Dog Tag Memories

Dog tags.  For years they were always with me.  Day and night, dangling over my heart.  I don’t know what became of them once I took off my uniform for the last time.  I kept them for a while but they were lost somewhere, some time ago, in a move from here to there.  

Mine were from the Vietnam era, the 1960s and 70s.  We didn’t have the fancy silencers on ours that they have today, those little coverings around the edges that keep them quiet.  Ours did tend to clink together, easily giving away your position if you were trying to be stealthy.

They always give you two of them, you know.  One stays with your body and the other goes back for the identification record.

I’m mentioning all of this because in the United States, we are going to celebrate Memorial Day this weekend.  I know many other countries have a similar day when they pause to reflect upon the sacrifices that brave men and women have made to keep others free.

Let us remember not only those who gave their lives, but those who lost their lives in other ways when they came back so damaged that they are now homeless and unable to adjust to civilian life.

The wounds of war run deep and can be so very hard to close.

How many of you have suffered the loss of a family member or close friend?  How many of you have memorabilia, like dog tags, or a flag, or medals?  Do you have a story to tell?

With deep love and respect,

Chris

Isolation

When I went through the certification training to teach the Grief Recovery Method, I had a personal moment of enlightenment.  I discovered that living with loss forced me into isolation.  And with each successive loss in my life, isolation become more and more my modus operandi, my way of living life.

I thought I was so clever to analyze the patterns of loss and come up with that revelation, until the instructor pointed out that he had written that on the white board for us during the very first day of class.  His comment had gone right over my head, until I stumbled across it by accident while doing my homework.

I didn’t come up with that on my own, but I did live it for decades without realizing it.  Now I hear people in my groups come to the same clarity of understanding.  Isolation is the most common trait of grieving people.  Why?  Because grieving people make us uncomfortable so we tell them to get over it, to move on, to get busy, to get a life, to get over it.  It doesn’t matter if the griever is dealing with death, divorce, or any of the other seventy-two losses we have on our list, people don’t want to hear it.  It makes them uncomfortable to see how close their lives are to that kind of pain.

So grievers end up shunned by society, pushed away by their co-workers who need them to be normal and pulling their weight, ignored by all the people who are busy getting on with things.  They learn to live a life of “less than” the way they were before their loss.

What I also learned in my Grief Recovery training is that there are ways of breaking out of isolation.  We can   see this trait in ourselves and change how we respond to loss and life.

Have you ever felt isolated?  Can you trace that feeling back to a loss in your life?

Hugs!

Chris

 

Losses in the Aging Process

Our dear friend and mentor, Cari Dawson, graces us once again with her words of wisdom.  We go through tremendous losses as we age, and those seem to accelerate with every passing year.  Since I’m only eight years younger than Cari, I can align quite easily with what she is saying.  And it’s about time someone said it!

I have been a Grief Recovery Specialist for nearly twenty three years. The loss of a grandchild was the catalyst for me, an event that started me on this life-saving work so that I could help others. My loss history is lengthy: I’ve lost parents, a 2-year-old niece and a 25-year-old nephew, a brother, other family members, pets, jobs, lifestyles, husbands, friends, trust, and patients. Now, as I move deeper into my mid-seventies, I am becoming more acutely aware of the losses associated with aging.

The most obvious loss in aging is the fact of limited time on earth. It becomes more real that gravity is chipping away at us. There are subtle and not so subtle clues that we are disappearing. One of my friends talks about the invisibility in this elderly period of life as we are embedded in a culture of youth. “When people talk to me, I don’t feel like they see me.” Others say they don’t recognize the person in their mirror. “Who is that old lady? I don’t feel like what I am seeing.”  Friends complain that their lives are narrowing, that doctor visits are crowding their calendars. Some are losing their joints and other body parts.  They are getting hips and knees replaced, cataracts removed, hearing aids fitted, open heart surgery. Almost all of us have arthritic changes, we lose flexibility and dexterity, we lose cadence when we reach for words that don’t come as easily as they used to. We are generally slowing down. We adapt to the gradual losses, but as I am wont to say hoping to lighten up with dark humor, “None of us is getting out of here alive.”

And we often experience a loss of dignity. I personally encountered such a loss during annual well visits with my Primary Care Physician (PCP).  Although I have managed to reach this point in life with only occasional use of prescription drugs like antibiotics and I remain in excellent physical and mental health, I am a firm believer in preventative care, routine tests and lab work. Twice in the last several years, I have felt humiliated when unsolicited, my PCP’s office performed memory tests involving my retrieving three unrelated words (sunset-chair-banana) said earlier in the visit by the health care provider. Part of this test included a request to draw an image of a clock at 11:00. I was tempted to draw the image digitally rather than as the face of a clock with hands and numbers! At a time in my life when I intentionally enter into contemplative meditation and practice letting go, I felt like I was being graded on my ability to remain linear and dualistic to please government (Medicare) and health care professionals. I doubt if the health care provider understood that I felt like a fungible commodity instead of a human being.

