How to do nothing

Recovery is a slow and steady thing – if you do it right.  I have no intention of doing it any other way, so slow and steady it is.  Slowing down is not a bad thing.  It has forced me to face my thoughts, not run from them.

I have studiously avoided thinking about what life will be like when I retire.  Retirement plans were happy, joyous things when Kevin was alive, and sad, depressing thoughts after he died.  I have a few years to go before I can retire, but I can’t ignore the fact that I need to be ready for it, need to plan.

Kevin never worried about his retirement, but then again Kevin never worried.  I remember early in our marriage when money was tight, he told me not to worry, he could always go busk on a corner.  God bless him, he always thought music could solve all the problems in the world.  I told him he would have to busk all night and all day to raise enough money to get us through – he was unfazed, typical Kevin.  He picked up extra gigs playing, we economized, and we got through.

That’s what he would have brought to my retirement.  That confidence that whatever happened it would be alright, we would get by.  But, he would say, you have to have something to do, you can’t retire and do nothing.  He was going to paint and try to get on at the local university to teach music.  Oh, and he wanted to travel, and to write, to grab our grandchildren and take them for the summers and show them the world.  So much to do, and in his case, no opportunity to do it.

Now there is just me looking forward –  to years filled how?  That’s what this recuperation period has forced me to think about.  To think about what it is that I like to do, that gives me purpose or gratification.  A day can stretch out endlessly if you have no way to fill it.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to retire to nothing.  There was a TED talk about this by a wiry, healthy 93 year old; it is sobering to think that retirement looms and it could last for as long 30 or 40 years.  For some anyway.  Watching that program really brought home how important it is to have a plan. My plan.

 

Time Not To Think

I realize that I think differently now.  I find that I am not inclined to think about things as critically as I did before.  During the years of my marriage there was one thing that the entire family did, and that was think broadly and thoroughly.  There was nothing more infuriating to Kevin, my husband, than if one of us in his immediate family took anything bandied about in the public domain – newspapers, radio, television – and accepted it as fact.   He’d read and subscribed to McLuhan’s “the medium is the message.”  There was always more to every single story, the bias of the writer, the political affiliation, the personal life experience, the money that may have exchanged hands; to Kevin, there was always more to the story.  Maybe it was based on fact, but no story could ever convey all the facts.  The reader, if truly interested, should feel compelled to seek out the relevant facts.  The kids were raised this way, if there is one thing that all three of my children have, it’s critical thinking skills.  They can also debate, that too was a necessity in this household.  Speak up, hold your ground, explain yourself, and be able to take some criticism.

I was speaking with Kevin’s sister about this very thing the other day.  One of the missing elements in my life right now is the dynamic of discourse that I shared with Kevin. This is a loss that I feel daily.  He loved to debate things, to take them apart, sentence by sentence, and point out the gaps, errors or assumptions.  Sometimes he was completely off the wall in his perspective on a subject, but it didn’t matter, he’d give it his all no matter how whacked out his interpretation was.  This I miss so very much.  I find that I am unable to watch most of the television shows that we would watch together because they no longer have the epilogue that I was used to.  There are some TV shows that I don’t miss (for the last couple of years he was hung up on fractals – not riveting television). Others well, they were interesting (and usually related to art or music).  The conversation afterwards could be lively, since something he saw or heard might have resonated with him and Kevin would want to talk about it.  We saw and heard the content differently.  In fact, seldom did we process information the same; we were two very different people in our outlook and life experiences.

Sure there are lots of people around that I could talk about things with, but let’s face it, they’re not Kevin.  We had over 30 years together perfecting the offence and defense needed for our verbal skirmishes.  It was a battle of wits, of closing off opportunities before they could be exploited, of leading the debate in a direction where victory was assured.  Both of us were aware of each other’s tendencies, vulnerabilities and weaknesses; so it was a constant effort to work on self-improvement.  Kevin was always up for a good debate, always.  For me, no, sometimes I found it tiring and would prefer not to think.  Ironically, now I have all the time in the world not to think, and all I do is think, as well as wish that I had of taken greater advantage of the opportunities that I was given.

It’s About Relaxing

One of the things I learned from my visit with the Mediums was how incredibly good it felt to finally let go.  Even for a brief period of time.  It was amazing.   I went home that day and took a nap which lasted for 3 to 4 hours, got up, made dinner and headed back to bed landing another solid 8 hours.  I was able to sleep, a good, deep sleep. What that told me is that I can go to sleep without using anything to help me get there, or stay there.  There are ways, one just has to find them.

I know I carry an amount of stress, most people do.  I know that exercise is a good thing to relieve stress. It was actually the first “prescription” my doctor gave me after Kevin died.  She gave it to me knowing that I wouldn’t do it.  The last thing I wanted to do after my husband died was go outside.  I wanted to hunker down in my house, to lie mindlessly in my bed and will the time away.  I suspect that I may have done that, but frankly, I don’t remember much from those first few months.  My visits to the doctor were quite regular then; apparently it is a slippery slope into depression or mental illness after a shock like a death and so she monitored me closely.  I had to see her every few weeks, she’d administer some tests, we’d talk about coping – and invariably she’d suggest that I get outside and walk, run, just generally move.  Thanks Doc, but that is just not me, it’s my nature to hide – and so, I struggled on.

