belief death grief Wendy

What I’ve learned from grief

You don’t have to feel any way other than how you’re feeling

I’ve met a few people in their early grief who worry about feeling numb about their loss. It makes them worry that there’s something wrong with them, that they’re cold or callous. Others worry because they can’t stop crying. One father who lost a son confided in me that he felt like it was his role to be sad all of the time.

But no one has (or should have) any exceptions about what you should be feeling. That’s because you don’t have control over your feelings. Feelings happen to you. The best you can do for anyone, including yourself, is be aware of how you’re feeling even if what that feeling is “none” or “nothing.”

It can make you stronger

Once you suffer a devastating loss and come back from it, you now have an internal power that many others don’t: you are resilient. It’s easier to go through life once you have been proven to yourself.

It can make you aware of the precious urgency of life

My biggest fear was that someday I would die. Everything I have ever had would be taken away from me. Every memory, every thought, every sensation would be gone for eternity.

Losing Wendy forced me to face my mortality in a much deeper way. I will die, but fearing death is useless and wasteful. The fact of my death makes me want to live more intentionally while I am able. I try to put all of that energy I used to waste on being afraid into being grateful for the present moment and savoring the time I spend with those I love.

It can reconnect you with those you’ve lost

I was in so much emotional pain after Wendy’s death, that just thinking about her could be excruciating at times. And yet I wanted to think about her, over and over, because I missed her so much.

Everyone’s grief process is different, but I know that if I didn’t keep forcing myself to experience that pain — if I chose to avoid it — I would have prolonged my grief. It was my grief, not Wendy, that was the ultimate source of the pain. My grief was being unable to accept that she was really gone. My mind didn’t want to believe it and kept dreaming up fantastical ways to get back to her.

It took me several years to fully accept that she was gone. I had to believe it and get over the cosmic injustice of her death. I had to let go of my anger at the Universe. That was the pain.

Now I’m able to think of Wendy, see photos and videos of her, have dreams and memories of her and experience the love I still have for her without the acute pain of losing her. I can see the world through her eyes. I can appreciate things for her and feel proud on her behalf. I can access, without fear, the parts of her she left in me.

freedom grief politics

For the Love of Gun

Sig Sauer P226I woke up this morning to hear the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial: not guilty. I’m dismayed by this news. The broad facts of the incident that killed Trayvon Martin are these:

  1. Martin was unarmed, walking back to a house where he was a guest
  2. Zimmerman, an armed resident paroling the neighborhood in no official capacity, suspected Martin for being a burglar and started following him.
  3. Police dispatch told Zimmerman to not follow Martin, but he did anyway
  4. A struggle ensued between the two
  5. Zimmerman used his gun to kill Martin.

What’s most disturbing is that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law permits this to happen. It allows people to use deadly force if they feel their life is in danger.

Zimmerman’s life may have been in danger, but he put himself into that danger. The gun on his hip led him to overestimate his own abilities.

And this is why America loves guns. They immediately change the power calculus in any confrontation. For millions of years, the stronger, larger animal usually won. Guns change that math in favor of the person with their finger on the trigger.

If Zimmerman didn’t have a gun, would he have still gone after Martin? Of course not. The gun was the central prop in his policeman fantasy. It’s what gave him his power. It’s what made up for his lack of ability and experience.

There was a dangerous man in the neighborhood that night, but it wasn’t Trayvon Martin. It was George Zimmerman. Florida’s gun laws—and America’s gun obsession—made Zimmerman a dangerous man and condone his recklessly lethal behavior. It is a shame and an embarrassment that the jury found him innocent of second-degree murder.

family grief time Wendy

Welcome Back to the Almanack

I’m going to try to give this blog another spin. It’s been a while since I wrote here, and some significant stuff has happened.

  • I got married to a wonderful woman, Taya Hall
  • We signed up with an adoption agency

I think another really important thing that happened for me is that I’ve mostly healed from the loss of my wife, Wendy, and my parents. I’ve learned a bit about moving through the grief experience. One thing is that it never totally goes away but, if you are open to it, you can resolve the majority of the pain. I no longer log each day as another without her. I’ve found a way to accept that she’s gone and, from that, peace.

The energy I used to put into blogging has been put into two different places: social media (Facebook and Twitter, for the most part) and my personal wiki.

When I look back on my motivations for writing Poor Yorick’s Almanack, one of them was the network ping effect. Each post was a passive pulse out to the internet to let interested parties know that I was still there. Social media fills this need so much better than a blog, so using Facebook initially fulfilled that need and made it harder for me to go about writing my blog.

In the years since, I find Facebook to be increasingly painful to use. It’s cluttered and constantly changing, which makes it harder for me to focus on the information I want from it. I’m not complaining. I’m grateful for the way it’s helped connect me to friends, family and acquaintances. It’s just like a lot of things in life, we moderate our distance.

