Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Healing Road

The late comedian George Carlin was famous for pushing the entertainment envelope and broke new ground by using a great deal of profanity in his stand-up routines.  Whether you agreed with his style of comedy or not, Carlin truly understood the power of laughter.

Laughter releases stress and boosts your immune system.  Finding humor in a situation can also make you feel more in control because you are the one poking fun at something and not the other way around.  Moreover, doctors are reporting that laughter can be a powerful distraction from pain and illness.  If you saw the movie, Patch Adams, starring the infamous Robin Williams, then you know what I am talking about.

While laughter is definitely beneficial to your health, please don't think I am suggesting that those who are in the midst of new grief should be able to find the humor in anything.  Grieving in itself is not funny; it's trying to cope with a life-changing event.

But . . . telling stories about the person who died can be funny.  I think that's why the old-school Irish wakes were sometimes so therapeutic.  Sharing tall tales and bittersweet memories with family and friends usually led to lots of laughter as well as lots of tears and lots of drinks.  But in that messy emotional stew a bond and a closeness of the human spirit was created in memory of the loved one because the act of sharing became a precious gift to each other.

Whenever I see some family members or people who were really good friends with my husband, we usually end up imitating him in some fashion because he was funny even when he didn't intend to be.  He had a very distinctive way of talking: loud and to the point.  You knew where you stood with him pretty much right away.  There are phrases that he would always use and of course in our imitations we tend to harp on those because they immediately remind us of him.  Whether I am telling the stories about him or listening to the stories being told about him, in the end I always feel that he is with us while this is going on and I know he loves it.

Only the passage of time can help with finding humor in life's off-the-wall situations and in using humor as a coping mechanism to deal with grief.  Herewith is a bit of Carlin's wisdom about life:

1.  Throw out nonessential numbers.  This includes age, weight and height.  Let the doctors worry about them.  That is why you pay them.

2.  Keep only cheerful friends.  The grouches pull you down.

3.  Keep learning.  Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening, whatever, even ham radio.  Never let the brain idle.  "An idle mind is the devil's workshop."  And the devil's name is Alzheimer's.

4.  Enjoy the simple things.

5.  Laugh often, long and loud. . .Laugh until you gasp for breath.

6.  The tears happen.  Endure, grieve, and move on. . .The only person, who is with us our entire life, is ourselves.  Be ALIVE while you are alive.

7.  Surround yourself with what you love, whether it's family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, whatever.  Your home is your refuge.

8.  Cherish your health:  If it is good, preserve it.  If it is unstable, improve it.  If it is beyond what you can improve, get help.

9.  Don't take guilt trips. . . Take a trip to the mall, even to the next county; to a foreign country but NOT to where the guilt is.

10. Tell the people you love, that you love them, at every opportunity.

AND ALWAYS REMEMBER:  Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Liam Neeson

I am always on the look-out for stories where people open up and reveal how they handle their feelings of grief.  As you know, the subject of grief is not considered to be a mainstream topic of conversation because it is such an emotional minefield.  To do so means revealing deep pain and vulnerability; which is hard for anyone to do; but especially hard if you are a celebrity or a public official.

It can be almost impossible to get men to talk about how they feel about most things -- unless it's a sports team or a political party -- so it was a wonderful surprise this week when actor Liam Neeson was in the news because he talked to Esquire magazine about the death of his wife actress Natasha Richardson in 2009 at the age of 45.  Neeson deserves a lot of credit for talking candidly to a men's magazine about how he survived her death that was caused by a skiing accident in Canada.  Just by the fact that it took him almost two years to talk about this tragic event shows how hard it can be to adjust to the death of a loved one along with the added responsibility of becoming the sole parent of two young sons.

Neeson's comments go a long way in showing that slowly you can begin to heal and that while he is trying to get on with his life he recognizes the benefits of talking about what he and he sons dealt with after Natasha Richardson's death.  He told Esquire magazine that initially you think that you know what grieving will be, but then it turns out to be something entirely different.  Doesn't that sound familiar?

In case you missed it, here are a few excerpts from Neeson's Esquire  magazine interview:

-- "It's easy enough to plan jobs, to plan a lot of works.  That's effective.  But that's the weird thing about grief.  You can't prepare for it.  You think you're gonna cry and get it over with.  You make those plans, but they never work."

--  "I think I survived by running away some.  Running away to work."

--"It hits you in the middle of the night -- well, it hits me in the middle of the night.  I'm out walking.  I'm feeling quite content, and it's like suddenly, boom.  It's like you've just done that in your chest."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Friend In Need

I recently received a call from a friend telling me that her husband died the day before.  I knew something was going on with her husband but she never shared the details with me.  I was shocked as I listened to her tell me the tragic news.  A rush of mental images went through my head and I started crying.  I recognized the flatness in her voice, reflecting the shock, exhaustion and confusion that she was dealing with.  I was picturing what she went through as she talked to me but I also was back with my husband the day that he died.  I knew there was nothing I could say to take away her pain.  I could only sympathetically offer, "I'm so sorry.  I had no idea that he was so sick."

