Saturday, July 27, 2013

All Done

In the months after my dad's death, I went to weekly meetings of a grief support group that was comprised of people who had lost a loved one at some point within the past year.  There were about a dozen group members, ranging in age from a college student to a woman in her 70's.  At the second meeting, we were asked to go around the circle with each of us telling what we had been thinking about that week. One woman, who had lost her adult daughter to cancer, said she had sat for hours staring at a pile of blank thank-you note cards that she knew she needed to write to thank people who had helped her during her daughter's illness and during the week of the funeral.  She said that she just hadn't been able to start the process of writing the notes.  She thought for a minute, obviously deep in thought, and then quietly said to the group, "I guess I feel like if I get those notes written, I'll be all done with the whole process of taking care of details for my daughter.  Of my grief process.  Maybe even of my daughter, and that's not something I think I can survive."  Tears fell silently down my face as I listened to her talk and wished with all my heart that I didn't understand just what she meant.

I feel that way about talking about my dad's illness, about his life, and about my grief.  If I stop talking (writing) about it, I feel like I'll be all done, and, like the woman in the support group, that's not something I think I can survive.

Damn, I miss him, every day.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Circling the Drain

One of the many things that caught me off-guard about the grief process is how completely exhausting it is.  At first, I thought my fatigue was the culmination of the sleeplessness that came from caring for a critically ill person who, as in our case, almost never slept.  My mom, my sisters, and I were so far in the red on sleep it would have been understandable if that alone caused us to sleep for a week solid after my dad went on ahead.

But in researching and in learning first-hand about the grief process, I've found that grief itself is a cause of exhaustion, both physical and emotional.  Grief is hard work, whether we realize it or not; it's taxing in so many ways and on so many levels, even while we are sleeping or doing routine things like showering or driving to work.  

Probably the most physically taxing thing I've ever done in my life, besides coping with grief, has been running a marathon. Each time I've done that, I've trained for months in advance, I've read about what I should be doing to make it to the finish line, I've put effort into visualizing myself completing the event, and I've been in very good condition going into the race.  None of those things were true going into my dad's illness or his death - or being plunged into the quicksand of grief that followed.  In fact, another thing I've realized that actually contributes to the fatigue and the sense of overwhelm is that, in grief, there is no finish line.  The emotions that come with grief may seem as if they are easier to take or even fading over time, but what's actually happening is that the person who is grieving is becoming more adept at tolerating the assault as they become more seasoned or even more hardened.  

For the first six months or so after my dad died, I tried my damnedest to dream about him; I felt (and still feel) such a desperate need to have any kind of contact with him.  I had a few dreams about him, which I wrote about here and here, but then I went quite awhile with nothing.  My conjuring powers were apparently shot, at least for that time period. What ended up happening after that instead was that I started dreaming that someone was trying to kill me, obviously a very disturbing and terrifying experience, one that easily reminded me - not so coincidentally - of how I felt in Real Life starting the second my dad got sick.

I've heard it said that dreams are often the mind's way of helping us to work through our troubles; I'm not sure that applies to this situation, though: I wanted to lose the feelings of powerlessness and terror and injustice, not to experience them again and again as I did each time a dream like that came to me.  I sometimes wonder if my brain was trying to desensitize me to that feeling - because, as I've learned from what happened with my dad - that's life, it's going to happen, and no amount of training or learning or otherwise preparing can actually help when things happen that cause the grief to bear down on us; I think the best we can do is to accept that it's going to happen and to have enough hope and faith that we will get through it, somehow.