Grief is Not a Monster

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief lately. My best friend lost her sister recently and as I walk with her through her grief, I remember my own. Having lost both parents, two brothers, several friends, and numerous beloved pets, I have had my share of painful losses.

Here is what I’ve learned about grief:

  • When “Grief comes knocking”, it’s not a monster to be kept out at all costs. It doesn’t help to stuff down the pain in an attempt to “be strong”, and it doesn’t help to run away from our memories because they hurt so much.
  • Grief is also not a monster to be let into our lives to take over and destroy everything!  We don’t have to be entirely defined by our loss or the pain we feel.  We can still show kindness to ourselves and others.
  • Grief is like an uninvited guest we need to make room for in our lives.  When I had a sudden memory of a loved one and the grief felt like a punch to the stomach, I allowed myself to STOP, reel a little, acknowledge the pain, then continue with what I was doing.

I’ve heard someone say, “Grief is the price you pay for love.”  We don’t grieve for someone we didn’t care about; grief is the evidence of our love and Great Grief comes from Great Love.  But there’s hope!  My experience has shown me that while we never heal from our loss, over time the grief-waves come less often; it becomes possible to have warm memories of our loved ones without the searing pain of grief.  The LOSS may be permanent but, thankfully, the PAIN eases with time.

Dealing with Unpleasant Memories

In the early 2000s I developed Tourette’s Syndrome as the side effect of a medication I was taking. I stopped taking the meds, but Tourette’s has remained. Now I’m sure you’re picturing me swearing uncontrollably in public! Actually, TS mostly just gives me annoying tics, especially when I’m tired or very relaxed. I always have to warn massage therapists and dental hygienists that if I give a little start, I’m NOT reacting to pain, but am showing how RELAXED I am! It’s quite counter-intuitive.

Then a few years ago I noticed that I’d developed a bit of TS vocalizing — again, NOT swearing, but a little yelp. This action was different from the tics; it wasn’t associated with being tired or relaxed, but happened when I had an unpleasant memory.  It was as if I was yelping in emotional pain.  I figured I could use these yelps to help me deal with some of my past.

When I hear myself “yelp”, this is what I do:

  • I look for what thought triggered my outburst.
  • I acknowledge the memory, usually something that I’ve done in the past that I’m not proud of.
  • I admit what I did wrong and what might have motivated me to do it.  Was I being selfish, frightened, prideful, thoughtless?
  • I imagine what I could have done differently at the time.
  • I assess my current life:  do I still do these things?  If yes, am I doing them less often?  What can I change in my current behavior?
  • I let the memory go, knowing that having learned the lesson, I no longer need to dwell on this particular memory.

This method of dealing with painful memories has been surprisingly effective!  I’m yelping a lot less often, and I don’t recall having had any “repeat memories”, so I’ve stopped the old habit of dwelling on my past mistakes, making my present a lot more enjoyable!

A Good Report from Blues Camp

Holly Berry and Her Ruby Red

I spent last week at a music workshop that I call “Blues Camp”  (check it out here:  http://centrum.org/port-townsend-acoustic-blues-festival-workshop/)  My “first annual” visit was in 2001, so this year was my 15th!  I’ve learned that if I want motivation to do something creative, I need to do it in a community, and BOY is this a great community of musicians!

For many of those years I’ve been taking Zydeco accordion from my guru, Sunpie Barnes (he toured with Paul Simon in 2014 and 2015!) and every year I’ve gotten a little bit better.  But remember my Oompah Band?  I’ve been motivated to practice and I’ve gained a tremendous amount of facility with my instrument.  I couldn’t wait to see if it helped me with Zydeco music.

At the first class, Sunpie greeted us warmly and started the class; when it was my turn to play solo, you should’ve seen the look on his face!  Kinda like, “DAMN, girl!”  After class he asked me, “What happened?  What have you been doing?”  I told him about my new band and how I’ve been picking up that (heavy) accordion 2 or 3 times a day.  “Well, you’ve made a QUANTUM LEAP in your playing ability.”  Yippee!

This is just one more reminder that my new way of living — making and keeping good habits, one day at a time — is working!

“Oompah” gives me “Oomph”

Did I tell you I joined a band?  I’m in a Bavarian Beer Garden band, playing my accordion.  (Read:  “Oompah Band”)

One of the things I’ve learned about myself over the years is that if I want to do something, I need to have people around me who expect it done.  I’m generally not self-motivated, but when something is really important to me, I find that I can join with others who will keep each other accountable to do it.

I’m a musician, but not a very good one.  Why?  Because I like to play around, but I don’t like to practice.  So I can play lots of songs fairly well, but nothing that’s “performance ready”.  But being in a new band means that others need me to actually be able to play the songs all the way through without stopping!  So, now I feel the need, and have the desire, to practice, practice, practice.  I went for 7 or 8 months without picking up my accordion (it’s pretty heavy, you know), but once I joined the band, I’ve been hefting it two or three times a day!  And though it’s probably not a surprise to you guys, I was SHOCKED by how much easier it is to play that accordion!

