Friday, February 22, 2013

Simply Remedial Living

Simplify, Simplify.
~ Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau's got it right.   Simplify.    Pare it back.  Minimize.   Truth be told, we all have too much happening; probably 75% of it is filler.  Filling some sort of whole or a gap in our lives.  Empty attempts to help make ourselves feel more significant than we believe ourselves to be.  Superficial fluff that in the grand scheme of life means bupkis.  Doubt me?  Then you have yet to experience bereavement.   A despairing, often polarizing, sensation over the loss of a significant loved one.  I'm not talking about the passing of Uncle Murray who you see once every eight years.   The direct loss of a spouse, child, parent, or other influential human you love with whom you are quite close.  A polarization so intense, brushing your teeth or taking a shower is barely possible.  For this widow, it is a world of remedial living post-death.

Boomer & SMO, 2010
It began in an instant for me.   After having my final private moments with him, the very second I stepped out of Boomer's room in the ICU, I imploded.   I cleared the doorway, looked at the charge nurse, who has a striking resemblance to my friend Peg, and dropped to the floor into a squatted ball while releasing a sobbing bellow like I've never known.  It was alarming to me how physically crippled I felt with a blink of an eye.   Professionals call it shock. Shock of the trauma just experienced - - your loved one is gone, forever.  Your physical sensation is just the beginning, mental and emotional soon follow in pursuit of whittling you away to an unrecognizable fraction of yourself.  

My daughter, Dara, arrived from Michigan the afternoon Boomer passed.  How I managed to drive to the Ft. Myers International Airport to pick her up is beyond me.  Driving, as it turns out, is the one thing I've continuously felt highly capable of doing.  I wonder if my Honda Pilot, which we humorously refer to as the "SMO-vee", secretly holds magical self-navigation powers.  I was a pile of mush in doing just about anything in the early hours, days, and weeks immediately following Boomer's death.  Seriously, having a conversation with someone often felt insurmountable.  But driving was good.  It was a concentrated task, total focus on the road - centered on the destination.  1, 2, 3 - that's it.  

My dear friends Barbara and Alex, in addition to Dara, were with me the first couple of days and will attest to my  fade-to-black existence of both body and mind.  My head would randomly begin to turn away with my gaze drifting off as if my mind just left the planet. Visualize Dustin Hoffman's Rainman.  It felt that way too.   One task, one person speaking, one decision, all at a turtle pace.  1, 2, 3 - that's it. 
When my friend Beth stayed with me during Thanksgiving weekend, she saw it too:
  1. We strolled the beach, still quiet on a Sunday morning.  
  2. Immersed in heartfelt, inspired conversation just the two of us.
  3. Our destination was the annual sand sculpture contest and exhibition.   
As we arrived, the crowds grew, noise expanded, and I began my Hoffman impersonation.  We made it through the sculpture sights okay, it was when we sat for a water break that I began to disappear.  

Grief, physically and mentally sucks the life out of you.  I thought my early months of motherhood were tough.  That's nothing compared to my widowdom.   Mostly because there's no way to prep, it's taboo to willfully, openly talk about - - death, dying, grief, widowdom, etc.  YIKES!  Who wants it?  The subject alone sucks.  Living it does too.

The morning after Boomer died, I nearly collapsed in the shower.  It took everything I had to converse with his sons and their mother an hour later.   When they left, I was paralyzed on the sofa.  I literally couldn't move my body.  It scared the shit out of me.  What the hell is happening to me?  Dara had to help me stand up.  Then I threw up.  That was pretty much it for the day, and it was maybe 10 a.m.  I went back to bed until the 4 p.m. meeting with Boomer's Pastor, who was helping me source mortuary services. 1,2,3 - that's it.

One night (I chuckle as I type this today) after my loving overseers (I wouldn't have made it without them) had all departed, I went to bed for the night at 5 o'clock p.m.   Which makes sense if you're only sleeping in 2-hour blocks, awake for the day at 3 a.m, and have the mental capacity of an infant. 

Symptoms of this sudden remedial-self in a bereavement state often appear similar from one person to the next:  fuzzy brain, weak physicality, little appetite, rampant cognitive misfires, emotional upheaval.  But we each respond differently.   For me, it affects all my senses.  I call it sensory overload.  Even down to my ability, rather inability, to eat or drink anything cold.  Lukewarm and above is preferred.  I'm slowly adapting to consuming things at room temperature, it's still hit or miss.  Overall, I've been about understanding this whack-a-do grieving process, recognizing my limitations, both physical and mental, and self-managing to not work in excess of my capability at any time.  Remembering that grief is work (read the Sutures over Salt post).  1,2,3 - that's it.

It's frustrating we aren't taught how to deal with such an assault on life before it happens.  You learn when it happens - - to you personally.  My counselors have been invaluable in guiding me.  The also remind me that every experience I'm having is totally normal.  What?  I'm not special?  A one-of-a-kind case?   Whew!  Thank God I got that going for me - - normalcy. 

I'm getting better.  I'm making remarkable progress in such a short period of time (as I'm gratefully told by others).   It's o.k. too that I give myself some credit, I'm the one working my tushie off to feel better, be better, and build a new me, a new life, without the man I love and lost.  My secret?   Mr. Thoreau.  I simplify.  E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

The greatest simplification is my daily "to-do" list.   It doesn't exceed 8 items on a given day, which has grown from the 4-5 items a month ago.  It simply can't.  At least not yet.  My physical and mental capacity can't do any more.    What's so kooky, is that my to-do's have to include the mundane tasks of life.  Things like: empty the dishwasher, take out the trash, do 2 loads of laundry, return Mary's call.  My brain continues to work at less-than-full capacity, so these reminders are essential to me making progress.  It it's not on the list, it doesn't get done.  Before all else however, I start with asking myself, "How Important Is It?"  And proceed from there.   On very down days, when my grief escalates, "taking a shower" has had to be on the to-do list.  I've adapted to this phase with a personal process that creates a balance of big rocks and little rocks on the list always with the prefacing power question - - how important is it?   Important things that require serious concentration and focus paired with the routine living stuff.  A happy dance ensued when "brush teeth" was taken off list for good.   Most recently removed was "make the bed."

I have to check-in with myself throughout the day in how I'm feeling, mentally and physically.  I'm done when I'm done. That's it.  Period.  If three things are still on the list - - oh well.  Too bad.  So sad.  Scarlett said it herself, "Tomorrow is another day."   She's right.  What I didn't get done today can easily wait until tomorrow, or in many cases, simply doesn't matter.  It is in this way I simplify - - daily.

Today's list had  a whopping 11 items on it.  Uh-oh.  Danger Will Robinson.  Two items were passed.  This was a very good day. 

Thank you Mr. Thoreau.   I kind of like how it's going...

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