Thursday, April 18, 2019

My year of Grief

As we grow older, it's common to experience loss of a loved one or close friend.  Everyone's life and loss is different, because we are obviously individuals, but some of the other factors that lead us through the grief process are, the relationship with the person, how we are raised, our culture and even our experiences with life, can shape our grief journey.  I am not an expert by any means.  I am not a counselor.  I'm still in my grief journey, but the thought of helping someone else, is why I am writing about this tough subject.  Here is my story..........

My Mother had me late in life, at 43.  I have four older siblings.  I was 10 days old at my oldest sister, Nancy's wedding.  Talk about a wedding crasher! ha!  By the time I, myself had gotten married, I had lost Aunts and Uncles, but they all lived so far away, that it was....well, different.  My first real encounter with grief came when I lost my Mother.  I was 25 years old and she had a short battle with cancer.  I lived 10 hours away and had a 1 year old and a 3 year old, as did my siblings, so our family depended on our sister, Diane, to care for our mother, and she did.  I remember visiting my Mom, right before she went into the hospital for the last time. She was frail and dependent on others, which I'm sure was torture for her, as she was a strong Christian woman, who only depended on the Lord and was there to care for everyone else.  She passed in February 1990.  I believe that my mind has shut out a lot of the grief that I experienced.  I remember the visitation, the funeral and our long drive back home in Iowa.  I had to get back into my normal life, because of our two young children, so I didn't take the time to make sure that I had properly grieved for my Mother.  I hadn't experienced a loss like this, so I handled my grief by pushing it down, which is never a good way of dealing with things. 

Three years later, my Dad passed away.  I remember being at the hospital, entering the room, just has he took his first breath.  I remember my brothers being there with me at the hospital.  My two sisters lived away, like me at time.  I remember the visitation and funeral and crying a lot.  This time, I had 3 children to keep my mind occupied, and it made getting back to normal life, somewhat easier.  Once again, I pushed my grief down, to make it more manageable. I don't mean to make it sound like loosing both of my parents by the time I was 28 wasn't a big deal.  It was a huge deal, which made me draw closer to my 4 older siblings, especially my sister, Diane.

Within a few years of loosing my parents, both of my husband's parents passed.  They were both wonderful people, who I miss terribly.  They were very present in my children's lives and the only grandparents that they remember.  I realize now that I pushed some more of my own grief away, to being strong for my husband and children.

In April 2014, my oldest brother, Ron, passed away.  I was not as close to Ron, as my other siblings, mainly because, he went to Vietnam when I was a little child and then was stationed in Hawaii for some time afterward.  He didn't live at home and had his own life to live and didn't exactly have the patience for a bratty little sister, but I knew that he loved me and I loved him.  I think he was the one sibling that actually saw me as an adult later in life and not little Debbie, like my other siblings seemed to see.  I know they all meant well, trying to protect me, but Ron didn't treat me that way.  I was an adult with kids and he was too.  He had a long battle with liver cancer and boy, it was a battle to the death.  He wasn't willing to give up.  I tried to travel to visit him when I could, but honestly, it was so hard to see my big brother deteriorate and become weak, because he was anything but weak throughout his life.  He was one of the most honest and strong men that I have known, you always knew where you stood with Ron.  I grieved loosing him harder than my parents, because I didn't have the distraction of little kids to take care of this time.  I went to a Rollings Stones concert, not too long after Ron passed.  He loved the Stones and when they played his favorite song, Jumpin' Jack Flash, I cried tears of joy because I could feel him near. To this day, if a Rolling Stones song comes on the radio, I always say, "Hi, Ron.  Love you!"