I do still like Twitter for the reasons why I’ve soured on Facebook: lack of clutter and ability to focus on what I want. One of the great strengths of Twitter is also it’s weakness, namely the short, urgency of each tweet. That shallow, real-time experience is fun but it often lacks power and leisure of longer posts. Shorter isn’t always better.

dad family grief

On Your Birthday, Dad

On Your Birthday, SonMy father would have turned 72 today. While going through his and my mother’s papers a few weeks ago, I found this birthday card given to him by his father. Fifteen dollars sat inside with the words “Love, Dad” below the rhyming sentiment. He would have received the card on some year between 1969 (the series year for both bills) and 1985 (the last birthday my dad would have celebrated with grandpa).

Wendy and I found a similar birthday card, years ago, from her great-grandmother to her grandfather with cash sitting inside. Both discoveries have bewildered me.

I wonder why they didn’t spend the money to buy themselves a gift. Maybe they didn’t want to put the money in their wallet for fear of using it accidentally to buy some necessity. I imagine they planned to go out someday and get something nice for themselves. Someday exists after the work day is over, and after the commute; after the family time, after the yardwork, after the errands and after the nap.

Eventually, this valuable little gift is shuffled among other papers and forgotten until it is discovered, years later, after all the somedays are all used up.

I’m going to spend this money today, dad, and think of you. Happy birthday, wherever you are.

dad family grief mom Wendy

I’ve Fallen Into the Cellar

Today, this week, I’ve been in the grips of a monstrous depression that I can’t shake, no matter how hard I try. The weather has been, for the most part, fantastic, but that’s not enough to pull me out of this nose dive. I’ve tried everything I can think of. Just now, I was engaging in some online retail therapy, looking for an American DVD release of Zabriskie Point (no such luck), when I thought maybe what I need to do–maybe what’s been wrong with me–is that I haven’t been blogging.

I’ve tried to write again, but it just hasn’t gone through. What’s left to say after mom’s death? Part of me thought that this blog started as a reaction to my father’s death, so maybe it should end.

I miss my mom and my dad. Most of all, though, I miss my wife. We announced the first winner of the Wendy Jackson Hall Memorial Scholarship this week. I thought it would make me happy and give me a sense of completion. It doesn’t. It’s just one more rung on the ladder. I’m holding on to the ladder.

death grief

About My Mom

My mom died about three weeks ago. I originally thought I would have a better understanding of how I’m feeling three months later, but I don’t. I still feel numb. I really loved my mom and I know I’m going to miss her.

I feel at peace with my Mom’s death. Partly I’m relieved that she’s no longer confined to a bed with a stomach tube. I’m relieved that her health will no longer create havoc in my sister’s life or discord between all of my siblings. I’m relieved to not have the psychic burden of hearing that she’s dead.

I accept that my mom has died in that she was 78 and her health was in long decline. I’ve said all of my good-byes to her and soaked up her stories. In November, I sat with her in the hospital and we sang every standard both of us knew; songs as old as “Pennies from Heaven” and as new as “Close to You.”

Neither of my parents ever accepted the deaths of their parents very well. My dad would spend Father’s Day holed up in the bedroom trying to sleep through to Monday. My mom, always affable when drunk, would sometimes wail late at night and cry for her mom and dad.

This is how unprocessed grief ruins us. We go on the lam from the hurt, and it makes us look over our shoulder.

But my understanding of death has changed, too. It honestly doesn’t seem so bad any more. I was always afraid of it–more so after my father died. I thought I was next, for sure. I could never imagine how someone could want to die the way, I think, my grandfather did when his time was up.

My buddy Mike’s atheistic take on death sums up to this: When I’m dead, it will be like before I was born. There was nothing bad, frightening, or dreadful about that time, so why should death be any different.

I’m only now starting to see his point. Discounting the idea of going to Hell, which has always seemed logically implausible to me, death is, at its worst, like going to sleep.

Sleep well, Mama. I hope to see you again.

death grief

Mom, 1928-2007

My mother died Sunday night. It occurred to me then how frightening the world is when your mother is no longer alive.

My mother was a source of grace. She knew every song on the radio and could sing it, well. She knew almost every correct answer on the TV game shows.

I could never stump my mom on a definition or a spelling of a word. She had an incredible capacity for language.

My mom and I didn’t always agree or see eye-to-eye, but I always knew that she loved me, no matter what. That is an important gift.

grief Wendy

Grief Shaved 30 Points Off My IQ

Foggy Winter Morning
Foggy Winter Morning

The whole day goes by, and I get almost nothing done. Or it feels like I get nothing done. Or I get nothing consequential done.

I’m surprised, in fact, by how fast morning turns to night. Where did it go?

Here’s what I did this week: I slowly built pyramids of laundry, dishes, and recycling. I went on walks. I paid overdue bills. I opened cupboards and didn’t close them. I lingered in public places to be around other humans but didn’t call on any friends. I half-read magazine articles. I drank. I watched movies. I slept about 10 hours a day. I went to a class. I did a very little bit of work and half-heartedly asked for more. I did my rounds on the Internet. I stewed in the hot tub. I talked to friends and family on the phone.

I feel constantly distracted and unfocused. I feel dulled. I look at what others are able to accomplish and wonder how. How do the get so much work done? How do they have so many hobbies? All I can do is impotently mark the passing of time around me.

Maybe everyone feels this way. Maybe it’s the season. Maybe I keep writing things down and never learn from them. January, not April, is the cruelest month.