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The Things of Navigating Grief

The Things of Grief

Pondering Spring Cleaning After Loss

It’s two years since my husband passed away and I still have his home office in a state of organized clutter.  Apparently, I have no reason to hurry through this task! I haven’t turned on his computer; I hate to think of how long that update would take. But I do go in there from time to time. I do move a few things around. Add some. Look for some. Take some away. He was a piler of papers and his desk still reflects that. I ran the house but his desk and office was his alone. I’m sure that has something to do with my lack of touching things.

I have months that I open the office door to peek in as walk by. I have months I keep it closed. I did moved his wingback chair to the Discover • Create • Share Center to bring his presence into the Navigating Grief   lending library. After all, he was a professor! That chair has its owns stories. The bedroom closet was cleaned long ago as I lost weight and replaced my wardrobe. For me, I didn’t like the daily reminder. Maybe you are more comforted by the clothes. Some of his Oxford shirts were made into quilt pillow for family holiday gifts. Some clothes have been moved into another closet. Some were donated.

The clearing of stuff is a process as much as grief is – a few steps at a time. But like grief, sometimes we must go all in and other days we can take tiny steps.

Gone, and Gone

The first thing I rid the house of after Dave died was the growing medical stuff. I had boxes of sterile gauze pads, bed liners, gloves, and more. We had bought gadgets to assist, support and make it all easier. As Dave became more ill, the supplies kept growing in seeming desperation to fix it all. As an avid recycler not only did I not want this around but I knew someone else could use the materials and things.

I was right. The Thurston County  Medical Equipment Bankis available free to anyone need to borrow or donate medical items. Clean, unopened consumable supplies are also collected and being distributed to organizations such as the new Olympia Amahora House – hospice without borders.

I also took all the medications (proper disposal is not in the trash or down the drain) and felt a need to get the pain killers out of the house – which can’t go back to medical facilities around here. It was not that I thought I’d take them, but I didn’t want the option or temptation. Safe and proper disposal was one of my run-around, do-something trying-to-be-productive-and-right early grief moments! I just wanted to clear the house of all the illness.  Yet, it was all we had known for such a long time, so even this created its own emptiness.

Legacy

Keeping connected and honoring our loved ones long after loss is significant in the healing journey. I was very fortunate to be able to establish a lasting tribute to and for my husband Dave while he was alive. Shortly after going on hospice service and thus forced retirement from The Evergreen State College, I was able to convince him to put our long held plan for a scholarship fund in place. While the rest of us honor him and his teaching, he actually honored the memory of his mother since she was adamant about his educational pursuits. With matching funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation The David L Hitchens in Honor of Frances Marie Rasmussen Scholarship at TESC is now endowed. What was and is so healing is that we continue to grow the fund, he continues to teach, so to speak, and we were able to let his former students offer support and say goodbye while he was alive. Dave learned just how much he was loved and how his life mattered for generations of people.

Our family had an ideal situation for Dave’s legacy. We already had planned there would someday be a scholarship. He had months of foresight on his declining health. We had tremendous support and resources from family, friends, students and the TESC Foundation. We even had some amazing luck in receiving matching funds!

And it Continues

This month, one of Dave’s musician friends was digging through his accumulate memorabilia and came across an old tape. He asked me to transfer it for him onto DVD. It  is the 25th Anniversary concert of Snake Oil. Music and this band and all the people associated with it is a large component of Dave’s life and even death story. Snake Oil came to play at the major fundraiser for Dave’s scholarship in 2011.

It took me a couple of weeks to get to the project. As I dated the title slide for the DVD I noted  the concert was recorded February 15, 1997. Dave died February 15, 2012.

Since I had all my transfer equipment  and DVD making tools out, I decided to finally make some additional copies of the Family Album DVD shown at the memorial. These had been requested long ago! Of course, I watched and cried. And cried. And I looked a the title slide. March 25, 2012.  Exactly 2 years before. I was working on this day of March 25, 2014.

As long as I remain in this house the layers of things will pop up. And when I move, eventually, the memories and my heart will remain filled with the stories. The stuff ultimately is really not that important. Getting to what and when and how to do with it all still has its angst, bittersweet, and delicious ambiguity.

I am not alone in need. I still have my own rooms to clean out requiring a similar process!

Coming Up

Navigating Grief hosts educational workshops. Join us April 12 , 2014 for The Things of Grief: Spring Cleaning After Loss with Professional Organizer Elain Carroll, Habitat for Your Sanity and a Showcase of local artisans afterwards. Discover-Create-Share Center in Olympia.

Although this article is locally resourced,  your community is likely to have similar programs. Check your city or county waste and disposal programs, senior services agencies and arts organizations.

 

Through the Grief Lens

When Grief Collides With Holiday Stress

Your loss, as  a caregiver or after a death,  impacts every tradition, activity and thought this time of year. You are understandably seeing your holidays through the grief lens – who’s missing, what doesn’t work, the people who don’t get it, fatigue, gratitude, deep emptiness, putting on a mask to get through, big changes.

You don’t have much say about the world around you this time of year. Some people will be annoyingly happy. There is the onslaught of pressure to buy, buy, buy. You are likely to be asked, or insisted upon, to attend functions by well meaning friends or co-workers. Moods change without notice. Holidays are often stressful in the best years, but this year in your grief, everything is magnified. It’s like someone is using the zoom lens to hone in big on one subject: Life and holidays are not the same any more. But like a camera, you do have a choice to change or add a filter to help soften, sharpen, widen or bring your picture into a new focus.