Putting this into perspective, I understand that tests for dementia can be a necessary and good thing, but I wonder if the health care provider considers the context of the patient (other than chronological age) before launching into such tests. For example, the first time this test was administered, I had been in the throes of grief over multiple significant losses (which happens frequently as we grow older) and was experiencing disorientation and detachment from the dualism of this world. I was in no frame of mind to remember three unrelated words and I felt that having to draw a clock with the big hand on 12 and the little hand on 11 was demeaning and counterproductive. In fact, the loss of respect and dignity compounded my losses and my grief. Am I losing my mind too?  My identity?  Am I just some thing to be charted rather than a mature woman with feelings?

On the other hand, there are so many joys of life at this stage!  Balance is the most important aspect of our lives as we age. Although I continue to work—see and counsel clients— and volunteer, it is done with utmost concern for balance and my priorities which facilitate my journey to wholeness:  contemplation, spending time with close friends and family, enjoying my furry friend, reading, and working out at the gym.  I have become more acutely aware of the clock that is ticking away and ironically and interestingly, it has given me more peace of mind and focus knowing what I thought I knew all along: that my time here is running out.

I marvel as I reflect upon a long journey from a small town Ohio Valley high school girl of seventeen whose highest aspiration was to be a secretary and housewife, to multiple and diverse careers and paths, to where I am now in my mid-seventies contentment. I hear the clock ticking like a heartbeat. It’s a good reminder to live in the present, to see the beauty in Life, to taste, touch and feel it, to grieve the inevitable losses and know it is all good.

Cari D. Dawson, MTS, MA, JD, www.transitionscelebrant.com

Cari’s previous post was about grieving the loss of a pet.

Loss: Independence

My beautiful, smart and wonderful daughter has a  heart condition.  When I asked for suggestions for this post, she wanted me to talk about loss of independence.  Cee and I know a lot about the subject, as do any of you who have a chronic illness.  It also applies in many ways to those of you who have gone through the death of a loved one, and many other types of losses.  I’ll address it from the angle of chronic illness first, and let all of you chime in.

Chronic illness robs you of your independence.  Period.  You can’t get around it.  In my daughter Nikki’s case, she has to rely on her husband and son to do certain things for her.  She can’t carry too many things, or things that are too heavy, so she needs one of them to go to the store with her, or for her.    She doesn’t travel alone any more, just in case she gets too weak or needs assistance.  She can’t work, so she can’t support herself.  She has to rely on her husband’s income.  She has lost her independence in so many ways.  She can’t go running or get to the gym when she wants.  She can’t go out with the girls, just to relax and catch up with them.  Heart disease as serious as hers controls her life now.

Cee and I know what loss of independence is all about.  After the three times she has almost died, she needed me to do everything for her.  After the coma in 2001, she even needed to be fed because she had lost so much muscle mass.  After each significant bout of Lyme disease, she would lose what little independence she had gained back.  Fortunately, she’s so much better now that she can drive herself around, do her own laundry, and help to clean around the house.  I still support her.  She’s not ready to go back into the work force.  That’s one of the reasons she became certified as a Grief Recovery Specialist.  She’s able to start earning money again while controlling her hours and working conditions.  That, and the fact that she’s darned good at it.

You might not have a condition as severe as Nikki’s, or as complicated as Cee’s has been, but if you have any sort of chronic illness, or a long term illness like cancer can be, you have been forced to give up some of your independence.  It’s just part of the package.

Those of us who are caretakers for someone with a chronic illness also give up our independence.  We have to be more mindful of how we are spending our energy and time, to be there for the person we love.  I’ve given up the hiking and camping Cee and I loved to do together, for example.

A death in the family often results in a loss of independence as one person now becomes the sole bread winner, or surviving parent or caretaker.  It might mean that you have to give up your house or apartment and move in with a family member.

How have you had a loss of independence?

Keep those questions coming!  Feel free to suggest topics!

Lots of virtual hugs,

Chris and Cee

 

Faceless Grief

When I think back to when I was deepest in grief, one of the things that struck me was that I became a nonentity.   I had retreated into my own world, trying desperately to slow down time so things would make sense.  People would whizz by me on their way to work or shopping, but it was as if I were standing still, frozen, paralyzed by my broken heart and my fear of what was coming at me next.  I was in a fog.  I was faceless to all of them, those normal people out in the world.  I couldn’t respond fast enough, think fast enough, react fast enough, and so they ignored me.  I had no face, no energy, no presence.

