grief revisited

i was looking back, can it really have been a month since my last post? wow. life gets busy, what can i say.

i feel like i get tiny hauntings. i love to have my ipod on shuffle so that many things are surprises. but then i get the surprise of a song from a funeral. i feel weird about it now. i don’t go immediately down into the bottom of grief at reminders. i’m conscious about trying to remember the good things about them and the bad. but sometimes, still, the shock is overwhelming when i’m lost in a memory of one of them and then realize that they’re dead. in 11 days, we’ll hit the 6 month mark on barb. being a therapist, i think about the mental health of it. 6 months is the marker on bereavement. if grief continues to cause major everyday problems for you after 6 months, we go from a bereavement diagnosis to start looking at trauma or depression or something else. i feel like i understand that now. i’m not “functionally impaired” anymore. i just get surprise tidal waves every once in a while.

i was thinking about grama recently and remembering the little things around the time of her death. what a shitty, terrible time. with her dementia and hearing loss, i never knew if she knew it was me there sitting with her, if she was aware of me at all. i was thinking of all these little things i did, hoping she would understand who i was.

during the last couple years of her life, she insisted on my being the only one who would cut her fingernails. so when hospice first started telling me things had changed and she was on her way out, i cut her fingernails. but she was agitated and in pain, so she didn’t let me finish. and i don’t know if she knew. i was kind of embarrassed when the attendants came in. it felt weird that i was trying to give her a manicure when she was dying and would be cremated. but it wasn’t for the aesthetics, it was to try to jog her memory. but i didn’t wanna talk to them about that.

i tried to hold her hand, touch her face, smooth her hair. but same thing, with the agitation, she really didn’t wanna be touched.

she had a cassette tape of her funeral music that she had recorded back in the 1980s, so i brought out her little tape player and earbuds, and hooked her up and blared it (she was deaf in one ear and EXTREMELY hard of hearing in the other). now that was cute! through all that agitation, she cocked her head to the side when the organ started playing. as her favorite singer went into the lyrics in a high soprano, grama sort of conducted with her hands and did a little scratchy singing-type vocals.

i came to visit her about twice a day til the end and i always plugged her in to the music. my funny logic was that she was so agitated, and so stubborn, and so anxious, that maybe hearing her music that she picked out for her own funeral would remind her to relax and let go. i talked to her while i was there, telling her as much, but i never knew if she heard me.

during the last evening that i visited her she finally started letting me hold her hand, and she squeezed it, too! there was something different about her in the last couple of days. whereas before she seemed off in her own little world, agitated, in pain, out of it… at the end she seemed more peaceful and i did wonder if she knew me and could hear me then. she seemed to respond better to my voice and to touch. after i lost my shit on some of her nurses, who then finally got her pain under control, she seemed more comfortable.

it irritated the hell out of me to have people comfort me with spiritual things, and for hospice nurses to tell me about these magical things that happened to people as they neared death. in particular, there was a story of a man who was stone deaf but could hear just before he died. to clarify, i loved the sweetness of the idea, but hated the lack of solid proof or any sort of making sense. i was so angry when they were dying, angry that no one could tell me why or how or when, and what was going to happen after. so i didn’t want to hear fairy tales about magical things that happen when you die.

still. my grama appeared to respond with squeezes and head movements and energy toward the end. but we still didn’t communicate per se. on the day she died, i stopped by to see her early, before work. i sat with her for about an hour. she was so peaceful. i thought she seemed a little different but i was so stuck on that unwillingness to trust myself or predict death or dying in any way. it takes people such a long fucking time to die. it’s painful to sit there and watch and wonder and be waiting for the call. i thought about calling in that morning. but in the end i decided to do what i’d always done as a person who knew she didn’t have a say in when people actually die (and who secretly kinda couldn’t wrap her head around the idea of them dying so didn’t really believe it): i touched her face, i kissed her forehead, and i told her, “i love you, grama. i’ll be back a little later on. but if you need to go, that’s ok. i love you.” then i plugged in her music and earbuds and i left.

three hours later i got the call that she had passed. when i came to the nursing home i went in to see her and she looked exactly the same. that was hard. she didn’t look dead, she just wasn’t breathing. i went out to talk to the nurses and they surrounded me and hugged me. and one of them looked at me and said, “she asked for you.” i said, “what?? today?” she said, “yes, about 11, and i told her you weren’t here right now.” and she was gone by 12:30.

