Process of Grief

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August 4th, 2016

Last night, my friend stopped over and asked me to look something up for her on my computer. As my screen saver popped up, one of my favorite pictures of Darrell appeared. His eyes were crinkled in one of my favorite grins.

She looked sadly at me and asked, “Do you really think that helps?”

I didn’t have to ask what she was referring to; I knew it was about my grief over his passing. They say anger is part of the process of grieving. I had been fortunate that there hasn’t been really anything to be angry about. Yes, I missed him, yes, it had been hard to lose him, but really his final days had been peaceful and our relationship up to the last minute, had been so good.

Yet, a comment like this, even eleven months out, had a way of worming under my skin and setting off a bigger spark of anger each time I was questioned on how I was handling my grief.

Aren’t we all different? Isn’t it refreshing we aren’t all the same? Each of us sees through different eyes and perceives the world in so many wonderful ways around us. This is why I have always respected how differently each person handles things in their lives.  Sometimes I worry their coping methods are destructive to their health or way of life, but still they have the freedom of choice to do this.

I had so many people who were wonderfully supportive. My favorites were the ones who just listen. Or ask me how I’m coping and really wanted to hear how I was doing it.  My least favorites were those who had a preconceived idea of how I should be doing it.

I’ve been questioned about such silly things. Why are his clothes still in our closet?  Why haven’t I spread his ashes and why do I wear my wedding ring?  To them, there is a rule somewhere about this. I respect that through the years there have been some common customs developed to help people move on, but they aren’t set in stone.

I still have need of feeling some normalcy in my life, so the clothes remain until that need passes.  We had wanted our ashes spread together, so I must wait to add mine to his. The wedding ring was my version of wearing black. I needed that support, that closeness to my husband, to the way of life I had. It also helped keep away others and not have the dreaded question asked, “So are you married?”

Whatever my reasons, they should be respected. Pictures of my loved one should be a normal thing. As my granddaughter pointed out, I could have asked if she had pictures of her grandchildren on her phone. They live in another state, so why wouldn’t she want to have pictures of them when she couldn’t be with them. She still loves them even though she doesn’t see them every day and wants a reminder of them. Why wouldn’t I continue to have pictures of Darrell decorate my living space?  Just because he has passed, doesn’t mean he never existed. I can’t wipe my memory clean.  Starting over is hard enough, but I need the foundation my married relationship created for me to continue on.

Grieving people are just touchy, each in a different way. No wonder people avoid friends who have lost loved ones. It is hard to determine what will and won’t offend or hurt them. I was on that side once. I had never lost a loved one and felt a deep agony over what to say to someone who had.

But don’t worry, no matter what you say or do, we understand you are trying to help and just overlook the unintentional mistakes. Just don’t be surprised at tears, a growl or a blank look. Just keep being there for us.  We will heal; it is just going to take a little time.

 

An Occasional Rant

The hardest thing about writing a book isn’t writing it. Some would say it’s just trying to actually sit down and write it. Some would say it’s the organization, or having the perfect plot, or of showing not telling, or even the construction of the grammar-perfect sentences. I would disagree. It is the editing process. In fact, it is so hard, that many are tempted to skip it or give up on it all together.

I would have to admit, first and foremost, I’m a reader. All my life, reading has been my entertainment, crutch, mentor, and escape. With the event of Amazon I discovered I could comment on books that I bought, so I became a reviewer.  Eventually, for some strange reason I still do not comprehend, I felt the desire to even write a book and try my hand at self-publishing. So, as you can see, I’ve experienced all sides of how a book is created.

But I want to thank all those authors who go through the editing process and don’t give up. It is, of all the aspects of the book business, the process I hate the most. I know that I must go through an edit. My editor can verify this and has earned her halo going through it with me.

This doesn’t give me the right to sit in judgment of anyone’s book creating process, but it definitely gives me an understanding of the reasons why it could be easy for someone to not want to do it.

I do admire those writers who persevere. How they give of their time, trudge onward into the wee hours of the night, cussing and cursing, pounding their heads against walls and still come through the other side with a full head of hair.

I grow weary of those who evade the process or think it’s not necessary. I see it in books that have glaring grammar issues, poor formatting, poor plot structure or no plot at all. Something an editor worth their salt would help a struggling author to correct. I tire of those books I review that could be so good and yet when I contact the author to gently suggest an edit, am told that it is great just the way it is.

Or those who profusely produce and could be great, yet can’t see that we all have to go through an edit. I’ve heard many an excuse, but in my opinion, it boils down to one thing, an edit hurts, it is hard work and it takes dedication.