Cee chose the photo out of her archives and blurred the face.  She wanted to show how she has felt during the times in her life when she was working through loss.  She says she felt like even though she was there with other people, she wasn’t part of them.  Like she was separated from them by a thick pane of invisible glass.  Everyone else looked so normal, but she wasn’t there.

How have you felt when you were working through loss and the grief that comes with it?

Chris and Cee

Chris@Cee-Chris.com

Cee@Cee-Chris.com

(Written in response to the WordPress Daily Prompt, Faceless)

List of Lists to Amaze and Amuse You

As promised in Chris’ post from yesterday, we wanted to give you a list of feelings to help you get in touch with what is going on inside of you.

We also wanted to feature our NEW Lists page.  You’ll find our Loss List there as well as the Feelings List.

If you have not checked out our About pages, they are newly updated as well.

 

Hugs, Cee

email: cee@cee-chris.com

From Head to Heart

The longest journey you can ever take is from your head down to your heart.  I know, because I’m a master at getting stuck in my own head.  I can chew things over, analyze, script conversations, and generally make myself crazy trying to figure out how and why some of my life experiences happened.  Some things just don’t have a “how” or a “why” that we can ever understand.  Cee knows when I get quiet and withdrawn that I’ve worked myself into my little mental hamster wheel and I’m running in circles as fast as I can.  And I’m getting nowhere but tired.

What we do in the Grief Recovery Method is learn special techniques that you can use to get out of your head and move down to your heart.  The heart is where the real healing begins.  So many of us tend to hide behind our intellect as a way to avoid feeling pain.  We’re taught that from childhood.  Don’t cry.  Be brave.  Be strong.

Our hearts are broken.  Our hearts hurt and are sad.  We are taught not to listen to our hearts.  We are taught not to feel sad.  We are taught that time will heal all wounds.  But those are intellectual words that take us back out of our heart and into our head.

To heal the heart you have to take a leap of faith, feel what is in your heart, and then you can begin to heal it.  Then you can begin to enjoy life, to live life, to look forward to the new day, to walk out into the sunshine and be happy.  To smile.  Just because it feels good.

Feeling out of touch with your heart?  We’ll be putting out a list of feelings tomorrow that will help you get back in touch.

Hugs and blessings,

Chris

Chris@Cee-Chris.com

Be Human

I think one of the hardest things about dealing with loss is allowing ourselves to feel.  We are so conditioned to be stoic, to not inflict our sorrow on others, to be strong, to stuff things down, but that doesn’t remove the pain.  In fact, it only makes it worse.  It will surface, often when you least expect it and in ways you would never have chosen.

Take a deep breath.  Let it out.  Honor your feelings.

Hugs and blessings!

Chris

Chris@Cee-Chris.com

Loss: Grieving Our Pets

(We are thrilled to have our friend, mentor, and fellow Grief Recovery Specialist Cari Dawson doing a guest blog for us today.)

First Love, First Loss: Grieving Our Pets

Sunday night, winter in the Ohio Valley, light snow falling and I’m sitting on my bed half listening to comedy programs on the radio, half doing my homework. It’s the 1950’s. My two younger sisters had gone to the neighborhood store for some milk. My year-old puppy, Toni, followed them, but didn’t see the car coming after my sisters crossed the street. Toni was hit and died immediately.  Of course, I didn’t know this until my sisters came running back to the house, hysterically summoning me.

I grabbed my coat in a daze, as I had been sitting in my underwear, and ran shoeless down the snowy hill. There was my beloved puppy lying in the street. I gathered her up and took her home, placed her on the kitchen floor and held her and wept uncontrollably.  Toni was my first significant loss, much more traumatic than the death of my great-grandfather with whom I grew up, who died about a year before. At that time, I recall my mother quietly shedding a few tears at his funeral, quickly gaining her composure, but that was the only display of grief I saw from her or any other relatives. She had modeled for me how to grieve.  You just shed a few tears and then stuff it. Move on. Something I was having difficulty doing.

It is not surprising in retrospect that I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me when I found myself becoming more and more depressed and, embarrassingly,  on the verge of tears for many months after Toni’s death. Embarrassed that I couldn’t control my feelings that wanted to bubble out just as they did when I held Toni on the kitchen floor of my childhood home. I was just entering puberty, trying to blend in with my contemporaries, trying to lead a normal life. And, no one seemed to notice how profoundly this loss had impacted me. No one asked about my feelings. Alone and isolated, I worked hard to stuff this loss deep within my psyche where it lay accumulating and gathering other losses and unresolved grief like a huge snowball over the ensuing 40 years.  In 1995, the Grief Recovery Method helped me delve into those painful old losses, including the loss of Toni, when another major loss—my granddaughter—led me to grief work.

