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.

 

The Flight Response

The Flight Response

Yup. I was hiding in the bathroom again.

Don’t worry; it isn’t always going to start like this!  I eventually break the habit. This day was actually a turning point. The journey had its highs and its lows. Remember, this was all new to me. I had never faced the death or illness of a loved one before.  And even though I worked as a CNA, it was a lot different caring for other people than someone close to me. The responsibility and heart connection was a whole new experience.

It had started that morning.  Darrell had insisted on sleeping in the nice recliner they had in his room. It kept his side from aching as much. He always liked recliners. I stayed with him every night, so that left only an empty hospital bed or a plastic chair for me to sleep in. I was exhausted from almost a week of hospital living. He insisted I take the bed. We decided to ask the evening nurse if this was okay, and she said yes.

The morning shift nurse that found me slumbering in his bed was not amused nor a happy morning person.

“This is against hospital policy, ma’am.  This bed is for the patient. Get out of it now.” Of course this was at 6:00 AM.

Darrell growled back at her. “We got permission and my wife is exhausted. I prefer the recliner, because frankly the bed is hard as hell.”

She huffed and bustled off, giving me the evil-eye.  When she left the room Darrell and I giggled, feeling like we had won something grand.

Next in was his Doctor, who informed us tests had come back and the gastrologist would be in to see us shortly. Relief flooded me because we would finally have an answer.

The gastrologist got right to the point. His voice quietly washed over us as he pronounced the findings.  “You have a tumor in your colon that has perforated the bowel. It has come back positive for cancer.  The best treatment at this point is surgery. Your surgeon will be in to see you next. Do you have any questions?”

I held my breath to block the sudden wave of adrenaline that turned my blood cold and tears that threatened to pour out. I thought it was a death sentence. Looking at my pink-cheeked husband, who was in the prime of life, I couldn’t see the invisible specter of the enemy.  I thought they had made a mistake. It happens, doesn’t it?  A misdiagnosis?   There was a scrambling of thoughts crashing through my mind as I stared at the demure-looking man who had just torn my world apart.

I glanced over at Darrell. He was nodding his head, a blank look in his eyes. I suspected we were both experiencing something similar except for him it had to be far worse since he was the one who actually had the cancer. I knew I had to ask questions. Darrell just went with the flow of things and depended on my limited medical knowledge. I found my voice. “Is this where the bleed is?”

The gastrologist looked relieved for some strange reason. “Yes. From the looks of it, it has been going on for a while. Mr. Gabel, have you had any black tarry stools?”

Darrell’s eyes focused and his eyebrows rose. “Yes, but I just thought it was something I ate.”

“For how long?”

“Well for a couple weeks at least.”

The gastrologist went on to explain the body couldn’t break down blood so it came out colored black and sticky. I was thinking other things, like how I wanted to strangle my husband. Why hadn’t he said something? Why hadn’t he mentioned the tiredness, the pain, the change in bowel habits? I would have known immediately to get him to a doctor. Was it all men or just Gabel men who were oblivious to the fact they were not immune to disease or illness?

Silence filled the room after the gastrologist left. Darrell’s pleasant baritone filled the air as he stated, “Well that sucks.”

I turned away from the window I was staring out of while I forced myself into emergency mode and put the tears on hold. “You think, Sherlock?” I fired back.

He smiled. It was our way to handle stress with humor and sass. Anyone else would have expected my condolences and comfort. We just teased each other. It was where we were comfortable.  Besides, I was angry with him at the moment, but lecturing him now wouldn’t change anything.

The door opened again. For a room that had been empty of any medical personnel the last few days, but usually crammed to the brim with family and friends, it seemed suddenly Darrell was most popular patient on the floor.

A tall, boyish-looking surgeon strode in, offering his hand. “I’m Dr. Brown, and I will be doing the surgery to remove your tumor.  I need to do a brief examine and discuss your options.”

The usual litany of questions went on as he lifted Darrell’s gown. “Are you allergic to any drugs? How old are you? Any other health concerns? Do you smoke? For how long? Any family history of cancer? “

I watched him, wondering just how old he was. The shock of hearing the word cancer was wearing off. I wanted to hear reassurances. I wanted him to tell us that the surgery would cure it. That this was survivable. That all would be okay. Instead….

