12 Dec 2013

Thank you to those of you who have written and wished us well this holiday season and also for asking how we are doing. I thought I’d do an open letter to answer your questions. It’s a bit of a kick back to when I actually enjoyed writing in that it’s a list and I hope thought provoking.

The twelve things I have learned about grieving this year

1. There is no magic number. There is no miracle that occurs when you mark the one year anniversary of your loved one’s death. Pretending that when you pass that anniversary the clouds will part, the sun will shine and your heart will heal is an unrealistic expectation. This process will take as long as it will take, no less and no more. No one gets this until it happens to him or her. So best to just smile and move on and remember they mean well.

2. No, I have not gone back to work full-time. Back to back losses of my brother and my husband left me raw and destroyed. Watching what it did to Em and not being able to stop her self-destruction regardless of what I did left me beyond the point of exhaustion. I was for months both amazed and dismayed that I woke up everyday. I have after much prodding gone back to work part-time teaching and I do love it. Thanks for asking.

3. I am at this time in no way able to do the same level of thinking or analysis that my brain so loved to engage in prior to all of this happening. So part-time intense thinking is great but it does leave me exhausted. Less so each time I do it, but still wiped. Fortunately, I have a social enterprise I’ve been building when I do feel well. It’s fun and easier and as it gets closer to launching I will let you know more about it.

4. Emily left regular high school last spring. Her life has changed so much it’s not possible for her to tolerate the petty complaining of her peers especially over things like “mean dads”. So I took her to France and Italy to learn about the world first hand. How fortunate we could do this. It’s a tough go but she is surviving and trying to fight her way through. She is after all mine and Richard’s daughter so I believe in her and that with time she will be okay and maybe even regain some of her fierceness.

5. I have met many remarkable people this year who have become great friends. The widows and widowers I walk with weekly. We help each other to stand up on those days when we’re not sure we can. We laugh freely and it feels good. And we share stories that help us remember the joy we once had as we hope we may one day find some semblance of it again even if it won’t be the same. I have met countless young people under 30 who have lost a parent and they are remarkable, reminding me that they too got lost but now their lives are good. I wouldn’t have made it through without my friends Ian (who lost his dad when he was 21) and Renjie (who lost his sister when he was a teenager). Their insights have helped me immensely as has listening to other daddy’s girls (in their 50’s) who were struggling. I have become more compassionate and patient this year. This is a good thing.

6. The list of kind acts my friends have performed this year is endless. I have learned grace through their generosity. It has made me want to be a better more generous person. A thin silver lining in a thundercloud.

7. My parents are still with us, but it has been a year of great changes for them. Last December my father was released from the rehabilitation centre and joined my mom in a retirement home for what was initially a short-term arrangement. By January it was decided they would move in permanently. By February they had done so with my sister Doris and I coordinating the move of as many of their cherished items as possible and the purchasing of new furniture that was needed. The need to spend time with that which had been their life for close to 40 years meant several accompanied trips to their old home from their new one. The house was sold at the end of July and the task of dealing with what was left behind was one Doris and I shared. In August my Dad was back in the hospital for a short stay and on September 4 he was re-admitted. One week in the regular ward, two in ICU, one back on the regular ward and since then at a rehabilitation center close to their new home. This second hospital stay left him very weak and he is now in a wheel chair. His eyes have deteriorated so that he is blind. It’s a tough go. My mother’s memory continues to deteriorate but she remains kind and generous. Due to her mobility issues we now employ 3 personal support workers (two to take her to visit my dad twice a week and a third to help with other tasks). Doris and I continue to tag team on doctor’s appointments with her taking the lead on their health issues and I with their finances. I don’t know how she does it.

8. My own health has had its ups and downs. No one ever told me that a broken heart could hurt so, would hurt non-stop for over a year and that as it slowly healed the rest of my body would need to readjust because of the state of duress it had lived in for so long. Thank God for yoga and the teachers who let me cry class after class and even handed me tissues from time to time. Witnessing with acceptance was a much-appreciated gift.

9. I am often grumpy around holidays and obstinate. So I am thankful to Richard’s eldest son Shawn who took over the Thanksgiving meal and who will share the preparation with me for the Christmas dinner. He has also be a great support person for Emily, something Richard and I always hoped his children would be for one another regardless of the big gaps in their ages. Family, I have learned, is fluid in its definition.

10. A widow friend of mine remarked she was talking to another widow friend who decided not to write a Christmas letter, something she had done for years. As she put it “No one really wants to hear about my year. They don’t want to hear the second year is worse than the first because now the shock has worn off or that the kids are struggling. They want happy news and to know I’m happy again and the world is just great. Its not and I’m not.” This clinched it for my friend who agreed and decided she too would not write a Christmas letter. It saddens me to know that we don’t know more about grief and so we can’t better support those we may even think we are supporting. I hope this changes.

11. I’ve learned in this last year that negative people are more than annoying. For those of us who are already vulnerable they can be toxic destroying what precious positive energy we’re able to find from within. An hour spent listening to someone complaining about petty crimes against them or the short fallings of others is like being steamrolled. This knowledge has given the courage to quit things and people that suck my energy. I wish I’d done it sooner.

12. Many things stand out about this last year and as I hope this letter indicates it’s been ups and downs all year long. I’d like to share an up in closing. Take this as a sign that I am not only trying to heal, but, also that I am better. Not good, but better. In February I checked myself into a health spa. I had not only stopped exercising (a real anomaly in my life) but I had also stopped eating. I didn’t feel like it or I’d forget. At this health spa I met a wise woman who said to me during one of our exchanges “always start with kindness”. She is one of the toughest smartest fiercest beautiful women I have met in this lifetime. She intimidated me and I’m sure she intimidates many and she is right. To always start with kindness is not just a gift to others but to ourselves. It makes the world and us better.

Thank you for thinking of us.
Sending you kind thoughts,
Heike

p.s. I’m glad to tell you I have a new best friend named Jo. She too is a widow and it has been her constant companionship (and late night phone calls) that have continued to inspire me to write in the hopes that it makes the journey easier for others and those who love them. We should all be so lucky.

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