My first significant loss and my adolescence seem quite remote now. In my seventies, I had the audacity to welcome a new furry companion into my life, Pace`.  She reminds me daily of what I know deep in my soul: Life and Love will always include joy and sorrow. We can hold the tension of both. It is worth it!

Cari D. Dawson, MTS, MA, JD, has been a Grief Recovery Specialist for over twenty years. She helps grievers in the Portland, Oregon area. Visit her website is www.transitionscelebrant.com for more information and a link to her blog. 

Loss: Chronic Illness

Cee and I have uncovered a lot of new ideas as we’ve been doing our Grief Recovery work.  We’ve had some huge “Aha!” moments.  But we haven’t started doing a deep dive into the “elephant in the room”, her journey through Lyme disease and the impact it has had on our lives.  That is going to be an epic saga, I think.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve done a lot of processing of it through the years.  We couldn’t be the happy, sane, caring people we are if we hadn’t.  But chronic illness has huge ramifications, with many layers of losses.

So what is a chronic illness?  A chronic illness is a health condition or disease that is persistent in its effects or a disease that comes with time. The term chronic is often used if the condition lasts longer than 3 months.  Examples of chronic illnesses are:  heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, COPD (lungs), lupus, MS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and our not-so-favorite, Lyme disease.  These conditions are just the tip of an ever growing iceberg, and often bring with them depression, anxiety, insomnia and a host of related problems.

Chronic illness affects the person with the illness, and also the family members who provide care or live with them.  In general, here are some of the most common losses:

  • mental and emotional wellbeing
  • physical comfort
  • a clear mind, because brain fog is normal with chronic illness
  • personal dignity and physical privacy, as people are always examining you
  • control over your body
  • financial stability
  • the feeling of having a future.  When it’s a struggle to make it through today, tomorrow doesn’t matter any more.
  • friends, as they give up on someone who is always cancelling on them at the last minute
  • independence
  • happiness, as pain and physical struggles replace it in life
  • fitting in, as you park in the handicap spot, or need a walker, or have visible scars on your body, or wear a head scarf to cover your bald head
  • the security of having loved ones in your life.  If you suffer from illness, there is the chance your spouse/child/parent will give up and walk out.  If you care for someone with an illness, there is the fear of death of your loved one, sometimes coupled with the guilt at hoping the end will come peacefully and quickly.

Cee will be applying the new techniques we have learned with the Grief Recovery Method to resolve some of these losses.  I will be working on my related ones as a caregiver at the same time.  We’ll be talking about how it feels, and what it means to get some resolution around these losses.

It’s going to be an interesting adventure.  If you or a loved one suffers from a chronic illness, please join this blog and participate in the discussions we’ll be having.  Feel free to share your own story in the comments below, but please be safe when you do so.  Remember that you are sharing with a lot of people, almost all of whom you don’t know.  Or email us privately.  We will never disclose any communication we have from you without your prior consent.  We treat your privacy as a sacred trust.

Much love and very gentle virtual hugs to all of you,

Chris and Cee

chris@cee-chris.com

cee@cee-chris.com

Loss: Daylight Saving Time

For most of us in the United States, today is the day we “spring forward” into Daylight Saving Time, and I’m sticking it on our Loss List.

Am I being ridiculous?  Is this too petty?  Maybe, but I’m doing it to prove a point.

How many of you are going to be feeling it all week as you deal with trying to get crabby kids off to school?  Or putting up with equally crabby co-workers, customers and bosses?

How many of you are going to be feeling it all week as your body adjusts?

And what about the annoyance of resetting all those stupid clocks?  What about the ones, like in my old car or on my stove, where I can’t remember where I put the instructions?  Major annoyance!

But what really, really bugs me is that my precious cat, Charlie, always seems to know when we have sprung forward.  He is up and pacing on top of me, demanding his breakfast at the new time. It’s 5:30 in the morning by the clock (yes, I’m an early riser) but it’s 4:30 by my body clock and it should be by his, too.  But, no, here he is, standing on me and yelling in my ear.

Time is a human construct.  We invented it, just like the number zero.  Yet it rules our lives with an iron fist.

Ask yourself this, if losing an hour of sleep once a year can upset you for a week, what are all the REAL losses in your life doing to you?  How are you adjusting to them and how long is that adjustment taking?  And what happiness are you missing out on during that time?

Springing forward doesn’t seem like such a petty thing now, does it?

Enjoy the sunshine today!

Smiles and virtual hugs,

Chris

Chris@Cee-Chris.com