Peeling the Onion….”Invisible Losses”…One Layer at a Time

Last week when I wrote, I was discussing the “waiting room” and the practices of Christina Rasmussen, author of “Second Firsts”. I was very vulnerable admitting not only that I was taking a series of seminars with her called “Coffee with Christina” but also what I was uncovering in the process. This is not something I would have done in my past. While I tend to share a lot, I am also more guarded than most realize. Vulnerability is not my strong suit, however, I have become much better at it since Ed’s passing. Why not? What do I have to lose? The scariest thing in life has already happened to me – the evil cancer called Synovial Sarcoma that he went through and of course, ultimately losing him – and the pain that came along with it. The loss of my better half, the love of my life in this painful way – those are the things you don’t make up. It’s what nightmares are made of. It’s the one I am trying to leave behind.

In doing so, I have had to become more vulnerable and honest with myself. This is harder than you think, but the reality is, it is one of the most powerful and healing things one can do. So this week, in the “Coffee with Christina” program, we had to focus on a few things, but mostly on something called a “Grief Cleanse”. At first glance on this I thought, I have been really honest in my grieving the loss of Ed. I genuinely understand it, work with it and through it, and let myself feel how I want to feel about it at any given moment. It can’t be forgotten about or “moved on” from. I can move forward in life the best way I know how, but “moving on” is not something I will ever do. The “Grief Cleanse” however, is about going back to those “invisible losses” that seem smaller in nature. The ones that we might have dismissed as a “part of life”. Job losses, the ending of friendships, anything you can think of that might not have been properly acknowledged as loss. It’s amazing how we as a society do this, and I am thankful to be understanding this more and more, as I truly feel this is very important in forwarding my life in a happy and healthy way.

So right after I wrote about “the waiting room”, I had to go to Chicago for work. I was really leaving the waiting room for an entire week. I’ve travelled since Ed passed, certainly, but this time I was a bit more anxious about the trip. Skip had been sick and by this point was fine, but he gave me quite the scare – enough to have a lot of emotions from when Ed was sick come rushing back without my even realizing it (that is an entirely different blog post). Off I went to Chicago, and the week was fine – work hard, play hard as I jam pack my schedule to make sure I can see my family and friends, and I never get everyone in. Chicago is and always will be home – a source of comfort for me, but this trip felt different. And through my “grief cleanse” I think I’ve figured out why.

My first trip back to Chicago was a short four months after Ed passed away. I was still so numb, as everything about being alone was so new. I had to travel back because my 93 year old grandmother – “The Nana”- was not doing well. Frankly, she decided she had had enough and was ready to go. She stopped taking her medication. Stubborn as she was, she was going to go out on her own terms. As sad as it was to say goodbye, I understood and respected it. I cherished a few moments with her at the end, and shared them at her funeral, but her loss was so overshadowed with the loss of Ed that I never really grieved her death. I miss her, but she was 93 years old. She lived a long life seeing her children grow, her grandchildren grow, and her great grandchildren leading full lives. She went out on her terms. I miss her, but I know she is with Ed and he is taking good care of her. She adored him – absolutely adored him, and he adored her right back. I cannot help but to smile when I think of them together. But her passing is not where my grief cleanse comes into play.

Subsequent trips to Chicago (and other places) came several months later. This is now nine months post loss of Ed. Life has been moving along, each day I heal more, and I even get some glimpse of achievement and happiness. By this time, I have mastered my boat, mowing my lawn, purchasing the leaf blower that makes puts the neighborhood in envy, and am no longer squeamish when shoveling a dead bird or rabbit from the yard. When I travel, I am incredibly happy and here’s why – I am taking a vacation from my grief. I genuinely leave my waiting room and leave grief behind for a short time. And that’s always how it is. Great – I start to acknowledge it – honesty with myself.

But today, I was thinking about when I came home from this trip. I’m always happy to get here because “there’s no place like home”. My comforts, my dogs, just the niceties of home. But why did this trip feel different? Because I’m no longer taking a vacation from my acute grief. I’m now starting to uncover the other layers of invisible grief that I have not acknowledged. And I realized on of them today.

