Distractions

Busy, busy, busy.

That is my new motto.
Stay busy.
Keep moving.
Keep doing.

Wake up with a things to do list and don’t stop until it is finished.  There is lots to do and I need to get it all done.

I believe that distractions are the key to keeping sadness at bay.  If you don’t have time to think about the loss in your life you will not have time to focus on the sadness.

My children have been great to help me with this plan. In less than four months, I have traveled to Boston for a week, Seattle for a week, Phoenix for a week, the beach three times, the mountains one time, Ohio one time and (at the time of writing this) am in Healy, Alaska.  I have cleaned, organized, learned new things, visited the sick, written lots of letters, worked puzzles, painted walls and generally stayed busy.

I have found that when my “things to do list” gets done too fast, I have time to think. Having time to think is my enemy.  When I am not busy I begin to travel back in time and remember when my husband was alive and when we were having fun and doing things together.  I miss him greatly and that leads me directly into sadness.

They say that time is on your side.  As time goes forward you will heal.  You need time to move so you are further from the loss.  I am not sure what the words “closure” and “healing” really mean.  But when I am not busy, time stands still.  When I am not busy, time drags and the days are long.

I believe that your mind controls your thoughts and your thoughts control your moods and your emotions.  So if your mind is focused on your “things to do list”, you do not have time to let your thoughts go to the things that will make your mood get sullen and your emotions become sad.

Others say that you need to process for “closure” and “healing” to take place.  But when I think about processing it takes me back to thinking about my loss and thinking about my loss takes me into sadness.

Maybe I am all wrong.  Maybe someday I will wake up and find that I have just put it all off.  I may see that I have locked everything away in a trunk for another day. I may find that I totally fall apart.  Maybe I will someday become a basket case.

But I don’t think so.  I have made my peace with God.  I have processed the death.  I have reviewed my personal thinking about life and death.  I have come to terms with my new life.  I can talk about my sweet husband without being sad.  I can remember our fun life and reflect on the past sometimes without being emotional.

I really believe I am doing OK.  But I know that I am better on the days that I am busy, busy, busy.  When I was doing grief seminars (yeah, imagine that) I taught all the theoretical concepts of the grieving process.  I studied the experts and I, as Dr. Priestino, presented the information as if it were the tried and true.

But if I were to do that today, after I have lived the experience, I would have a different story to tell.  I believe you need to process, think, review and then stay very busy to get through it.  Yes there is shock, denial, etc. but essentially it is acceptance and stay busy, busy, busy.  Thank you God for giving me caring children and good friends that will keep me distracted.

 

 

CRYING

When there is something hurtful, either physical or emotional, the natural response is to cry.  Obviously, tears were shed when my husband died.  It was the display of a horrible event.  It was the natural thing to do when the hurt was so deep.

As the days went by I was encouraged to cry.  “Let it out” I was told.  “It is helpful to cry”.  “You will feel better if you cry”.  “Crying will cleanse your soul”.

I am here to tell you that I don’t agree with any of those statements.  But to be honest, I have made the same statement to many people.  I really believed it to be true.  I thought there was something therapeutic about shedding tears.

Now I put these statements in the same category with those other myths my wonderful mother said to me.  You know, things like “If you cross your eyes they will get stuck like that forever” and “If you go outside without your coat you will catch a cold” and “If you swallow seeds they will grow in your stomach”.  We grow up and figure out that these are myths.  Now I believe that ‘crying is cleansing’ is yet another myth.

Don’t get me wrong.  Crying has a place in our lives.  Babies use crying to tell us something is wrong.  They are hungry, uncomfortable, sick or distressed.  It is a way to alert us that someone needs to pay attention.  Older children also use crying to let us know that they are hurt or need attention.  You fall off your bike, skin your knee and need to cry to alert someone that it hurts.

But crying does not make the hurt go away.  It is a way to get attention and to alert people to a need. But to me, crying is not cathartic.  It is not cleansing.  It is not therapeutic.  It gives me a headache.  It makes me more sad.  It deepens my despair.

I realize that I may feel this way because I see crying as a loss of control and…

let’s face it…

I am a control freak.  