I remember one morning waking up after a long night editing, complaining to my husband, “Why the heck am I arguing with my editor over imaginary people and imaginary plot scenes? It is all just make believe!”

My pride has been stung again and again when I think I’ve written that perfect scene. When I’m sure the sentence is perfect in grammar. When I add so many neat things in a story, only to be told it has nothing to do with the plot, get rid of it. And it goes on and on. I want to believe in the dream of being such a great author that I write it perfectly the first time.

But Reality is, writing a book is not about writing it right the first time. It is about writing and writing and writing until you get it right.

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After losing the love of my life in September, I have floated aimlessly on the waves of change, until the last few weeks. Then I decided to get back into my second passion in life.

I’ve taken control of the helm once again through the re-organization of my writing world. First was to hire someone that had knowledge of the vast digital world I am helpless in. Starting with my blog, you will notice new banners, social links and a page advertising the upcoming new book due to Mr. Richter’s skills, rickcarufel@netscape.net.   I have revised the first two books and added two children’s books as well.

For those of you who have been following my journaling on the 33 years of travel through cancer with my husband, (Living in the Shadow of Death) do not fear, I am still working on it. It will now be available on my Author website. It will be linked here and notification served through Facebook.

I needed the freedom to post again about my writing journey and to re-blog some of the awesome blogs I run across in my travel through cyber-space.

I must sadly report that I’m still editing Norse Hearts. This is a 100,000 worded romance, and trust me, grammar is not a talent of mine, just ask Chryse Wymer, http://ocdeditor.weebly.com/, my ever long-suffering editor.  But when it is finished you will be inundated with advertising joy.

Meanwhile, thank you for following my little corner of insanity.

 

A Legacy

An artist with a fun, whimsical art style!

readful things blog

My dad taught me to draw. In the beginning it was just doodles and random things. We would go out on nature walks and he would point out animal tracks and different patterns in the bark of trees, the shape of leaves and clouds in the sky that resembled animals. He taught me to create reflections by looking at water and watching the way it rippled outward as it was disturbed. He taught me to find beauty in the most barren of places and to appreciate the things we tend to overlook with an artist’s eye.

We would go home after these adventures and he would pull out a sketch book and show me how to transform the natural world into detailed pictures, and as I grew older, I took the things he taught me and made them my own. He was always telling me that there is no “wrong…

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Waiting

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You can almost touch the feelings in an ICU waiting room. It can be one of the loneliest places in the world or one of most miraculous. Either way, it changes your life.

This was my first time in one. I looked around. There was a man standing at the glass window that looked out into the hall. His eyes stared unseeing, worry drawn in every crevice and line in his face. Over in a corner, a mother sat with two quiet children. That was enough to draw my attention. No scampering about or babbling in their own language.  Just two sets of large eyes, staring at a foreign world.

Then there was the little old lady. She sat hunched in her chair, arms wrapped around her as if trying to hold everything in. Red-rimmed eyes showed tears were at the ready. I was drawn to her. Is it true misery loves company?

She nodded as I sat down, then like a dog waiting for its master, her gaze riveted back to the stark doors of the ICU. For a few minutes, I argued with myself.  Say something. She needs comforting. Can’t you see that? Talk to her!

My voice sounded out of place in this room of waiting. “Are you okay?”

Her shoulders stiffened, her head lowered, and I was about to get up and move to another seat, embarrassed I had intruded when she spoke softly.

“My husband could be dead right now.”

Now it was my turn to rivet all my attention on those two doors.

She looked at me, and I was drawn back to meet her gaze. I was surprised by the calm I could see in her eyes. She opened up, pouring out the story of her husband’s years of heart disease. How, right now, after another heart attack, they were trying to revive him. She wondered, out loud, her fears. Should she tell them to stop? Was he ready to go? Was he already gone?

Turning back to stare at the doors, tears falling from those reddened eyes, she said, “I just wish they would tell me what is going on.”

I’ve never spoken about my faith unless asked. Always felt it was a private thing. I could never be a good evangelist. But at this moment, a wave of impulse took over. I grabbed her hand, squeezed and words I had never spoken before tumbled from my mouth. “Would you like me to pray with you?”

My inner voice went into a panic, screaming, what are you thinking? My heart argued back; she needs this.

Her countenance changed into the loveliest dawn I have ever seen. Her eyes widened, a smile tipped up aging skin to reveal beautiful white teeth and her tears stopped.  Age spotted hands eagerly found mine, and she bowed her head.

There seemed to be an eternity of silence before my brain engaged my voice. Words I will never remember came out in a mumble. She added a few of her own, and then with a mighty squeeze, we went back to before.