“Mr. Gabel, the surgery should take about two hours, depending how much the tumor has spread. We will be checking lymph nodes, and taking tissue to test to see if the cancer has metastasized. From there, after surgery, you will see your physician and discuss any further follow up of treatments including chemotherapy. Now…”

He stood back, staring at Darrell’s abdomen.  I had to know what was going to happen. I started asking questions. Absently the surgeon answered while still staring at Darrell.

The he turned and looked at both of us. “So I can either cut down laterally between the abdomen muscles here.” His finger traced the path down Darrell’s stomach. “Or I can do what is called a ‘Mercedes cut ‘across the chest here…”

It was at this point I panicked and ran out of the room.

It would be the last time I sought out a porcelain sanctuary during his hospitalization.

It Begins

In May of 1990, I heard the diagnosis of ‘cancer’ for the first time.  The queerest feeling settled in my stomach.  My heart rivaled the cadence of a racehorse’s hoof beats.  At the age of thirty six, I had never dealt with this disease and to me, this was a death sentenced to my soulmate.

It had started quietly enough. Darrell was a hard working man, running his own theatre business. I worked at the hospital to supplement the income. So it was no surprise to me that after he got what we thought was the flu, that he would come home in the afternoon to take a nap.

You see the symptoms, but you attribute them to something else. Like maybe he just couldn’t shake the flu. Until one morning, due to an extreme pain in his left side,he couldn’t get out of bed.

“If you don’t go see the doctor today, I will call an ambulance right now,” I growled. I had been encouraging him to see a doctor, but like most men, he said he was fine.

“Okay,” he acquiesced with a grimace.  I helped him get ready while calling into work.

Two hours later I was breaking the speed limit trying to get to Billings, MT.  His hematocrit was 18, normal can be anywhere from 28 to 35. Somewhere he was losing blood. His doctor wondered how he had managed to walk in there, let alone be conscious.

I knew Darrell was sick because this was a man who never closed his eyes when I drove and he was passed out in the back seat. Normally I would have been gleeful that I was pushing the little K-car far beyond it’s limits at 80, but my mind was filled with fear.

I prayed.  Please don’t let it be leukemia, please don’t let it be an internal bleed, please don’t let it be……on and on. I didn’t leave out much it actually could be.

Finally, with tears scalding my cheeks, the road blurry in front of me, I slowed down. I decided I would just trust the Creator I had prayed to for so long. This was in His hands. Whatever the outcome, I knew He would get me through. It wouldn’t be the last time I would take this test.

A calm filled my heart and mind. As we checked into the Deaconess Hospital, Darrell revived enough to joke around with the receptionist.

“Yes, my last name is Gabel. All my relatives live in the Billings area. If their last name is Gabel, I’m probably related.” Billings was his home town. They had a lot to talk about. But I was thinking If she called me Mrs. Gabel one more time, I would smack her.

It seemed foreign to me. The oddest things stand out when you are under stress. Mrs. Gabel was Darrell’s mom, not me. It seemed so impersonal. Yet Darrell and I rarely used warm little nicknames, like ‘honey’ or ‘sweety’. Having started our relationship off by working with each other professionally, we always used our first names.

That was about to change. A lot was about to change in our world. Unfortunately I would become intimately acquainted with cancer.

I felt that sinking feeling when my husband’s mother was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2006.  We raced to fulfill her last few desires.  The last two months were agonizing for all of us.

In 2008, I once again heard that detested word. I already had a foreshadowing of what was to come when I noticed my husband limping across the living room, then discovered the lump in his thigh.  This time though, I was a little more battle scarred.  I knew the routine and dug in.

And just as I finally thought we had won the battle, I heard the word that I detested in March, 2015. The feeling that washed over me this time was pure anger and determination.

I realize now I will never hear the word cancer and not feel that moment of panic. No matter how many times I face it. Like any disease, it insidiously and slowly saps our energy. It takes our loved ones in pieces. Yet, as dark as this might sound, it is a mixed bag of blessings as well.

