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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.

Categories
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.

Categories
national-poetry-month Wendy

All Your Collected Objects

Wendy,
I gave away your tapes,
Your carefully curated catalogs,
And your lovingly thumbed flipbooks.
Last night, I broke the mug you sipped from
In your unsent video letter.
Your books are gone,
Your toys are gone,
And you, too, are gone.
I’m giving up the crazy hope
Of putting you back together again
from all your collected objects.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
Wendy

Happy Thanksgiving

Categories
Wendy

8 years, 7 months, 14 days, 11 hours, 25 minutes and 28 seconds.

Our last photo together

That is, as close as I can calculate, the sum total of time Wendy was in my life: from the moment I met her until the time of her death. That duration represented 23.9% of my lifespan, a percentage that will only decrease as I continue to live. For example, if I managed to live to exactly 100, the Wendy years would constitute 8.6% of my lifespan.

Categories
Wendy

Life Imitates Art

Still from Le Voyage Dans la Lune

I heard the news on Saturday about a European space probe that was launched at, and crashed into, the moon. Their aim (pardon the pun) was to stir up a cloud of dust and examine the images to see if the moon was really once a part of the Earth.

Hearing this reminded me of Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage Dans la Lune (“A Trip to the Moon”), a French film made in 1902. In it, a group of astronomers decide to go to the moon by loading themselves into a special artillery shell and being shot directly at the moon. The shell lands in right in the middle of the Man in the Moon’s eye.

Wendy had the image framed above when she was working on Puppets on Parade as inspiration for one of the puppets. Below is the footage of the actual impact. It’s not nearly as impressive:

Probe Crashes Into Moon

Categories
dad Wendy

When Dad Told Me He Had Cancer

He tried to be composed, but he could hear me start to panic and his voiced cracked a bit over the phone. I tried to stay composed, too. I told my boss that I had to leave for a family emergency, then I went back to my desk and called Wendy to drive over and pick me up from work. We lived three blocks away. I held it together through the ride home, but once my body hit the bed, it was as though I were vomiting tears. My body spasmed and I wailed. And I couldn’t stop.

Categories
Wendy

Mantras

The old me, or perhaps the previous me since I’m now the old me and the former me is the young me, was not one for mantras. I have a different take on them now. They’re short, simple lessons that you have to re-teach yourself over and over again. I think of them as New Year’s resolutions, but rather than making a promise to do something, I’m making a promise to myself to know something and allow the actions to flow naturally from that knowledge. Here are the ones I’ve written down on a piece of paper and keep with me wherever I go:

  • Practice Letting Go. I think this is the central lesson the Universe is trying to teach us. We naturally want to hold onto people, memories, and items in our life, but while we can hold them and travel with them, we cannot keep them. There is no permanence. There is no constant but constant change. They will be taken from us by theft, misplacement, death, and decay or we will be forced, somehow, to leave them. If it weren’t for Wendy, I would still be living in LA and maybe working at the same job–not because that’s what I wanted, but because I would have been too afraid to let go of what I had.
  • Every Item You Let Go Adds Value to Each Item You Keep. This is a practical lesson that helps me face the surplus of things I have in my life. The idea is simple: Everyone has a constant sentimental value inside them for things. If you had, say, a thousand “things” to begin with and you pared that collection down to ten, you’d be left with the ten most important things in your life. You would cherish any one of the ten than any one of the thousand. Plus, you’d spend a lot less time dusting.
  • Look for Wendy in the World. When you feel the acute pain of someone’s absence from your life, it’s very important to remember that you carry them with you in a way that was not possible when they were alive. It’s often difficult to access the Wendyness, though, so I have to seek it out in nature and in other people. To quote Bob Dylan:

    I’ll look for you in old Honolulu,
    San Francisco, Ashtabula,
    Yer gonna have to leave me now, I know.
    But I’ll see you in the sky above,
    In the tall grass, in the ones I love,
    Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go.