Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Unexpected triggers

During my three and a half year journey, I've come to learn a thing or two. I'm by no means an expert. Just learning and figuring it out as I go.

Sometimes I wish there was a book that laid out a road map for grieving. Instead, it's something everyone experiences in their own way, in their own time. One thing I've learned is that certain events, holidays, pictures or songs will trigger a grief burst. For me, the grief burst can come in many forms - feeling sad, down or irritable, finding myself staring off in the distance multiple times a day or as tears. When the trigger is expected, especially when it's a special day or when I'm planning to see someone who knew my husband, I can prepare for it. I know in advance it will trigger a grief response. It's those unexpected situations that are the worst.

Earlier today, the snow started falling ... this first of the season. The kids were ecstatic. They couldn't wait to bundle up and play outside. As we were driving home, the very short distance from my parents' house, it hit me. I saw men with snow blowers plowing out their driveways.

Yep, that's what did it.

I got inside the house and looked at my driveway. It was covered with snow. Immediately, I was flooded with images of Steve dressed from head to toe in Carhart clothing -- hat, coat, coveralls, gloves -- ready to head outside to plow our driveway. He was like a little kid riding our John Deere tractor up and down our long driveway. While those images made me smile, the memories also made me sad. Another reminder that Steve isn't here. It's like a kick in the gut.

So, I allowed myself to be sad and down in the dumps. Early on in my grief, I felt like I had to snap myself out of feeling sad. Then, through the help of a wonderful grief counselor, I learned that it's OK to give into the feelings. To let them come. What I've found is that when I allow myself to feel sad, blue, down in the dumps or just ho-hum, I end up feeling better in no time.

The triggers, whether expected or unexpected, will happen. My goal is to change how I respond to the trigger. Rather than getting sad, irritable or teary, I hope to get to a point where I will take the trigger as a chance to stop what I'm doing, remember Steve, love him in that moment and continue on. It's a journey, but I'll get there.

Until then, the journey continues ...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Finding my "something"

Last Friday morning, the unthinkable happened in a small Connecticut town ... a mass shooting claimed the lives of 20 elementary school students and seven adults. Hearing the news brought me to tears. Who would go into an elementary school and start shooting innocent people, especially young kids? My heart went to each parent, each family who lost a loved one.

My sadness turned to frustration and anger. During one of the television news broadcasts, as the journalists tried to piece together what had happened, an anchor interviewed a medical correspondent. He asked questions to get a sense of the type of person who would carry out such a horrific act. The doctor responded and ended her comment saying that when we see a picture of Adam Lanza, it "will be the face of mental illness."

That's the moment when my blood started to boil. My husband suffered from severe depression. Does that mean he too is the face of mental illness?

By mid afternoon, we didn't know much about Adam Lanza. Yet, medical correspondents and countless Americans started diagnosing him. Granted, I don't know what would cause a person to commit such an evil act. But, what good does it do to start throwing out names of illnesses such as schizophrenia, Asperger's and depression? This only adds to the misperceptions and stigmas about mental illness. The National Association of Mental Illness has reported that 57.7 million Americans experience some type of mental health disorder in a given year. That's one in four adults.

Mental illness doesn't discriminate. It's not limited to people who are homeless or addicted to drugs. People in all walks of life suffer from some type of mental illness. Most people are able to manage their illness through medication and counseling. Unfortunately, others don't seek treatment.

I had to share my frustration about the "Adam Lanza and the face of mental illness" comment so I did what I often do ... I turned to Facebook. I posed a question asking if that meant Steve is a face of mental illness. A friend of mine commented that the face of mental illness should be the person who works, raises a family and deals with their disease. Yes! She gets it!

Never in a million years would I have imagined that I'd be in my mid (ok, now late) 30's and widowed. But I am. Not long after Steve died, I felt like I needed to do something so that no one would have to endure the pain of this kind of loss. At the time, I didn't know what that "something" was. Now, I think part of my "something" is to advocate for people suffering from a mental illness by pushing for more education. Knowledge is power!

