Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

If you would like to be notified whenever I post something new, please enter your email here.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dancing with my Demons


“I loved her not for the way she dances with my angels, but for the way the sound of her name could silence my demons.” Christopher Poindexter

To tell you the truth, I loved Evelyn for both.

I didn’t celebrate life well before I met her, nor did I fully acknowledge my negative side. Deny and deflect were my modes of coping. I was dependable and dull. I got work done. I was disconnected from the emotional highs and lows, from positive and negative feelings, as well as from the energy that each one brings.


I floated in the middle, which is like living in the neutral zone in Star Trek, between the Romulans and the Federation, watching life go on around me. Evelyn worked to get me in touch with both sides, although it took her death to crack open the negative one.

She handled her demons. For her last ten years, she struggled with various ailments and seldom felt physically good, seldom slept very long, but she would not give up her fight to regain her health. She tutored children when she had the energy, and continued to care for people who were suffering.

Then she died and I had my own demons to fight. In my first year of grief, I doubted everything good, and doubted my ability to handle the emotional tsunami of grief.

What were some of my demons? One that haunted me was that I didn’t save Evelyn from dying. That I didn’t think her dizziness the night before her heart attack was anything to worry about because we had just been to the doctor, because Ev felt good enough that evening to go to her theater rehearsal, because no doctor had ever said anything about her heart being a problem, and because she was in her 40s. Who dies in their 40s? But saving her was my responsibility, and I failed.

Another demon was that we were working through a relationship problem, namely that she wanted me to share more of what was going on inside me. Sharing emotions had never been one of my strengths. She knew this and wanted to help me, willing to endure yelling if it would loosen me up. Now she was gone and my best chance at learning was gone.

Another demon was that I did not get to say my last words to her, or to hear her say what she wished for me in the future. She knew me better than anyone. Suddenly she was gone with all her insights and compassion, and I could only guess what she might have said. We didn’t have any final words prepared because we expected to be together for 40 more years. That is gone. This demon is called the “What if.”

Another demon was feeling that my friends wouldn’t like me if I continued to speak about grief and the depths of my despair and the anger that would not go away. I’ve always tried to be pleasant and considerate, but I couldn’t be if I honestly shared my grief.

Then there were all the demons packed inside grief — Guilt, Anger, Sorrow, Depression, Loneliness, etc. Ev would have been the person I went to to help me deal with them. To other people these may just be emotions. To me they were hammers. I worried that I’d revert to my introverted tendencies and shut everything down.

And yet, although she was not here to guide me, Evelyn had taught me that demons don’t have control unless I let them. Sometimes the demons I feared were only illusions that I created to protect myself. If I invited my demons in and faced them one by one, I could figure out why they kept coming back and poking me with sharp sticks. If I saw what the demons were alerting me to that I was ignoring, I could deal with the causes and the demons would disappear.

For this I had to make friends with my demons and invite them to dance.

            *

To put this a different way, think of grief not as a dance, but as a wilderness.

The experience of grief is like going for a hike in a wilderness forest that you know quite well. Except this time you’re hiking by yourself, it’s darker than you remembered, and everything looks a little out of place. Every time a stick cracks near by, you think that a large animal with sharp teeth is approaching. Then, going around the bend in the trail, you discover that the rest of the forest is gone, burned away by a fire. Only blackened tree trunks and charred stumps remain. This is how grief the world looks in grief, and how it feels.

In time, you begrudgingly accept that the landscape that nurtured you, and the person you loved, are gone forever, and there is nothing you can do to bring them back. This hits you hard. It takes your breath away and you have to sit down.

As you look around at the wilderness, you see that the ground of the burned forest (which is you in this story) has survived. You notice green shoots of new life beginning to rise through the ashes, although you can’t yet tell what they will grow up to be.


This is the new landscape of your life forming, and it’s going to be different. For starters, it will be a meadow instead of the forest you loved. Then everything else will change.

7 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for your words. I read your blog every Tues and Thurs. I especially resonated with the analogy of walking through a beloved wilderness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Sheryl. I appreciate that you read the blog each week. Nature images naturally come to mind for me, because nature helped me in dealing with grief. Sometimes I think I use too many of them.

      Delete
    2. Sorry for 2 entries, I was just figuring out how to post a comment. Though your website says grief from a male perspective, I would say your writing goes beyond gender- to truth. I lost my husband of 20 years last summer. He crashed his mountain bike Aug. 6th, 2014, riding down his "cheap thrill" hill at the dog park. He suffered a severe head injury. After 2 weeks in a coma, we decided to remove his feeding tube and put him in hospice, where he died Sept. 1st. He was just taking our dog to throw the ball. He was a healthy, happy 49. I searched the internet looking for some shared experience I could hold on to. I found a lot of depressing whining, and generic what to do when you are grieving. I somehow found your site, and then Megan Devine, through your link. They both speak to me, and are some of the lifelines, keeping me afloat. Martin and I shared a passion for the mountains, and wild places. We spent much time backpacking and hiking both the Rockies in CO and the Cascades in WA. Above tree line, was his church, it filled his soul. Bless you for sharing your words, mind and heart.

      Sheryl

      Delete
    3. Don't worry about the two entries, Sheryl. They say different things. I am so sorry about the loss of your husband. My wife died suddenly at age 49 after 18 years of marriage. They both died way too young. I hope you were able to share at least a few last words with Martin. I didn't have that and feel like I missed something important. Above the tree lines! What a wonderful place to be! I love to sit on the top of mountains and look down on the wilderness around me. It's the feeling of being in a sacred place, and being part of it.

      Delete
    4. Unfortunately, no. He never regained consciousness. Only in my dreams have I talked to him, and he doesn't say much- I didn't know your wife was also 49. Yes, too young. Yes, thank God for the wild places!

      Delete