Owning my bakery, was something that my sister, Diane, encouraged me to do.  At that time, she had owned her own cake decorating business for about 30 years.  We literally spoke everyday on the phone, chatting about cake projects that we were working on, me asking questions on how to do certain things, exchanging stories about crazy customer calls.  She was something special.  She was my closest sibling. We were 11 years apart, so she looked after me like a mom, and after our Mother passed, she became that second Mom to me, and a grandparent figure to my children.  They called her Aunt Didi and she has special nicknames for each of them.  They adored her and she them.  Even though her 3 kids were older than mine, there was a lot of time spent together and the kids were all close.  She was my best friend, the person that I could tell anything to without judgment and if I had a problem, she was there for me.  She listened, gave great advice and prayed for me and my family on a regular basis.  So, when she passed on April 20th, 2018, it literally wrecked my world. I have never felt grief, like this before.  It gutted me.  With both of my parents and my brother, we had time to say goodbye, to see what diseases like cancer and heart disease can do to a loved one, but with Diane, no one was able to say goodbye, as she died peacefully in her sleep.  It was such a shock, that maybe it contributes as to why this grief is so hard to get through.  I think it's mainly because she was such a huge part of my life, she helped raise me, and was a consistently IN my life.

My family was worried about me, as I laid in bed, not being able to function for day after day.  My daughters urged me to find a counselor or someone to talk to.  Diane had been my constant person, the person that I turned to when something bad happened, and she was one of the first people I called when something good or exciting happened.  I was there for her too, although I think I leaned more on my big sister than she did on me, but I knew with every fiber of my being, that she loved me.

I contacted a friend on Facebook, that had done some work with a grief counseling.  She gave me the number to contact Lost and Found, our local grief center.  I signed up for a support group and began going twice a month and I'm still going.  The whole reason for this blog post is to share some of the things that I have learned during my grief journey and my acceptance of my "new normal."  Every one's grief journey is different.  We may loose the same person, but our path is not the same.  My brother-in-law and my nieces and nephew lost Diane too, but each person had a different relationship with her; spouse, mother, sister.  It's not fair to compare our loss to anyone else's loss.  Seeking a support group was the best thing that I could have done.  In my group, no one judges me for the anger that I'm still dealing with, and they understand the sleepless nights, the new annoyances with trying to figure out my new normal. They listen, share their own story, and sometimes our group facilitator has us do exercises to focus on our grief journey and to dig deeper into why we feel the way we do, and of course how to cope. The people in my group know, how my heart is breaking into a million little pieces, how tough it is to find my way in this "new normal" way of life without Diane.  They just get it. If you are going through grief, I encourage you to find a group, either in person or online to be a part of.

Grieving takes time. Grief can be lonely.  It's often compared to ocean waves, sometimes the waves will knock you off your feet and you'll feel as though you are drowning and you can't imagine what life will be like without your loved one.  Other times, you can see the wave starting and you can give in, knowing all along that it will eventually pass.  Those are the times, you lean into the pain and allow it to wash over you,  knowing that if you just ride the wave, you'll have a little hope that the next one won't be so bad.  Sometimes, grief tries to rob us of our hope, but eventually you figure out that even though you only took one step forward and two steps back, the one step still counts and they add up.  I found hope in a closer relationship with my niece and her family.  They live in the same town as me, so they are my connection to Diane.

Saturday is a year since we lost Diane. Friday, is the last time that I spoke to her.  I think of her every single day and I miss her terribly.  I feel her presence around me, when a Led Zeppelin (Diane's favorite group) song comes onto the radio, when I see a beautiful sunset, or see a four leaf clover, because she was obsessed with finding them.  I often say hello, and sometimes, I cry.  My heart still aches and I get a pit in my stomach at times.  It will get easier and less tears will fall as the years go by, but right now I'm still grieving.  I still need my group to listen, although, I spend a lot of my time crying and that's ok. No one has ever made me feel pressured to share.  Sometimes it's just nice to listen and comfort someone else, to take a break from your grief for a minute or two. 

I know this has been a lengthy blog post, but if you are experiencing grief, I hope that you find encouragement that it will get better and that asking for help, either from family or a support group setting is alright.  No one's journey is like yours, your person was special to you because of the relationship you had with them.  Be kind to yourself and find help to get you used to your new normal.  

I wasn't sure about writing this as a blog post to share, but so many of the women that know in person and friends online, are going through their own grief journey and I know that Diane would want me to use my situation to help others.  She was like that, like our Mom, always taking care of others. 

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