So the journey continues ...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I thought I knew what grief was

By day, I work for a marketing public relations agency. Much of my time is dedicated to PR in our hospice marketing division. To keep up-to-date on what's happening in the hospice industry, I read articles and review studies on a range of topics related to end-of-life care. I frequently come across articles about grief.

Today I was reading a blog post about grief. The blog's author wrote "... most of us think our feelings, our grief, is about the person who died. It is not, it is about us, about how our life has to change and how we are going to adapt to those changes." I agree with that statement ... to a point.

I absolutely grieve the loss of Steve. I miss him. I'm devastated that he's gone. And, I also grieve the life I had and the life I assumed I would have for many, many years.

Before Steve died, I knew what grief meant. Not only did I know what it meant, I experienced it. Each of my grandparents has died, first when I was in kindergarten, then early grade school, again in high school and as an adult. I was sad and felt the void of my grandparents during holidays, regular Sunday dinners and other traditions. Death is sad. Better yet, to quote Michele Hernandez with Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, "Death Sucks." So, so true ...

The grief I have experienced during the past three and a half years has been all-encompassing, sometimes overwhelming. So many people told me to "just get through the first year." I knew the first holidays, birthdays and anniversary without Steve would be hard. And they were. What I wasn't expecting was that the second and third years would be harder. Some days I was just going through the motions of everyday life. Other days were good. Then, when I'd least expect it, a wave of emotion would hit me and knock me to my knees. On those days, it felt like I was taking two or three steps backward after the one step I had taken forward.

On Wednesday evening, the day before Thanksgiving, one of those waves kicked me in the you-know-what. The kids had gone to bed. I was in my living room folding laundry and watching a movie, Anna and the King (always one of my favorites). I forgot that Anna was a widow. At some point during the movie, the tears started to flow ... and flow ... and flow. I let the emotion out. My grief counselor used the term "grief bursts" to explain these times when grief comes out of nowhere and brings you to your knees. I let myself feel sad that Steve wouldn't be there the next day to celebrate Thanksgiving with our families and I moped. But, I woke up the next day feeling better.

I didn't expect the day or two before an important date would be worse than the day itself. I assumed THE day, whatever special day it was, would be the hardest. Unfortunately, there isn't a manual that tells us how to grieve. We need to figure it out on our own. This is true not only for the grief of a loved one who died, but also other types of loss, like divorce. We grieve the life we had and what we thought it would be.

What I've experienced during the past three years has changed me. I'm not the same person I was on July 13, 2009, the day before Steve died. The "new" Emily is strong. There's a greater sense of confidence.

I know grief doesn't end. Being a widow and grieving the loss of my husband is part of who I am today and the person I will be in the future. Even if I marry again, I still will be a widow as well as a wife.

So, the journey continues ...

Monday, December 3, 2012

The journey begins ...

This is a journey I never pictured myself taking. In 2009, I was 35-years-old, a wife, mother to a boy and twin girls and owner of a small freelance public relations business. "Widow" didn't fit in that description of how I saw myself.

To me, the term "widow" conjured images of a lonely old woman. I was the opposite. I was young with a full life ahead of me. That life included my husband, Steve, me and our three children. We had so much to experience ... together. There was so much to see and do ... together. It's as if I could see it. However, that life I could picture so clearly wasn't to be.

Instead, on a summer day, I came home from work to find my husband had died.



I couldn't wrap my head around it. I left for work that morning and my life was how I knew it to be. Just hours later, the life I planned, the life I could so clearly see, was gone.

These have been three long, difficult years. Emotions have run the gamut. A lot has happened since that awful day. But, it hasn't been all bad.

During the past year or so, several people have suggested that I start a blog. I wasn't sure. Much of what I do for a living involves writing. While I love to write, I wasn't sure about "putting it all out there." However, I've been inspired by so many other young widows I have been fortunate to meet during these past few years.

Through this blog, I want to share my journey of life as a young woman, single mother and widow. The good, the bad and the who knows what!

So, my journey to a new normal continues ...