Saturday, March 31, 2012

Letting go to move forward

I'm sure my friends wondered why I still had the sympathy cards up 6 months after my husband died. I found them comforting. It visually confirmed all our friends and family that cared for my daughters and me. I wasn't ready to put them away. I needed to find a special place for them and decided one day I'd get around to it.

The closets were still untouched. One of Nelson's shirts had a musty smell. Had it been that long? My husband died in April and now it was October. Many friends offered their help. I knew they just loved me and wanted me to move on. Was I afraid that if I moved forward I'd have to let go of the past? Material things weren't important to me, however, I felt very possessive with Nelson's belongings.

Perhaps I was stuck in grief at this point. I think God knows how to nudge us when it's time to let go. Mornings were getting a little chilly. My friend, Dinah, called me one day to ask me what I was planning to do with Nelson's leather jacket. Dinah and her husband, Arturo, had been our very close friends.

My hand clenched the phone. "I hadn't thought about it," I said. "Well, Arturo was planning to buy a leather and if you're not keeping Nelson's, could Arturo have it?" Dinah asked. Our conversation caught me off guard. What if I wanted to keep it? But it was too big for me. The sleeves covered my fingers. I had no reason to keep it other than for sentimental reasons. It was Nelson's favorite coat!

Of course I gave the coat to Arturo. But when I did, I felt a part of Nelson go. God knew it was time and I had been holding on as long as I could. When Arturo picked up the jacket, my tears came later on that evening. In the midst of my painful cries, I suddenly felt God's peace flow through my body. He was my comforter.

The process of letting go became easier after this point. Closets got cleaned out and I felt like it was the right time. Now the cards were a different story. I waited until Christmas cards came in, then I replaced the sympathy cards with the Christmas cards. This was my way of adjusting. And I always did things my way! (With God's gentle nudging and guidance of course!)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Grief Journey: 2 Steps Forward...1 Step Back

A half a year had passed. This was a big marker in becoming a widow. But my life still seemed confusing and off balance. As I moved forward to find some sense of direction, without warning, I'd collapse in despair. Perhaps a memory was triggered from hearing a familiar song. This could cause me to instantly fall apart. Then sometimes I didn't care to move on and I just wanted to wallow in memories of my husband. I never knew if I was going to go forward or backward each day.

Since my life took a new direction, I had to reprioritize it. Every morning I read from Our Daily Bread devotional and then prayed in surrendering to God's will to feel peace in my soul. This was easier than to struggle with doing it my way. After all, my dreams were shattered six months ago. Now, all I could do was handle one day at a time. God's peace helped me along in a forward direction.

As I moved forward, I tried my best to also help my daughters. My oldest daughter enrolled in a gymnastics class that she liked to do. My youngest daughter was picked from her dance class for a competition group. Even though this required additional time and money, they deserved this happiness. I wanted them to pursue their dreams, and one day maybe I could rejoin life with new goals, too.

Since I had been a professional hairdresser, my friend Trish came over one day so I could do her hair. As I started, a Kenny G. song played on the radio. What freaked me out a week prior with a panic attack, this time I was totally at ease. I told Trish about the anxiety attack at Bonco. One story led to others from my grief adventures. "You should journal all your tales as a widow," Trish said. "You'll want to remember these experiences." The idea to write a book seemed challenging.

I felt like I was moving forward at a good pace when I thought about where I'd been compared to where I was now. But we should never become too confident. Because within a few moments or thoughts, we can be down on our knees in tears. We can be in so much despair and sadness that it sets us back. And as we take that step back, we want to stay there for security. It feels a little safer when we know what to expect then to keep going forward into the unknown.

I think if we continue to have a few good days in a week, it's ok to wallow a couple days in sadness and gloom. It's healthy to have productive days of moving forward in grief as well as having a few days of back sliding into a familiar place of sadness and depression. As long as we don't get stuck in our depression, we can continue to praise God for His help in moving us forward. Kind of like a few days of sunshine, after a couple days of rain. Any other analogies?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Panic Attack!!

I never quite understood what people meant when they said they had a panic attack. I remember thinking, "Oh, it's all made up in your head. You can control it". I imagined an anxiousness and fear, but had no idea how debilitating it could be until I became a widow and it happened to me!

It actually happened to me on more than one occasion. You can read about another time, once my book is published. I think it's a natural part of the grief process. Many of our emotions are out of our control. It's not something we make up in our heads. Our emotions take over and panic is the only way out!

During my first year of widowhood, I preferred to socialize with my closest friends and family. I didn't want to go to big parties or gatherings. And I really didn't want to meet new friends. The friends I had were my comfort. They understood me and took care of me and my daughters like we were their own.

Before my husband died, I had been part of a monthly social gathering called "Bonco" with 12 other moms. A couple of them were my close friends, but most of them were acquaintances through my children’s school and neighborhood. I had been gone for over 5 months since my husband died and decided it was time to at least finish the last 2 months of my commitment.