Every plane ride home from Chicago, I cry. When my grandmother passed away, I acknowledged this as the week of her loss on top of Ed’s loss just catching up to me. It had been a very long, emotional week going through this again so soon. And so I cried – a lot. Subsequent trips, I did the same thing, but not as intensely. And I just chalked that up to having such a wonderful time with my closest of family and friends, and how much I miss them that I was just sad to leave. Later, I realized I was sad to be returning to my grief, and even later, I realized, I’m living a sort of “second life” in Chicago. Not sure how healthy that is, but I understand it. After this last trip, I cried again on the plane ride back. But I couldn’t understand why. I didn’t feel like I was on vacation from my grief. I had actually told a friend of mine that I really didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin that week. When I looked into the mirror I didn’t recognize myself. I now understand why. I cry on the plane ride home because every time I return, I am grieving the loss of my old life. My life in Chicago. My old life before I met Ed, and of course the 10 years we lived life together as a family. Raising the kids. A life of happy memories of our family, building bonds with lifelong friends, creating holiday traditions and everything that life was supposed to be. It was not supposed to be cut short after only thirteen years together. He was not supposed to go at age 48. I have always recognized the loss of him, and the loss of “us” as a married couple. I have not acknowledged the loss of “me”. And now I do.

After Ed passed away, I was asked quite a bit (still asked), “Are you moving back”? My answer is always, “never say never, but no – I don’t think so”. After seven years in Seattle, I am quite content here. I’m not sure if Seattle will be forever for me. If I honestly had to respond I would say no. At some point, I have to figure out where life is best for me. Chicago will always be home as well Seattle, in two very different ways. Home is where the heart is, and for now and always, mine will reside in both places – any perhaps someplace else in the future.

With a clear head and a calm heart….XOXOXO,

Tracey

Life After Loss – the “waiting room”

I have been taking steps to try to really move forward with life after the loss of Ed. And while I am doing “okay” I think I can do better. Really live again, not just go through the motions. So I am participating in a program called “Coffee with Christina” which was started by Christina Rasmussen author of “Second Firsts”.  She has created this community of people who are all trying to find the same things as me; life after loss. We have “homework” which helps get introspection on things, and as part of this, sharing this information with someone is key. It gets you to be vulnerable and in my opinion, really “own” it. I thought of several people who I could share this with, and while I shared privately with the “coffee” community, I also thought to myself – GO BIG OR GO HOME. So here it is. Very raw and vulnerable, and not something I would generally share so openly.

Coffee with Christina – week 1 – the waiting room

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the waiting room and acknowledgment of past losses to understand why I am here. It’s taken me all week to come up with this:

For my past losses – I have a lot – my parents divorced when I was young, I was some-what bullied as a kid, rejected by men so I was happy to have attention from anyone which led to some bad choices until I met my husband, and job lay-offs, which is a different kind of rejection. I have to agree that these were probably never acknowledged as “loss” until my husband passed away in 2013. During a session in a bereavement group I participated in, we went back and did an exercise similar to this charting out different losses at different times in our lives. This did in fact made me open my eyes up to the fact that these were easily “pushed aside” in a “get over it and on with it” way, particularly with young love and jobs – there are plenty of others out there. Of course until the loss of my husband who is and always will be the love of my life. But my past experiences, including the loss of my husband, are what make me who I am today. So I don’t begrudge them. With one of my first heartbreaks with a “man” I knowingly had to break it off with him because at some point I realized, I didn’t need someone else to make me as unhappy as I was. I could this by myself, and I’d probably be happier. And I also realized that I will never feel the same way about this “man” with anyone else; I will feel different and it will be better. And I was right. I’m glad I was able to figure this out as it severed me well.

I have been thinking about what my waiting room looks like and why. It’s fairly simple and what Christina describes; big comfy couch, big screen TV, warm blankets in the winter and open windows in the summer. I am here because this is a place where I can go numb, isolate and just not think – I think and work all day long. My mind never shuts off, and sitting in front of the TV allows me to turn off my mind. I need that. I remember the first time I had felt the need to retreat there and the first time I understood why; it was my comfort after my husband passed away. I remember the first time I left it thanks to a post on Christina’s Second Firsts page, and I now know I can leave and come back anytime I want to do so.

