Category Archives: death

How to Speak to Someone About an Unspeakable Loss

unspeakablelossfeature

 

Reblogged from Linda Carroll at http://www.lindaacarroll.com/blog.php via Uplift

 

Five Ways to Help When You Feel There is Nothing You Can Do

“It’s not about saying the right things. It’s about doing the right things.” ~Unknown

 

Years ago, my family and I moved to a bucolic little town in New Zealand, where we were immediately swept up into a group of ex-pats and locals. We felt deeply connected to this community by the time I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in the local hospital.
When our son was three months old, a doctor heard a heart murmur. Twenty-four hours later, he died.

In the days and weeks that followed, I wandered in my own fog of grief as I went about the necessary tasks of ordinary life: shopping for food, taking our other kids to school, doing the usual mounds of laundry.

Meanwhile, my new friends kept their distance. I saw them take great care to avoid me: to cross the street, switch supermarket aisles, literally do an about-face when they saw me coming.

Invitations stopped coming. The phone went silent. My grief was marked by a deeper isolation than I’d ever known.

Later, many of these people apologized. They told me they were terribly sad and distressed about what had happened, but hadn’t known what to say. My loss was so enormous that words seemed inadequate, even pitiful.

They said nothing, out of fear that they would say the wrong thing.
This sort of experience repeats itself in many different forms: a friend gets dumped by the love of her life, a colleague is given notice at a job he’s held for two decades, or a loved one receives the dreaded news that she has inoperable cancer.

What can you say?

While it’s not an easy question to answer, one thing is certain: It’s worse to say nothing than to say the wrong thing. Here are five ways to respond helpfully to people who have suffered an enormous loss.

 

1. Manage your own feelings first.
When we learn that disaster has befallen a loved one, we initially feel shock. Our heart rate increases, our thoughts either speed up or slow down, and we may experience nausea or dizziness.

The anxiety we feel is real and personal. Our instinct, though, is to ignore it, find ways to numb it or minimize it. That’s a mistake.

If we address our own anxiety first, we’ll be in a much stronger position to respond well to the person most directly affected. Do the things you know how to do to manage stress. A walk in the woods, some meditation or yoga, or talking to a trusted friend can help.

Make sure your own body and emotions are regulated before you turn to the person in grief.

 

2. Now focus on the other person.
Remember that the isolation they feel is almost as painful as the shock and the sadness of the loss itself. If you avoid them because you don’t know what to say, this avoidance serves only your needs.

Our friends and other loved ones need our comfort, support, and involvement during times of sorrow.

Although there isn’t a right thing to say, there are some things to never say. They include the current favorite, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “I know just how you feel.” How do you know there’s a reason, and what difference would it make to a grieving person, anyway? And you don’t know how they feel—only they do.

 

3. Admit that you don’t know what to say.
That’s a good start. Try something simple that breaks the ice and starts a conversation, or at least sends a message to the other person that they’re not alone.

“I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I wish I could say the perfect thing, but I know there’s nothing to fix it. I just wanted you to know I care and am here with you.”

 

4. Listen.
If the person is willing to talk, listen. It’s the single most vital thing you can do.

Listen to their story without interrupting. Don’t turn the conversation back to you with statements like, “I know what you’re going through—my dog died last year.”

Don’t tell them what they will, or should, feel. Simply acknowledge their pain and listen to what it’s like for them.

We all have different styles of managing shock and distress. Some people are angry, while others seem numb. Still others turn to gallows humor. Your job is not to correct them but to give them space to be the way they need to be.

 

5. Rather than saying, ”Let me know if I can do anything,” offer to do something practical and specific.
Taking on an ordinary task is often most helpful. Offer to shop for groceries, run errands, drive the kids somewhere, or to cook a meal or two. Ask if you can call tomorrow, or if they want to be left alone for a few days.

When Survey Monkey’s CEO Dave Goldberg died suddenly, his wife, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote the following:

When I am asked, “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, “My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am?” When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.

