Death, Grief and Inexplicable Nightmares

Ugh. Nightmares. I’m just about tired of them.

It does NOT phase me to be with someone when they die. I mean, I don’t see it as a negative experience. I’m good at being fully present for another person’s death. I’m good at opening my heart. Letting the energy flow. I’m good at holding hands and holding space and saying the words that you say to dying people, helping them to let go. Lord knows I’ve done it enough times.

It does NOT freak me out or make me uncomfortable to be around dying people. I know it’s part of life. It doesn’t scare me. It doesn’t make me feel weird or distressed.

In fact, death is one of the most peaceful things I’ve ever been around, in the moment that it takes place. It’s the getting there that is hard and sometimes scary and painful. It’s the living part that is hard. And the grieving. The being “left.” Dying? Dying is easy.

Everything goes quiet – even amongst all the noise, whether it’s chaos or just the whines and whooshes of machines that surround it. Everything goes still for that one, solitary moment…the one when you hold your breath as you wait to see if they’re going to take another one…and then, when they don’t…the release of your own long held inhalation.

I have seen them leave, and I always wonder where they go. What’s really next…? Are they still there, in a different plane of existence? Did they see a light? Did they know they were dying? Did they see something beautiful, or did they see nothing at all?

I mean, there are gross things about it – certain smells and things they do sometimes at the moment after dying, as the body releases them…it’s not “pretty” all the time but it’s not…it’s not that terrible to me, that moment. In that moment, they have something I don’t have: real peace, and the knowledge of what comes next. It’s relief. It’s that final endeavor of living.

I find death to be one of the most precious moments you can share with another human being. And so very often, it feels like a gift…

So why these nightmares. Why? My therapist says I’ve been through a multiple year long trauma that ended with holding another person’s hand as they died. I don’t feel like I’ve been through a trauma. I feel like I shouldn’t be having nightmares. Especially not ones in which my kid is dying.

Maybe I AM losing my mind. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m the only one left of that little family unit that was my family unit all my life. No grandparents. No parents. No brothers or sisters…or are there, somewhere? Maybe that’s it… The fact that I was adopted never phased me, until now. I never really had questions. I never really wondered. I just knew that I was blessed to have a home and to be loved. Not that I’m not now… I just…as we ease up on the one month mark since my mom’s death, something weird is happening inside of me.

WTF, dude. I don’t know…

Collateral Beauty

Collateral Beauty.

Sigh.

I finally watched it this weekend, and it was… Well, to put it mildly, it was hard. I’m not exactly sure how to express what it was for me, but I feel this need to sort what was for me for myself. I need to understand what happened to me not only as I watched this film, but more importantly what happened inside of me after I watched it.

It was raw emotion. A slimy nose and a wet face. Nearly a whole box of Kleenex. It was bloody and bruised heart-pain. Deep scars gashed open. Barely healed rips ripped yet again. Elephant on chest. It was the darkest places and emotions in my soul. Fear. Rejection. Doubt. Loss. Grief. Anger. Exquisite sadness. It was every horrible, painful, heart-wrenching emotion I’ve experienced in the last three years, all at once.

It was also every good thing. Every fantasy, every hope, every dream, every wish. The lightest, most beautiful places and emotions in my soul. The heart filled with love exploding in my chest, the tears of joy, the racing thoughts of all the beauty and good that I ran so fast and chased so hard trying to keep up with before it disintegrated into a lonely fog of misty memories…

It was every dialogue between Howard and the projections of our three most relatable experiences as human beings…every single one and from all sides has been me at some point in the last three years. Despite the hard things it brought up in me, it also brought to the surface my truest reality and recollection of these years: that they were absolutely the worst years and the best years of my life all at once, and I wouldn’t change one single damned thing.

Perhaps they were my best worst years, or my worst best years… I don’t know. Overthinking aside, they were definitely the worst and the best all at once. I experienced more emotion, more pure and raw and true love being felt and expressed from deep within me, more conscious realizations of the truth of time, more acceptance and patience with death, than I have ever experienced in my life – or will likely ever experience again in this way. It’s funny how the most beautiful things in our lives can be the most terrifying. The most precious things about ourselves, we don’t see the same way others do because no-one ever tells us…and then, when we do see it, we feel like it’s too late and all for nought.