But here’s the “aha” I had this morning while walking my dogs – a time where the clarity of my thinking is best because I am out in nature with no distractions – I do not retreat to the waiting room because of the loss of my husband any longer. One of the reasons I joined this group is because I knew that I could no longer “blame” every ounce of unhappiness I have on his death. There was more going on here keeping me in the waiting room. Going back through the past losses, I think I realize what it is. When my father left, my mother was left no choice to be a single mother of two children. We went without a lot and the common phrase I had to accept was “we can’t afford it” – a phrase that still makes me cringe. My mother had the help and support of her parents, my grandparents, who I was very close with, particularly my grandmother. My grandmother always used to instill in me that when I grew up, I must be able to take care of myself independently and financially. And so I did. I went to college, got my degree and have always been exceptional at my job. I have always done well financially, and thinking back to my childhood thoughts, I never wanted to be “rich”. I wanted to be “comfortable” (feeling of my waiting room) financially. This edict from my grandmother did me very well. I have always been able to be the breadwinner of the family and I emphasize “needed” because there was a time when my husband was the sole breadwinner running his own business. I am thankful for my ability to do so, because where I worked when he got sick with Synovial Sarcoma, I had the best insurance and more importantly the ability to take whatever time off I needed. After he passed away I took a year of leave and then ultimately resigned (I did have another job however – how could I possibly just NOT have a job, right?). I’m thankful for my education, my work ethic, and my ability to earn a living and keep in the lifestyle I have created for myself and my family. I am so fortunate that I have not had to make financial decisions based upon my husband’s passing away. I know there are so many widows out there who don’t have this same choice. I can’t even imagine it.

So here’s my “aha” – I am in my waiting room because I am in a routine of going to work, earning a good living, and being comfortable. I believe Christina refers to this as the “roommate”. My roommate requires that I have financial stability regardless of my happiness. I need to go to work and be financially independent. And one of my biggest fears is not being able to do this, particularly now that I am alone. I fear losing my house, not having health insurance, getting sick and not having anyone to take care of me. The year I spent not working, I didn’t worry about finances as I knew I had enough in the bank to be fine. More than fine, but that’s something I’ll never admit. It was the very first time I was thinking about taking care of myself. Healing from my grief and from being a caregiver to my husband. Putting myself first is not something with which I am familiar, and now it’s all I have to concern myself with. The “stuck” of my waiting room is from my bad relationship with money and fear of financial stability if I followed my passions and not my routine.

My husband and I used to have a very funny joke between us. We agreed that I had the ability to be two very different people; “work Tracey” – hard core, Type A, get it done and “vacation Tracey” – relaxed, go with the flow and downright fun. We both agreed that we like “vacation Tracey” better. I do acknowledge that “work Tracey” came in very handy when managing doctors, hospitals, clinical trials, research etc. Weeks before he passed away, we were talking about the future – my future without him. We had always talked about my potentially going to law school. I had been home taking care of him for a few months at this point, which was my sole job. I said to him, “maybe I’ll go to law school”. His response was, “no. not now. You just mellowed out”. In my care taking of him, I had gotten much closer to “vacation Tracey” who is in my opinion a much better version of myself. Before he passed away I told him that I wanted to be the person that he saw me as, because he always saw me as a better person that I saw myself. I want to get out of the waiting room and be THAT person. That will require hard work and change of my routine – and getting a little uncomfortable and vulnerable.

Thank you for listening.

New Year, New Me, New Space….

Two years ago today, the Baltimore Ravens played the San Francisco 49ers in Superbowl 47. All I remember through the haze was that the power went out during the game. I think the Ravens won, but I couldn’t tell you with certainty. I couldn’t tell you a lot from that day, except it was the day Ed passed away. Superbowl Sunday. We were both football lovers, and I suppose there is some irony in the fact that he passed on this particular day. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to watch a Superbowl again. My husband would never have wanted that for me; he would never want me removing anything from my life that made me happy. Football makes me happy, and last year, the Seattle Seahawks won the Superbowl, removing the sting of that one year anniversary through distraction and excitement. This year, the Seattle Seahawks played again, in probably what will go down in the most historic Superbowl in history. Unfortunately, the Seahawks lost the game, but the excitement was there. The happiness of them making it to the “show” was still there. Spending the day with “framily” – friends that have become family – cheering on the home team, making great memories was there. The Seahawks lost this time around, but the stinger of the anniversary was kindly distracted by the love of football and all of the fun that goes along with it. Football is something that Ed and I shared and enjoyed together. It is a happy memory for me and a way for me to try and add a happy space to this day. I can honor my husband by still having that love of the game and thoroughly enjoying it…and I do every football season and will continue to do so.