Today, as I recall the loss of my own infant son, I think about the one person who did truly comfort me. She arrived at my house with a bottle of fine brandy and said, “This is everyone’s worst nightmare. I am so, so sorry this has happened.”

Then we sat on the lawn and she poured me a drink as she listened to every horrible detail.

As I look back now, I still feel how much her gesture helped me cope through those early days of pain. She didn’t try to fix me or try to make sense of what happened. She didn’t even try to comfort me. The comfort she gave came through her being in it with me.

You can’t fix what happened, but you can sit with someone, side by side, so they don’t feel quite so alone. That requires only intention, a willingness to feel awkward, and an open, listening heart. It’s the one gift that can make a difference.

 

About Linda
Linda Carroll was born in 1944 in San Francisco and adopted into an Italian Catholic family. Very early, she discovered poetry as a form of prayer and a window into an expanded life. In 1961, when Linda graduated from high school, San Francisco was already buzzing with counterculture music, arts, and style, and Linda found herself selling beads and going to peace marches.
After finishing her bachelors degree in Oregon in the seventies, she moved to New Zealand, where she raised children on an 86-acre sheep farm. She returned to Oregon in the eighties and received a masters in counseling, and began practicing as a therapist.
In the nineties, she and her veterinarian husband, Tim Barraud, began to teach a couples course based on the Imago work of Harville Hendrix, the PAIRS training of Dr. Laurie Gordon, and their own insights, study and practices. They continue to offer retreats and seminars all over the world; Linda’s third book, Love Cycles, newly published, is based on this work.
As an adult, Linda found her birth mother, the novelist Paula Fox, and began to understand her deep-seated love of poetry anew. In 2006, her memoir, Her Mother’s Daughter, was published by Doubleday. In 2008, Remember Who You Are was published by Conari Press.
Linda’s new book, Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love, is now available. Sign up for her mailing list to learn the latest news for this terrific book. And follow her on Facebook.
Linda has five children and ten grandchildren. She lives in Corvallis, Oregon, with her husband and three Jack Russells* and continues her lifelong path of spiritual seeking.

 

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Spirit in the Sky

In wanting to pay tribute to a wonderful woman whom I barely got to know and her partner, Ed, I’m re-blogging his post.  This beautiful post reflects on love and loss, particularly to suicide.  But as you will see from the content, these issues are complicated and layered with many issues stemming from childhood sexual abuse and how it can steal one’s soul.  I’m proud of Ed Kurtz for loving her and having the courage and language to represent her with such sacred beauty.


my separation agreement

split

Yesterday I was presented with a formal separation agreement via text from my husband.  He is seeing a counselor now for his personal issues and those relating to me as a caregiver.  I have sensed him wanting to go for a while. He was amazingly chipper when he called and stated he was sending this document to me, it seemed to make him happy or at least relieved.

The depression/suicide rate is 8-10 times higher in BPD individuals.  Combine that with childhood trauma and incest and the statistics must go higher.  Those without any family support are figures I can’t even allow myself to think about.

I sit and pray.

 

 

 


this is where i sit tonight….eyes down, no one daring to look….

Worldly Winds

Broken Reflection

 

 

 

 

 

Shhh, don’t tell

don’t let on

that you’re in hell

hush now

 

Your lips are pursed

don’t tell the doctor

or the nurse

eyes down

 

What lurks within

can’t be without

masked by a grin

and bear it

 

So well hidden

the mortal sin

guilt well ridden

(Angels don’t sing)

 

The mask of norm

slips on by

distorts the form

stiff upper lip

 

Word to the wise

soured apple

of your eyes

windowless soul

 

Darkness falls

eclipses all

no voice can call

chin up

 

© Eyes Down 07.03.2013

by Alexandra Carr-Malcolm

Broken Reflection (Photo credit: shinealight)

 

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why i’m unusually comfortable with death….