There.  
I said it.  
I know it.  
I own it.  

I don’t know why or how I got this way but I do not want to let myself be out of control. Therefore, I do not like to cry.

I know all of my friends are trying to help me the best they can when I get emotional. After all, they heard the same myth from their mothers.  And they want to help me.  So I do appreciate them when they say I should cry it out.

I am trying hard to be rational, logic, sane and non-emotional.  I try to block all of the sad thoughts.  I try to put myself in control mode and think happy thoughts.

But just in case I am not successful, I will announce to you now…

My red eyes and sniffling nose is because I have bad allergies.
And I have lots of headaches these days.

Food, Eat, Food, Eat

My family is a food conscious family.  That means that we are very conscious of what we eat, when we eat, where we eat, how we eat and what food does to our bodies.  We eat what is called Ketogenics.  And we do not play around with eating.  We are serious about this human activity.  My daughter actually blogs about our daily food.  She makes up recipes and puts them on line.  Her blog is Pink Daisies, which I highly recommend.

When a tragedy happens, we, as a people, show our love and concern by bringing food to the persons involved.  And this food, by definition, is comfort food.  Now comfort food means carbs and sugars all in the form of pastas, deserts, casseroles, and breads.  Yum and yum and YUM.

So when my husband died, food appeared by the truckload. It was wonderful food.  When you bring food to a tragedy, you bring your best recipe.  This is your pride and joy and you know it is good.  So we had the best of the best loaded into our house.  And it is common knowledge that when the best of the best of food is in your house you are required to eat it.  There is the rule that you must eat and eat and eat. Yum, Yum and YUM!

So I followed the rule.  And it made me so happy.  My children would hand me a plate of food during the “smothering mothering” period and I ate.  I never missed a meal.  The food called my name.  It soothed my spirit. Since I was not sleeping much I would get up during the night and roam the house.  At three  O’ clock in the morning I would be roaming around and think, “There is a lemon pound cake in the kitchen.  Yum”.  And then I suddenly would have a piece of cake in my hand and I was eating.  I just don’t understand how that happened but I was so happy.

And, of course, growing up in the home of parents of the depression, you do not waste anything.  So all of the food had to be eaten.  Now this was not a chore.  The food was delicious.  It was the best of the best of some great cooks.  So it was a pleasure to eat it.  And it was the rule.  You had to eat it.  And you could not waste any of it, so you were required to eat it.  Yum.

I am not sure how this happened but I am now fifteen pounds heavier than when my husband died.  And all of the food has disapearred. So now I am faced with the reality that although I did a wonderful thing and enjoyed every mouth full of the delicious food and it made me very happy, I have to make amends.  Just like all of the other areas of my life where I am having to transition, I am going to have to get back to the “healthy” way of eating.  It was a great trip and I was so appreciative of all of the people that brought their food.  My family did not have to worry about how we were going to eat during the tragedy, but it is now time to move on.

So my promise to myself is to go back to healthy and have good memories of the great food and fabulous memories of the people that brought their best of best recipes which I did wonderful justice to by eating every bite.  Yum.

 

Connecting with People

The days following the death of my husband was like a major reunion.  There was a constant flow of people in my home.  Some of these people I had not seen for many years.  Others I had just seen the day before.  But they came and they came and they came.  Sometimes one group would overlap with another.

It was so wonderful.  The visits did so much for me.  First and foremost, I was so pleased that people respected my husband enough to get in a car and drive to my house and spend time with me, honoring my husband.  It takes energy to visit someone.  You have to carve out time in a busy schedule.  You have to drive to our house which is not on the beaten path to anywhere.  Then you have to go into an unknown environment.  Will this be a group of crying people or will you feel uncomfortable?  It is not easy to be a visitor.

The visits were a great distraction for me.  I could focus on the people coming through my door.  I was meeting new people. I was reconnecting people of my past. Friends of my children, colleagues of my children, friends of my childhood, persons that we worship with at our church, neighbors, friends that we partied with as my husband and I were a young couple, friends that I went to school with and people that we had known forever.

