Find Someone Who Gets It

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I have just returned home from having coffee with a good friend.  Kris and I worked together during our pregnancies 25 years ago. She was the first to arrive at the hospital with her six week old Addy in arms when our daughter Leah was born. Our girls spent the first six years together most days of the week as I provided childcare off and on; they were true playmates. Our families used to say it took four parents to raise two children. We were Momma Joan and Daddy Dave; Momma Kris and Daddy Andy. Us girls ate lots of McDonald’s Happy Meals, shopped, played and learned together. Holidays, birthdays, gardening, preschool, field trips to children’s and science museums were the order of those days.

I couldn’t remember much in the panic when Dave was rushed to the hospital delirious from meningitis, but I was somehow able to dial the phone for Kris to come take care of three year old Leah. There wasn’t a second thought about calling if there was something needed day or night. They too lived with many of the health issues we dealt with.

In the ensuing years, the girls were in different school districts so their time together decreased, and our families carried on life with just occasional contact. Leah and Addy kept contact better than us adults. Their friendship became their own, not simply circumstantial to their parents. After high school, Leah and Addy ventured out into the world and shared an apartment together. Even now, they live just a few blocks from each other and socialize regularly.

Tid-bits of life about each others’ families over the years came through the girls. When word of Dave’s diagnosis of terminal lung cancer reached Kris, she called. Let’s do dinner. So we did during the Christmas holidays. Kris comes solo now; Andy wanted out of the marriage a year or more previous. That was a big shock to us all. Divorce has as much stigma and weight as Cancer. There is grief; it is loss. We don’t know how to talk about it. What do you say? But this night, this dinner was about catching up, getting back into each other’s lives. The laughter was genuine. Addy and Kris are both great storytellers on the absurdities of life. Even though many years and too few cups of coffee or dinners or contacts had transpired there was comforting familiarity. I could still call Kris any time day or night if I need her.

A couple of weeks ago we had dinner again, this time in our master suite dining room (TV trays around the bedside). Kris catered it all — dinner and dessert. A caregiver to us all.

We are arranging another dinner for next week. I look forward to this. But I wanted to have coffee, just her and me. That was this morning. That was the important reminder of how one needs a friend or mentor or person who is out ahead in their grief and life experience to help carry us through.

Minutes before the appointed ten o’clock coffee I had a grief meltdown. It began yesterday but it hadn’t found voice yet. I wrote but didn’t post. I found a temporary release valve then, but clearly I wasn’t finished. It seems each subject of grief has to go through all the stages of identifying, acknowledging, validating, and permission to be OK before the cycle is complete. I think the big topic this week is my anger that Dave won’t be here to help me, support me, and make everything OK. He is going to leave me. During my meltdown I forced him into the role of the very thing I will miss most – listen to me, reflect what’s going on, guide me in the wise way you do. It was what Oprah calls an “ugly” cry. Though the most cathartic, this is not a good idea when you are heading out the door to be in public! Sunny day, sunglasses.

But Kris gets it. She is further ahead in her grief as a divorcing woman. She is further ahead as a caregiver after years of assisting and care to her sister, having sat with her until the end of her life in the most recent of weeks. We shared stories, we met in an understanding as peers of loss, she showed me what I can’t see quite yet for myself. She validated and gave me the permission that Dave can no longer provide because he is on a different path. She is ahead of me on this path, on the road I have to take right now in my life. I can see and follow. There are others yet behind me and they are the ones I will be able to support and help through Storybooks for Healing and my own Grief Reflection. There are other partners to align myself with in business and personal growth. Grief is a spiral climb for all humans. None of us is immune.

I can know all about grief intellectually based on reading and working within bereavement and hospice, but my emotional experience must play out in its own time and its own way. In fact, I have to find new ways for how I handle the most difficult times in my life. The steps I have taken with my partner for more than half my life is threatened. The outcome is inevitable. I will be by myself, but not alone. I can keep my mind open and inquisitive, I can choose to accept the unknown timeline that unfolds, I can seek out the friendships and mentors and support, I can accept the help. I must in order to continue.

I think I take care of myself, do all the “right” things – exercise, eat well, meet with friends, get out on my own for awhile… but yesterday I found myself wondering why this wasn’t enough, why I saw my anxiety was starting to manifest in moments of panic. How come I am looking for the same damn piece of paper I saw just days ago? Why isn’t my computer working right today? How can I go back?! Your focus just doesn’t work, Kris reminded me; and it’s OK in the big scheme of things.

Taking care of myself must also include finding the person who is out ahead, the “get it” person who can share their stories that honestly reach into my depths of knowing what I am going through. I am finding that I have to spread my changing needs among many friends, some old, some new. I am fortunate to have  several to call upon day or night.

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Some of this reflection comes as a result of reading a recent Linked In discussion on managing personal loss as bereavement professionals, a subject I have pondered more often in the past couple of months. If you serve hospice or families with matters of death, I encourage you to follow this thread on the group Grief and Trauma Experts.

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