Last night, I turned on PBS and caught a show about the suicide assistance program, Final Exit Network.  I wasn’t really looking for a program to get interested in yet I found myself oddly attracted to the high emotion of this episode giving options to end one’s life with dignity.  In a nutshell, Final Exit Network provides support and guidance to candidates looking to end their life because of extreme circumstances of intolerable illness.  They have been lauded as compassionate by scholars in ethics and heretics by religious groups and physicians who oppose an individual’s right to choice to the timing and implementation of a dignified death.  As I’m watching this, I clearly see both sides.  There are many issues at play here and it is a complex subject that few even wish to visit.  Those special individuals who are willing to extend their compassion to a person who asks to die, are clearly in touch with the sensitive and personal issues involved as to why someone would seek out the means to end their life.

I got it immediately.

Their stories spoke directly to my heart.

Until one directly deals with madness and horror of pain; emotional~physical~spiritual~relentless~daily~mind bending pain that isn’t relieved even though one has exhausted their finances, resources and partners.  Because until a person deals with this pain on a day to day, minute by minute way of crawling through life, I realize that the “unaffected” won’t get it.  And that’s fine, because the “unaffected” are living productive lives with good enough health to not feel the burden that the “totally affected” person does.  It isn’t a place that one visits until they have to and once they have to, one doesn’t waiver as much.

I recently had an “episode” brought on my the perfect storm of triggers.  It put me in a place that most would call mental illness.  Since I don’t thoroughly subscribe to that label, I did something entirely different this time upon the suggestion of my friend Heather.  I surrendered to the madwoman.  Blindly, I charged into this event with a headstrong, full of steam and hope approach, calling in all the divine helpers I could find.  Basically, I told it that I was in control and taking over from here.  I told it to FUCK OFF and walked straight into the madness.

Now here’s the really interesting part.  In this swirling anxiety ridden mania that I felt, a story emerged.  I actually took the wheel of this runaway train and channelled it into something productive.  And for the first time, I think I’m really onto to something here.  The outcome was a story I’ve known my entire life and one that I lived and almost died through.  But this time, I was my mother.  I became her, feeling her feelings and seeing the exact places that she was.  I have some thoughts and explanations for this but that is an entirely different post.

There was a time when I censored myself heavily regarding these mystical occurrences but not any more.  They are simply part of me. I now let them flow and even have the nerve to write about them.  A force greater than I is wanting to come through, a story is begging to be told.  Once I rode through the mania and channelled the story, a peace ensued and I share that story with you now. And finally, I’ve come to understand that embracing the dark doesn’t mean succumbing to it.

