Tag Archives: grief

The Grief Spot

june 21It had been a rough week. Sometimes it’s the date and sometimes it’s the day. This year it was both. June 21, 2010 is when I brought Claire to the ER and our lives were forever changed. It was a Monday, the day after Father’s Day. It was a typical cool-ish, overcast June day. Not too hot, not too cold, humidity hanging in the air. This year, now nine years later, I was bracing myself for the anniversary of the date, June 21, which was to fall on a Friday. However, it was on Monday that I felt it all coming back. Who knows what triggered it? Perhaps the weather which was eerily very similar to that day in 2010. Or perhaps because it was a Monday, the day after Father’s Day. That’s the thing with grief. You just never know when or why exactly it hits when it does. At any rate, as the day progressed I almost felt as though I was suffocating from the memories pressing in on me. I felt it physically in my body as I was transported back in time. Emotionally I was overcome with paralyzing sadness. I became very thankful for the unexpected cancellations of clients and made it through my relatively light work day.

Tuesday and Wednesday I began tackling a painting project in my kitchen. But my energy was lacking and my whole body ached. Facebook reminded me that on the same date a few years back I had been painting my kitchen. That intrigued me because I have discovered one way I manage my grief is through remodeling and painting projects around the house. Not surprising I was painting at this time of year. My physical symptoms increased and I thought I was catching the cold my husband just got over so I bulked up my vitamins D and C and tried to boost my immune system to ward off the germs. A cold didn’t materialize but I continued to feel worse and by Thursday I was barely functional.

Then came Friday, the actual date of June 21. I felt slightly better but was glad I was scheduled to see both my chiropractor and acupuncturist in hopes that they would do their magic and my aches and pains would disappear and my energy would return.

I left the chiropractor feeling quite discouraged. I have been having trouble lately holding an adjustment. The ribs on my left side seem to frequently go out – something I have not experienced much previously. He told me what I already knew – my spine is beginning to hunch forward and I’m developing the “old lady hump” (my words, not his) just like my mom had. He said it is not hopeless, however. With dedication and work I can most likely correct the issue, or at least slow down the process. But the first thing that popped into my head was, “This is a result of my grief.” We conversed about the impact of emotional trauma on the body before I headed to my next appointment.

 

You see, the natural physical response to grief is the fetal position. To curl up into a ball of protection. Internally and externally protecting and hugging your wounded heart. And during the time of Claire’s death I also had surgery on my left breast to remove my own cancer so I imagine my body was extra protective and huddled inward. It has really only been in the last two years that I have felt ready enough or safe enough or healed enough to actually open up my chest. To stand up straight with my shoulders back and take a deep breath. Even as I write those words, however, I feel the vulnerability in that stance. How can I lay my broken heart out bare in the open again? Some days I can’t. But I can much more now than I have been able to so far. In light of this it makes sense to me that the ribs on my left side, under my heart and breast keep going out. They aren’t used to being open and out there. They have been protected for many years. I have to retrain my body and my spine to feel safe again and strong and stand upright. It is no small thing.

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So when I arrive for my acupuncture appointment, I give a short recap of my chiropractor visit and the significance of this date. As I attempt to describe to her the physical symptoms I had been experiencing most of the week it dawns on me that what I have been feeling were the same symptoms Claire had the week before I took her to the hospital. I got chills with this revelation and don’t have words to describe the emotional intensity of the illumination. The cellular bond between a mother and her child is a fascinating mystery. She proceeded to feel my pulses and place the needles where my body was telling her they should go. Some I couldn’t feel go in at all. Others stung and sent a powerful and slightly painful current through my body. One of those was in my right upper chest. When I commented on it, she told me that was the “grief spot.” Wow. Of course. Then a few minutes later I asked if there was a needle pulling on my right arm near my elbow because I felt a searing, tugging, pain. She looked, but there were no needles in my arm at that place. I showed her the spot where I was feeling it and she said, “That is your heart spot.” Another wow. I said, “Of course my heart hurts right now.” She finished her needling and followed it with some energy work. Every time her hands passed over my chest I felt like I was suffocating. Like a very heavy burden was crushing me and making it difficult to breathe. However, with each subsequent pass it lessened, until finally I felt lighter and like I could take a deep breath once again.