Now she questioned me about why I was there. I told her about my husband’s cancer. For a moment, she looked wistful before she said, “All disease is terrible, but I wish my husband had cancer instead. It would be so much easier for them to be able just to cut out what is killing him.”

From where I was sitting, I would have liked to disagree, but I understood. To her, in the valley of the shadow of death that she walked in, all other valleys looked greener.

The doors silently opened, and a very professional nurse came out and called to the lady beside me.  “Your husband is doing well; he is asking for you.”

Her veined hand squeezed mine. “Answered prayer! God bless you and your husband too.”  Then she disappeared behind the forbidding doors.

Another hour passed by before finally it was my turn to hear that Mr. Gabel was doing fine, and I could see him.

Even though I worked in a hospital and was no stranger to an ICU unit, I was shaken when I saw him.  Until it is one of your loved ones hooked up to all that tubing and beeping monitors with flowing alien-green lines, you really can’t understand the fear you feel.

His nurse had obviously seen that look before. Funny how I knew many male nurses, but I had never seen them as the nurturing type. Only female nurses fit that description in my book. I was having a lot of firsts.

To this day, this male nurse remains vividly in my mind as one of the most caring, tender, nurturing human beings I have ever met.  “Don’t be afraid. I know it looks scary, but he is doing well.”  Staring at my strong husband, all I could see was a mound of cotton blankets, his bruised arm with several IV lines and a plastic protrusion coming out of his mouth. He was as white as the blankets he was under. His chest rose in an odd mechanical way, and I knew, sensed, he was not conscious.

The nurse’s rich baritone stood out against the beeping.  “Right now, he is in a medically induced coma because of the trauma of the surgery and on a ventilator. The doctors will start bringing him up tomorrow.  You can touch his hand; he hears you. He may not remember it, but he knows you are here. Talk to him. “

I slid my hand into his cold one, swollen from the fluids being pushed into him. Gently I rubbed the only spot free on the back of his hand, murmuring, “I love you,” over and over.  Tears of exhaustion slid out. Finally, I sat in a tiny corner of the very equipment-crowded room and felt grateful.  Darrell stirred, fighting the ventilator, his arm moving towards his face.

I jumped up, grabbing his hand, noting his eyes half opened, a vacant stare meeting my own.  The heart monitor beeped, and Darrell groaned.

“It’s okay Mr. Gabel. You are in the ICU. You are doing well.  Everything is okay,” the nurse said soothingly.

I squeezed his hand, once again murmuring “I love you”.  My heart rejoiced when I got a gentle squeeze back and he rolled his head towards me, not seeing me, but sensing my presence. The heart monitor leveled out.

For the next hour, this was my routine as the nurse bustled around, taking notes, checking fluids, watching monitors and reassuring his comatose patient.

“Mrs. Gabel, where are you staying?” the nurse asked.

I still couldn’t get over being called Mrs. Gabel. That was Darrell’s mother, not me.

“I planned on staying here.”

The nurse’s assessing gaze was now turned upon me.  “I can’t tell you no, but I was just curious, do you trust me?”

I was taken back for a moment. “Well, yes. Why do you ask?”

A boy-next-door smile of warmth appeared.  “Your husband is in the safest place on earth. Surrounded by all these machines, and my capable skills, even if he had a problem, which he isn’t, you couldn’t ask for him to be in a better place. I bet you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks. Call the relatives, take care of yourself.  Do it now while you can, because you will be taking care of him soon enough.  It is my turn to have the night watch, and no offense, but there’s nothing you can do for him. Trust me, he’s in good hands.”

He was right, I was exhausted.  I watched him carefully lift my husband’s shoulders to slide a plumper pillow under his head.  My mind was made up. Gently I leaned over and kissed Darrell on the cheek and squeezed his hand, saying my customary, “Goodnight Darrell, I love you most.”

 

 

Finding the Sign

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The morning of the surgery arrived. Everyone was in place. After a quick kiss and a squeeze of his hand I watched as they wheeled him down the long white hall towards surgery. I was adrift in a sea of restless feelings. My lungs restricted as the panic began to rise.

I followed his parents to the waiting room where the Doctor had told us it would be about a two-hour wait. The staff was positive and upbeat, his parents quietly hopeful, and I was a wreck. Nothing held my attention as my mind tossed around scenario after scenario.

It was 10:00 AM and I began to pray…..