You never look at a relationship the same. It becomes more precious. You can never appreciate truly someone or the time spent with them, until you are stripped of the expectation they will be with you forever on this earth.

All I can say is cancer simply sucks.

And Your Opinion Is?

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And your opinion is…..what color is this dress? Really folks! Why is this even a debate?

If you haven’t seen the furor over the black/blue or gold/white dress, you are blessedly ignorant and I’d suggest you stay that way. Unfortunately for those of us immersed in social media, it has become a maelstrom of fierce opinion.

Actually, I feel it is an indicator of a much deeper problem. With the freedom of the internet comes the ability for everyone to have their own soapbox to stand on. A simple question easily becomes a heated argument.  But it also shines the light on how much discontent there is in the world today.

If you are a photographer you know how light striking an object can determine the perception of what color it is to the human eye. If you are an optometrist you know how the eye is constructed and that no one has the same vision. Color can appear different to each person. If you are a psychologist you understand that trapped as we are in these bodies, with limited senses, we feel and think we are the center of the universe. Or our perception is limited only to our five senses and they are different for each of us.

And there you go. The crux of the problem.  Perception. Since we are locked into this one body we assume our perception is the only one out there. If you disagree with me, then you are wrong because I don’t see it that way. Throughout our society on every level we see this today. Chat sites, politics, religious views, environment, money, even the lowly product or book review!

Now there are those who understand they are not the center of the universe and are curious to experience what the other person perceives. Then there are those who are stuck in their limited perceptions.

More and more, in an age where we live much more comfortably than our ancestors, we are spoiled and have far too much time to ruminate on such trivial matters. It is much different when you all are running for you live from a natural disaster, or starving to death in a drought. Our herd instinct kicks in and we suddenly put our perceptions on hold to help one another, instinctively knowing we need numbers to survive. In a time of plenty though, our self-centered sides take over and we have time to nit pic.

Of course I’m simplifying a complicated species and problem. And yes, I’m viewing this through my very limited perception. But one thing I perceive, with the internet comes a lack of respect, common sense, and manners.

I, myself, see different views of this dress and understand that some will see blue, others white. I’m okay with different views, unless I hire you to paint my house. Then we will have to discuss our different views of color and I hope we can come to a compromise.

So for the sake of peace, and your blood pressure, realize we are not all alike. Thank heavens.

I Feel Sorry for My Friends….

10406931_553974144724977_902247022532984007_nI really feel sorry for my friends, family and social media contacts. It takes a special, patient type of person to put up with a writer. Think about this. You have to accept there is something not quite right with someone who wants to talk about their imaginary worlds and the people who inhabit them. Yet this is thought to be acceptable behavior because they can use the excuse they are writers.

For instance there are those times when you (the loyal friend), are talking to them and they stare off into space, thinking about a possible new plot twist. Talk about rude!

How about when you find them, sobbing in a corner because they just killed off one of their favorite characters? Or you go to a movie with them and they dissect the plot holes, or how it could have ended better?

As if that is not bad enough, they want you to join in on their insanity after the book is done. They insist that you read it, as they sit there bouncing, fidgeting and waiting for your opinion. Let us not forget how you innocently befriended them on Facebook, or Twitter, or a blog, and now you get all their eager updates about their books.

Honestly, I hope this is an exaggeration. There is some truth in it  though, because at one time or another, I have been guilty due to my passion about writing. I had to learn how to temper my excitement around my friends. Not to run them off with some of the strange things going through my head, or bore them with my joy in the new hobby I finally had time to pursue.

I want to thank all of those dedicated friends and family who stand by their author friends. We appreciate your time, your votes, your support and your love.

For me this next year is going to be very busy as I work to release two children’s books and a historical romance. I promise to work on my bouncing enthusiasm.  So  when the advertising shows up occasionally, or I join a contest here or there, please be patient, I promise it won’t be for long!

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What Freedom of Speech Doesn’t Give You The Right To Do

10207_346359955467304_1634414842_nFreedom of speech is the most demanded of rights, especially in America. I’m not saying that is a bad thing. I’m glad I have this right, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to blog about it.

