There are neurobiological reasons why our memories and our grief are inexorably connected. It has nothing to do with us being crazy, lost, or incapable of closureRead More
I am creating a tapestry of memories and emotions to carry with me like the Bedouin moving from one safe place to another safe place knowing they have all that they need to thrive.Read More
Caregiving is helping a loved one live well. The price we pay is shuttling between our life and their death. We exchange life’s water with the wilting of the loved one, nourishing them over and over while our life erodes. Yet our spirit sings the joy of giving hope and succor.Read More
Grief Dreams have a place in our lives and it’s not all bad. Love and you’ll grieve and love again. Helping each other in our caregiver role. Workplace education to improve grief support.Read More
Sometimes even gaming we can find meaning in our grief. Grief is not valueless nor vapid it offers us much. Music even happy music makes us grieve.Read More
You can phone your grief in. Art and grief creates real healing and hope. Polite dinner conversations should include death and dying.Read More
Employees and employers are the single most important community to help with grief, grief support, and mourning.Read More
Some links on How Should You Grieve, Closure Is Indifference, and Death and Grief in the Digital AgeRead More
How to have a better death, Rums (just because), some grief lasts a lifetime, and how to learn from great loss.Read More
What I found interesting this week. East vs. West concept of last words, what makes life meaningful at the end-of-life, and judging others grief.Read More
I can see myself reflected in the grief of my loss and that reflection is not static. It is dynamic and moves forward the in ripples and eddies of a stream even as I stand in place.Read More
I guess my first goal is to find the peace in the solitude of writing, the book, blog posts, and not jump up to do something else. To learn to sit and listen quietly to my inner voice. To not look at what’s next or what do I do to fill the time with chores and acts.Read More
Grief is a playlist playing in the background. It is the sound track of your life after the loss of a loved one. Some turn it off and find a new list. Others listen to their and dance to it or sing or cry or let it just play. It is your playlist and your choice.Read More
It's not as if grief speaks to me per se. It is more that in this state of grief whether roiling or calm grief heightens my awareness. I hear a phrase, read a passage, listen to a song and think about it. Just think and learn. Learning is the only thing that changes our consciousness. Even within this state of grief driven knowledge I wonder, am I missing today and tomorrow because my vision is in my rear view mirror? Can I untangle myself from looking back to construct a new environment for my emotions to reside?Read More
I am not sure I ever really tried to achieve closure or even considered it. Closure is a myth. Closure is indifference. Closure is denial said pretty.Read More
Identifying my journey as starting at caregiving seems odd since there is a whole shit load of years prior to that 2009 moment when you learn your wife of 28+ years has advanced cancer and six months to live. I guess that is where life for me began, with the specter of death looming over us both. Life begins at death? How oddRead More
From July till August the waves of memories rage and roil within me so much so that I go back and bring forward what was to what is. I wish I could follow one of Donna’s mantra’s “There’s a reason they call it history. It happened then.” During Dying Season then is now.Read More
“Now would be a good time to have end-of-life discussions with her,” the Hospice Rabbi and social worker said. “What does she want for her funeral? What are her regrets? Did she find joy in her life?”Read More
Monday July 11 Dr. B had scheduled an MRI and other tests. I mostly sat and texted friends to let them know where Donna was and why. I was trying to escape where I was with thoughts of chores: heading home to free Nina from doggie daycare, feed her, and give her insulin before returning to the hospital. Donna returned to her room after the MRI. Donna rested in her hospital bed looking so small. She was a figure on the horizon moving away from my sight.
We sat and talked. We didn’t speak about the future which felt like a dense fog settling around our shoulders. Our hopes reflected off the mist. Of course there was a future. There always is a future but not one you could see it or want to. There was only the immediate moment to navigate to get to the unseen future. The future never stops and waits for us. It just hides while you struggle to visualize what it may be. I left that evening and entered an empty home.
The next day Donna was to have a thoracentesis to drain the fluid around her lungs.
I held Donna’s hands and watched her grimace as the resident pushed the catheter through her back, into her lung cavity. “This will work,” I thought. “This will work, she’ll be home soon.”
The next day there was good news. The thoracentesis had worked.
Until it didn’t. The fluid came back. I held her hand again, watched her face again, as another catheter stabbed her back. This time it worked. Until it didn’t.
“We need to discuss palliative care,” Dr. B. said.
“Great,” I thought, “this will give us, her, me, more time.”
Normally there were two chairs in the room. Today it looked like a makeshift conference room with four additional chairs. They were perfectly arranged to project a sense of community and comfort. Dr. B. orchestrated where the chairs were placed, who sat, and who stood, thinking all the while of how this meeting would affect her. Palliative care was going to be a major change in her status. No longer was Donna living and being. She was Donna at the end of life.
The residents, social workers, and Hospice staff attending the meeting followed Dr. B.’s lead, staying focused on Donna the person, her life, and my status. Nobody was making the rounds with a clipboard.
