Don’t take advice from just anyone

It fascinates me how many people offer advice on things they know nothing about.  This is just a general observation – it’s not a poke or jab at my family and friends, Lord knows they know me too well when it comes to stuff like this.  This is about people in general. It’s a reflection on that line that everyone hears when they have something monumental happen in their life  —  ‘I know what you are going through.’  It’s a statement that is usually followed by advice of some sort.

I am not averse to advice, it is part of everyday conversation, and in normal circumstances it is taken with a pinch of salt. After something monumental, it’s not normal circumstances, and frankly, in my case, I wanted it all to just go away. All the decisions and problems and the mess I called life. I didn’t want advice – I wanted a miracle.

Truly I don’t think anyone ever really knows what someone else is going through.  So the advice, although well meaning, can be quite frustrating for a variety of reasons – you’re not ready to “move on,” you don’t have the capacity to “get back out there.”  You finding yourself feeling like a failure because you figure the advice was good, and that’s what other people do, so why-can’t-I? sort of thing.

I work in a place where, as of late, a fair number of my co-workers are experiencing  the death of a spouse.  More than once I have been approached by people I know asking if I could meet someone that I don’t know but who works somewhere in the building (and it’s a big building), who like me, is dealing with loss.  I will never say no, of course I will meet them if that’s what they want, but I also am unlikely to offer any advice to those I meet.  How can I?  I have no idea of their circumstances, what sorrows they carry secretly, what was said, or what was left unsaid.

What I will do is just listen, and maybe cry with them, hopefully find something to talk about.  I will give them the type of support I valued throughout my grieving process.  Family and friends carried me for the first while, and I can’t qualify that by saying ‘little while’ because it wasn’t.  They didn’t advise me, they assisted me, and they still do.  And, when I was ready, it was the confidence of that support that helped me make my own decisions based on my own circumstances.

This is my learning:  we have to find our own way, but it’s okay to take a hand to help you on your way.  And if you are really floundering, see a professional.

The Ladies

Dinner out with the ladies was, as usual, healing.  There is nothing like meeting with people who are in the same type of condition as you are.  The conversation was a little stilted at first, we seemed to be skirting around why we meet.  Fact is, under any other circumstances we would never have met, we are a diverse group with little in common.  But we did, because of death and loss, and because of our need to find some sort of light to guide us out of the darkness.

Consequently, our fluffy conversations don’t flow.  We can’t talk with ease about the little stuff because we don’t share the same values or priorities.  So we met and tried small talk but it just fell into silence until someone commented on a milestone or accomplishment and we slid into harmony again.  Then the chatter began.  I think at this point this is when we advance this specific friendship.  Like the friends you make at work, you have work in common; and the friends you make at the hockey arena when you’re watching your kids play hockey – you have hockey and kids in common.  We have deceased husbands, it may sound ghoulish, but it isn’t.  We have a common loss.  Talking about it helps.

For me, I usually have specific questions I want to ask.  I need to normalize the things I am experiencing, thinking or feeling.  And these meetings help, for the most part I leave feeling relieved.  I get the chance to ask, ‘am I odd, or has anyone else noticed …’ and ending that question with whatever is bothering me.  I may not get the response I want, but I definitely do get feedback that is informed, practical and sympathetic.

Looking back, it was a good thing all those months ago attending that grief group.  The strangers that I met there have now become an important part of my safety net, and I hope that they feel the same way about me.

Home is Where the Heart Is

I woke up with a headache after a poor night’s sleep.  Even taking a sleeping pill hasn’t been enough to allow me a restful night’s sleep since Kevin’s death.  There’s a lot to be done and I have very little energy to do it.  I guess it’s the sense of hopelessness and heartbreak that blend together to sap all the interest out of a day.  This has been my experience since Kev has died.  Just get through the day, maybe tomorrow will be better.  Today started off just the same as any other, feeling lousy, feeling low, put on a brave face and hopefully the day will be over quickly.