What I learned at the healing session, was how good it was to clear my mind.  To relax enough to let someone else in.  It sounds so simple, but worry, stress, fear, sorrow, all of those feelings are heavy, pervasive, and unformed in the mind, making them massive, overwhelming – best to avoid.  This nebulous mass is not easy to shift out of one’s consciousness.  It takes an act of will to move them, because first you have to recognize them.  To recognize them is to face loss, the memory of death, the very things you are running from.  That’s why you numb your mind in order to sleep – to stop the sadness from preventing rest.  So it was a pleasant surprise when, during the meditation, I was able to listen to the words, move with them in thought without the darkness taking over, and consequently, gained some relief.

What this experience has done is sent me on a quest for the definitive meditation.  I am thankful for YouTube.  I’ve started to explore the meditative offerings out there and was pleased to see that a good number of them have been uploaded in their entirety and are available to try.  My first goal is to try and actually get through one completely – I keep falling asleep!  Maybe it is just who I chose for my first sampling of meditations – Deepak Chopra.  (Why study with the student when the master is available?)  Anyway, I find sleep comes reasonably easy listening to him, and I have to say, what a nice problem to have.

I read something the other day….

I regularly check the breaking science news feed provided by a site known as Eureka Alert. I have checked it daily since Kevin was diagnosed with lung cancer.  I was always looking, searching for that miracle that would save him, put him into remission.  There are always ‘breakthroughs’ with respect to cancer.  The volume of research is very, very real; there are many people searching for the answer.  As we all know, though, time is very much the enemy for those who have the disease.

Recently the news feed published an article released by Arizona State University.  It considered ‘resilience’ after suffering a major stress in one’s life.  The article’s findings contradicted popular thought about how quickly and capably a person ‘bounces’ back after suffering a significant loss.  I was relieved when I read this.  Since Kevin died I have compared myself to the few women I know that have lost a spouse and found myself lacking.  They seem to be adapting better – mind you, I only see the public facing side, what they want me to see.  Who knows what happens behind closed doors?

I’m still very sad.  Going into this week I am very emotional.  A year ago today I still had my husband.  He was still talking, not a lot, his neck hurt, but he was still here and consequently hope was still alive.  I think about him daily.  I see a black Jeep and it makes me cry, for so many years Kevin booted around town in his little “jeepie-jeep.”  I’m missing him very much right now and combing through the pictures we have, listening to his voice on the tapes, on my cellphone.  I’m doing all this wondering if there’s something wrong with me.  So, it was a relief to read that grief research is ongoing too, and that maybe we don’t have it quite right, maybe resilience isn’t the norm.

It’s a good article, and not solely about death, but also about any significant life stress.  I take what I want from it; others may find other things of value in it.  An excerpt from the news release speaks to my particular mindset:

“We show that contrary to an extensive body of research, when individuals are confronted with major life stressors, such as spousal loss, divorce or unemployment, they are likely to show substantial declines in well-being and these declines can linger for several years. … Previous research largely claimed that individuals are typically resilient to major life stressors. Whereas when we test these assumptions more thoroughly, we find that most individuals are deeply affected and it can take several years for them to recover and get back to previous levels of functioning.” (Natural resilience to major life stressors is not as common as thought – March 18, 2016, Eureka Alert)

I will just keep plodding along in my own muddled way and not worry quite so much about hitting milestones that are arbitrarily set by a community of thought that is actually quite divided.

 

 

The Migraine

Yesterday, for the second time in the last month, I had a migraine.  A knock you off your feet, can’t open my eyes, wavy line, sick stomach migraine.  It had hit in the middle of the night and was at it’s peak by about noon.  The weather this summer has definitely not helped but there are other contributing factors at work too.  First of all, I truly believe that my constitution has changed significantly since Kevin’s death.  Thus, the medication that I am on affects me differently now, I think it has become too strong and my stomach can’t tolerate it.

Another thing significantly different since my husband’s death, is the way I eat.  As Kevin’s disease progressed we became more and more conscious of the foods we ate.  We focused on an alkaline diet supplemented by various minerals and vitamins.  I don’t remember having migraines, despite the stress, in the last six months before Kevin died.

After his death certain things became less important, one of those was meal planning.  I just didn’t care.  Didn’t matter what I had to eat, it all tasted like nothing anyway.  Since his death I had to adjust to it being just me, so there is little impetus to make a full or a balanced meal.  It’s easier to take something premade out of the freezer (if something’s there) or just have a bowl of cereal,or crackers and milk, put something in my belly to satisfy the feeling of hunger.

I will cook if I have a reason to cook.  If I am having family or friends over then I enjoy putting a meal together, but if no one is coming over, then no biggie – likely whatever I can find that is easy is it.  This I believe is a significant part of my problem.   Physically after a death there are things that happen, grief changes a person enormously.  Lack of strength, energy, confidence all knock you down very low.  Building back up is tentative, little steps, sometimes no steps, sometimes just standing is as good as it gets.  Add on top of that not eating properly and well, it’s laying the groundwork for feeling lousy in a different way.  No one wants to feel lousy, but sometimes we can be our own worse enemies.

I got up this morning and my hands and legs are both shaky from the migraine, from the drugs.  This is not a state I care to revisit, although I know I will since I’ve experienced migraines for most of my life.  However, if ever something was underscored for me this was it – I need to remember to eat properly.  I felt good eating alkaline.  It’s time to go back to what worked.