I often try to describe put into words how life has felt over these past two year, and as I reflect on this day, the two year anniversary of Ed’s passing, I think back to our wedding for such an analogy so that others might understand.

When Ed and I got married, the reverend who officiated our ceremony did I a wonderful job of bringing both the Catholic and Jewish rituals together, and Ed was excited to “break the glass” as part of the Jewish tradition. He thought it was just kind of cool, and I never really knew the meaning behind this ritual until our ceremony as it was about to happen. Reverend Jim stated to Ed, me and our friends and family that surrounded us, “the breaking of this glass represents what would happen if this marriage broke. The shattered shards of glass cannot be put back together again no matter how hard you try. This is why we cherish marriage and treat it gently, so as not to shatter the glass”. Okay, I paraphrased a bit here, but you get where I’m headed.

On this day two years ago my heart shattered. At precisely 11AM PT, I watched my husband take his last breath. It was the most painful, yet peaceful moment I have ever experienced. The pain and devastation that comes from the true heartbreak that followed is nothing I could have ever imagined. Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one understands this, yet we all know that it is not the same for any two people. We just “get” it. The moment Ed took his last breath was the day my heart shattered into those un-repairable shards of glass. Life, nor my heart will ever be the same. It will mend and be scarred, but it will never be the same.

Life looks different to me now. Like a kaleidoscope, at each turn the view is different, some views better than others, but always different including how I view the passing of time. My year now tends to start on Feb. 3, the day Ed died. Memories correspond back to before Ed was sick, after he was diagnosed, during treatment, during which specific treatment, hospital visits, and of course, after he passed away. Superbowl Sunday is definitely on that calendar; perhaps a holiday of sorts.

Looking back to my last “calendar year”, 2014 was what I describe as a complacent, “level setting” year for me; recovery in the off-season? Maybe and here’s how I think of it. I often described life after loss like being a weeble toy that wobbles back and forth trying to steady itself. I felt like this often, and 2014 was the time in which I stopped wobbling so fiercely. I went back to work, got into a routine and just got back to a resemblance of life. What I realized was I was living my old life but Ed just wasn’t there. Now that we are two years since Ed has passed, the wobbling might have steadied, but I have also realized that last year was spent getting back to “center”. And that’s okay, but now, I do feel as though it’s time to live happily and healthily – present, honest, vulnerable and true to myself – even if I don’t completely know what that means.

So with the start of my year, I have promised myself that in 2015, I will continue to grow and live again. Create a life that is mine; the life I knew as ours is never coming back. It can’t. He’s never coming back. And I know this. I have always known this but I don’t know if I have really lived it. I am embarking on doing things that I want to do for me, and I hope to uncover my passion in life and make a difference in others. Part of this including creating a new blog site just for me, and if you’re reading, you’re already here. This is a place where I can expand upon my writing, connecting with others, and just putting things out there. New Year, New Me, New Space – small steps to living life…at least the path that I am on right now. That could change tomorrow. And that would be okay. It’s all up to me now.

So on this day, please raise a glass in honor of my beautiful, amazing husband, Ed. Remember him, talk about him, share stories about him. This is how we keep his memory alive. And if you’ve never met him, ask me to tell you all about him. Sharing him and the positive memories of our life together is my greatest honor.

By the way – Go Seahawks. Thank you for not only giving me and all of the 12s some great football this year, and a championship team to be proud of, but for also delivering some fun, excitement and happiness to balance out the sorrow that I feel on this day. As a native Chicagoan though, I’m oh-too- familiar with the phrase, “there’s always next year” J

Strength, Courage, Wisdom….Faith, Love and Hope – it’s all I need to get me through every day.

XOXOXO,

Tracey

Sharing my story to help and inspire others