She doesn't live near me so I couldn't go to her house.  I don't see her as much as I would like but we try to stay in regular contact.  When I saw her number on my cell phone screen I thought it was unusual for her to call me on a weekend morning but I didn't instantly think of bad news.  That said, I hadn't talked to her in awhile because the last couple of times we talked on the phone she would allude to her husband's medical issues but wouldn't go into details.  I knew she was trying to handle a stressful situation but I also knew she was telling me she needed her privacy.

While I find talking to be therapeutic, I do recognize that a lot of people don't feel this way.  Not everyone wants to talk on and on about what is happening to them, their spouse or their child.  For others, talking can be emotionally exhausting and it doesn't solve anything.

You might think that because I experienced the death of my husband that I would know exactly what to say to my friend and that I would immediately have a plan to offer that would make her feel better.  Not true.  She just lost her husband, the person she loved more than anything else in the whole world; the person she built a family with and loved for decades.  While I immediately felt the loss of a generous friend; the loss for her is so much more.

The circumstances of each person's death are truly unique.  I cannot say to another person that because I felt a certain way that I know they will feel that way too.  Grief is different for each person and it's an unpredictable process.  Her whole world has been shaken up and she needs time to adjust to these major changes.  How much time?  There is no set schedule. 

Many people, including myself, feel that grief comes and goes in waves.  You think you are all right, you have yourself and your feelings under control and then bam, out of the blue, something triggers those feellings of loss and you are back in a place you didn't expect.  You could be in a car, the grocery store, at work or in a restaurant.  It could be a smell, a song, a person or a place.  You just never know.  I have heard some people say that they feel the worst part of their grief came early in the process and other people found that the most difficult times came months or even years later.

There is really no way to tell someone else who is grieving how they will feel in six days, six weeks or even six months after the death of a loved one.  Eventually you do start to heal but only the person going through bereavement can know how much they can handle.

Let the person who is grieving set the pace of your conversation.  No matter how scared you are when you are talking to a person who is grieving, you should always treat them with dignity and kindness.  And listen.  Listen, listen, listen.  The person who is grieving is trying to make sense out of what is happening to them and it is not a logical process.  Sometimes a person may need to repeat the details of their loved one's death over and over.  This is their way of healing.  Listening is a special gift and you have the opportunity to give it to someone who really wants it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Paris In Pennsylvania -- 2011 Philadelphia Flower Show

Everyone is tired of the ice, the snow, the cold and winter in general. 
For those who are grieving,  winter can be particularly harsh.  As an antidote to this dreary time of year, Sibley Hospital is organizing a day trip on Wednesday, March 9 to the 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show.  This year's theme is "Springtime in Paris" and visitors can expect to enjoy spectacular flower sculptures and carousel topiaries as well as lush flowering trees, lilacs, roses and borders of lavender.

Travel Itinerary -- Wednesday, March 9, 2011

8:00 am        Depart Westwood Shopping Center in Bethesda, Md.
11:00 am      Arrive at Philadelphia Flower Show
                      Free time to enjoy the flower show &; lunch on your own
4:00 pm        Depart for Washington, DC
7:30 pm        Arrive Westwood Shopping Center in Bethesda, Md.

Cost per person: $79.00 (includes transportation, entry into the flower show, tolls, taxes & all gratuities

Contact: Kim Grizzle at Eyre Tour & Travel for reservations at 1-800-321-3973

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mail Call

You never know what the U.S. Postal Service will bring your way.

Last night I arrived home late.  It had been a long day at work and I was tired and hungry.  I have a mail slot in my front door so when I open it, the mail is usually scattered all over the floor.  I gathered it all up and starting looking at what was delivered.

It was the usual assortment of flyers, magazines and a couple of envelopes, one of which was particularly thick.  I turned it over and saw that the return address was from the law firm that handled my will, as well as the will of my late husband.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that the envelope was addressed to my late husband, plus in capital letters, right under his name it said “PERSONAL” and “CONFIDENTIAL.”

“What the hell could this be about?” I thought to myself.  “He’s been dead for eight years.  What could they possibly be sending him?”  Of course, I knew right away that whatever it was that was inside the envelope was a mistake but I was really intrigued to find out.

I figured it was going to be a bill of some sort.  You’re probably thinking the same thing.  You know how it works.  Somehow, the company or in this case the law firm, “forgot” to charge you for something and then years later a bill appears.  This is what I thought happened to my husband.  Now, eight years later, after he died and the firm executed his will,  they were actually sending him a bill.

Not so.  I was wrong.  There was no bill.  I opened the envelope and inside was a letter and a small booklet titled, “2010 Tax Law Highlights.”  I started to laugh.  What a waste of paper and postage.  The letter was even funnier because in capital letter across the top is said “ESTATE PLANNING ALERT.”  How can you alert someone who isn’t even here and thus has no estate?

If this had happened a number of years ago I probably would have been upset and cried.  But now I actually see the humor in it.  I can’t even tell you what my husband would have said if he was alive because there would be too many four letter words in the sentences.  I’m sure there are many of you out there who still receive mail with your late spouse’s name on it.  Maybe the person's name is on a piece of mail you receive regularly and you even find it comforting.  But this piece of mail was unexpected and hysterical.

I guess Benjamin Franklin was right.  Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes.