The holidays are approaching fast. Malls are filled, traffic is crazy and I am filled with apprehension as to how I will be. Some people say it’s only another day and I would like to believe that. However, I have been a bereavement specialist for a very long time and beg to differ.
Now I am one of the bereaved and I know it to be real. When a loved one leaves, in any way at all, special days are important. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, celebrations. Somehow the emptiness that goes with the broken part of them takes over. This is the second Christmas without John. It was always special because he treated me as a precious gift and wanted nothing from me. He was always determined to make up for the childhood I never had, so I was overwhelmed by the love he showed to me. It was reciprocal.
What has helped me enormously over this period is to work with people who are struggling with grief, addiction, illness, and whatever ails humanity. We have all endured this year of venom and vitriol, yet when I read some comments on Facebook, my hope is restored. When I am with people in pain, I get as much from them as they do from me.
Just last night, on December 8, I was privileged to speak with a packed room of wonderful people at the Rydal Park Retirement Community where Daniel, my son, is the Director of Creative something or other. The experience of walking in there and some people recognizing me from before, mostly as Daniel’s mother, was delightful. I knew I was with people of similar outlooks and backgrounds. Some very well known residents are there and their humor and wit were joyful.
Whenever I go there I am always astonished that Daniel knows everybody’s name. There are days when I don’t remember my own! I was introduced to a gentleman who is a resident there and who works with Daniel at times. Slim, sprightly, funny and agile, and when Daniel told me he was 100 years old, I nearly fell over. Stunning. I knew that among those present that day were widows, widowers, bereaved parents, siblings, and children. Yet together for that hour we overcame their grief and pain. That’s how it works. People supporting people.
We Are in This Together
The title of my presentation was WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, which is how I see life. I started off with a warning that at my age, whenever I speak, there is always someone that will be offended. So. Be. It. They thought that was perfectly acceptable.
From the moment I started, I felt uplifted by their presence, acknowledging the fact that a mere two hours before leaving my home, I felt I couldn’t do it. I was sad, exhausted emotionally, believing that whatever I said wouldn’t be of value knowing how the time of year often brings feelings that are unwelcome. I say to this – the deeper the love, the deeper the pain. However, this is where love conquers all takes over. There was no way I was going to let Daniel down, so I put on my glad rags and off I went. Best decision. One of the benefits of being where Daniel is listening to me is that he knows that what I speak of is real and true. Sometimes my stories cause raised eyebrows as to their authenticity. He knows they were truly experienced.
There is always a danger when I speak in the evening because I become so exhilarated with the audience that I can’t sleep. My whole body is electrified and I absorb all the wonderful laughter, responses, statements and witticisms that were present. I spoke of some mentors I have, like Dr. Viktor Frankl, who wrote that people make conscious decisions on the way they feel, and Mahatma Gandhi, who spoke of how intentions become real as we grow and change, but he was far more poetic when he expressed it in his words.
There was another statement I made and a woman in the front row mumbled something I didn’t quite catch. I thought I heard it, but wasn’t convinced as it didn’t seem to be in the atmosphere prevailing. I asked her and she said, “Nothing, I said nothing”. After the meeting she came up to me and told me that what she said wouldn’t have been well received in the community so I asked her what she had said. She had said, “No shit!”, which I think would have been very well received since one of the misconceptions of ripening people is that they have no sense of humor. WRONG. I even told them the prison story about keeping your pecker up. That just about did it!!!!
There are times when older people are taken for granted and almost become invisible.
It is a sad situation when bereaved people are afraid to laugh because they believe that others observing them will think they are “over it”. To that I say, who the hell cares what they think? As long as that beloved is in your heart, it doesn’t matter. Those who truly loved that person will never forget them. So, I recommend being yourself, or as the remarkable Dr. Seuss says, “Be who you are, say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” I felt totally at peace referring to John before that crowded room. They get it. It is the truth. Be at peace with yourself and others will follow.
So I do admit that I have roller coaster days and if I can find something that will raise my spirits, I’ll take it. Television, for the most part, is boring as yuck! So I record the things I might like and play them later so I can remove the commercials. Earlier this week, I recorded HAIR.
Those who comprehend the depth of grief understand that there are times when one doesn’t want to see anything upbeat. I got up this morning and the roller coaster was already in action. I made a cup of tea knowing that I had a few hours before I had to go to work, so I sat down and watched HAIR. It was almost three hours, but luckily as it was recorded it went down to less than two and a half or thereabouts. For that entire time, I smiled, tapped my feet and got up and danced around the room. Needless to say I didn’t delete it. I will watch it again when gloom descends.
I know it will but I also collect messages, cards, photos, and letters for when it does hit. That doesn’t mean I quench my grief. That isn’t healthy. I just have tools to help me through it. I watched the marvelous, remarkably talented, gorgeous Jennifer Hudson and as I did, as the Voice is coming to an end, I recalled that when she was on America’s Got Talent (I believe), Simon Cowell made some negative statements about her. I don’t know where she came in the list but I think it was about fifth. So, contestants who don’t win, LOOK AT HER NOW! Sometimes being first in line isn’t the answer. There have been many winners of such shows that we never hear of again. NOT JENNIFER HUDSON. They were all terrific and I enjoy watching them.
While in this frame of mind I got to thinking about what else I have done to combat the holiday challenge. Immediately after John’s death, I knew I had to decide to do something I had to do every day regardless of how I felt. This is how simple these suggestions can be. I thought about knowing that some days I wouldn’t want to go out, to apply make-up and even get dressed. What I decided to do was to make my bed. That’s easy. Every single day since June 5th2015, I have made my bed, regardless.
Of course, I have other influences. If Daisy or Della want to sleep on it during the day it has to be perfectly neat and tidy or they are displeased. Maybe this will help some others in the same situation. I do have friends who have lost loved ones to death, who are just as outrageous and eccentric as I aim to be, and I am hoping they will respond to this blog with their own ideas. Remember – we are all in this together.
Some of the things I did, you already know about, like the tattoos, the photographs, the writing and I am going to list others that bring me great joy and pleasure.
When I see a good tattoo on someone I will comment on it and ask if I can read their arms or legs; can’t tell you how they all love that. When I see two people of any age, either sex, holding hands, even kissing in public, I thank them because for me there is nothing like seeing people in love.
It warms my soul and stirs up magnificent memories. Last year I selected a Christmas card with John as Santa and this year I chose a 17-year-old John, just before he was deployed in the Royal Navy in World War Two. Why do I do that? Two answers. Because I want to and if people think it eccentric, I am highly rewarded.
When I read responses to my postings from people who have endured severe grief of their own, I melt. It is a glorious connection that requires no explanation. In my advanced years, I know who I am. I like who I am. I love that people recognize that in me and can approach and share any feelings they have that are troubling and many that aren’t. I appreciate telephone calls that simply ask how I’m doing for no other reason than they really want to know.
I am tired of growing through adversity. Now I grow while being with others who share their wisdom without even knowing it. I am a perpetual student and learning is exciting. I feel very sad for people who stay inside the box and are afraid to venture out, speaking of their own beliefs without inflicting them on others. It is magic.
In recovery meetings of any kind, I often learn from newcomers in the program. Their struggles keep me aware of ongoing challenges that perhaps I can address. It is a rare occurrence that after I lecture, train or simply speak to an audience, that I don’t come away with another aspect, viewpoint and most of all, awareness that life is full of change and transition. It never stays still and that is the glory of being human. I believe without hesitation in the power of the human spirit. I see it every day in many ways and I grateful that I understand and take it to heart.
This coming weekend I am honored to speak with the Valley Forge Chapter of The Compassionate Friends to remember their children, along with a candle lighting, and the following week to do the same for the Bustleton Group. Just how blessed am I? Completely. I am sure I will be blogging thanks to my lovely and brilliant friend, Kim Krause Berg, whom together with Edie Weinstein, and with all their creative talents are determined I will remain in the limelight!
To all the special people in my life, here, Canada, Australia, the UK, Ireland and those yet to come, Blessings and have any kind of Holiday you like. It’s in your hands. There are so many of you, I’d need another four pages. You know who you are.
I love you.