Having people to focus on allowed me to move off of the sadness and the sense of loss.  We told “remember when” stories.  We updated information about jobs, children, homes, hobbies, retirement and activities.  We laughed, joked and had a good time. The visits were a great time to breathe, and act as if nothing had happen.

The visits were also a glimpse of my new world.  I was entertaining guests without my husband.  Something that I had not done for almost 53 years.  My new social group was myself and my adult children.  I was reconnecting with people that would properly play a role in my new life.  I did not grasp that at the time but it was a gentle introduction to my future.

The visits also let the time move by rapidly.  I cannot imagine sitting alone after a tragedy and counting the hours until a memorial service.  At a time like this everything stops.  Your regular routine does not exist anymore.  Appointments are cancelled, and daily activities are not conducted.  Time hangs in the air.  Visits keep you occupied and moves you through the days.

I am so thankful to people for the decision to visit me and my family.  I was very surprised at the number of people that came.  But I was so happy when they came.  I was reconnected to people of the past, and I was connected to new people.  I know how much energy and effort it took to visit and I want people to know how important it is to visit.  It is therapeutic for both parties.

God made us to be social.  We know that babies will not develop if they are held in isolation.  And especially when our world is threatened or destroyed, we have a need to be social.  Reaching out and connecting pulls us through the worst of events.

 

Life Goes On

I wrestled with God all night long after my husband died.  I agonized.  I questioned.  I argued.  I disagreed.  I expressed anger.  I visualized over and over and over the event that led to my husband’s death.  I never slept.  By morning, I was exhausted.

But I had made peace with God’s decision.  I was not happy nor was I still angry.  I understood that God had made the decision.  It was no human error not lack of attention to my husband’s well being.  It was simply that God wanted him back in heaven and he had the power to make His will happen.

So I got out of bed and went downstairs for coffee.  I brewed my cup and walked out on the porch.  As soon as I stepped on the porch, I stopped.  It was a typical summer Carolina morning.  The birds were singing a loud chorus of beautiful songs.  So many pitches, so many differences in calls and volumes.  It sounded tropical.  The sky was the gorgeous bright Carolina Blue.  So vivid it looked like a color off of the artists’ pallet.  The greens of the trees were neon with the different hues of summer growth.  The multitude of squirrels were chasing each other and playing tag.

It was everything that you could hope for on a gorgeous summer morning in South Carolina.  But it was all wrong.  It was suppose to be dark.  It was suppose to be gloomy.  It was suppose to be depressing.  It was suppose to reflect my world as it now exists.  This was terribly wrong.

Life was not happy and vibrant.  Life could not be busy and interesting.  Didn’t the squirrels know that my husband had died?  Didn’t they know my world had fallen apart.  How dare they run and play and look happy.  Didn’t the birds know that they should be silent in respect for the great tragedy that had happen in my life.  What was wrong with them singing out loud with their usual choral symphony.

Where were the clouds and the rain and the ugly part of the world.  How dare the sun to shine and offer beauty to the sky.  How dare the lake to be smooth and calm and blue and inviting.  Did it not realize that just yesterday it had been a party to destroying my life?

I sat down and took a few breaths.  I was ready to yell at God again for throwing such a sight in my face.  After all He had caused it all.  At least He could make nature reflect the hurt in my heart.  It was as if my loss was insignificant and not worthy of reflection in the natural part of the world.

Then God gently said to me.  I know you hurt.  I know you are sad.  I know your world will never be the same.  But I promise to take care of you.  I will never leave you and I will never give you more than you can handle.  You can do this. You can be strong.  Your husband is with me and we both expect you to carry on.

So embrace the beauty of the world.  Love it.  See Me in it.  Because life goes on.

Processing with God

There was not to be any sleep the night of my husband’s death.  Oh, I went to bed.  I did everything I usually do before bed.  I prepared to sleep but sleep never was to be a part of my night.  I had to make my peace with life and death.  I had to process with God.

And process I did.  I thought about the last few minutes before my husband left to walk down to the lake.  Was he in a good mood?  Did he seem sick?  Did he seem confused?  Were there symptoms of illness that I did not pick up on?  Was I in tune with his moods, his needs, his physical and emotional facets?