Nonetheless, observing myself and seeing myself on the roller coaster from the ground, so to speak, I realize that it was not all for nought. What would have amounted to zero was not being there at all…

During these years I have stepped out of my comfort zone in so many ways. I have done things I had never done and never imagined doing. I have experienced things that I have only ever dreamed of. In the process, I have made some mistakes that were, and continue to be, the most painful for other people that I have ever made. But I have learned, and I have forgiven others and sought forgiveness. Whether I have received it or not is not up to me…the most I can do is to offer mine and to forgive myself.

I have opened my heart to give and receive love without giving in to fear or doubt, and at the same time closed my heart to love for precisely those reasons. I have had the most beautiful, soul-awakening, life altering experiences of my life in these short 36 months, and I have turned away nearly as many in these last 12.

The short of it is, I have lived.

I wish that I could say that the following statements were figments of my imagination but they’re not. In the last year, it is the fact that I have lived that is my burden. I’ve heard it called everything from “just grief” to survival guilt. I think it’s a bit of both. And, admittedly, it’s a bit silly at a number of levels. Considering I have a young son to raise and who loves me, and that my only fear is dying and leaving him without a mother, it’s especially ridiculous to feel guilty that I’m alive at times. But, I do.

The mind doesn’t have much of a say in these thoughts, really. The heart can’t be tamed – not one like mine, I’ve been told. And mine is still all over the place. CPTSD aside, I’m not mentally ill. I’ve ALWAYS been a very sensitive and emotional person. I’ve also always been looked down on for that. That doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that I have spent the last year – grief, heartbreak, rejection, whatever negativity aside – wasting the life I have left… That’s the main thing that I took away from the movie.

The thing is, BECAUSE of the CPTSD and the anxiety – which are, technically, mental illnesses – I can’t rightly blame myself or be harsh with myself. It’s NOT something I can help, or just change. It doesn’t work that way. As I pondered this I found myself having a mind fight with Louise Hay and her spiritual/psychobabble bullshit. My state of mind is not something that is so easily healed by simply talking myself out of the bad and into the good with affirmations and hopeful daydreams. Or maybe it is… I’ve no desire to drop a house on anyone else’s experiences. But for me, it feels more like delusional and irrational thinking than what I’ve already been accused of with my fear and pain.

Oh, it’s all so ridiculous, isn’t it!? The whole of life, and humanity, and the way we humans think and feel and act and live… The scenarios we find ourselves in very rarely ever make sense, even with the spiritual/psychobabble bullshit in the mix. NOTHING makes sense. I don’t think it was ever meant to… We think it does, we talk ourselves into believing that it does and that this fits with this and that fits with that…but it’s just a big, disillusioned blend of cause and effect, chain reactions, and a little bit of mystical enchantment here and there – signs and so forth. Do we talk ourselves into believing things or is what we see actually the way things are? I don’t know. I don’t know at all. I never have known, although I’ve tried to make myself believe I have in order to “remain sane.” That’s when they really began to call me crazy.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s crazy. I don’t think any of us are crazy. I don’t think religion or dogma or spirituality or science or any of it is crazy. I don’t necessarily think it makes any sense, either. And, I don’t have any idea what I believe or what I want to believe anymore. But what I do know is that if people are happy believing whatever they believe, let them believe it, because to be where I have been and where I remain, either being told not to believe in a fantasy or being told that what I do believe is ridiculous or being told that there’s nothing at all to believe in… It’s the worst place a person can ever be to believe in nothing at all and not to care…

I suppose that’s why this movie had the effect on me that it did – because I DO want to care. I don’t necessarily want to believe, or want to be told what to believe, or to search for what I believe…but I do want to feel, and to care. And that’s what is missing from this life-long feeler and lover and wonderer of life and all that’s in it. The only time I feel any of that anymore, really, is when I look into my son’s eyes, or when he holds my hand or hugs me, or cuddles under the covers with me watching movies at night… I am beginning to feel it a bit more out in nature again, which probably has a lot to do with the changing of the seasons and a new spark inside that always comes along for me as winter turns to spring…

I find myself at a loss for anymore words at this point this evening…except to say that these are definitely things that I want to continue observing and considering. All I know for sure is that I want to keep going, even if it’s just to prove to myself that I can do it.

