Friday, July 15, 2016

What helps, two years on

I've written before about how useless it is, comparing one grief to another. I've also written about what helps a grieving person (or at least this grieving person) and what doesn't. Those posts were written in the context of being less than a year out from Kevin's death and encountering people who desperately wanted to find a way to comfort me but didn't know how. Things are different at two years.

At two years I am finding three general kinds of responses to the loss of my husband. I say the loss of my husband because I am talking specifically about how people respond to me, not necessarily how they are responding to Kevin's death. That's a whole other topic.

The first response is the most common. There is an assumption, maybe it's a hope, that since I'm at two years plus a few months, and because I'm in a new relationship, I'm fine. That everything is hunky-dory and I am no longer mourning Kevin. While I know this usually comes from a place of relief (thank goodness, she is okay) and/or hope (if she got better then maybe I would too, if that ever happened to me) it's not true and it doesn't really help. Yes, I am no longer crying every day or even every week and, yes, I am in a new relationship. Assuming I am "over" my grief and "over" him is too simplistic at best. My relative okay-ness doesn't mean that I don't still miss Kevin ferociously and love him even more.

The second response, which is less common but not all that unusual, is someone telling me how much they are still grieving Kevin (or their partner, their friend, their mother, their pet) followed by a little pause and a comment that they are glad I am doing so well. There is an implication that somehow their attachment was deeper or their grief is more meaningful because they are still in such pain. This doesn't help either. For one, comparisons aren't a useful thing in grief and for another, just because I'm no longer incapacitated by grief, you don't know how I feel. This response reminds me of the people who tell me they would die if their spouse died; there is an implication that I don't love as much as you do. The comparison is hurtful and doesn't help. Just because I am doing exactly what he wanted for me - living my life - that doesn't mean that I am not simultaneously still mourning him. My decision to live doesn't mean I don't still miss Kevin ferociously and love him even more.

The third response, and the least common by far, generally comes from people who have had their own great losses. Instead of telling me how I should feel, they ask how I'm doing. Even better, they ask how I'm doing today. They have room for me to forge my own path through life and through the after life. They can accept that yes, most days I am okay, but that doesn't mean I don't still miss Kevin ferociously and love him even more. It means that I can both live a life that is authentic to who I am AND still love, miss and cherish Kevin.

So what helps, two years after the death of my beloved? Don't assume you know how I am, ask me. Don't avoid talking about Kevin, I want to hear his name and know he still lives in your heart as well as mine. Let me talk about him or about my grief, or not. I may not want to discuss it in this moment or at all.

It doesn't help if you try to one-up my grief with your own. Comparing grief is an apples and oranges comparison. Each grief is unique, we each mourn in our own way, there is no right path.

It helps when you accept the complexity that is my life in the after life. Life is hard enough, losing a spouse makes it more so. I am not who I was before he died, please don't expect me to be. Just accept me for who I am in this moment, in this breath.

What helps? The same things that help everyone, no matter their state of grief or life. Be present. Be kind. Accept me for where I am, which may be happy, may be sad, may be wanting to talk about something else altogether. I will do my best to extend the same courtesy to you.


(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Telling Life: So, what do you think?

I've been writing The Telling Life for over a year now with a few brief breaks. My intent from the start has been to look at the intersection between art and life, thinking about how being a storyteller impacts my daily life and vice versa.

I'd love to know what you think. Are these columns interesting? Useful? Should I keep doing it or go on to something else? Do you have questions or topics you'd like me to address?

I'd love your input. I'm beginning to run dry on topics and would love to know what you would like to read. Thanks!

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, July 8, 2016

Grief as a tool for change

Please note, this post is more a letter to myself than anything else. Like all of us, I am struggling with what to say as our country, our world becomes more and more divided, racist and violent. 

