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Grief Has No Boundaries

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Two weeks after my forty-fifth birthday in 2005, Mom passed away. The funeral arrangement had been made the month before the inevitable. My name had been put on all her accounts and the Power of Attorney had been signed. We had had to sell her house a couple of years before, so there was no extra cleaning or organizing to do of her belongings. I thought I was prepared. How wrong I was.

Still, there was so much to do initially that time raced by me. The funeral, the loss of my favorite cousin a week later, bills to pay, creditors to notify, my home, and my job all demanded my continued attention. I cried through each and every day. I missed Mom terribly. I thought I was grieving like anyone else does. In a sense I was, but grief affects everyone differently and I had much to learn about it and myself.

Getting out of bed was the hardest part of every workday. I was tired and exhausted all the time. I slept, but never seemed to rest. Then I had to deal with my co-workers and customers as I always had, politely and efficiently. On top of everything, how dare she, my co-worker lost her father and began caring for her not-so-self-sufficient mother. Two women, same small office, on separate but equal emotional rollercoasters. Wow, talk about a recipe for tension and unrest. Normally, rather close, we became territorial and butted heads on a regular basis. All the while, she asked my advice on this or that situation she encountered with her father’s end of life care and taking on the responsibility of her mother. I really tried to be helpful and patiently gave whatever advice or direction I could. That small effort, along with my job responsibilities, wore me out by the end of each day. My ability to laugh had grown weaker and weaker. Meanwhile, the rest of the world kept right on turning.

Also, during this time, a new supervisor was hired for our department. She was a definite By-The-Book-No-Nonsense-Supervisor. She didn’t know I was grieving either (even though she was a nurse and, by my standards, should have recognized the signs) and expected me to be the team leader she had been hired to supervise. No calling in late because I couldn’t get up, no calling in sick for a migraine or any other reason. I came extremely close to losing my job because of my extreme level of dysfunction. To my knowledge, she had no complaints with my work, just my attendance. I was able to suck it up and keep my attendance straight for sixty days in order to get past a disciplinary action and then the next six months to have it expunged from my work record. Whew. Again, I was drained beyond measure, but I was nearly a year past Mom’s death, so I was in the clear, right?

Erratic spending was another symptom of my grieving process. My beautiful granddaughter was born just a month before my Mom’s passing. I needed desperately to keep her in lovely pink dresses and help my darling daughter in any way I could. You see, she lives three hours away and what I couldn’t give her and her family in time, I sent in material goods. Nothing was financially out of reach for My beautiful granddaughter. I tried, when I did visit, to bring all the ingredients for a meal or two and because I shopped in unfamiliar stores, there were many impulse purchases to be stored in the freezer for later. My darling daughter worked, as did my wonderful son-in-law, but what if something happened? It was up to me to save them. End of story.

Did I mention the weekends I would spend in bed watching movies? I was never so well versed in movie trivia. Three per weekend, if I could stay awake that long. I became Empress of the Fourteen Hour Cat-nap as well. My Loving Husband became proficient at planning meals around my haphazard schedule. He was content to let me come and go, or not, as I needed. He has never been one to start a conflict for no good reason. Many phone calls went unreturned or even unanswered. We did manage to have friends over and plan for all the holidays without many issues. My brothers and I visited and spoke on the phone regularly. Even to them, I seemed so normal. I was still in charge of our family’s life. How could I not be normal? I was the youngest, but the only female out of three children; it was my God given duty to take Mom’s place and hold us all together.

My best friend and I kept up a routine of going out to dinner or for coffee as we had for oh so many years. It was probably the one thing I most looked forward to with the exception of seeing My Darling and her family. Dear Friend would take me away to conversations of good books, her job, travel, family and friends. Of course, she would always inquire as to how I was doing, but I always thought she was asking in general, not if I was still grieving or depressed or sleeping my life away or housing left over anger. If I felt good that day, I would say so. If I was under the weather or even mentally not up to par, I would say so. Even after knowing me for twenty years, she never guessed that I could still be grieving after all this time.

The same year Mom passed away, I injured my back walking My Darling Daughter’s Black Lab. Luckily, it never really put me out of commission after the initial healing period. Funny how physical injury has a more reliable time period for healing than our emotional injuries. Oh sure, the pain would flare up every now and then and I would take to my bed for rest and heat therapy like a good patient. I regularly saw my chiropractor and, when the spirit hit, would exercise to gain a bit of strength back. The pain peaked in February of this year; I was so stricken that I sought out and received three pain blocks in my back just to remain upright. After several weeks of physical therapy, I was released on my own recognizance. Left to my own scheduling devices, I gradually slipped back into my bed and sedentary lifestyle. Some might refer to it as just plain Avoidance-of-Life. Sleeping is probably the best tool for avoiding anything as unpleasant as life. 

The chiropractor I see treats, not only my back, but me as a person. He told me at one appointment that, maybe, I was sleeping because I was depressed. Maybe I was in a bit more pain because I wasn’t exercising and the depression was keeping me from ‘feeling’ like going for a walk or to the gym. Maybe I was letting the pain and possible depression control me instead of me controlling it. He said I wasn’t my usual feisty self many of the times I saw him. What? Me? Why on earth would I be depressed? I have three wonder grandchildren, a loving, stable husband, an active social life, friends, a job; what more could I want? I was in control, just not in the best places.

Dr. Chiro asked me if I was still taking an antidepressant. Yes. How was my sleep? Long. Do I dream? Yes. Fitfully. I kick Poor Loving Husband during the night. Do I wake up rested? No. What about my diet? I eat. And yes, to excess sometimes. Was I still keeping up my physical therapy exercises? Um, not really. Walking? Yes, from my car to work to the car and into my house to bed. I’d be willing to bet, by now, that even a blind person can see the pattern here. I work, I eat, I sleep. On Saturdays, I bowl. On Sundays, I sleep. On weekdays, after work, I sleep. For all intents and purposes, I should be the most rested person on the face of the earth.

And then one day, several months ago, I felt as though a light switch had been flipped. I had begun to go to the gym two or three hours a week to take a slow walk on the treadmill. When that started to get old, I went to a local park. Fresh air is a wonderful thing. With my iPod on, I could walk for a couple of hours at my own pace, without a care in the world. Soon, it became a competition with myself to walk the entire park and back, a total of five miles. My legs felt stronger; my head felt clearer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying walking is a magic cure-all, but for me, it worked. Eventually, Dr. Chiro mentioned that a bit of light weight lifting may be good to start before the winter months set in. As it was already getting cold, I took his advice and starting going to the gym three or four times a week to alternate my exercise routine. It has been a little over six months and I am stronger, less tired and, bonus!, have lost a couple of inches and pounds.

I am, finally, what I consider for myself back to normal. I am dependable again; I get up for work without the slightest thought of pulling the covers over my head. I put on a bit of makeup occasionally, am more frugal, and laugh freely. Oddly, I discovered that I can make others laugh again too. Little did I know how much I missed that. No one is walking on eggshells around me, afraid I will get upset or burst into tears for no reason. Grieving is a very personal process. Some people don’t seem to do it at all, others, like myself, linger in grief for several or even many years. No one can tell you when you have grieved enough. Friends, family, and co-workers can be supportive, but in the end, it is you that must see and feel when the process has been completed.

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