Her heart leaps from her chest when the kitchen phone rings harshly, shattering the silence of her usual household day.  She must have drifted off to sleep when she sat down to rest for a moment and wait for the coffee pot to finish percolating.  Her day is usually peacefully quiet, save the occasional phone call from a neighbor friend or the dog barking to announce a truck passing by the road out front.  She blinks and tries to steady herself as she waits for her pulse to resume its normal beat, shaking off the images of the place she just visited while asleep in her mother’s sturdy rocking chair.
The phone has stopped ringing now but she knows it was Doris.  Doris is the only person that will let the phone ring for at least 15 times full well knowing that any respectable farm woman would have to put down her dust rag or put down the pan of beans she was shelling before making her way inside to the kitchen.  
She’s fully awake now and glad that there is some hot coffee waiting for her.  She yanks the plug from the wall and lets the percolator relieve itself with a puff of steam.  Damn coffee pot.  How many years is this damn thing going to go on, she’s had it since her wedding which was a full 25 years before and would certainly love to get one of the modern ones that she’d spied in the Sears Roebuck catalog.  She adds a jigger of milk and a spoonful of sugar, stops a moment and dumps another one in.  Its that kind of day that she feels she needs extra sugar.  She goes to the porch and lets the screen door slam behind her.  Today she doesn’t care. Usually when the kids are home, she painstakingly makes sure it doesn’t slam because she knows that she can’t fuss at them without setting a good example.  That’s just the kind of woman that Louise is.  
Her coffee is steamy and sweet, just the way she likes it.  There isn’t a care about the excess sugar intake or the mid morning nap.  There is no never mind about the future, what her kids will do this summer soon as school lets out or whether she’s staked the tomatoes good enough.  All she can think about is tomorrow.
~~~~
The doctor said it was a uterine mass.  It would need to come out and soon.  
His words played over and over in her head.  She wonders if she should have asked more questions in the doctor’s office or if there was more to what he was telling her.  All she can see is the bulbous man coming into the exam room after she’d finished getting dressed and put together.  He sat down with a harumpf, fished in his shirt pocket for his Lucky Strikes, put one between his lips and lit it.  She sat there proper in her good dress, legs together, nylon hose sticking to her and the garters making an impression in the back of her thigh that would last for hours.  
Good god, would that man at least turn the window fan on.  She doesn’t object to the smoke because she’s a closet smoker herself.  Plus everyone she knows smokes; young, old, pregnant or not.  Its a breeze she’s aching for because she knows herself well enough to know that she gets woozy in the high humidity and she’s barely holding it together anyway.  He grunts when he reaches forward and clicks the fan on, letting the steel blades start their acceleration.  Finally the breeze reaches her and she feels like she can finally stop holding her breath, that she isn’t going to fall out in a dead faint.  
“Mrs. Hauner, can you get in here next Monday for an operation?  You have a uterine mass that I felt during the exam that we need to get out.  This is why you haven’t had your monthly cycle”.  He stops for a moment to take a drag from his cigarette while he glances at his clipboard and some notes he’d written outside.  He shakes his head and says, “Nope, pretty sure this isn’t menopause, just the mass that is messing things up.  We’ll know more after the operation”.
With that he stood up, paused briefly as if to see if she wanted to ask anything or have a reaction.  When she didn’t, he continued to tell her that the nurse would be in to make
the arrangements.
~~~~
From her porch seat, the conversation didn’t seem very eventful.  When she replayed it over in her head, she liked to reassure herself that the doctor didn’t seem upset, therefore, she shouldn’t be either.  He’s done this kind of operation many times before and from the appearance of the new hospital at the edge of town, it would seem that they had things under control.  But why then, has she been in a cold sweat since the words were delivered to her that morning?  Was she reading something into it like her husband had told her that night when she gave him the news?  No matter how many times, she replayed the words, there was a cold, eerie feeling that crept up the back of her neck and grabbed her around the throat.
She finished her coffee and stood up to go back into the house.  For a moment, she paused to look, as she always did, at the front yard flowers that she so lovingly planted this spring.  They look good.  Her gardens always looked good.  
Plopping the coffee cup down on the kitchen table, she continued on to the back of the house to her bedroom.  She admired her freshly smoothed bedspread, put into place hours before at the crack of dawn.  The breeze was blowing nicely in through the back bedroom windows and she wondered how long she could leave the windows open before the humidity made it impossible.  