Coping with Cancer #37162

I have written many of these posts over the last three years. Especially after her death, I haven’t shared them publicly. In fact, after her death I took most of the ones written when she was alive down… But today, I just feel compelled to share one. I feel compelled to share more of me. Again. 

This is my best friend and one of the soulmates in my existence. I took this photo on the day of the diagnosis, after a long ‘ol conversation and a lot of tears. It was not the first time that sitting on this front porch was heavy and difficult, not even the day it was heaviest and hardest (for me, that would be the day she died, and I was on this porch watching in disbelief and denial as they took her away). It was also not the first time smiles prevailed over hardship there… They always did. But, definitely this was the day that the truest miracle of friendship happened between us – the day we made the hardest promises, and kept them. 

I miss having this in my life – not just her but what we were. I can’t say I wish to have this in my life again – I don’t believe it exists for any of us more than once, if we have it once at all; it would almost feel selfish to ask for it, anyway. But to look back and to be so grateful to have had it once, for half my life, makes me so very aware – joyfully so – of the miracle I had in my life in these people, and still have to some extent because some things just can’t be destroyed by death. 

I don’t know why I’m so randomly missing them today – because that’s the way grief works, I suppose. But today, I do miss them – especially her – from somewhere deep inside my soul. Not just missing a moment or a memory but missing what felt…feels…like such an essential essence to my being. All I know to do is recycle it into whatever it is I can give to the world…

I miss my Dad, my dog, my family and my friends and my life being what it used to be. I want it back. I can’t have that, necessarily… Some things can be mended, some things can’t…either way, it’s never the same. But I feel this today without tears or doubts. I feel this today with nostalgia and gratitude, with a sense of reverence for what it was, and look to it to find the tools to build whatever is next. I feel like that’s such a powerful gift. I don’t want to waste it; I want to live on…and I am. 

This was the time she had a rainbow on her shoulder and it reminded me of Mardi Gras. This one seems fitting for today, being Fat Tuesday and all. I said to her, “when you get better we should go together,” and she said, “yes! And I’m taking my grandson to Utah, too!” Perhaps it’s silly to make plans when you’re not sure whether you’re gonna be there for them…but are we really ever sure? No. We’re really not. 

We plan our lives when we’re well. Then we (Ok, I) get into panic, depression and sickness and feel like our lives are over. We start to think things like, “the best years are behind me, I’m past my prime, I’m too old, I’m too sick, I’m too afraid,” when in reality – and I know this from experience lately – it’s all bullshit! None of it is valid or true. But we use those things as excuses not to live, because the reality within us is that we don’t feel like we deserve to. 

There are many days that I don’t feel like I deserve goodness, love, patience, etc. I’ve done some terrible things to some people in my life while at the same time thought I was doing wonderful things for other people in my life. Sometimes stories don’t align and sometimes relationships fall apart; sometimes while we are doing what we feel in our hearts is right for someone else we are inadvertently hurting another. We do these things because we are human, not because we are horrible people. 

I truly and deeply believe that we are all doing the best we can with what we have and what we believe in any given moment. We make mistakes, we screw things up, we lose people, we inadvertently “break” ourselves. But we forget that we can make ourselves whole again – and we are the ONLY ones who can do that for ourselves. Then, sometimes we realize and accept it but don’t have the strength or courage to do the work. Maybe we just don’t know where to begin. I haven’t, since she died. The lack of her light in my world has left it a very dark place, indeed – but only because I’ve put my own light out with my tears. Death is so final…

I’m doing my best, every day. There are some I wish I could make amends with. I think of them every day but I can’t contact them. That’s one of my inner battles. I just have to – try to – honor them with the way I live my life now, and hope that they know the love is still there, that the love never left. And that’s what I’m trying to do.