While this may sound way “out there” to some, others may resonate with my every word. I guess it doesn’t much matter. I don’t have scientific research to back up anything I’m saying, I’m just relating what my experience has been. It is one thing to academically study the physical manifestations of grief and trauma as a mental health professional. It is another thing entirely to live it. I live it every single day. And every day I feel like I learn something new.

I did feel better after my appointments. My energy returned and the constant aching of my entire body subsided. I did notice the next day, however, that there was a small bruise where the needle entered my “grief spot” and it lingered for almost three weeks. “Appropriate,” I thought.

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When Personal Anguish Intersects with Collective Trauma

 

Eight years ago today I was introduced to my daughter’s killer. Of course none of us knew it at the time. But an innocuous visit to the Emergency Room on a Summer Monday evening eventually proved to be deadly. By Thursday the killer’s name had finally been identified:  Stage 4 Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. Still unaware of the dangerous threat to the life of my then 16-year-old curly haired blonde vibrant daughter, Claire, we moved forward with quickly beginning an intense and lengthy treatment in hopes of stopping this killer dead in its tracks. Refusing to Google statistics, I didn’t realize her chance of surviving another five years was a mere 5%. And as fate would have it, she only made it 20 months.

So every year since 2010 on June 21 (and sometimes days leading up to it) my body, my mind and my heart re-live that day and all the trauma that followed. Unless you have suffered the loss of a child, it is understandably difficult to imagine what it feels like. Even though my husband Dan was intimately involved and completely supportive during Claire’s illness and death, it wasn’t until he tragically lost his own son, Ben, two years later that he said to me, “I thought I understood, but I didn’t until now.” I responded by telling him I was so sorry that he understood.

So it is one thing to carry on in life while enduring personal tragedy. I have learned how to navigate my way through my private grief these last several years, able to focus on my own sadness while feeling relatively safe in my world. But things have changed recently. We now find ourselves in a different kind of world. One that feels more unsettled, darker and scarier. Maybe it has always been that way but my privilege has insulated me from the harsh realities that others more marginalized than myself have experienced on a daily basis. At any rate, I have had trouble finding words to describe how our nation’s shift toward uncertainty, divisiveness, anger and even hatred has added unfamiliar layers and dimensions to my grief. No longer do I feel safe in my world. No longer do I have a basic foundation of trust for our leaders because of the lies that are told every single day and the confusion produced by the frequent gas lighting. It doesn’t feel safe anymore to hold space for my personal grief when I have so much fear for the world around me.

The latest turn of events, however, has captured my heart in a dreadful way. The fact that those in power have chosen to act inhumanely by separating children, even infants, from their parents for trying to enter our borders is unconscionable. I am not saying there should be no vetting process for immigrants, but there are humane and decent ways of doing it. My own grandparents were immigrants. Those who are making these horrible decisions are only here because they have descended from immigrants. Regardless of anyone’s views on immigration policies, this has crossed a dangerous line. Permanent damage is being done to these developing children by removing their secure attachment figures at such a traumatic, transitional time in their lives. My heart is so broken over this. All I can think of is the pain I live with every single day having to live without my daughter. I would not wish that on my worst enemy. Cancer killed my child and took her away from me. I hate cancer for that. How in the world can another human purposefully decide to inflict pain on another like that? I do not understand. The world is watching and the world is weeping. And my personal grief is now magnified by thousands as I feel the pain of those parents and their children. I hope and pray that their separations will not be permanent like mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raging Grief

My daughter Claire is dead. She died at the age of 18 while a senior in high school from a “rare” childhood cancer, alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. And the thing about having a dead child (well, one of the things) is that I am full of rage. Rage that must be acknowledged, ignored, hidden, managed, contained, revealed, suppressed and/or worked through on a daily basis. Every. Single. Day. Most days I do an okay job of keeping it at bay. I’m pretty sure people that see me regularly don’t observe my rage or feel its intensity. But every so often it gets tired of being politely masked and it comes unleashed. Like now, for instance. I have felt it brewing for a while and have been painfully aware of the things which have poked and prodded it out of its slumber, but still was unprepared for its dramatic appearance when I blew up at my husband for a completely unrelated matter. Once it was out, however, I quickly became its puppet, becoming numbly insulated from myself and going through the motions of an out of body experience, simultaneously feeling devastation, sadness, hopelessness, anger, helplessness and inconsolable pain.