Another plus:  Beer Garden music is FUN!  It’s upbeat and lively, and I always feel good when I play it.  A whistling person is a happy person, and I’ve been whistlin’ Oompah for months now.  🙂

A third plus:  This week I brought out some of my Blues and Zydeco music and found that all my new skills make those styles easier to play, too.  Yippee!

I used to think I was Too Lazy to Practice, but now I say, “Lazy? Shmazy!  I just need to get motivated.”

Planning to be Flexible

Last week my family and I went on a lovely trip to the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.  How did it go?  Wonderfully!!!  Much of the reason it went so well was that I was able to balance “planning ahead” with “remaining flexible”.

The Old Me knew that no one can predict the future and knowing that “the best laid plans often go awry”, I’d resist making ANY plans until the last minute.  This was good because I’d never get locked into something that I couldn’t undo — no lost deposits for me!  But the downside was that I would often get “locked out” of things because I hadn’t made reservations early enough.

I once served on a Regional Board with a woman who was on the other side of this spectrum:  she wanted to plan everything as precisely as possible and as early as possible.  We were both motivated by our fears:  she was afraid that she wouldn’t be in control of her circumstances, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to adapt to changes in my circumstances.  Because we had to work together to make plans, I helped her relax and wait a few months before making plans, and she was able to encourage me to MAKE plans at all!  Together we learned to find that blessed balance.

Working with a life coach last year, I learned a lot about myself and WHY I had this “planning phobia” (my desire to remain forever flexible) and she taught me that not all decisions are final–preliminary decisions are helpful, too.

As I planned my vacation trip, I broke it down into smaller decisions, figured out the general timeline of when I’d need to make those decisions, and ASKED FOR HELP in making those decisions.

  • Where do we want to go?  This was easy–my daughter had asked that we take a family trip to Yellowstone to celebrate her 30th Birthday.  She actually made this request more than a year ago, but we weren’t able to do it then and had to postpone to this year.
  • When are we going to go?  This required a few conversations with my daughter, my son, my husband, and myself, to compare calendars.  There really was only one week that would work, so this decision was easy.
  • Where are we going to stay?  This one was harder and I didn’t want to try to discuss it with text messages and voicemail, so I asked my son and daughter and their families over for the afternoon to talk about it and make reservations.  We decided what kind of accommodations, the general area, and the days.  My son-in-law found some options and I made the choice, putting down deposits.
  • What are we going to do there?  I was able to wait till about a month before the trip for this one, but I needed help, so I again called for a party at my house!  We talked about what each of us wanted to be sure to do on the trip and we made reservations for three activities.  Because we would have a toddler in tow, we knew we’d have to have at least one adult stay behind for each activity.

For some of you these might have been no-brainers, but for a girl like me who likes to wing-it, it was very helpful to have made these rudimentary plans.  Then with these dates, accommodations, and activities planned, we could be flexible and spontaneous around them.  Turned out great.

Here’s the big question for me as I learn to do more planning ahead:  in hindsight, would I have liked to change these plans?  YES!  Within a week of putting down the non-refundable deposit, we were invited to a family wedding during that week!  It was hard to say “No, thanks” to the wedding, but we did.  Also, my son and his wife made the hard decision to stay home; my plans were flexible enough to handle that.

The takeaway?  I disciplined myself to make partial and imperfect plans ahead of time and was flexible during the trip and it was WONDERFUL!

Why Haven’t I Posted?

I haven’t posted in a few weeks.  Why not?  That’s what I kept asking myself.  I’m grateful that I went into this project without the expectation of perfection, and my goal was to publish “regularly”, which I defined as “almost every week”.  Well, “almost every week” has become “hardly ever”, so I needed to think through what’s been holding me back.  Here’s what I think is going on:

I started this blog with the desire to share with others who suffer from chronic illness, depression, and/or low motivation.  I’ve discovered some “life hacks” that have helped me to live a better life; not WELL, but BETTER.  I’ve found ways to transform the insurmountably hard into do-ably small pieces.  And I wanted to share these tips with you guys — my PEEPS — and let you know how and when I’m using them too.

But somehow I got caught up in the idea that what I type into this box has to be “WISE”.  <sigh>

Today, I’m sharing my experience with you in the hopes that it will give you HOPE and STRENGTH.

Today’s tip–the one I’m using today:  PLAN A TIME TO DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.

What did I want to do?  I wanted to post regularly on my blog.  So I set aside two 20 minute writing sessions a week.  I don’t plan to be creative or insightful or wise during those two sessions.  I also don’t plan to post each time.  What I’m doing is asking myself to WRITE for 20 minutes twice a week.  That’s all.  Now, of course my goal is to post at least once a week, but that won’t happen if I don’t set aside the time.

What about you?  Do you have a plan?  I’d love for you to share it with me in the comments.