Grief: Doing it Wrong?

For me, blogging has always been a way of sharing things I care about and connecting with folks. That encompasses everything from sexual assault issues to arguments in the SF/F community to just geeking out about whatever catches my interest in a given week.

Well, the focus of my life has been a bit different for the past ten months, and especially so since August 29. An awful lot of my time and energy is spent dealing with the aftermath of losing Amy. There’s paperwork — so much paperwork — and belongings to sort through and online accounts to clean up and close, not to mention the whole single parent thing.

And I’ve been immersing myself in that work, partly because it needs to be done, but partly because it keeps the grief from dragging me down… sometimes.

Maybe it’s my own background in psychology. Maybe it’s having spent almost 16 years married to someone with so much more experience in psychology and counseling. But I keep worrying that I’m grieving wrong.

I’ve attended three sessions at Ele’s Place, where I’m dealing with the most recent death in our group. Sometimes it’s helpful to be in a room with people who understand. Other times, someone will talk about a particular feeling — take guilt, for example — and I end up wondering why I don’t feel that too. What’s wrong with me?

I know everyone grieves differently. I know it’s ridiculous to expect my grief to follow the same paths and patterns as anyone else’s.

I also know grief is hard. I lost my wife and best friend. I lost my partner. I lost the future we expected to have together, all the hopes and dreams and plans… It’s overwhelming, and it’s tempting to lock it all away in a box and not deal with it.

I know that’s not the healthiest approach. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to start attending Ele’s Place, to force myself to face that grief, to work on figuring out how to live with it.

I keep questioning. Why haven’t I cried more? Am I just a cold, stone-hearted person? Is it because I cried so often during the nine months we were fighting cancer, and I’m just exhausted and cried-out?

I realized earlier this year that a part of me was grieving even before we knew whether Amy would survive. (And I felt guilty as hell about that, too.) In trying to understand what the hell was wrong with me, I discovered something called anticipatory grief.

Apparently what I was going through was kind of normal? But it means some of the wounds don’t feel quite so exposed. It’s been just over a month since I was able to talk to her, but it’s been almost a year since we were able to sleep together in our own bed. If grief is a path, I feel like my progress along that path skips around from one day to the next. It’s disorienting and confusing.

The biggest symptom I’m aware of is lack of sleep. I still have a really hard time getting to sleep at night. All the thoughts I’ve been too busy to deal with during the day come rushing back. I roll over and touch her pillow and remember snuggling up with her. I talk to her. I try to sleep, and after a half hour or an hour I give up and read for a bit or find something else to do. And then it’s 6:10, and the alarm is telling me it’s time to get up and get my son ready for school…

Part of me feels relieved that I’m not sleeping. It’s a reminder that I’m not stone-hearted, that I’m hurting and grieving just like I’m supposed to. But I also know it’s not healthy, and I’m trying to adjust things to help me sleep a little better.

I don’t know what I’m doing. There’s no handbook. One therapist says it’s good I’m keeping busy. Another points out that keeping busy is a way to avoid facing those hard feelings. I suspect they’re both right. Everyone grieves differently, and it’s a process that lasts years, if not an entire lifetime.

And I’m basically winging it. Trying to figure it out day by day, the best I can.

From what I’ve learned, that’s pretty much how grief works.

Four Weeks Into the New Normal

A collection of random thoughts and observations from the past four weeks…

  • We accumulate a lot of online accounts. I’ve been deleting most of my wife’s, mostly because I don’t want her personal information out there where it could be hacked or abused. Makes me realize how many places I’ve created logins for over the years…
  • I started writing a short story I’d been thinking about toward the end. It failed miserably. I think part of the problem was that I was thinking about the story when Amy was still alive. Everything now is so different … I can’t get into the right mindset.
  • So instead, I’ve started working on Terminal Peace again. Only a few days in so far, and the wordcount is pretty small, but it’s a start.
  • Amy had worked for a while at Community Mental Health, but when she checked her history, she didn’t think she had quite enough to be vested for her pension. She was so frustrated to have fallen just a few months short. But after talking to her employer and her retirement system, she had actually made it, which means her pension now comes to us. It’s not huge, but it’s a monthly check, and is one more way she’ll help take care of us for the rest of my life. I wish she’d known…
  • I do pretty well during the day, for the most part. I’ve got a lot to keep me busy, and that helps a lot. Nighttime is another matter. I’m still not sleeping well. I’m trying a few things to help, but I don’t expect this to really change for a while yet.
  • My son and I are both attending groups at Ele’s Place, for kids who’ve lost a parent (and for the surviving parent). Only two sessions so far, so it’s too soon to really say much, but I hope it’ll help us to deal with and work through the grief.
  • Finally tried to get back to karate this week, only to find class was cancelled. Dang it, I was really looking forward to punching stuff, too!
  • Being a full-time single parent is rough. But I promised Amy we’d be okay, and I’m damn well gonna do the best I can to keep that promise.
  • Looking at our financial situation, I may be able to work about half-time (20 hours/week) at the day job, which would give me time for everything I need to do at home and for my son, and maybe even a bit of writing time… Nothing’s finalized there yet, though.
  • It all still feels unreal. The idea that she’s gone, that the part of my life where we were married is over … it’s absurd. It’s not that I expect to hear her pulling into the garage after work or anything. It’s more like that Beverly Crusher quote from Star Trek: “If there’s nothing wrong with me, there must be something wrong with the universe.” I feel like something’s wrong with the universe.

