Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Dancing with Grief

I think a lot.  Is it possible to think too much?  I guess at times too much thinking could be detrimental.  These last several weeks have been a time of deep reflection for me.  I have been reflecting on my actions, behaviors, thoughts, patterns and where I am headed....  A LOT.  When I say a lot I mean A LOT.  So this morning I had a general idea for my writing topic, however, there was another plan in place bigger than myself.

Originally, I thought I would share a little bit about myself, elaborate on my reflection post from the other day, expose myself a little more, and some of the things I have been working on in the last few years.  So, with that in mind, I started my day "searching for myself".  Have you ever done this?  I don't mean thinking to yourself...  "who am I" although some of us could stand to ponder on that a little bit.  What I mean is, I typed my name into the google search engine to see what would come up.  I do this from time to time just to see what's out there.

You know, I'm pretty famous.  I'm not really but it was a nice thought for a brief moment.  Anyway, there is a musician named Toni Becker who is.  That's not me.  I was a musician at much younger age...  playing the lovely tenor saxophone.  I survived my teenage years because of music, so I'm forever grateful for the healing power music has.  Anyway, back to my search.  When I searched my name, my brother's on line legacy account came up, listing his online condolences.   And then it hit me...  that was my topic.  Grief.  My experience with grief has led me down a road of awakening, a life of conscious living, and it has cracked me open in a time of serious personal revelation.

Grief.  She and I have danced together many times over the years.  Throughout the years, we have developed an understanding for one another and our dance has become less awkward.  Don't misinterpret that, less awkward does not mean less difficult.  I wish I didn't know her as well as I do, but I do.

I feel as a human being, grief is the hardest part of the journey.  Letting go and saying goodbye to someone we love so dearly is hard.  It's not something you "just get over".  You can't move through it quickly because if you do, she'll teach you something else.  And through the most difficult and darkest of circumstances, she still reveals a light that teaches compassion, love, patience and understanding.  Grief is not only hard for the person dancing with her.  Those that we love and share a connection with us, also go through their own experience watching our awkward dance.  Their dance can feel like helplessness, hopelessness, and frustration with us, and with themselves for not being able to "fix it" or take away our pain.

I've had a long history with grief and we've danced together for quite some time now.  It wasn't until the last few years of my life that I started to fully understand her, and our bodies began to move in sync with each other. I have learned I can not lead this dance but must follow.  She leads the dance and I then move myself in the direction that is needed to heal.  For me, learning this was necessary to recover from the loss I feel so deeply in my heart and soul.

Grief and I have had our first awkward dance at the tender age of four, when I lost my dear grandma Verna.  God, I loved her.  She was so beautiful and I loved her sweet lap.  Even as I sit here thinking of her, with tears in my eyes, I can feel her lap as I nestle into her neck,  I remember her with deep love and adoration.  I didn't even know what grief was then, how could I at the age of four?  I came to understand what loss was and I knew it was very painful.

Then a year later, my parents divorced.  When I look back on my childhood, my experiences, my feelings and how they translate to my current patterns, I realize how deep this pain was.  I have come to realize that due to this heavy loss in my life, I developed many belief systems that I have had to ponder on and release.  I'm still working on this.  

I entered the dance floor again at the age of 15.  My step-sister, Karen, developed cancer at a very young age (21) and died shortly after.  God, I loved her too.  We had some common interests and every moment I spent with her, I always came home wanting more time.  So, when she left this earthly plane, my heart broke.  I can remember sitting in my room, crying, wondering how this had happened.  No one really talked about grief in our household or what to do to make the dance less awkward.  I didn't know about the stages of grief or what to do to cope, but my soul did.  Somewhere in my being, I found the light in the midst of the darkness and engaged in healthy coping mechanisms to get through the dance.  My parents purchased a fish tank for me, which was one of the most relaxing activities I engaged in during this time of heavy loss.  I ran.  I cried.  I listened to music.  I played music.  Thank God for my tenor saxophone.

I entered the dance floor again, a few short years later, when my dear Uncle Bob died.  He was my dad's closest sibling and his best friend.  I spent quite a bit of  time in his house and loved him dearly. When I look back at how I handled this loss, I remember just pushing through it, because unfortunately that's what I learned to do, instead of dancing slowly.  I think this loss was buried someplace within me, definitely not a very good way to cope with loss.