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And the last thing I need as I try to wrangle my grief induced rage back into the corral is to be repeatedly exposed to a raging, arrogant, misogynistic, hate generating xenophobe masquerading as a presidential candidate. It is beyond my comprehension how successful Donald Trump has been in his latest endeavor to rule our country with his iron fist and orange face. I am beginning to lose faith in humanity. I knew that racism still existed, on a personal and institutional level. I knew that there are people who fear what they don’t know and are angry. I knew that White privilege is alive and well. I knew that in spite of women being told, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” sexism still rears its ugly head. What I didn’t know, however, is just how many Americans are still clinging to those hurtful ideologies. And that scares me. And it also makes me realize how many of us are full of rage. Maybe all of us? I mean, some things should be raged against, right? Like injustice, violence, bigotry, rape, murder, cancer. Far be it from me to begrudge anyone their rage since I am so full of it myself. But I see Trump abusing his followers by tapping into their rage and welcoming it and giving it space to play out regardless of who it may hurt. And he does this for his own benefit. Again, it boggles my mind that anyone can believe a narcissist has anyone else’s best interest at heart. I could stay on my anti-Trump soap box all day, but in the end I don’t know that it will make a difference anyway, and the more I think about it the more my own rage expands. So I am left with once again trying to manage my rage while allowing it to be expressed. How the hell do I do that?

 

I’m not sure if my latest raging bullshit makes me more reactive to Trumpgate or if the political climate has contributed to my recent rage attack. Chicken vs. egg situation I suppose. But that’s the thing with the erratic rage of grief, every day we face situations which heap rubble, gravel, glass shards and sharp metal objects onto the trebuchet waiting to fling our rage into whatever happens to be in the way when the weight becomes unbearable. Thinking back on the last several weeks I suppose it makes sense that I was due for a release of rage….

  • February 10 –the second year anniversary of the death of my husband’s son, Ben.

 

  • February 14 – while most of the world celebrates Valentine’s Day, I will forever remember this date as the day we brought Claire home from the hospital to die, hearing the doctors tell us “There’s nothing else we can do.”

 

  • February 26 – attended the unveiling ceremony at Regions Hospital of the Donor Wall acknowledging those who have donated organs where Ben’s photo is displayed.

 

  • March 1 – the fourth anniversary of Claire’s death.

 

  • March 5 – the anniversary of Claire’s cremation and 20th anniversary of my father’s death.

 

  • Receiving a letter indicating I was denied the option to purchase life insurance because I had breast cancer four years ago, even though I am probably in the best health I’ve been in my life right now. Apparently I’m too great a risk and the insurance company thinks I will die too soon for them to make any money off me.

 

  • Business taxes.

 

  • And then there’s this, which is not a bad thing at all, yet evokes all sorts of conflicting emotions within me…. All of Claire’s friends are getting ready to graduate from college this year. I am so proud of them and happy for them as I hear news of them becoming journalists, educators, world travelers, musicians, activists, inventers, world changers…for the better! But the pain is indescribable as I am left to wonder what contributions Claire would be making to society and that she never got a chance. And she would have made such a positive impact. She had such a kind and loving heart full of passion for social justice and was an amazingly talented artist. To be honest it makes no sense to me that she was taken and someone like Trump is allowed to go on living and is damaging humanity in the process.

 

And so now my rage has calmed down for a time, turning into a dull headache after getting these words onto the page. When you see me I will smile and tell you I am fine but know that the rage always lurks and requires vast amounts of energy to remain contained.

 

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