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Chaos, Caregiving and the Limitations of Grief

The last few weeks have been incredibly chaotic. My beagle Abbey has suddenly gotten old and now I carry her lots of places and her walks include a half block or so of walking and then riding in a stroller I bought second hand just for her. It’s very hard to watch her be old, especially since was John’s dog. The bright side of this is she really likes her stroller and we seem to be bring endless smiles and laughter to those in my small town.

Then a friend of mine had her babies, triplets, at 24 weeks, knowing her constance vigilance to keep them growing inside for as long as she could I can feel her devastation at having them arrive so fragile and early. I am at a loss as to how to help her, and I desperately want to help.

Another friend’s husband had quadruple bypass surgery, he is okay after several days in the hospital and I am so very relieved! I kept telling her over and over “I am SO glad you caught it! I’m SO glad he was able to get the surgery!’ and I mean every word of it. He is home and okay. The problem for me is, that is the exact surgery John would have had, had we known, had I caught the signs, he too would likely be here. He would be laughing and living right now. Because I didn’t nag and hound him, because I didn’t catch the signs, he isn’t.

Then last Friday night my own daughter called and as soon as I answered the phone I blurted out, “Your hurt! What happened!?” she needed to go to the emergency room. We were there till 3 in the morning. She was okay,  she was better,  but she was still in need of tending so I made her come home with me so I could watch over my 21 year old baby-wanting her near so I could know in my bones that she was okay.

That so very, very early Saturday morning, near 4 am when I crawled into bed-my daughter safe and okay, Abbey snoring nearby, I started to shake uncontrollably. The hours of being there and trying to be strong for my daughter had ended and my body was in shock at the physical and emotional exertion that it had made. Mark, my partner, held me tight while my teeth rattled in my head as if it was the middle of winter as I tried to will my body to stop reacting in such a way.

When I think about to, I’m only weeks from the anniversary of John’s death. That alone has been creeping it’s way into my daily waking and sleeping life. I am still working through the what if’s and guilt of not catching his bad heart and getting him help.

And it’s been a lot and my inner spirit is overwhelmed at the call of the Universe to action to be there and really show up for others. To be a support for others when I still too often feel, to steal my friend Susan’s turn of phrase, like a wounded bird.

I think that as humans, and I know that often as women, we are called to be the fixers and caregivers in our circles. We are leaned on for guidance and comfort. In my family I have held that role for as long as I can remember. But as someone who has known great loss, especially at my age, I am finding that others look towards me even more now for guidance and wisdom. Widowed at barely 37, in my circle I am the only one who has any experience with that type of devastation. So nearly two years out from the initial impact of John’s death they now look toward me for wisdom in all sorts of things that really, I have no map for. They look toward me for how to interact with someone who has just been devastated, or hurt, or damaged in a deep way. What they don’t understand, and I am only truly coming to understand myself, is that two years is a long time for many things, but it is not a long time to heal and reflect and really have any wisdom about what the hell happened to my life when John died. It’s not a long time to build up my reserves enough to go forth and be of great value or service to others, even when I really, really want to.

If the other night is any indication, the tears, the cold shivering sweats after hours of emotional exertion to help my daughter, the culmination of weeks of concern and attempts to be of service had caught up. What small reserves I had were spent and then some. It is amazing and somewhat disheartening to me to know that two years out and my body and spirit are still fragile, broken, in need of great tending and healing themselves. And I feel a little whiney saying it, even feeling it, because those outside of this grief don't understand and I don't have the words to help them understand. But I know that among my peers, here, I won't sound whiney or weak-just normal. That moment of shaking uncontrollably was scary. It was a moment of my body loudly demanding what it needs and me really trying to listen.It was a moment of me realizing, if only briefly, my own human limitations, my own grief induced limitations-like them or not. And I must admit, I don’t like them but I cannot deny them.

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Comment by only1sue on August 14, 2014 at 1:57pm

Helping people during a traumatic episode makes us all a little shaky.  I have seen police officers and ambulance drivers with shaky hands and know what they have been through has affected them deeply too. And of course as you say we are still recovering even two years out from the tragic deaths of our spouses.  Almost 23 months for me and I certainly have to take time out from time to time and look for a way to get catch my breath again.  Rest and relax, take some time out for a while if you can. 

Comment by IndiaKai on August 13, 2014 at 7:13am

I agree. Not whining and absolutely not weak.   Yes... this is a safe place to express these tremors of grief when they hit. Wish we had more safe zones. ((Hang in there)) 

Comment by MissingRKK on August 12, 2014 at 5:49pm
Not weak, not whining. Definitely normal. You are so very beautifully honest and very aware of how these life demands are affecting your mind/body and aware of how 2 years is hardly any time at all. Hugs to you!

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