A couple years later, I entered the dance floor again.  This time it wasn't a family member but instead a close friend.  We were young.  He was young.  Too young.  He was days from turning 21.  This death hit hard.  I couldn't even dance.  I remember laying in bed for a week not wanting to do anything but listen to music and cry.  My heart was broken and I didn't know what to do.  Roger, was such a beautiful human being.  He had a smile that held you captive, a free spirit that loved everyone, and a lot of fun to be around.  At this time, I was in nursing school and had started learning about the stages of grief, healthy coping mechanisms, and what it means to say goodbye.  All those tools couldn't prepare me for the loss I felt or soothe my bleeding heart.

Grief called me to the dance floor again in 2002.  This wasn't a physical death, but instead a death of a relationship.  My husband at the time decided that he wanted to walk the journey of life alone, and to say I was devastated, would be an inadequate way to describe what I felt.  It was in that moment I came to understand grief doesn't call us to dance only at a time of physical death, but can call us to dance with any loss.  This experience really deepened my understanding of grief and started to help me see what all of us go through at a time of loss.  It's uncomfortable, awkward, soul wrenching, difficult and dark.  I learned that a lot of people in the world are numb and have a hard time with other people's pain.  I learned that any loss will cause grief.  I learned grief is a process that must be handled with care and allowed to happen in its own time, not forced, but instead handled with gentle understanding.  I did just that and vowed that what I learned I would hold on to and try to help others, so they didn't feel so alone.  Just as I was digging deep into my grief and processing my loss, my husband and I, came back together.

On 12/13/08, my life changed forever.  A night I will never forget.  A phone call at 1:07 am  on 12/14/08, bringing the news that caused a profound change within my soul.  "Jon is dead'" rings in my ears...  burning them actually.  If I could chose to NEVER hear those words, God I would.  The connection I had with my brother is something that I can never explain.  To know him was to love him and hate him.  He was beautiful, kind, charismatic, so intelligent, compassionate, strong, brave, lived with honor...  the list goes on and on.  He drove me crazy and I drove him crazy.  Under it all was a deep love.  A love that even death can't diminish.  If you want to read about my process and what I went through during that time, click on these links:   http://whimsicaljewels.blogspot.com/2008/12/angels-called-home.html  AND http://whimsicaljewels.blogspot.com/2008/12/o-troubled-soul.html

I think of my brother daily.  I loved him a great deal and when he died I couldn't imagine my life without him.  Even as I type those words, my eyes are welling up.  But time has passed and although I miss him, the pain that took my breath away so many years ago, no longer has the power to do that.  That doesn't mean I miss him any less, it just means I have moved through my grief.  So, after seeing Jon's on line legacy account I sat and read it.  Tears streaming down my face, remembering what a beautiful light the world lost, yet the heavens gained a bright shining star.  I'm so thankful for this little online treasure and reading how much my brother's life impacted so many.  (Thank you Tearé, I don't think I ever properly thanked you.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you for purchasing this.) Like I said...  to know him was to love him.  You'd get angry with him, utter hateful words as a result, but always go back to loving him because he was amazing.  For me, I couldn't imagine not having him by my side.  He was a soldier in the world and fought for those he loved with valor.  Did I tell you he was amazing?  :)

Jon taught me my greatest lessons.  When I said goodbye to him, I felt so lost.  I felt like I was missing parts of me that would never return.  Grief and I resisted our dance several times because it was too hard.  I couldn't dance.  I couldn't move.  My pain immobilized me.  Thankfully I was able to move forward and I invited her to dance.  I needed too.  I knew that I couldn't stand against the wall any longer and had to find someway to dance even if I didn't feel like it.  Through the most profound pain I have ever experienced, I found the light again.  I learned what it was like to lose someone you cared about so deeply and feel like there was no purpose in life.  I remember feeling that each day was a gift and so many people were squandering it away with meaningless shit.  They focused their attention on the most trivial things, all the while I wanted to scream...  "WAKE THE FUCK UP!"  I've lost the most important person in my life and here you are moving through life aimlessly bothering me with nonsense.  Jon was the greatest teacher and he continues to teach me.  This loss opened my sleeping eyes and helped me realize that love remains the same even after death, be thankful for each day, see people without judgement, love openly, be true to yourself, give your love freely despite how uncomfortable it feels, be kind, live with meaning, engage in deep discussions, choose your friends wisely, really this list goes on and on too.

My dance with grief, after losing Jon, was so awkward.  I couldn't stand, let alone follow her lead.  I learned with time that the sun continues to shine and the pain lessens.  I'll never stop missing him on this physical plane, but I realize he's still here.  I just have to be "awake" to see and feel him.  Awake and aware.  I'm thankful for his love and his visits.

