Monday, December 24, 2012

My Christmas Spirit

Once again, I find myself in the position of having several posts in draft that I just haven't been able to finish and get posted.  I started to edit one of those a few minutes ago and realized that it just didn't suit my mood today.  I'm sure I'll come back to it, because I learned a lot from that particular post. It is definitely worth sharing, but not right now.

Today is Christmas Eve. Yesterday we spent the day celebrating Christmas with my family.  It was an awesome day and seemed like it ranked pretty high up on our list of "best family gatherings."  The kids (and adults) were all well-behaved and we all just seemed to be more relaxed and low-key than usual.  It felt good and I am so thankful for a family that is so incredible and so much fun to be around.

To be honest, it has been hard for me this year to find my Christmas spirit.  This is usually one of my favorite times of year, but this year I just haven't been able to really get into it. I guess that's understandable but I've been trying to at least fake it for the girls, because this is the first year that Tori has been ridiculously excited about the holidays and Abby is starting to understand what's going on too.

Fortunately, I've had a few things happen in the last few weeks that have helped me work to dig up the spirit that I know is in there somewhere.  Today's get-together with my family was a big part of it...but it actually first started last weekend at work.

For those of you who don't know, I work at a domestic violence shelter/crisis center.  We rely heavily on donations for many of the things we need because, just like non-profits everywhere, we are working to serve more and more families with far fewer resources and much less money than in years past.   Last week, we received a HUGE donation of canned goods from a professor at our local university (whose family was affected by domestic violence while he was growing up).  He has students in each of his classes bring in a few cans each in exchange for extra credit.  This resulted in about a TON of food that we were able to add to the shelves of our pantry...literally 2,000 pounds of canned and boxed goods.  I spent several hours putting just over 500 of the cans away and barely even made a dent in the stack of boxes we received.  I just couldn't help but be incredibly touched by the amount of food that had been provided.  (It also helped that I really really like organizing things and had a blast doing it!)

It wasn't that one person went out and spent an obscene amount of money...each person brought something small, but when all of that was combined it made for one impressive sight.

Then, this weekend I was helping wrap some of the donated gifts that families, businesses and organizations had given so that the women and children who are living in our shelter would still have gifts beneath the tree for Christmas, even if they aren't in their own homes for the holidays.  Admittedly, there were a ton of others who wrapped far more than I did...but I think that actually helped add to my awe.  To look around our conference room and see that each mother and child had a box filled with wrapped, donated gifts from perfect's one of those "chill moments."

Again, it wasn't that one exceptionally wealthy person decided to play Santa Claus...lots of folks came together and all contributed to helping our clients have a much merrier Christmas than their situations would likely have allowed otherwise.

You see - I think what really prodded my Christmas spirit out of hiding is the realization that these seemingly little acts of kindness are the things that we often get too busy to pay attention to.  If you can donate a few cans of food or some toys to a worthy organization, that is wonderful and, by all means, go for it.  But just the same, take notice of the effect that a hug or kind words or just holding the door open for a stranger can have.    

Some of the things that have stood out most to me in these last few months are the little kindnesses that let me know others haven't forgotten what we're going through and that they still pray for us - a sincere hug from a co-worker, a willing ear when I need to talk, a phone call from a relative just to check in, a quick message just to let me know you've been thinking of us.  All of these little things are really the big things that have kept us going - it means so much to have the loving support of our family and friends and I want you all to know how much we appreciate it.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tidal Wave

I feel like I have to note that I have tried several times in the last week or two to put together a post, but I am feeling so stuck that I'm having a hard time getting anything to come out the way I want it to.  We have been struggling so much and for me, that manifests itself in a complete inability to do most of the things that I need to get done...the girls get fed, cleaned and cuddled each day but sometimes that's where the accomplishment ends.  I have an ever-growing list of tasks that I need to complete, but I just can not seem to do them. What I do wind up getting done is all the little stuff that doesn't take much thought or effort but the bigger, more difficult stuff keeps getting put off. (Points in case...we still haven't contacted the funeral home, our car has needed a new battery for a month, I have three different bills to call and fight insurance about...the list just keeps going.)  Part of my purpose in this italicized note is to explain why I just haven't posted in a while...the other part of my purpose is try to explain one more facet of grief that doesn't typically pop to mind.  

I have a post in draft form from last week where I stated that I felt like we were pretty stable right now and things had leveled out a bit. I hadn't found a time to edit it like I wanted, so I just let it sit.  I took a look at it again today and realized that it just isn't relevant right now.

Because right now? We feel like we are falling apart all over again.  This past week has easily been the worst week we've had since we got the diagnosis...and honestly, I can't figure out exactly why.  There have been a few little things that have come up (mostly bill-related stuff) and we are feeling more tired than usual...but nothing that seems to warrant the depression that has taken over our whole house.

I saw a post recently by another mom who described grief as kind of being like a tidal minute you are fine, sitting on the beach with your toes in relatively dry sand.  Before you know what happened, you get swallowed up by this giant wave and have no option but just to ride it out and pray for it to end soon.  Right now, I really can't think of a more accurate way to describe what has happened in the last week.

Chris and I have had several discussions recently about how we seemed to be doing pretty well and wondered if maybe we weren't grieving like we should be... turns out it just comes and goes, because a few nights ago, I started crying and just couldn't stop.  It was easily the hardest I've cried since we got the diagnosis in October and it seemed like it just came out of nowhere.