Yes, he was in a great mood.  We had laughed and joked and our relationship was in a good place.  No, he did not seem to be sick.  There were no symptoms that I could have noticed.  He had been weed eating which he loved to do.  He was going to play in the lake with children and grandchildren which he dearly loved.  Life was good.

So what went wrong?  If he was not sick and not depressed, what went wrong?  He was a good swimmer.  He was in eight feet of water.  What went wrong?

I tried to walk through the scenario all night.  I visually put myself there at the scene.  I, in my mind, was playing with them in the water.  We were splashing and laughing and making a train with rafts and noodles.  We were teasing and joking and having fun, as only family can do.  We were being responsible and caring, but relaxing and staying cool in the heat.  We were enjoying the lake that we love so much.

Then I visualized the final moments before he drown.  I lay on the raft with him.  I watched as he watched the kids and looked at them at play.  How he saw with pride each of them.  How precious they are and how much he loved them.

And then he rolled over and left this physical world.  There was no pain.  There was no discomfort.  There was no panic.  It was a simple movement from this world to the next.  God reached down and quietly lifted him out of his body and took him to the next world.  It was easy, and smooth and a comfortable transition.

Non-believers will say that during the night I justified his death in my own mind.  And non-believers will find their own explanations in all things.  But I know what happened during the night.  I was there.  I had the presence of God with me.  I talked to God as if he were sitting on the side of my bed. And we argued some.  I told him about my shock and my anger.  I asked why I was not allowed to be more prepared.

But when morning came,  I knew that God had been with me all night.  He had tolerated my anger.  He had carried me through the scenario many times.  He allowed me to question and he had provided me with the strength to get through the night.  But most of all, God provided me with his peace.  He let me know that He was with me and life was going to be OK.  My husband was fine and I would be also.  What a great God I have that would allow me this night of processing and would take me into His heart and grant me grace and peace to live through death and life.

Invasion

My house was full of neighbors and the porches were full of neighbors.  I knew all of these people and I knew that they were sitting in my space because they cared for me.  But then, I became engulfed with uniforms.  These were not neighbors.  These were not people that I knew.  These were deputies from the sheriff’s department,  firemen and persons from the Department of Natural Resources.  They were strangers and yet they came as if they should be welcomed.

I have always lived a very calm life.  I am the opposite of a drama queen.  I have never been involved with emergencies.  I have never been a party to a burglary or an automobile accident or an assault or anything else that would cause me to be associated with uniformed persons.  My naive picture of the uniform is that of the kindergartener when the policeman is my friend.  I did not associate this invasion of the uniforms as dangerous, intimidating or bearing bad news.

One of the uniforms was assigned to me.  It turns out that his son had played at my house years back. He was good friends with my daughter’s good friend.  In my state of mind, I did not remember him.  It turned out he was kind, caring and had my best interest in mind.  In the beginning, however, I did not have a warm fuzzy feeling about the uniforms in my house.  The most uncomfortable moment came when one of the uniforms told me he had to look through my house. He had to do this to make sure my husband had not gotten out of the lake and was in the house somewhere.  I got up to escort him for a tour of the house.  However, he told me I had to remain in the presence of another uniform while he searched my house.  I suddenly felt like I was a suspect.  It was like I was being accused of hiding my husband in the house as I reported his drowning.

As I sat and wondered, reality filtered into my brain.  No one remains living when they have been underwater this long.  My brain started to let me know that there was no longer a hope of recovering my husband to come home and be with me.  It was now finding him so we could confirm what was already evident.  I remember saying to my uniform “keeper” that I understood that it was over, but I needed confirmation.  I could not call my other four children without confirmation.  I was calm; very calm.  I was rational.  I was reasonable.

As my neighbors sat vigil on the porch, they watched the boats of the uniforms searching the bottom with sonar.  They would say, “I think they know where he is”.  They would question, “Why don’t they send in divers?”.  And we sat.  Calmly sat. Our neighbors kept us in cool water as we sat and sat on this famously hot day.  Until three hours later a young uniform came and knelt by my chair.  He looked up at me and I knew.  After introducing himself, (the uniforms all have such good manners), he said he needed to talk to me.  I looked at him and said, “you have found him”.  “Yes”, he said, ” I have him on the boat.”  The invasion of the uniforms had confirmed my new reality.