Fast forward to 8/9/12.  Another HUGE loss.  Grief invited me to dance once again.  I didn't want to and I screamed at her to leave me the fuck alone.  My husband decided, again, that he wanted to continue on his journey ALONE.  Again, seriously?  How the hell could this be happening...  AGAIN?!?!?  I was so devastated.  I longed for my brother during this time.  He always knew what to say when I needed it the most.  This life situation was another great teacher of grief and just like losing my brother it has taken a lot of time to heal from this heavy loss.  Losing my marriage made me pause and examine my beliefs regarding love, relationships, family, communication, self-love, self-esteem and self-worth.  I have held myself under a microscope and examined every nook and cranny, trying to uncover beliefs that no longer serve me, discover myself again, and heal from this loss that shook my being.  I felt a veil of darkness, but forced myself to see the light.  I'd say life wants us to move quickly and "get through it" but that's not true.  Honestly, it's the people in life that want us to do that.  I've realized, once again, that people can't handle other people's pain.  It creates an uncomfortable stirring within themselves that leaves feelings like despair, hopelessness, helplessness, shame, guilt, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger and vulnerability.  I've sat on the other side of grief too, watching those I love flail about, writhing in discomfort and pain.  It's hard.  I've wanted to help but knew I couldn't...  it was their journey and process, something they had to go through and sit with.  My job was to provide love and non-judgement.  That's been hard too.  We humans are so quick to judge another person's journey.  I try not to and really work on it, and even though I work to not cast judgement, I still occasionally do.  Losing my family as I knew it, has been a really hard journey.  One that I am still navigating through but I'm dancing.  Letting go and learning to live differently has been a period of discovery, and trial and error.  Sometimes I've failed miserably but not without learning something.

Last October I went through another loss.  It was through the loss of Jon and my marriage, that I was able to navigate through my grief with a little more ease.  I was able to recognize the dance steps and although she was still in the lead, following the dance wasn't quite as hard.  Losing my step-father, Glenn, was unbelievably hard.  I had come to love him so much and his presence in my life.   I can remember sitting in the park with a deep sadness, a sadness I couldn't seem to shake.  I looked at my ex-husband and said aloud...  "I'm depressed.  I'm so unbelievably sad that Glenn isn't here."  Saying those words, acknowledging the stage of grief I was in, was so liberating.  That simple act broke me free and my healing process started.

Beyond my own grief, watching my mother go through another deep loss in her life, was much harder.  This last year, she has shown an amazing amount of strength.  Losing Jon, was the hardest thing she has ever been through and practically broke her.  Losing Glenn, is easily the second hardest thing she has been through, and as I've watched her this past year, I stand amazed at her strength and growth.

Grief, I hate and love the word simultaneously.  Weird, right?  I hate it because of the loss we go through and the grief we feel as a result.  I love it because sometimes what we are grieving was necessary in order to become more than we were prior to the grief.  I've learned that grief is an individual process.  It's important to be kind to yourself as you navigate through it and dance slowly but not too slowly because it's easy to get stuck in one place.  You know that heavy feeling in your feet when you're immobilized?  In order for healing to occur we need to continue to dance, but if by chance we get stuck, it's possible to get unstuck.  There's light in the midst of darkness.  Remember time heals all wounds.  I hate using a cliché but there are reasons they exist.  I promise you, time will go by and the pain will lessen.  The first year is the hardest.  Experiencing all the firsts without the person you love so dearly...  no words can describe what that's like.  Be patient with yourself.  Love yourself by not judging your process.  Find healthy coping mechanisms that will help you through the grief.  I have several that have helped me over the years...  Being outside in nature, music, art, writing, screaming at the universe, talking with supportive friends, biking, running, crying, crying, crying, did I say crying?  I have found that a physical release, is just as important if not more important to my process, as listening to music or any of the others on the list.  The endorphins that your body releases when doing something active is a natural way to make yourself feel better.  Love yourself.  Take the time you need to heal.

After I finished this post I thought it was pretty humorous that I chose to use the analogy of "dancing with grief."  I am introverted and shy, and although I love dancing, I hate doing it because I don't like the attention it brings.  Being the center of attention is so dreadful for me....  eyes on me, no thank you.  This made me laugh and realize I need to dance more, not with grief, but in a crowded room with the sweet sound of music as it fills the room.

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