Louise slowly opened the door to the closet and gazed at the beat up brown suitcase.  She hated the sight of it.  To her sister in law, “the world traveler” it meant adventure, escape and respite from all things Southern Illinois.  Theresa jumped at the chance to travel and any man who would take her.  In her eyes, the god forsaken town they grew up in deserved to be left behind and she fulfilled that every chance she had.  Unfortunately the last husband left her as quickly as she had left town and the suitcase became available.  Louise didn’t travel or leave the farm except to visit a sister that lived several hours away, mostly when she’d just had a baby and needed some help with the kids.  But even then, a paper bag and her overnight kit always sufficed.
She was relieved that the kids were still in school for the day and the house was quiet.  She didn’t want to have to face that suitcase with all the daily hubbub going on because she found herself barely able to think even with no distractions and dead quiet.  Louise grabbed the handle and set it down on the bed without taking her eyes off of it.  Her reality was sinking in and the more it sunk, the heavier she became.  As if in slow motion, she reached down and popped open the two snaps and lifted the lid.  As it opened, Theresa’s perfume and cigarette smoke wafted out, causing her nose to wrinkle for a moment.  Her wooziness hit her and the room lifted and started to spin a bit, she tries to settle herself down by speaking out loud to herself in a scolding sort of way.
“Okay, I’ve gone this far.  I’m getting ready to go the hospital and I’m going to be fine.  I don’t have to think about my kids being left motherless if something goes wrong because it won’t.  And the doctor didn’t mention having the cancer that her neighbor ladies are always talking about taking someone unexpectedly.  And even though I don’t know anyone personally that doesn’t have their uterus, I heard about Arlene’s sister who couldn’t have children because of this same thing and she’s just fine”.  
She takes a deep breath and wills herself to believe everything she’s just repeated to herself and begins to fill the musty suitcase with a nightgown, slippers, cold cream and other essentials for her week long stay.  With her task completed, she lowers the lid and snaps the suitcase shut, setting it beside the bed.  One step closer, one more thing off the list until tomorrow.
~~~~
The early morning sun cuts in through the venetian blinds of the hospital admitting area and emphasizes the green linoleum floor and how clean the Sisters of St. Joseph keep it.  She smiles to herself thinking how those gals do take pride in their work and momentarily understands why her sister Helen might enjoy being a Catholic.  She spies her husband outside the window having a smoke with the groundskeeper who is also a drinking buddy at the local tavern and a cousin.  Briefly, she imagines what it would be like if she were viewing her life without her in it.  Would her husband and children continue on like before only with one less place at the dinner table?  Would her absence even be noticed?  And like it or not, Louise realizes that she’s been thinking more along the lines of dying than living through this.  
The light from the center of the ceiling is blinding her. So bright that its burning her eyes.  She squints and tries to shield her eyes but the nurses tell her to leave her arm stretched out so the IV doesn’t get kinked.   They also tell her its necessary for the doctor to see what he’s doing and give a little canned laughter of “you sure do want him to see what he’s working on down there” which doesn’t comfort her a bit.   They are robotic in their movements and she’s feeling the full effect of the pre-op shot they gave her in her room.  Louise doesn’t like this feeling at all which is why she doesn’t drink except the occasional snort of Mogan David that she keeps in the back of the Frigidaire.   
She feels the medication working against all of her coping skills.  She’s losing control. Until this very moment, she has steeled herself against the bad news. Her intuitive feelings of impending doom were screaming. Louise tensed her body hard and fought to regain her centeredness, slamming down every ounce of emotion and stuffing it down her throat.  From there, she didn’t care where it went as long as it went away.  She figures it feeds that uterine mass but would have to deal with that later. 
But the grip is loosening on her self control and she doesn’t like it.  It is unfamiliar and unsettling and harsh.  The cold metal table underneath her has chilled her to the bone and she realizes that she is not only shaking, she is almost convulsing in her movement.  Every word that she’s wanted to say her entire life of silent servitude is now stuck in her throat and she can’t breathe.  A panic spreads over her and in a fit of uncharacteristic behavior, she finds herself trying to escape.  She notices that they notice her.  Her periphery is suddenly full of nurses heads with white pointy hats holding her down as she feels a pinch of another injection in her thigh.  A white cloth comes down over her eyes and stops over her mouth. She takes one frantic breath of the toxic smelling anesthesia and the world goes dark.