Time is not constant. Sometimes it speeds by in a flash, at other times, it slows to a mush of a crawl. Right now, I had a good idea of what eternity felt. At the two hour mark, I found there was less oxygen in the room as my lungs struggled for air and tears threatened to fall. The elderly lady at the information desk informed me that everything was okay. She encouraged me to go have lunch, they would call me. Sometimes surgery took a little longer……

Food sounded terrible. His mother and father decided to find the cafeteria. I continued my vigil. I had the room memorized. Every tiny crack, flaw and dust mote. And another hour stretched out as I wandered the waiting room, looking out the one small window to the dreary, drenched world outside….

Then the surgeon appeared. His young face etched with left over lines of concentration. A smile lifted them away. “He’s doing well. It took a little longer than we anticipated. The tumor had eaten through the bowel wall and it was ruptured. He is a very lucky man. There was a lot of infection, and we couldn’t tell if we got all the cancer. During the process we also had to take out his spleen. In trying to get out all possible cancer it was nicked and we couldn’t stop the bleeding. He has metal marker clips in so they can do radiation for prevention. We removed several lymph nodes and those will be tested to see if the cancer has spread into the lymphatic system. Right now we are moving him to the ICU to make sure he is stable through the night. Give it about another hour for them to get him set up and you can see him.”

I stammered out my thanks as his parents stoically asked a few more questions. Even if Darrell hadn’t seemed to need them, I was grateful they had waited with me. They were staying with his sister and they decided to leave now that he was in the ICU. They asked if I wanted to go with them. I don’t remember what I told them, but it was convincing enough they left me alone. I held it together long enough to say my goodbyes then I fled to the chapel before the panic attack came on.

I was lucky enough to have the place to myself. The storm hit. Tears poured. My thoughts jumbled. The guarantees, the words I needed to hear, had not been forthcoming. I had wanted to hear they got it all. There was nothing to worry about. It was over. He would be fine. The cancer was gone. Instead, it seemed we faced more procedures and still no guarantee he would survive this.

Would I be able to care for him? What if this was going to be a lingering downhill slide? Was I up to caring for a bed-ridden husband? Could I go through the slow process of watching him die in inches? I thought of my great-aunt whose husband had been partially paralyzed by a stroke six years before. She was his constant caregiver. Bathing, dressing and feeding him was a 24-hour job. I remembered her gaunt features and tired smile. Could I do this for Darrell? My heart screamed yes, my mind said no.

I still had young children at home. A movie theatre business to run. Plus my own job at the hospital. My mind scurried to make plans, try to cover all the details. Exhaustion crept over me. I just wanted to go to sleep and wake up to a time before cancer.

A huge Bible lay open on the simple podium. I looked at it in anger. I didn’t want to read it. I wanted things to be okay, not a cloudy future of uncertainty. I found my legs moved on their own accord and I was standing in front of it. It was open to the book of Job. The voice in my head snorted. I didn’t need to read about Job’s life, I was living the life of Job.

It lay open to Job 33. Line 23 caught my  – If there is a messenger for him, a mediator, one among a thousand…..  I backed up, to line 16, hungrily reading to line 33. Tears fell.  I needed to pray, the Lord in His mercy, could and would pull a person from the edge of the pit of death, so that this person could be enlightened and healed.

I looked up at the jewel tone stain glass in front of me. A simple Cal-lily framed in blue. If even one person prays. I pleaded for his health, for more time, for healing. A peace stole over me. The tears ceased. I wiped my nose. I went looking for the ICU unit.

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The Hard Part of Communicating

 

It amazes me how child-like we become in a hospital setting. It is also interesting how much you have time to talk. Things you would never stop to discuss during a normal day become common subjects when facing illness or death.

In a moment of silence, I voiced the subject I knew lay between us. “So are you scared about the surgery?”

“Yes, wouldn’t you be?” Darrell answered solemnly. I scrambled to fill in the silence.

“Do you want me to call your parents to be here?”

He shook his head ‘no’.  “I don’t want to bother them. If they want to come up, they will. It should be their decision.”

“Ugh. I don’t like stoic German genes. Why can’t you just ask for them to come if you want them here?” I got a stoic German glare in return.

“You know, I have only one complaint about growing up. I had it pretty good, but Dad never would say he loved me. Even to this day, if I say ‘Dad, I love you,’ he says, ‘Same to you.’”

I shook my head. In my family ‘I love you’ was said quite often. Maybe not always with sincerity, but it was common.

“Was it the way he was raised maybe?”

“My grandmother said it all the time. Don’t think I ever heard my grandfather say it though. Maybe that’s where he got it from. But it always bugged me.”