Your world and life is changed. The picture needs adjusting. Here are three filters you can apply as ways to help de-stress your holidays.

  • The Simplify Filter. Ask yourself, “What is the simplest way to approach this situation?” For example, who says decorating must be everything you’ve ever done before? You can simply do only what is important to provide enough decor  to honor the past and present. Stick with it. Simplify might mean doing half of what you might have done in past years. If you shop, you might give a single family gift rather than all the individual presents. You could even ask for a “year off” from giftsgiving! (see Communication Filter). If you’ve been the host, share the responsibilities, delegate or step aside for another person to host. To simplify is not giving up what you want to do, it is about doing what is most comforting with your limited energy or resources.
  •  The Communication Filter. Honesty really is a great policy. Be honest with yourself as well as direct with  others. If an end-of-the-week-Friday-night-gathering-potluck-with-a-white-elephant-gift among co-workers who have been telling you to “get over it” doesn’t sound like fun, do you really go? First, know for yourself what the obstacle might be – emotional, physical or grief – then make the appropriate choice best for you. Grief zaps energy, so decide what adds to your life. In any social circle, diplomacy is called for, so assess your options honestly for personal insight and act accordingly. Write or talk with a trusted person to get to the center of your concern; once you know how you are really feeling, it will be easier to express to others.
  •  The Wellness Filter. Does what you do serve your health of mind, body and spirit? Temptations for food, drinking, staying out late, overdoing and shoulds predominate the holiday season. Taking care of you during this time of both holiday stress and grief is doubly important. What does wellness look like for you? Are you putting yourself aside for others? Whenever you are faced with temptations, put on the Wellness filter — will you “feel good” about your choices later? Or is your instinct worried about regrets? Wellness is often about balance. And even more about making sure you put on your oxygen mask first before tending to others. Ask yourself, “Am I seeking to balance my life with healthy food, sleep, socializing, exercise, (fill in your blank) and work?”

Indulgences are part of the holidays. They have a time and a place. But fulfilling your sense of wanting and even deserving the richness of the season is often at odds with your grief. Plus, in opposition to the extra social activities, December is a time to naturally begin to withdraw or hibernate with the onset of the cold winter months. This is when nature goes dormant to replenish. It’s no wonder there is a confusing pull on whether to stay or go, to grieve or celebrate.

The suggestion? Take each day anew the best you can as you have one foot in the past, and one in the present, as well as a sight into the future. After all, this where the traditions arise. They are built over time not any single year. Making an adjustment — adding a filter — to your current surroundings and needs is a necessary part of the grief journey.

Remember, too, this is not a time to deny yourself. If you find comfort in the company of others and being the host, go ahead. If tears flow unexpectedly, acknowledge that they come from love and loss. You are human. Loss teaches just what that means. So when anger of being left behind fights for attention over gratitude, it’s normal. If getting that gift or potluck dish didn’t get done because you couldn’t get out of bed, that is the truth of grief. If you haven’t been able to participate in traditions or ceremonies as fully and present as you’d like, recognize that your loyalty, faith or spirituality is not defined on one single day. Through grief and holidays, doing the best in the moment is good enough!

Each day is a new picture of life. You start again today. Your journey of healing moves in motion one frame at a time.

Create Memories: A Cup of Joy

Do you sometimes yearn to have one more cup of coffee or tea with your loved one who has died? You can’t bring him or her back, but you can literally  keep the memories close at hand by creating a custom photo mug! Start each day with your favorite photo, happy memories or inspiring words. A custom mug can be the perfect accompaniment to motivate you for your morning writing routine! Using your images or an inspiring saying that evokes a happy memory, mugs also make a great gift to commemorate dates or let someone know you are thinking of them and their loved ones.
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12 Healing Words for Navigating Grief

The Power Words for Well-being

Words can have a powerful affect on our well-being. Words of love and encouragement heal. Words of bitterness and pain destroy. Words can inspire and motive. Words can depress and deplete. Words spoken by people we love and respect have a great impact on our feelings.
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Navigating Grief hoto and Memorabilia Scanning

Storybook Perfect Scanning

Saving the Old Photos to New Media

Navigating Grief custom photo projects begin with digital images. But what do you do if your photos are in a box rather than on your computer? Scan! With today’s affordable, powerful, easy- to-use scanners plus a basic understanding of file formats and color information you can make the best of those old photos and memories waiting to be shared.
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On Writing: The Audience

Who Needs to Know Your Stories after Grief?

Behind our sorrow and loss are stories. Stories of love, of life, of pain and grief. Stories of happy times, traditions, maybe even of life cut short. They are stories of me, you, us and we. Each of them have a place in grief and memories. They are the stories about people, which is always at the heart of grief.

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The Joy (and Pain) of Remembering: Photos

When Remembering When Makes You Cry

There is a risk inherent in remembering when you are grieving and missing your loved one after a death. A risk of opening the wounds of loss, the reminder of being left behind, the desire to change what can’t be undone of past words and actions and events. But there is also a risk of remembering what feels good – recalling memories of happy times, holding photos and seeing video that brings stillness to life, taking comfort in activities that were once carried out with a partner, or child.  The risk to open your mind to the joy of memories is at the expense of confronting the pain of those same memories.

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