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Monday, October 6, 2014

Turns out there IS hope for the bereaved...

I'm watching a film, where the lead character's father has died. The film follows Oliver after his father's death. During the early months, Oliver has all of these moments in his interactions with other people, with the world, that remind him of his father's last few years, their times together. His memories dominate his waking life, his working life, his emotional life. He lives in this half-here/half-there, half-now/half-then state. I remember this state. Such a lonely place, and you wonder if you will EVER get to the other side of it. Or if there even IS another side of it. Or what you and the world are supposed to look like now. 

The important part of this rumination, my friends, is that I REMEMBER that period of my grief after losing my father (9/14/2010), and then my mother (9/14/2012).  That particular phase of my grief for them is finally in the past.  And I don't think it will ever feel quite like that again. That phase of grief reminds me of the emergency phase of post traumatic stress disorder - when the trauma dominates the survivor's consciousness, when they unwillingly have flashbacks to what has traumatized them, when they feel like it will never end.

And then, gradually, almost so slowly that you miss it, things start to change. Those moments become further and further apart. The waves of grief that smash into you, taking you completely be surprise, only come up to your neck instead of covering your face, then they only come up to your shoulders, and then your chest, and then your waist. And one day you realized that you are wading where you once feared you would drown.

Not that I don't still sometimes feel very keenly how much I miss my parents but, especially in the last few weeks, something has shifted. Those parts of my brain and my heart that used to hurt because of how they treated me, and then because they were suffering, and then because I regretted how I felt I failed them, and then because I lost them, and then because I miss them... those parts of me feel strangely vacant, waiting for me to figure out what I am going to do with them.

Last weekend we were in the Adirondacks sitting on a pier, watching twilight deepen over Fourth Lake, waiting for the starts to brighten so we could practice some astrophotography. 

In the stillness and the silence, which we rarely have in our lives, I realized that I was not sad. I didn't know what I was, but the sadness that I was so used to feeling, that sadness that had become my "go-to" emotional state, just wasn't where I had left it. There was space instead. And I remembered that before the first breast cancer (August-November 2002), and losing Cookie (5/25/2005), and the second breast cancer (November 2007-May 2008), and losing Dad, and losing Mom, I used to enjoy that space, and it gave me room to do things like needlework, beading, crochet, reading, other hobbies and activities, time with friends, or (gasp) fun. Since Dad died, and then Mom, that space was just hurting all the time, and I have gotten in the habit of covering that hurt with mind-numbing things, emotion-numbing things, Bejeweled Blitz, solitaire, Facebook...

But in that stillness on the lake, I felt content, peaceful, relaxed, and happy. And I thought that maybe, if I'm done suffering from the grief, if I can feel this okay on a weekend away from home, maybe I can feel this okay in the living room, or at work, or on a walk in a park, or at the grocery store. Maybe my status quo can be "okay" or "content" or even, God forbid, "happy" instead of "bereaved" or "orphaned" or "stuck" or "cancer survivor."  Maybe I can start to feel like myself again.

Last month, a few days before the anniversary of my parents' deaths, I attended my first session of the Hope for Bereaved support group. The group is free and meets once a month. I hated most of it, cried for at least half of it, was exhausted when it was finally over. And doubted that I would ever return. Within a week, I knew that attending that group is what made it possible to get through the anniversary feeling as sane as I did, so I would have to go back. 

It is coincidental, or ironic, or inevitable, that I am finally feeling hope after starting to attend the Hope for Bereaved support group?