I couldn’t believe it. Darrell had grown up with a “Leave It To Beaver” family life. His mother was a stay-at-home mom who had fresh baked goodie always ready for Darrell, his brother and sister when they got home from  school. They had traditional Christmas’s and Thanksgiving with the Norman Rockwell of family gatherings. I was lucky to get a TV dinner or fast food for a late dinner. Christmas was a time of depression and anger in my childhood home.

Yet, here he was yearning for something deeper. I decided I couldn’t stand by and allow him to do this without family support. I gave the excuse of needing a snack and slipped out to the nearest telephone.

“Does he want us there?” his mother queried.

“Yes, I think he does. I know he’s worried about the surgery. He is just too stubborn to ask you to come up. He doesn’t want to bother you.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake. Well, we will be there this afternoon. We were just waiting for him to call.”

I shook my head as I hung up and slipped back into his room, deciding not to tell him what I had done. I wanted it to be a surprise to him. Yet, for all of my judgement on his family’s lack of communication, I was blind to my own.

Before we had gotten married Darrell knew I believed in God. I asked him once, and he assured me he did also. He had attended the German Congregational Church growing up. And the conversation ended there. I had started attending church and hadn’t ever asked him to go. I believed if he wanted to, he would just do it.

Right now I was clinging to the words I would read in the Bible every night. I was searching for a sign in the scripture to reassure me everything was going to be okay. I would slip from the room taking the Bible with me to the waiting room just next door.

After my little ‘good deed’, I wondered how I could comfort someone else during this time of trial. I knew one of the ways to help myself during stress was to reach out to others. I naively asked God to show me how I could help someone else.

I picked up the Bible and headed out.

“So where are you going?” he asked.

Startled, I turned to face him. “Just next door to do a little reading.”

“Okay,” he said, turning his attention to the TV. NHRA racing was on, a hobby of his.

I had just settled in with a warm cup of tea when a young woman stormed into the room. Slamming a Styrofoam cup down on the counter, she angrily dumped sugar into it. I looked away but out of the corner of my eye I saw her glance at the open Bible on my lap.

“How can you read that? I’m so mad at God, I can’t even pray!”

I froze, staring at her, my mind scrambling to think of something to say.

“Why are you mad at God,” I squeaked out.

“I prayed and prayed and prayed, asking him to heal my father. The colon cancer is back. Why would God do this to him. To me.” Tears glistened for a moment, then rolled down her cheeks.

Why God would allow cancer to steal away our loved one’s lives had crossed my mind more than once this last week.  I took a deep breath.

“I don’t know. But I think it’s okay to be mad at God.”

It was her turn to freeze, looking at me wide-eyed. “You don’t think it’s a sin? I mean, I really am so angry I don’t even know if I believe in him anymore.”

I gave a quick mental prayer asking for the right words. “When you tell a three year old they can’t have any more candy, it doesn’t make sense to them. Why can’t they have something that tastes so good? They get angry at you. But you understand. You know they are not old enough yet to understand the reasons. You just have to say no. When they throw a temper tantrum, you don’t hate them. You don’t punish them. You understand. You scoop them up and hug them. Wipe away their tears. Yet you must stand firm.”

It was quiet for a little while.

“So you are saying we are just like children, that we don’t see the bigger picture. But I’m still hurt. He didn’t heal my dad. He’s a good man. I can’t stand the thought of losing him. Why is he taking him away from me? God could heal him if He wanted to. I’m afraid I’ve been so mad at God for so long He can’t forgive me. And I don’t want to pray. I don’t want to forgive him.”

I shrugged. “I think that’s okay. Father God understands. He says He forgives all our sins, when we ask for forgiveness. You just aren’t ready yet. You may never be. That’s between you and Him. But can I ask a favor of you?”

“What?”

“Do you mind if I pray for you and your father?”

She squinted for a minute, thinking, and the anger faded away as the furrow between her eyes relaxed. I noticed for the first time they were a sky blue.  She stuck out her hand, lips turning up into a sad smile. “I’m Sarah, my dad’s name is John. Do you have someone here too?”

The conversation turned towards Darrell and his condition. He was a very private person and he asked me to keep the door to his room closed all the time. Sarah commented she thought someone was dying because that is what the staff usually did for the terminal patients.

“No, he’s not terminal. There is still hope. He also has colon cancer.”

The conversation then turned to statistics, survival rates and symptoms. I realized Darrell was blessed to have his cancer found so early. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to meet up again. After she left I scurried back to Darrell’s room.

As I put the Bible back into my bag, Darrell spoke.

“You know you don’t have to leave the room to read the Bible. Can you read me something from it?”

I froze for the second time that night. “Sure, what are your favorite passages?”

“How about Psalms?”

Obviously I needed to work on communicating with my husband as well.