Sunday, March 1, 2015

Then and Now in 2015

As the old adage goes, what a difference a year can make.  I hate to open up with something so cliché,  but it couldn't be helped. As writers we are warned time and time again to avoid such terms. 
Today I'm throwing all the rules out the window.  My writing since my husband, Mike's death has been very sporadic, my fiction virtually non-existent. 
I have two manuscripts that occasionally call out, nudging me with a gentle reminder. We'll see what happens. I did just complete a three part memoir series, please visit my nonfiction website, writing under JC Cerrigone.
On this date last year I lost my husband, Mike after a sixteen month, valiant fight with AML Leukemia. 
Grief is a multifaceted thing, a piece of blackened coal that's under constant pressure. With today being the first anniversary of my husband's death I am finally seeing the sparkles glinting off of the newly cut edges of a jewel that's being unearthed.  I feel as if during the last year I have shared my space with a living, breathing thing. 
Grief ebbs and flows, it's tide and mood always shifting. It has multiple personalities. 
Grief can also be felt like a groupie, influencing and driving you by what 'those other people,' I'll call them, are always saying to you. 
One of the most difficult challenges for me was to have the courage to take ownership of my own grief. I've danced between the delicate line of being assertive and sounding like a deranged head case. Writing poetry has helped me achieve some balance with this. 
I needed to be as candid as possible without sounding rude, as well as not being influenced by how others reacted or what was said. Any 'off' tone or poor delivery could easily spawn a remark such as this. 'Justine's really freaking out today,' or 'She's having a bad day. Should we call someone?' 
Believe me, there were many of those. Thank God for my sister, Cecily. 
In my opinion, and my opinion only, I think taking ownership of your grief and your journey is really all about shrugging off the cliche phrases that really don't offer any type of comfort. 
These are phrases that I often used myself before I lost my husband. It just goes to show you never really understand something unless you go through it. Now I know how empty and sometimes hurtful these comments can be. Please note- I'm in no way bashing anyone today. I'm simply sharing my personal journey and what I've learned along the way and how I've interpreted things.  Everyone's grief is different. When dealing with the grief stricken I think the best avenue to take is to just, simply listen.
The comments that are over-used and should be avoided are-- 
Time heals all wounds
Things will get better once you have closure
You'll eventually get over it and move on. 
Everything will be okay. 
It'll all work out. 
First of all, time does alter all things, but the sense of loss is still there, and always will be. It will move with you along with the passing of time, but it does remain in some way or form. 
Closure. There is no such thing. My husband was part of my life for fifteen years. How do you close up fifteen years?  Think of someone who had been married for forty or fifty years. 
Death isn't something you get over. It's something you learn to live with. Well, some learn and some don't. I'll save that for a future post. 
More often than not, many people have the death to deal with as well as of a plethora of other issues. These other issues are usually family and friends who misplace their grief.  That's fighting about money, possessions and other assorted drama. (See my past blog post 'Death does not Warrant Drama.'
Someone usually has or hasn't done something that the grief-stricken feels should've been done, said, or handled differently. Again; it's always best to just listen, and offer to listen again whenever needed.  
After losing a spouse you are not only mourning their death, but the death of a life you used to have. 
It slowly drifts away, receding, getting smaller and smaller until it finally vanishes. 
Most of the people you spent years with are now gone, and then the search for the 'New Normal' begins. 
I will commend the educated professionals who advised that I wait a year until making any heavy decisions. With it now being a year later my new life is beginning to take shape. I have much more peace and stability. I'm mentally and emotionally confident that I can make hard decisions with clarity and certainty. 
I've kept very few of my old friends, but have made many more new ones. 
I'll begin to close with some advice. Again, I want to stress that these points are formed by my own opinion only and they are in no way meant to offend or be taken as 'law.' 
If you decide to become one of the people that have chosen to recede out of the grief stricken's life then I would suggest that you carefully evaluate your choice before taking flight, and make sure that you're willing to live with that decision. Dealing with your absence becomes part of our loss and just adds to the healing process.
Resurfacing later only refreshes the pain for the one who has suffered the loss. Don't wander back into our lives when you think things might be "safe" in order to relieve your own guilt due to avoiding dealing with and/ or coping with our loss. An example I'll share-
After a year and making some serious changes I heard from one of these individuals who chose to disappear. They sent me a text message-
'I'm very concerned about you.' 
For me, the one who's been living with the grief and attempting to regain my footing while processing the many changes that surround the death of a spouse, a statement such as this causes great angst. 
Where were they the last twelve months? 
Change is uncomfortable for many, even for the individuals who are not making the change. Does this mean they want to be involved and listen now? Or just criticize me for my decisions only to run away, yet again. 
Another personal example-
If you chose not to call or send a condolence card please don't send me something months later, such as a birthday or holiday greeting card with a photo of you and your children for my refrigerator. Seeing you and your family on display in my kitchen only keeps the wound of losing your friendship over something I couldn't control torn open and bleeding. 
If one chooses to make these attempts to re-enter and their efforts are ignored then it appears that the grief stricken has cut you off, and chances are, you handed us the scissors. It sounds harsh I know, but I'm a woman who now faces reality on all fronts. Mike's illness taught me that. 
My neighbor, Shiloh Thomas said it best-
'I'm having trouble finding what to say, but I'll always be here for you, Justine, just to listen.' I love her, and her husband, Lenny. They handled my loss with the upmost respect and sensitivity.   
My few other friends, and you know who you are, and my family, thank God for you all. 
 Time doesn't necessarily heal, but it certainly grooms the path and makes it smoother to travel. When catastrophic events occur in life it's vital that WE All pay attention to our behavior. We need to think of how we would feel on each end of a particular situation.  It's a great opportunity for all of us to build a little character.
Justine Szot

JC Cerrigone/ Nonfiction works