Donna wasn’t engaged. Her eyes followed the chairs being moved and the white coats assembling. Her shoulders slumped in surrender. It was the first time I’d ever seen her passive. She wasn’t asking questions. “Don’t give up,” I thought. “Don’t, please.” I couldn’t say it out loud because it would expose the obvious, that she was unable to rise and take flight from her bed.
Dr. B. and Dr. S. suggested Home Hospice. When the Hospice intake staff spoke with me, they weren’t wearing white coats. This was not clinical. It was business. The conversation felt like a sales call, done in a busy hallway of rushing physicians and nurses, with families of patients sitting nearby. Here I was, speaking and answering questions about Donna’s death, in the most public of venues for the world to hear. Intake handed me papers to sign. I did not feel like a person about to lose his wife of 28 years, being offered hope and dignity. I felt like a transaction. The home hospice staff scheduled a delivery of the bed and other items. The next day I sat home and waited. I bought sunflowers to brighten up what would be her death bed.
That Saturday Dr. S was reviewing charts on the unit. We spoke and he said the staff, Dr. B, and hospice thought the in patient hospice unit would be a better alternative for Donna and me.
I had been holding on to that trope of a wonderful, peaceful death at home, surrounded by friends and family circling her bed like supplicants kneeling to receive the communion of her life passing. Now I was hearing that even if she came home, she wouldn’t have that. I wonder to this day if Dr. S. was straight with me, or if they all thought I was a caregiving failure and couldn’t be trusted.
On July 18, 2011 Donna was transferred to the hospice unit.
On Instagram (loveltrs2d) my followers and those I follow are widowed. Some have lost a child or parent. Many are fighting grief while offering us hope and help. Key to their collective posts are memories. We embrace memories because they act as mortar holding the worn bricks of our lives together. Memories refresh our thirst for meaning of the unknown. Memories huddle in the dark to revel themselves at times frightening us to our core. I have written about memories A LOT
- Grief is the Space Between Memories Known and Unknown
- The Barbs and Cortege of Memories
- Grief is Vivisection to Those Left Behind
- The Symbiosis of Grief and Love
- Grief Is An Artesian Aquifer of Memories
There are second order memories that gives me pause to smile. These are the memories of Christmas as a child. Memories of my first bike. A vacation to Cape May. They are moments or places that for the most part I evoke as needed or when reminded of a past. These first order memories are a place setting of context for my years on earth.
Then there are memories of Donna and us. These are first order memories. The memories of Donna are mostly painful because I remember what was in relationship to what is not. The memories of Donna are chisels chipping away at my days. I cover my eyes to keep from being blinded by the sharp fragments flying off their edges. I will admit at times these memories warm me, comfort me, hold me, and I am happy.
I love all my memories. These second order memories are bits of light we all hold. I cautiously respect the first order memories of Donna because of the power they hold over my well being and life. They are a narrative of my future reflected in a rear view mirror. I believe they speak to me and wake from the somnolence of my life even if they hurt me. Which means I'm alive.
Are Memories Symmetric or Asymmetric?
Memories sit there in my mind, before my eyes, in my ears, or on my taste buds. Some are dusty yet have not faded into black and will suddenly raise themselves up and dance before me in a silent ballet. I have collected these memories like shot glasses or salt and pepper shakers from travels near and far. When Donna died I cleared a shelf and began to assemble those memories. Some were centered on a shelf others lined up according to height. Neatly displayed and ready.
So my memories sit and wait. Or are they waiting? I wonder. Do I reach for memories for reasons known or unknown or do the memories in some anthropomorphic fashion decide to come to me? The first order memories of childhood I reach for randomly or through provocation by an image, a word, or a taste. Second order memories of Donna feel different. Many times I reach for them for comfort, peace, joy, or just because. Other times they charge at me full bore slamming into my conciseness like fly buzzing against a screen trying to find freedom. It is these moments where I think memories are alive, yes they are alive in me and only me. They have a life and will of their own.
After seven years of folding memories like origami swans I wonder do they love me? Are these memories active participants with me? I would say yes to the later because it is me who gives them life and permission to enter my world. Do they give me life? Do they love me? Am I simply projecting what I want the memories to do?
Donna left me her memories when she died. But without her they are just memories. As Donna like to say “There is a reason they call it history. It happened then.” It is not then it is now and they are here crisp as the day they occurred. As real as they are they are just neurons and synapses crashing together to create emotions that fit a broad spectrum. I own these emotions because I drove memories to me like logs speeding downhill in a sluice to the mill and made into chairs and tables to furnish my life.
Donna and I loved each other. After her death I still love Donna. Did Donna stop loving me when she died? I have her memories from the land of then. I give them life. I love them. I hope they love me. It is the best I have. Donna will never return but I can go to her anytime I choose.