My sister-in-law arrived early in the morning and we had a cup of tea together along with a little treat she’d brought.  Kevin’s sister has had her share of loss and we talked about some of the ways she coped with it.  After she left I got a call from one of my friends about whether I needed her to come over to the house and take me to get Kevin at the funeral home.  I still hadn’t heard from the home so I decided to call – and yes, he was ready.  I called my friend back and she came over to drive me to pick up Kevin.  Before we had left another friend unexpectedly pulled in the driveway bringing me some homemade turkey pies for dinner. So it was us three that went to the funeral home to pick him up.

It was a very quick transaction to retrieve his ashes from the funeral home.  One document to sign and one certificate to accompany the urn in the event that I want to bury him – then I need to produce the certificate from the crematorium to the cemetery administration.  The kids and I had chosen a marble urn, we wanted three separate small vials for scattering as well as, believe it or not, memorial jewelry (which hold a speck or two of his ashes).  Not to everyone’s taste but death is a very personal experience for a family.  All these items were provided in a dark blue corded bag designed to discreetly conceal its contents.

It was an overwhelmingly emotional moment when I finally held his urn.  The totality of his loss, that someone as passionate and engaging as Kevin was gone, really gone, was brought home by the urn in my hands.  I am so thankful that I didn’t try to do this alone, that I had friends with me.  We came back to the house and made another cup of tea, a great source of comfort for me when I am feeling any sort of emotional strain.  And then they left and it was me and him – like it should be.

Today I brought my husband home and it just feels so right.

A Body Blow

In the last four weeks we have heard about two other individuals, younger than my husband, being diagnosed with either Stage 3 or Stage 4 cancer.  The effect on him is profound.  It’s like a body blow.  He withdraws from all interaction until he has puzzled through as he puts it “what the hell is happening.”  Then we usually go through the conversation again, about why he is even bothering, he’s had a good run, and now it’s the curtain call.

Yesterday we heard about one of our son’s friends who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  This is a young man – with a cancer that has been diagnosed as “aggressive”.  It’s frightening how arbitrary this disease is.  The cancer fighting machine has already started to turn; we heard that his treatments will start very soon.  This is a young man we had met at the hospital a few weeks back when the disease had not yet been diagnosed.  When we had left that day my husband had observed how many people we know that we have met at the Cancer Clinic since we started his treatments in July.  It was true, without fail, each and every visit we met someone we either were acquainted with or that my husband, a teacher, had met through his work.

So today I feel for a family that has received some dire news – the type that every family dreads.  I wonder what supports they have in place, what steps they are taking on an individual and as a family to battle the disease.   At this time I suspect they are being inundated with the “miracle cures” and the stories that everyone shares about someone they knew.  And I also suspect at this time they just wish the world would go away and leave them alone for a while, that somehow they could turn back time.  My learning from our journey, however, is that the world and the family and friends around them will be crucial in their journey forward.  Take the support as well as consider the suggestions they are given.  If I had to start our journey again I would gather my resources around me tightly and reach out more readily for those things we need.   Putting faith and leaving it to the “experts” is not just enough.  You have to have faith in yourself, in your family and friends, and believe that you can influence how the cancer treatment works.

Cautiously Optimistic

Today started off well with a positive update on my sister-in-law.   Yesterday they had stopped the blood pressure medication and my sister-in-law appears to be holding her own in that area.  Her temperature was normal and the antibiotics appear to be working.  The nurse stated that the night had been good, and that things were on track.  The doctor, during his rounds this morning, stated he is pleased with what he is seeing by way of response.  He did advise however, that they had discovered a second bacteria in her lungs and are awaiting its identification; hopefully the present cocktail of antibiotics will be effective to address this new bacteria.

For the immediate future the intent is to get her breathing on her own, consequently the medical staff advised that they will remove the support provided by the respirator in the next few days.  They do not want to keep her on it for more than 14 days and she is nearing that mark.  If she is unable to breathe on her own, then they will perform a tracheostomy.  Although this sounds dire, the hope is that she will improve sufficiently in the next couple of days and pleasantly surprise all of us by regaining her capacity in this area and this procedure will not be required.

Certainly during my visit yesterday I noticed visibly encouraging signs.  I don’t know if she was registering that I was there but there was a physical response using finger movements to certain statements made.  She is still sedated, but the level of sedation has been reduced – I can’t help but think that she is making her way back to us.