Blogging hasn’t been much of a priority. I’ve had thoughts about stuff — renaming awards, fools filing DMCA notices on themselves, the good and bad of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance — I’ve just been using my spoons for other things. Don’t know when or if that will change. But hey, I posted something today. That’s a start, right? One more step toward the new normalcy…

Memorial

Flowers

Thank you to everyone who attended Amy’s memorial yesterday. It was such a beautiful day, and a perfect location to remember her. I was overwhelmed by the love and support, and I think she would have approved. (Though she probably would have thumped me for a few of the pictures I had displayed…)

I’m so grateful for everyone who helped with the planning and setup and all the rest.

It wasn’t a formal service, but more of a celebration and remembrance with family and friends and food. We were in one of the park’s largest pavilion areas, and we filled it to overflowing. One more sign of just how many people loved her.

Some of us took a little time to talk about Amy, sharing stories and memories and talking about how much she meant to us. I know there were others who wanted to speak, but were hurting too much. Amy would have been the first to hug you and tell you that’s all right too.

I asked my son how he felt after he got up to talk about his mama. He said it hurt to do, but it also felt good. I thought that summed the day up beautifully. It did hurt. It still does, and it will for a long time. But it felt good to be with people who loved her, and to remember and celebrate how amazing she was.

A few people asked me to share what I said at the beginning, so I’m copying that below.

All of our love and gratitude to all of you who’ve helped us through this past year, both in person and online. Your support helped a lot. Thank you.

More

Memorial, Donations, Cards

Amy’s memorial/celebration of life will be Sunday, September 8 at 2 p.m. at the Overlook Pavilion in Burchfield Park. 881 Grovenburg Rd, in Holt.

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In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Amy’s memory to Saint Vincent Catholic Charities or the Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan.

Amy worked for a time at St. Vincent, which does a lot of good for children and families. And the Leukemia Foundation supports other blood cancers as well, and doesn’t limit that support to children. They helped us with copays and other expenses in recent months.

I’d also ask that, if you’re able, please consider donating blood or platelets. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it also damages the bone marrow, which is where blood cells are produced. Amy required a lot of transfusions to get her through chemo. Those donations make a real difference to people fighting cancer and other diseases and injuries.

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For those who might want to send cards, they can be sent to our home address if you have it. If not, you can also use:

Hines Family
P.O. Box 521
Holt, MI  48842

(I hope you’ll understand and forgive my not posting our home address here.)

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Finally, Amy’s obituary is on the funeral home’s page.

Amy

Amy in 2016My wife Amy died yesterday, bringing an end to her nine-month fight with cancer.

There’s so much I want to say about her, and so much I’ll probably be writing in the future.

For now, know that she’s the strongest person I’ve ever known. She fought this thing so hard… Again and again, she surprised doctors and nurses with her strength and determination. That fight gave her the chance to see her son start high school, her daughter start her first real job. It gave us nine more months to be together and love each other.

She dealt with chronic pain for most of her life. Cancer and treatment made that worse. But at the end, she wasn’t hurting. She was comfortable. Her children were with her, along with me, her parents, and others who loved her.

She worked as a child and family therapist, and the tributes I’m already seeing from some of her clients and coworkers confirm what I already knew. This was her calling and her passion, second only to loving her children. She’s the most caring and empathic person I ever met. She helped and inspired so many people.

A few nights ago, we were able to transfer her to a wheelchair, and I took her for a walk outside the hospital. We got to enjoy the (sort of) fresh air, the flowers and trees around the hospital. She loved going for walks, and I’m so glad we had the chance to do one more.

Our family and a few close friends have been helping out, sharing love and support and grief, so we’re not alone. We’ve got a lot to do… it actually helps me a little to have things to do to keep myself busy for these first days.

I appreciate so much the love and understanding and support you’ve all shared through this. I hope you’ll understand if I’m a little hit-and-miss in responding to email and messages in the immediate future.

I’ve been telling my son the reason it hurts so much is because we love her so much, and as hard as that pain is, would we trade away the love and the time we had with her?

I was lucky enough to have almost sixteen years together with her as a family, and another fifteen as friends.

I’m sure I’ll share more in the days to come.

For now … I’m just so grateful for who she was and how much we shared and how much better our lives were because of her. And I miss her.

Jim C. Hines