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What is the impact of prolonged illness on grief? Does it give us time to get used to the idea of death? Does the anticipation in some way lessen the sting of loss?
I think on these questions as we mark Parkinson’s Awareness Week and World Parkinson’s Day, April 10th on the 2019 calendar. My dad had Parkinson’s. His symptoms began in the late 1990s, but doctors initially believed mini-strokes caused his shuffled gait.
I remember the phone call. My mother was on the other end. A neurologist diagnosed Dad with Parkinson’s disease. The year was 2000. She sounded relieved. Almost happy. I understood why.
Grief isn’t simply a loss of what was. It also is a loss for what might have been if mother, father, husband, sister, brother, grandparent or friend had lived.
Because of this, life gives us endless opportunities to reflect on our loss. And yet, as I celebrated 10 years of marriage to my husband last week, I instead embraced a celebratory attitude.
In other words, I didn’t let what was not let ruin what was. I can’t say I’m always capable of doing that, but this time I really let my hair down, sort of speak. March 28th was a grand day.
Nonetheless, it was not without pause. Why? I mean, what does my wedding anniversary have to do with the loss of my parents? There again, grief’s complex nature lies in wait.
Why do we love sad movies? I’m no psychologist, but may I suggest that art helps us grieve. It helps us cope by showing us others grieve, maybe in a similar way as we have.
And they lived to write a screenplay about it. Or a book. Or paint on canvass. How? We see if portrayed on film and believe yes, we will survive, too.
While the connection between loss and art is not an original observation, I believe it’s worthy to remind ourselves that we sometimes leave a doorway to our emotions untapped.
What changes the course of our grief? What puts us on the path of healing? What quiets the raging questions, self-accusatory thoughts and pit-sinking sorrow?
May I suggest an “aha” moment – an epiphany. A sudden, transformative thought or realization that changes perspective and gives us release or relief – a piece of healing.
I call these events “revelations.” I journaled more than a half dozen of them related to the loss of my father and mother. Jane Williams, a clinical psychologist, calls them “aha!” moments.
Dr. Williams developed the Medical Crisis and Loss Clinic at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, a couple of hours drive from my hometown, Memphis. She also is the author of Mysterious Moments: Thoughts that Transform Grief,” published in 2017. I read it earlier this year. I think so much of the book and its premise that I’ve put it in my “Recommended” page on my blog.
If there was a time I was stuck in my grief, it was the fall of 2013. In my frustration over lack of progress in multiple areas of my life, I berated myself with unkind thoughts.
I toiled with several simultaneous issues – career, illness, relationships, professional envy. If my self-esteem had been a liquid, it could have been measured in a test tube.
The project to clean out my parents’ home slowed even further as a deafening voice in my head reminded me how long Dad and Mom had been dead. Seven years. Four years.
I wrote in my journal, “Is the house holding me back?”
Have you ever looked at your grief, gauged the progression and come up short?
Blinding light streamed through the curtains and hit my canopy bed. I buried my face under the covers for as long as possible, but couldn’t escape. I cracked open my eyes. What was that on the dresser?
A stuffed leopard. A container of chocolates. My eyes widened. Now I was ready to get up.
I’ve received several Valentine’s Day gifts over the years, but is the gifts my daddy left for me to see first thing in the morning that I remember best. He was my first Valentine. He also was the one who prepared me for all the other Valentine’s or would-be Valentine’s that followed.
You might have a Valentine’s sweetheart this Feb. 14th. Or you may be widowed. Or unmarried. I’ve heard Valentine’s referred sarcastically as Singles Awareness Day. I’ve never lost a spouse – that is singularly different – but I’ve spent many Valentine’s Days alone.
I felt unwanted. Awkward. And maybe a little angry. Angry at all the hand-holding, kissing couples. All the pink and red hearts on cards. Angry at the married people who were 100 million miles away from understanding the challenges of being single. And the strengths.
Do you think life is a set of coincidences? Or do you believe a master engineer is guiding your life? I must say I believe the latter. Why?
I keep bumping into people and opportunities that fit into my life and into my dreams. Sure, I’ve got to put my horse in the race, but I can’t make a lot of these things happen. The meetings may be years in the making, but suddenly there it is, and I’m awestruck.
I could provide numerous examples of this, but today I want to point out one that’s led me to a new position. I’ve been named senior staff writer at The Wonder Report, http://www.thewonderreport.com. I will be reporting stories and also writing a monthly column on family and relationships with an emphasis on navigating grief.
Time travel with me. We’re going back two years. It’s early 2017. I just received my first manuscript rejection. My baby. My book. The big publishing company didn’t want to look at it. Didn’t say why. I was devastated, and then, right about Valentine’s Day, I got very sick. I thought I’d eaten something disagreeable. Or caught a fleeting virus.
Under the bowels of the dressing room sink, I discovered a half-completed painting, a sort of portrait of an unfinished life
It wasn’t the last evidence I’d find of a life interrupted. Nor the last grief trigger to cross my path.
I found Mom’s half-done crossword puzzles. Her hand-drawn plans for a circular driveway that was never poured. Dad’s sippy cup, half full, the day of his death. A harmonica he’d hoped to learn to play. I mourned for their loss of various pursuits. For their unfinished business.
I preserved the evidence – these things that triggered considerable sadness for me – like a detective at a crime scene. The things served as evidence of a robbery – the snatching away of two lives. Their fingerprints were all over them.
How can we cope with these land mines, these triggers, and handle the disposition of belongings? How can we hope to achieve a measure of healing while being showered with overwhelming emotion?
After eight years of slow but progressive work on cleaning out my parents’ home and grieving their loss, I saw four ways that helped me move to a happier place during the onslaught of grief triggers.