In reality, I know it was just another step in this whole process because we've been working on dealing with feelings as they come up naturally.  We make it a point not to force conversation, but when one of us has something that we need to talk about, it takes priority over all the other stuff that's going on and when it's just the two of us, we'll take a chance to talk.  Even when our talks end in those gasping sobs like the other night, I'm glad we can have them.  I'm so thankful that we aren't trying to hide from this and that we both have a safe place where we can talk about all of those things that roll around in your mind that you dare not say to anyone else...because, sometimes, when the sobs finally stop and you can breathe again, you find that a little piece of you has healed.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Carry Them Forth

Carry Them Forth
If He were to shield us from these moments of great loss
He would have to do so at an unthinkable cost.
For if from our pain and suffering He sought to save us
He would be forced to limit the free will He so lovingly gave us.
In this world we will struggle and many days face heartache and strife

But in this world we will also know many wonders, each making up our life.
As we face a moment as dark and uncertain as this seems to be
We must challenge our heart to lead our soul to the light our spirit can see.
This too shall pass but not without first our mourning and tears
And as it passes and we go forth we do so with their memories for the remainder of our years.
Carry them forth, each and every day, make them known to all
For this will ensure their eternal influence upon the world and allow you to answer this call.
- Dg2012
 This was actually a Facebook post from a man I met ten years ago at my confirmation retreat; he is a youth pastor at a nearby parish and was one of the leaders there that weekend.  At the time I was a very lost 18 year old who wasn't anywhere near sure about my thoughts on God, let alone whether or not I wanted to commit myself to the Catholic Church.  I distinctly remember arguing about a number of points and I remember him patiently addressing each one with me.  I've since gained a lot of clarity on my faith and continue to work on my own walk with God, but am so grateful that I chose all those years ago to continue a path of learning and growing.  Three years ago, I saw him on Facebook through a mutual acquaintance and added him, because I never forgot his impact on me that weekend. 
Fast forward to now and I saw the words above show up in my newsfeed and although they were actually intended for the families impacted by a recent tragedy in my hometown, they really spoke to me too.  He's given his permission for me to share them here because I hope they will help someone else in the way that they've helped me. 
I don't have much to add to his words, because really they stand alone quite well...but I will add this thought: it's incredible that someone I met ten years for one weekend brought me such incredible peace with words that were intended for a situation wholly separate from my own.  We never know what impact we may be having on the life of another...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Grief Theory

Honestly, I had intended to explore a conversation I had the other day about the Kubler-Ross grief model but in true nerd style I decided to do a little research first.  I ended up reading a bunch of studies about a number of models that examine how individuals process grief.  I'm not writing for a college class, so I don't think I'm going to go into a critical evaluation of each model...but I think I will touch on each one.  (Keep in mind, these are just brief summaries of each theory and my own personal thoughts on each one...there is much more behind each model that could be explored if one felt so inclined.)

Kubler-Ross:  Five Stages
 * Denial - This is our way or dealing with the initial shock of grief.  It is sort of our way of just letting us deal with what we can handle at any given time.
 * Anger - This one is pretty self-explanatory.  It makes sense to get mad; mad at the person who has died, mad at those around you, mad at the doctors who couldn't fix it, mad at God.
 * Bargaining - We want to go back in time and change things. "What if I had..." or "If I..."
 * Depression - Feels like being in a dense fog without knowing what direction to turn or where to go.
 * Acceptance - This doesn't mean being "okay" with the loss, it just means that you've accepted your life without the deceased as your new reality.

People often think that you should progress through each stage neatly in order and come out at the end healed...but that's not the case at all.  Grief is messy and ugly so more likely, you find yourself bouncing back and forth between stages until you work out whatever it is you need to do at each stage.  I truly believe that eventually you can be nearly whole again, but it won't ever be quite the same.

J. William Worden:  Tasks of Mourning
 *I. To accept the reality of the loss. - This is realizing that "Yes, this is really happening to me right now.  It's not a bad dream."
*II. To process the pain of grief. - It's important to acknowledge that this hurts. It's painful. And that's just the way it is.
*III. To adjust to a world without the deceased. - This is working to cope with the voids left behind by the deceased. 
*IV.  To find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life. - Realizing that the world will go on, but working to honor and remember the deceased.

This one isn't so different from Kubler-Ross's work, but seems to repackage similar ideas.

Therese Rando: "Six R's"
 * Recognize the loss.
 * React emotionally.
 * Recollect and re-experience.
 * Relinquish.
 * Readjust and return to daily life.
 * Reinvest and re-enter the world.

Again, similar stages restated.

Stroebe and Schut: "Dual Process Model"   (By far, my favorite!)
 This model holds that people oscillate back and forth between a "loss orientation" and a "restoration orientation" when facing grief.
 * Loss Orientation - This encompasses all the "work" of grieving that is typically thought of when you think of dealing with a loss.  It's the phase during which you get to be absorbed with the loss and trying to accept the reality of it.
 * Restoration Orientation - This is all of the other stuff that comes with real life.  This is where you work on trying to regain control of a world that has changed for you and finding a return to "normal."  This is that "adjustment" period when you work on how you can still function within the world around you; the world that didn't just suffer a devastating blow.

The interesting thing about this model is that it does allow for you to bounce between the two orientations and accounts for the fact that sometimes you will be "okay" (when focusing on the restoration aspect) but other times the grief will be overwhelming (loss aspect).  This model also allows for you to "take time off" from the loss phase to deal with the necessities of daily living.

I don't honestly know if anyone else will find this helpful or not, but it helped me to be able to step back and look at my thoughts and feelings in an academic, more theoretical way (because that's just kind of how my mind works, I suppose).