"I'm so glad you're back!" Rita embraced me as I entered her home. "Help yourself to coffee and refreshments." I anxiously searched for my close friends, Angela and Carol. Heading into the kitchen, I spotted Angela talking to a mutual friend. "Hey girl!" Angela hugged me. "We're talking about Halloween sneaking up." A lump formed in my throat thinking of the approaching holidays.

"Okay, everyone's here," announced Rita from her living room. "Let's find a table and get started." I found Carol so we sat together. I volunteered to be the scorekeeper so that I'd have something to do and not have to think of something to say. "Let me put some background music on." Rita walked over to the shelf above her stereo. "Where's my Kenny G, Breathless CD?"

NO! My heart beat faster. SHE CAN'T PUT THAT ON! I PLAYED THAT CD EVERY DAY ON THE WAY TO SEE NELSON IN THE HOSPITAL!! I clenched my teeth and my body stiffened. PLEASE! NO! DON'T FIND IT! I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'LL DO! I couldn't say a word. The pressure inside my chest, as my heart pounded, felt like it was about to explode.

"Here it is. I found it." Rita nonchalantly put it on. The moment it began, the instrumental sounds affected me like jabs in my chest. An adrenalin rush of anxiety made my pulse race as I started to tremble. I CAN'T THINK! I CAN'T DO THIS! I CAN'T MOVE! I froze. I looked up. Three puzzled faces stared back. HELP ME! SOMEONE! Nothing came out of my mouth. I felt trapped. Like being chased in a dream, and I couldn't scream.

"What's the matter, Cindy?" Carol put her hand over mine. I HAVE TO TELL HER, SOMEHOW! My shaking hands were now noticeable. "This song...please....take it off," I stammered while my body quivered. "I can't...hear it." Rita jumped up and rushed over to remove it. Carol stayed by my side holding my hand. Abruptly the music stopped. "I'm sorry, it reminded me of Nelson." I breathed easier as my heartbeat slowed down.

"How long has it been?" Rita's mom asked me. "Almost six months," I said. "It will get easier," she replied.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Embracing the Pain

File:Yellow sunset.jpgOnce I surrendered to enduring the pain of losing my husband, the process of healing began. It actually took almost a half a year to come to terms that he died. Only by calling out to God and feeling a peace slip into my soul, could I function during many days. It was too much for me to bear alone. The pain was wrenching. I just let it keep coming, day after day after day. It became a ritual to get through the day as a robot, and then cry and scream into my pillow every night.

The height of my pain went on for several weeks until I reached a climax. I reached a turning point. It felt as if I finally came to terms with my broken heart and felt comfort with the familiar hurt. Since the pain made everything real, that my husband truly died, I embraced it. Because I felt that once the pain faded, the memories would fade, and the memories were all I had now.

So as the intense suffering began to subside, the realization of wanting to keep my husband's memories alive, enabled me to embrace my grief. Each day I welcomed my journal time to grieve and reminisce. I'd sit down and journal my thoughts as I cried. This was my cleansing and my time of remembering my husband. Reality still felt overwhelming, so this was my way of living in the past and feeling comfort from feeling the pain. Does this make sense to anyone else?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

No Pain...No Gain in Grief

Key To My Broken Heart
Key To My Broken Heart
I understand how a spouse could die from a broken heart. I had to gasp for air. It felt like I was suffocating. There's nowhere to escape. Nelson was gone- five months. It felt like yesterday! The intensity of continuous pain felt like it was swallowing me up in misery. Though I felt devastated with human despair, my faith in Christ promised us hope after death. I believed Nelson had eternal life but now I needed to find hope for myself to go on without him.

There were times that my anxiety rose to levels that I had never coped with before. "How will this pain ever go away?" I grieved the hardest when I went to bed. The intensity of pain came like thrusts of a knife piercing my heart over and over. I'd fervently cry into my pillow. Never in my life had I ever experienced distress so violently. The pain had to run its course.

On the evening, of the 5 month anniversary of Nelson's death, I was visiting his family in Puerto Rico. As dusk fell, I excused myself for an evening walk. I wanted to be alone. I didn't want to force a smile or make small talk. I was hurting. What would make it stop? I wanted to feel comfort. I wanted to be near Nelson. I walked to the cemetery where Nelson was buried. The skies had turned dark but the streetlights shone on Nelson's gravesite.

It was so quiet and peaceful. I laid on my back, on top of the above ground mausoleum and gazed at the stars as tears slithered down my temples. There was nowhere else I wanted to be. "It hurts God, so much! Help me! I don't know what to do!" I let out a few soft sobs then curled up in a fetal position. After a few moments the pain subsided as if a blanket of peace embraced me.

This became a defining moment in my grief. I knew the pain would keep coming back for a period of time. Each time my tears overflowed, God's comfort continued to take away the throbbing pain. I handed my broken heart over to God to be healed. I could then live through the pain and move on through grief.

If we keep covering up the pain and not facing it, we'll never move on and find joy again. After months of running and trying to do grief my way, I finally broke and surrendered to God. My way wasn't working so well. It was time to move on and face the giant. MY BROKEN HEART!