the baby floats.  floats in darkened, buoyant bliss.  a little girl.  transitioning from the heavens.  growing, floating, connecting to her new world with every breath and heartbeat of the mother that carries her.  she wants to feel nothing but the beat of her own heart and the arms of the Divine spirit that is lovingly embracing her.  but a primitive feeling, too much for the infantile synapses of her nervous system spreads through her.  she learns about danger from a cellular level.  she is not safe now nor will she be for a very long time.

the littlest L

 
so tiny and little  
the smallest of small  
barely a faint beat of a heart   
almost non existent, trying not to be  
too small to know how to stop her life  
mustn't make noise shhhh   
stay still, stay frozen 
don't need anything, anything at all   
she tries not to breathe or take up air  
barely tolerated when invisible loathed when seen   
she won't eat for fear of prolonging her life 
they tell her not to feel, cry, be   
she mustn't ask for anything 
kill her hearts desire for love  
she aches for comfort, people, laughter, relief  
but knows she isn't one of God's children deserving of these gifts   
she feels the tears but won't allow them to come  
they are not acceptable feelings show her humanness 
she despises her feelings they are wrong, always wrong   
shamed and beaten for them she hates herself more  
its better this way 
must remain frozen to keep the pain at bay   
her skin screams for sensation she won't give in  
cutting, slicing would allow her to feel 
thrusting her again to the place where she is hated  
turning to her refuge, she rolls into a ball and slips toward sleep   
her respite  
wanting the angels to visit her in the solitude of sleep  
praying the angels see her  
begging them to take her home

the hole

AS SHE WALKED HER PATH, THE EARTH STARTED TO TREMBLE, the air around her thick and still, its surface opening up and swallowing her whole, plummeting her downward, downward into the pitch black darkness and muck.

the dark terrified her instantly, she sat paralyzed from shock, unable to move for hours, unable to make sense of the instant void that surrounded her

the dust settled while her heart stopped its pounding to realize the was in  that place again

it took hours to leave the shock, to gather her wits, find her courage to scratch her way out, scaling the walls only to fall back down over and over and over

eventually she wore out; exhausted, crumbled, weeping and scraped, she began to pray for hours while looking up at the light and the heavens beyond the opening of the cavity that contained her

she heard voices and leapt up thinking her prayers were answered, the people came and looked down the hole at her

“help me please, help me out of here”, the people didn’t move but said it was her place to help herself, it had to be her journey out, no one can help you but yourself

“don’t leave me please, i have been trying very hard” but the people who looked down on her said they loved her and would be with her when she got out and reminded her to use her skills and then they were gone

their words cut her heart and she bled

she wept with despair in the damp dark place, in that place

night came and then daylight, days came and went, she was thirsty and in agony cried out for her mother, for God, for mercy

many more times she attempted to scale those walls, looking for solid surfaces to grasp, rocks came loose, sliding down again

the people came back to look down on her and ask what she needed, “i need help, throw me a lifeline, get someone to help me please, i can’t do this myself”

again they didn’t move to help her but tossed her some food, saying that they were embarrassed to call for help, they had never known someone so dirty and trapped, it would bring shame to their family but would be happy to be with her when she got out and then they were gone

their words cut her again and she bled, but this time the bottom of the hole shifted and gave way as she felt herself plummet deeper into the abyss

she screamed long after they were gone, long into the night until she didn’t recognize her own voice any longer, as if it came from somewhere else in her soul

the nighttime animals began to come to her and encircle the hole and give comfort, they offered their wisdom and insight while she reflected on her place in the hole. it brought her peace but still no answers as to why she was denied help, why she wasn’t worthy of assistance

more days and nights;  weeping, raging, begging, accepting

the people came again and looked down at her.  “its such a beautiful day, the sun is shining and we’ve been enjoying ourselves so much,  how are you doing on such a lovely day?”

to this, she raised her hands and with what little strength she had, threw rocks at their faces, cursing at them for leaving her alone in such a desolate place.  she screamed at them for ignoring her cries for help and for their empty words

the people were horrified at her angry outbursts and quickly retaliated with scolding and finger pointing “we will not be yelled at after everything we’ve done for you”, their shouting so loud, it echoed deep into the cavernous hole, reverberating off the walls and into her brain until she felt her insides shake with their fear and hatred

and then they were gone

it is here that she finally breaks.  no more hope, no more tears, no more believing in love, no more trying to get out.  she slumped against the filthy wall of her prison and surrendered to her  inevitable demise


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