Grief

Some of the Lessons Learned These Past Two Months

Make sure your partner/beneficiary knows about any life insurance policies you might have. Likewise, make sure you know about any policies you have. (This advice comes courtesy of the small policy Amy had through her union, which I learned about more than a month after her death.)

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“What do I do with all of her belongings?” Remember there’s no rush or deadline. You don’t have to go through your loved one’s belongings in the first week, the first month, or even the first year.

I’ve been going through a little bit at a time. There are things I’m keeping, other things that go to our kids or family/friends. As for the rest, a few options…

  • ThredUp – An  online shop for secondhand women’s clothing. They mail you a postage-paid bag. You fill it with clothes in good condition and mail it back. They do the work of selling, and you get a small commission. Amy had a fair amount of new or near-new clothes and handbags that wouldn’t fit anyone we know.
  • Local Shelters – Amy had a bunch of hair-care and other products, along with things like the small bottles of baby shampoo you get at the hospital. We weren’t going to use them, so I spoke with a friend at a local domestic violence shelter and donated several boxes worth for their clients.
  • eBay – This has almost been more hassle than it’s worth, but I’ve put a few things up for sale on eBay. I don’t think I’d do it for small items, but to pick an example, Amy had all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls on DVD, new and unopened, and none of us were going to watch them.
  • Goodwill – Not my first choice, but better than just throwing things out.

This is a long, difficult process. Even when I think I’m doing okay, I’ll come across something that knocks the emotional wind out of me. This week it was the big teddy bear Amy had when she was a teenager. I had no idea she still had that tucked away in the back of the closet…

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Don’t try to tough it out and lock the pain away. We do such a lousy job teaching people, especially guys, how to cope with pain and grief and other emotions. “Don’t cry.” “Be strong.” “You’ve got to get over it.”

Screw that. It’s been just over two months, and it still hurts every day. Some days are easier than others. It’s not a straight path. It still hurts. It’s still unfair. I’m still pissed. She’s on my mind all the time, either in my thoughts or right below the surface, waiting.

Let yourself hurt. Let yourself cry. Let yourself grieve.

It’s okay to get help. In my case, it’s a support group I’ve been attending for a little over a month, and I just started going to see my therapist again.

As my support group facilitator says, the grief is going to come out. Either you accept and work to manage the grief, or else it’s going to manage you.

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It’s all right to be happy sometimes.

I have guilt about being alive and relatively healthy when Amy dealt with a lifetime of various health issues. I wish I could have taken some or all of that burden for her. But I know she loved me, and I know she’d want me to be happy.

Easier said than done.

It’s harder when it feels like there’s nothing to look forward to. Tomorrow I’ll wake up and remember once again that Amy’s gone. I’ll go through a few more of her belongings and deal with the pain and guilt of that process. I’ll make dinner and be reminded once again that she was better at it than I am, and that she should be here too. It sucks. Why would anyone want to wake up for another day of that?

So I’ve almost had to force myself to create things to look forward to. I bought Star Wars tickets for myself and my son, along with some friends, so we could see the movie together. I’ve got an appointment in a month to start on my first tattoo, which will be a tribute to Amy and our kids. I signed up to attend ConFusion in January, my first con in about a year and a half.

None of it will be right without Amy. But they’re things I know I’ll enjoy, even if that enjoyment is mixed with pain and guilt. And I know she’d want me to keep living and keep trying to find things that make me happy.

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Talk to your partner/loved ones about what you want to happen if you die. Amy was so focused on getting better that we barely talked about the worst-case scenario. Even acknowledging it out loud felt like giving up. Logically, we knew it wasn’t, but logic doesn’t always beat emotion.

But those few brief conversations we did have helped so, so much.

Sitting there in the funeral home as the funeral coordinator asks question after question – burial or cremation, what kind of ceremony, where should it be held, what kind of prayer cards do you want, what about flowers, and so on – it’s overwhelming.

I didn’t know everything she’d want, but I knew the basics. Knowing the memorial service we put together was something she would have appreciated, it helped a lot. Bringing Amy’s parents and our daughter along to the planning session (they all wanted to come) helped too – together, we knew Amy well enough to figure out the best choices for the things Amy and I hadn’t discussed.

But I wish we’d talked more. Preferably before she got sick, which would have eliminated that fear and sense of giving up…

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I’ve been forcing myself to say yes to pretty much every social-type invitation, mostly people asking if I wanted to grab lunch or dinner or whatever. I also pushed to get a few friends on board for a monthly game night, which should start in another week or so. I know I need some social interaction, to get out of the house and interact with people who care about me. Even when it would be easier to just stay home and crawl back into bed.

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Be gentle with yourself.

I had to clean out Amy’s office this week. 50+ boxes of stuff to go through. That was hard. For the rest of the day, I skipped exercise, I didn’t try to write, I pretty much just read and watched TV. I’m trying hard to be okay with that, with allowing myself to take breaks and recognizing the toll all of this takes. (Or, you know, with letting myself go weeks between blog posts, aside from the Cool Stuff Friday links.)

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All things considered, I think we’re doing all right. It’s hard – grief doesn’t have an expiration date – but we’re still living our lives each day, which is what she would want.

Widowed

Did you know Facebook doesn’t let you change your relationship status to “Widowed” until your partner’s Facebook page has been memorialized? (Unless, presumably, your partner isn’t on Facebook, or isn’t linked as your spouse.) I mean, I kind of understand why, but dang…

I’m still struggling with that label. When Amy and I got married sixteen+ years ago, that was supposed to be it. I mean, we knew one of us would go before the other, but that wasn’t supposed to be until were were both winding down.

“Til death do us part.” In my mind, that always meant death from very old age. Looking at those words now, they feel like an expiration date on a relationship that was supposed to last forever.

Intellectually, I know I’m not married anymore. Emotionally? Not only am I still wearing my wedding ring, I added Amy’s wedding band too.

Wedding bands

I know there’s no rule on how long you’re “supposed” to wear your wedding ring after you lose your spouse. Some people take it off right away. Others move it to the right hand, or wear it on a chain. I’m just not ready, and I have no idea when or if that will change.

At group last night, we had an activity about the tasks of grieving, one of which — and I’m paraphrasing — is the emotional adjustment to a new and different relationship with the dead. Amy is still a part of my life. I see her in our kids, our belongings, our friends, the photos that pop up on my screensaver. I talk to her at least a little bit every day. I hear her in my memories.

The relationship now is with those memories. More than thirty years worth of memories, good and bad. But it’s not the same. That’s one of the many things I have to come to terms with.

Sixteen years ago, neither of us really knew how to be married. We both screwed up sometimes. We had to figure it out as we went. Some things we sorted out fairly quickly. Other parts took years. There are bits I don’t think we ever fully figured out. But by the end, I think we made a pretty good couple.

I barely remember what it was like to be single. I sure as hell don’t know how to be widowed. It’s one of the many things I know I need to learn going forward.

I know my life needs to go on, in whatever shape or form it takes. I know Amy would want my life to go on. I just never imagined it would have to be in a world without her.

Fortunately, I also know I don’t have to figure it all out today.

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…

Jim C. Hines