But there are certain things it does not give us the right to do. First and foremost, it doesn’t give us the right to think we are right. Just because I have the right to voice my opinion, doesn’t mean my opinion is the only one that is ‘right.’ It is simply that, an opinion. And just because it is my opinion, doesn’t mean you have to have the same one or it makes you my enemy.

It does not give me the right to disrespect your opinion, or your choice to believe differently. It doesn’t give me the right to ostracize you, belittle you, hound you, kill you, close you out, make fun of you, or in any other way treat you poorly. It does not give me the right to make others take sides, or claim exclusivity to a group that you are not part of.

I don’t have to embrace your opinion, but we should be able to agree to disagree in a gentlemanly fashion. I should live my life in such a way as to prove my beliefs, but not demand you to live as I do.

For instance, let’s say I believe in a religion and what it stands for. I should live my life according to those beliefs. Hopefully I’ve chosen one that shows respect for my fellow man, and should live it well enough that it should attract others to want to believe the same thing. The fruits of that lifestyle should only better this world, not destroy it.

Government should be separate and about the laws of the land. These should be based on fairness and equality for everyone, not a privileged few. Of course, world peace would be a good thing also, but let’s get real, our opinions get in the way.

So it is just my humble opinion (take it or leave it) that speech in any form, whether spoken or written, should not bully people. Bullying is not a freedom of speech issue, but a social wrong. I’m no better than anyone else, nor should I force my views on anyone else. I am all for sharing opinions and ideas because many times I find another’s view has more clarity than mine but I need to do it in a respectful manner, not bashing, demeaning or being downright vulgar. 

So let’s quit abusing our right to Freedom of Speech and considering listening to each other. We might find we are all on the same page, just on different lines.

 

Embracing Rejection

Winner-180x180Back in November I decided to try out NaNoWriMo. This is a month long challenge to write at least 50,000 words off the top of your head.  I decided this would be the perfect time to put on paper a story idea that I had carried around for over twenty years in my mind. If you accomplished it,  there was a publisher that offered  a chance to have the work looked over for possible publication. 

Even though I knew it was rough, crude, unpolished and nowhere ready for a public read, I went ahead and sent it. I wanted to experience rejection.

I know, sounds crazy don’t it? 

Up to this point I’ve been fairly insulated against rejection. None of my writing sees the public eye until thoroughly gone over and edited. Of course my editor pushes me and is my greatest critic!  But I’m extremely selective about what I let out of my vast ocean of words. Family and friends have been pillars of support. Every writing club or site I’ve posted on, people have been gentle in their critiques. But I wanted a taste of  the real world of publishing, to mature, to become more. 

That’s what rejection can accomplish. Someone, somewhere, is not going to like my writing. No matter how polished, how good, how entertaining. This is the spice of life. The variety we need to keep it from being boring. That extra incentive to make us want to strive to do better. To step back and view our work differently. 

I knew the story I sent was raw, undisciplined and unfocused. I have to admit an arrogant part of me thought maybe I’m that good. Thank heavens that got shot down! I would be insufferable otherwise. Yes, I was disappointed. To me this is a great idea for a story. I was hoping the merit of that would outweigh my shoddy writing. Maybe it isn’t all that great and they have seen plots like this forever. But, for a moment, their polite rejection made me really examined why I write.

I embraced all the feelings that rejection brought up because it finally clarified for me this insane desire to write. I’m like all other writers and have been telling stories since I can remember. Committing bits and pieces of words to paper all of my life. It is simply for me the best way to communicate. 

Will I ever sell a book? Will I ever be a best selling author? Well, I’d like to think so. We must have that bit of arrogance to push our writing out into the world. In reality though, maybe not. There are a lot of writers out there far better than I. Yet, I would write no matter what. Because it is part of me, who and what I am.  I can’t look at a blank expanse and not wish to scribble words upon it. 

To everything in this world there  exists a negative to balance the positive. I don’t like rejection, it stings. But it  drives the incentive to push on, do better, refine and hone my communication style. Because no matter how many times I get rejected, I have an insane love affair with writing. Like a jilted lover I will go back again and again until I get it right.  For now, that’s good enough for me.