it’s so weird because part of me still doubts that the nurse was right and that actually happened. grama hadn’t said an intelligible word in days. part of me doubts i heard the nurse right. but it’s what she said.

like i said, i’m coming up on 6 months with barb, 5 months with grama. i’m not going to say time heals, but time changes things. or time allows for new experiences to be integrated into my understanding. i’m not sure what it’s been. i’m trying to scan my brain to see if i’ve watched movies or read anything that has changed me spiritually, but i don’t recall. i just know that i’m not so rigidly anti the idea of a little magic in the end, a little space for spirituality that i can’t grasp or explain. maybe part of it was the experience with my cat dying. i don’t know. i just know that i’m not so angry about not being able to understand everything that happened. and some blockage has been removed that wouldn’t permit me to create my own meaning.

talking about it now, i think it might have something to do with the law of attraction. as i’ve been thinking more about energy, the power of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, i think it changes my spirituality. i feel more calm and peaceful about spirituality than i have in quite a long time. i’m paying attention. i’m recognizing synchronicity. i’m being grateful. so i guess i’ve been practicing living with the concept that there is an energy outside of my brain’s capacity to understand, that some invisible things are working whether or not i get it, and that translates to my understanding of death, the afterlife, relationships with people who have passed, etc.

hmph. for the past few days i’ve felt the need to write this and thought it would cause a whole lot of crying. i’ve had some tears but nothing overwhelming. i still really miss them.

Religion -vs- Spirituality

“Religion is the rules, regulations, ceremonies, and rituals developed by man to create conformity and uniformity in the approach to God.  Spirituality is God’s call in your soul.”  – Iyanla Vanzant

More than I ever wanted to or intended, I have been thinking about God and spirituality and what it all means to me right now.  Everything moves so fast, circumstances, my opinions, the clarity of what I believe.  I still don’t know.  To me, God is mysterious and to belive you know all about who God is makes you an arrogant fool.  But walking with someone through the dying process, hearing her beliefs change, being witness to her insights about who God has been throughout her life and in dying… I can’t help but consider what spirituality means to me.

What I know is this:  I feel more spiritually genuine now than I have at any other point in my life.  I haven’t been to church in years and I have no plans in the near future to return.  But I feel like I’m doing the right thing on a daily basis.  I feel my prayers for guidance and direction are answered in gentle, subtle ways.  I feel a lot of universal gratitude.  Synchronicity.  This is God’s hand in my life.

In a recent post for my friends and family, I said that I don’t want any religious catch phrases to smooth over this sad time in my life.  I still don’t.  Stock phrases are a great comfort to some people, but they remind me of my religious baggage.  I grew up forced to go to church.  I learned that I had to go to church at least weekly, have a church family, obey the bible, and accept jesus christ as my lord and savior in order to make sure I get to heaven when I die.  I internalized an unhealthy amount of guilt and judgment and condemnation.  I felt most of the time when I was involved in church that I was leading a double life because it was so easy to lead the life I wanted outside of church, and that made me question the genuineness of my belief in what I was supposed to take as unfailingly true.  I made a conscious decision in my late 20s to leave church and not come back to religion until I absolutely chose it for myself.

Even before this summer, I began to realize that I no longer had that double-life feeling.  I don’t hide parts of my life from other people anymore.  I don’t compartmentalize my existence making sure that I don’t get found out by this person or that one.  I feel free.  And that has to do with not only religion but drinking, shame, identity, being honest with myself, being courageous.  Being myself without judgment, asking for guidance as I live out what I believe to be my purpose, enjoying the small things – this is a spiritual existence and practice for me, everyday.  I don’t remember or acknowledge God every moment for the congruence in my life.  It’s more the tiny moments when I notice rightness and I silently say, thank you.

Yesterday I watched this 2-part interview with Iyanla on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah.  I’ve never been an Oprah fiend, but I have always enjoyed Iyanla.  There are some beautiful little nuggets of truth and inspiration that really lay out how I feel about religion and spirituality, reminders that God is everywhere and that religion makes God so small.   I found it really comforting to see these women talk about their spiritual journeys.  Some parts are incredibly corny, but overall this is a blessing to me.