I'm struggling with what to say this morning. On Fridays I usually write about grief and my journey through widowhood, but that seems so trivial in light of the events over the last few days. What do I write about? What can I possibly say? I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths, listening for any kind of answer, and the wise voice in my head said, "Write about grief." Of course. I thought I had said everything I needed to say about guns, violence and loss here, after Newtown. I was wrong.

Right now we are a nation, a world, in a paroxysm of grief, much of it being expressed as rage and as feelings of helplessness. We are collectively grieving not only the deaths of so many but our own pain at a society that seems to have completely failed to protect us, to protect those who are systematically oppressed, to build a just world in which to live and raise our children, to have a functional system of law enforcement where to serve and protect is the first mandate not violent reaction.

I cannot stop thinking about the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I cannot stop thinking about their communities. Likewise, I can't stop thinking about the ruined lives of the police officers who, through some combination of poor training, fear, and likely racism, fired their guns when they should have asked the next question. I can't stop thinking about the families of the five police officers killed in Dallas. I cannot stop wondering who will be next.

While I am lucky and have never had to contend with sudden death, I know the emptiness and pain that will become their constant companions. I can only imagine grieving in the media spotlight will make everything harder.

Grief is a kind of madness. I've written about that before. It can make us do glorious things, like build movements for peaceful change, like campaign and vote for what we believe in, like change the world. It can make us do horrible things, like answer with an eye for an eye, like react out of our fear and pain, like make vast assumptions about others based on no real information at all.

Grief is a transformational process. I hope and pray that we use this horrific moment to move towards better questions and answers. I hope we use this moment to take a hard look at a system that builds so much fear into its training that shooting someone is a first reaction and not a last. I hope we are able to reach out of our own pain, grasp hands that may not look like ours but clutch just as hard, and find a way to peacefully say enough.

I don't believe I have any kind of right to tell people of color what to do, how to channel their grief, in this moment. I can listen. I can be an ally. I can stand with them. I can acknowledge my own privilege and try to use it to create change.

Personally, I have to do something. I will attend rallies. I will reach out to communities of color and ask what can be done. I will reach out to law enforcement in my community and volunteer my time to see how we can change the story. And I will hold space for those whose grief is justifiably much greater than mine. Because I don't know what else to do.

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, July 1, 2016

Inviting the dead in

Grief is a funny thing. 27 months out from Kevin's death, it is still my constant companion, but now it's more something that travels with me rather than something that consumes me. Perhaps it has eaten me and I've been reborn from its substance, a shamanic experience. I don't know.

What I do know is, although I still don't have real control over when the grief hits and how, I can invite it in and those experiences are much easier, more healing that the great waves that sometimes still overtake me.

Kevin's 58th birthday was this week, the third time I've tried to celebrate his birth since he died. It was hard, of course, but I decided that I'd rather invite the grief in and honor him, instead of letting it all overwhelm me. I spent time with friends who love him still. We had Kevin's favorite meal for dinner, with a picture of him accompanying us. We talked about him and told stories. We invited him in.

I cried, of course I did, but more than that, I loved him. I remembered him. I honored him. I invited him to continue being part of my life and reminded myself that his life has had far much more and far better impact on the world than his death. His death is only a part of his life. In so many ways, he is still here.

I invited him in through the taste of the barbecue in my mouth.
I invited him in with the stories we told.
I invited him in by sitting outside in the heat and humidity.
I invited him in and by so doing I felt connected with him. I let the grief be part of the day, but it wasn't the whole of the day. The love was more.

I am still sad. I still miss him terribly. I was cranky as hell for most of this week for these reasons and more. But.

I have reminded myself that grief is about love. Over the last 27 months I have slowly felt the love become more important than the pain. It takes time. It isn't that way every day but sometimes I still feel the warmth of his skin, the light of his smile.

The grief parts like the sea and I find myself buoyed up, so grateful for his life, for his love, for the support of all those who embrace me. I watch the flame of his candle flicker and I feel his presence. I didn't know I would ever find this place and it is certainly bittersweet, but I would rather remember him with tear-stained love than only with grief.

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
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