Panic

I immediately hung up and tried to call 911.  It took me three tries. I kept hitting the wrong keys on my phone.  When the lady answered I explained that I was calling about a possible drowning in Lake Murray.  She sounded disinterested and said she had already had many calls.  I said, “It is my husband”.  She perked up.  She wanted to know his name and his age and what he was wearing.  I gave her the information and she said to hang up, the rescuers were on the way.

Having my hip replaced only three weeks prior, I could not bend over to put on shoes so I grabbed a red canvas pair of slip ons.  I remember thinking, “Ray would be so embarrassed to see me.”  I had on aqua clam diggers, white pressure hose and these red canvas shoes that were half on.  As I hurried down stairs to direct the rescue truck I was screaming at God. “No God, No.  Please no.  Don’t let this be true.  I really need him.  Please God, don’t let this be happening”.  I got to the door as the rescuers were passing the house.  I got out to the driveway as they passed in the other direction.  Even though I waved at them they went on down the road.  But my neighbor was coming home and she asked me what had happened.  I told her that I thought Ray had drown.  That was the beginning.

Before I could turn around my house was full of people.  All, and I mean all, of my neighbors came to my house.  They were in the living room, the kitchen and the porches.  They were the most caring people I have ever known. I am a very independent and controlling person and these people were taking over my house.  They were serving water and waiting on everyone.  I kept feeling like I needed to take care of them.  They were guests in my house.  It was very strange, but comforting. I can never express enough gratitude to these wonderful people who were so supportive in those moments.

Next came the children and grandchildren.  The rescuers had dismissed them from the lake and sent them all to the house.  I will never forget my grandchildren shaking with sobs as they slowly walked up the hill from the lake. Too young to be a part of this horrible tragedy.  Our beautiful day had suddenly turned to be an unreal and unthinkable event.  It was happening too fast.  I could not breathe.  I could not find anything that I could do. My chest was tight. I could not think.  I was in a panic.

Where it began…or ended…

July 22, 2017.  I woke up to a beautiful Carolina day.  The sun was shining.  It was hot; famously hot as we say in South Carolina.  The lake in front of the house was as blue as the Carolina sky and was quiet and inviting.  I could not look forward to swimming this day since I had had a hip replaced just three weeks ago.  But the day started like all great Saturdays with chocolate chip pancakes and bacon with a side egg.  My husband of 52 years made sure I had all that I needed to start the day with a smile.  He was that way.  Always caring that everyone was given what they needed.

After breakfast I went back upstairs to my bedroom to rest.  Ray, my husband, went outside to do some weed-eating.  This was one of the chores that he enjoyed most.  I guess he just got lost in the mindless cutting and it was soothing for him.  I watched him from my bedroom windows.

After several hours of outside chores, Ray came inside to put on his bathing suit.  The heat was demanding that he take a swim in the lake.  He teased me about going to see the ladies in the bikinis on the lake.  Of course, the ladies were all of his grown daughters and granddaughters.  I told him to give me the binoculars so I could watch as they played in the water.  I said he should behave because I would be watching.

And watch I did.  Between reading a book and resting I would spy on the group of ten out in the water.  They had paddle boards, noodles and rafts and they would hook together and make a train or they would drift off in pairs to play.  It was obvious that they were having a great time.  I felt a little left out because I could not join them.  But it was fun watching.  Poppy was relaxing and playing.

About 2pm I noticed that most everyone had left their toys and were diving over next to one of our docks.  I assumed that someone had dropped a phone or keys in the lake and they were all diving for the lost item.  Then I saw my youngest daughter running to our other dock and jump in the ski boat and hustle over to where everyone was diving.  Something told me something was wrong.

I called her on her phone and she did not answer.  Just a few minutes later my phone rang.  It was my daughter calling me.  I answered and she said, “Mom, pray.  Pray hard.  I think we have lost Poppy”.