became a bad dream from which I could not awaken.

Loneliness became me suffering and suffering alone. It became a burden for me, this  suffering alone. It wasn’t being alone that made me suffer loneliness. It was the suffering that made me feel alone, the knowing there was no-one who would understand me.

Loneliness transcended into me feeling like a misfit. There was no tribe out there for me.
I was a black pearl in amongst diamonds and even though I was trying hard to be a diamond, no-one wanted me.

That was yesterday.

Today is different because I realize this:

There has always been light out of the darkness. The sun always comes up. Absolutely. And even before the sun comes up, there are stars in the sky.
There is always warmth. The warmth of human kindness. The warmth of my inner being.
There is always hope. There is me. The hope is a belief in myself that never fades.

Today it is spring. The sun is shining. The flowers are in full bloom. In the ‘bliss of solitude’ I remember all the good that I have in my life, all my friends and loved ones who care for me and whom I adore, and my own specialness. And today I accept that I am a black pearl and proud of it. I want to remain a black pearl. Black pearls are rare and special. I am special.

‘And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils’.

Daffodils
William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unmasked: Living by organized chaos

 

ID-10027930.m_bartoschFor the second time, someone commented they perceived me as organized and an ‘on-time’ person because of my methodical approach to situations.  I thought that it was time to put the record straight.

I am actually inherently a befuddled person.

I was born into a family who live by disorganized chaos. I have inherited many annoying traits and habits. Forever losing keys, poor time management, careless mistakes in crucial work, forgetting appointments, forgetting to pay bills, messy desk, going back twice to check whether the iron is off. You get the picture. Unorganized chaos. That was how I grew up. That is what I fight against being every day of my life.

I determined early on as a young adult that if I was to achieve anything worthwhile I would have to organize my chaos. This is how I have done that:

1) Take responsibility

I alone am responsible for who I am, not my genetics or upbringing. As being organized does not come naturally to me, I have to make it happen.

2) Write out lists.

I do not make lists because I am organized. I am organized because I make lists.

3) A careful methodical approach of categorizing and prioritizing.

The secret of me achieving things is not being a superwoman and doing a million things all at once but rather categorizing, prioritizing, shelving less important tasks into the background (or rubbish bin) and doing just a few important tasks each day.

4) Clearing my in-tray every day

Remaining ‘less important tasks’ are stored neatly in to-do lists / trays, drawers, appointment books, or wherever; out of the way of my central field of vision. Yet I am safe in the knowledge they can be recalled when required. A bonus is I even have a tidy desk!

5) Allowing myself enough time to complete tasks.

This is crucial. I estimate the time I think I need to accomplish something, then double it. Then I double it again to allow for extra things that inevitably always crop up, time for me to organize my disorganization, procrastination, and time for ‘faffing’ about.

6) Don’t panic when I still run out of time.

I know that no matter how organized I am, Hostadter’s law always applies: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” This is usually when I drop less important things such as being tidy, punctual or perfect and I stop less essential functions such as eating or sleeping until I finish whatever needs to be finished.

7) Gradually working through the steps of getting things done.

I feel a sense of accomplishment when I cross tasks off my lists, even small insignificant tasks and small seemingly insignificant steps. It gives me a feeling of moving forward. This is important for complex projects with many steps and bits to them.

8) A place for everything

If I have a place for everything (and remember to always put things there) then I am less likely to lose keys, scissors, stapler etc. Remembering to put them there is the hard part.

9) Out of sight out of mind

When all the above fail, I shelve things into boxes and cupboards ‘to sort out later’.

10) Spring clean

Every so often I go through my ‘sort out later’ boxes and my ‘less important tasks’ shelved to a later date that never comes. At this point I realize all the things I thought I might get round to doing I never will and throw most in the literal or metaphorical rubbish bin.

11) Buy clothes that do not need ironing.

Then I do not need to remember to turn the iron off.

That is how I live by organized chaos which, I assure you, is a huge improvement on disorganized chaos. And within that space of organized chaos I have managed to achieve some remarkable things such as raising four beautiful children, running a business, and active involvement in the community.

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ImageCourtesyOf[m_bartosch]:FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Ticking the boxes

 

ID-10026029.rawich

My last post, alluding to my tendency to often being late, was actually about whether I had lived true to my values. It drew some interesting responses. One that surprised me was from a follower who had perceived me as an ‘always on time’, well-organized ‘super-woman’. The comment made me wonder who the real me is and what masks I had been hiding behind since being alone. After my husband left me I courageously worked through my grief, detached emotionally from him and made steps towards forgiveness. I perfected the art of living alone and embracing each day in all its glory. From six months after he left for about a year, I remained in that space with my life compartmentalized.

The stoic everyday me

I went about my everyday life in the scheduled daily routine I created. I would rise, watch the sunrise, write in my journal and go for a walk before heading to work, four days a week. I put aside the angst surrounding my divorce and pretended life was normal. I interacted with staff in a normal fashion and focused on work. I socialized on a casual basis. I connected with friends one-on-one for coffee or lunch. After work I would return home to my evening routine of dinner and relaxation. Regularly I would ring my family and friends.

Mother

I desperately yearned for what I had lost, my intact family unit. I tried to put it back together. I regularly drove four hours to see my eldest son, his wife and my grand-daughter. My two younger children lived in the same area and I saw them often. I would mark dates on my calendar to keep me going until I saw them again. I came alive when I saw them. I put my heart and soul into being mother and grandmother. I would cook, bake, read stories to my grand-daughter and play this role I loved. When I was on my own again, I would fall flat and feel very sad.

Adventurer

I underwent ‘experiential pastimes’ that one is supposed to do when carving a new life. I put that in quotation marks because I was not craving that at all. I did it because it was expected I would want to travel and try new things after my world had upended. So I tried. Inside I was craving family so I combined ‘experiences’ with being with family; in Sydney, visiting my second son in Canada and attending a friend’s wedding in Ireland. Each time I felt on shaky emotional ground when away from home.

Mud trudging

The fourth me was (and is) trudging through mud of the divorce and property settlement. This has been horrid. At first I tried to avoid it. Then I tried to deal with it on the side of my life. That didn’t work. I felt resentful every single day I had to deal with it. Eventually I gave up two days a week for two years in order to do what had to be done to get through it. I pretended it was simply another part of my life. Some people study for a degree. Some people belong to a craft club. Some people write books. I trudged through the mud of our property settlement.

Soul searching

This is discovering who I really am. This started with me writing my journal daily, blogging then reading philosophy. And self-help books. Lots of them. My reflection became more and more intense as I delved into the core of my inner self.

Ticking boxes

After a year, I looked back to what I had been doing. I realized I had been ticking boxes.

I have worked through my grief. Tick.
I have detached emotionally from my husband. Tick.
I have spent time in nature. Tick.
I have enjoyed the moments of today. Tick.
I have spent time with loved ones. Tick.
I am contributing to society by working. Tick.
I have experienced new things. Tick.

Ticking boxes worked.
In those first four roles I remained in a relative state of calm.

However, each time I visited the fifth me, that part of me trying to find the real me, I was confronted with a question I could not answer.

Which role is the real me?

 

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ImageCourtesyOf[rawich]:FreeDigitalPhotos.net