Surprises and Adjustments in Life

Some things in life one simply cannot adequately prepare for.  We all know at some level that when we’re born, we will someday die.  It is an inevitable outcome of being born.  But when we lose someone very close to us, as I did in the loss of my older sister this past June, it came as a complete shock.  I knew for 1 1/2 years that she suffered with ovarian cancer.  I allowed myself to read the statistics, but somehow, I simply didn’t internalize the information.  I also spoke to women who had beat this disease, so I too knew that was possible.  However, when the end came, it shook me to the core.  I’m still having days of nonfunctioning grief induced pain. It continues to stagger me. I do find I’m improving, and beginning to think of happy memories with her.  Things we shared together that I’m quite sure were just between the two of us.  I am working on it, and I’ve found a great therapist who is helping me navigate between the boulders of grief.  Sometimes it’s simply a tsunami that crashes over me and leaves me gasping for breath.   Those have become fewer and further between, but I’ve no doubt that the triggers will  happen again and again.  I can only hope that they won’t be as staggering as they have been in the past.  I’m taking the word of those wonderful people who have shared with me that it does get better.  I know I’ll never forget and likely never fully recover, but I want to embrace the wonders of my life – my children and my grandchildren, friends, and family, and not focus on pain.  But I realize that it will always be there at least underneath.  I can have much greater emphathy with others who have experienced similar loss.

At the same time that my sister was enduring her illness, we were in the process of building a house.  This should be a wonderful experience, but it got so tied up in her time of sickness that it became hard for me to separate the two.  It’s a lovely house, but after two months, has yet to feel like home.  I think I’ll get there.  I know it takes time.  But if you look at stress level charts, you will see that moving is way up there.  Again, I do believe I’ll get there with time.  My sister never got to see this house.  At one point, I thought that might be good for me, but now  I’m not so sure.  I’m willing to suspend time to see how that works out.

The final icing on this huge cake was the announcement by my son that he’s moving to California to take a new job.  Living in South Carolina as we do, this came as a huge shock.  But I’ve reminded myself (after many tears) how important it is for each of us to try to live our dreams.  That is something I’ve always wanted for each of my  children.  My middle son went to live in Italy to finish undergraduate college and to work for a few years.  I missed him terribly, but had he not done that, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to visit Rome, Pompeii, Salerno, and the Isle of Capri.  I’ve since had the opportunity to make it back two other times, and I’m extremely grateful for those opportunities.  He has returned to Greenville with his extraordinary Italian wife and three beautiful children. I know a lot of great things can come out of this, and I do believe the shock is wearing off.

In the meantime, I’m tasked with finding my new role in this third phase of life. Most of my time on earth has been care taking other people.  Now, I must discover what is next, and what will work for me to make me happy in this era.  I love using my mind, but I find that using my hands may be greatly gratifying as well.  I enjoy talking politics, but have no desire to run for an office.  So I will continue to explore and see what feels good.  I also know I enjoy learning new things and ideas, so more classes are likely in the future for me.

I offer this to those of you dealing with similar issues.  If you’ve come up with ideas that help you, please share.  If you simply feel somewhat encouraged by knowing that others are struggling as well, do let me know.  We’ll make these changes.  I just can’t find the book that tells me how.  Perhaps together, we could write that.  What happens when the life you’ve lived for 62 years no longer fits?  Let’s find out.  Thank you for reading.

Also, I wrote a small book about the lessons I learned from my sister. If you’re interested in reading the book, you can locate it at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Lessons+from+a+dying+sister.

 

Grief and Friendship

Losing a close family member has changed me.  I no longer take the existence of the people I love for granted. My heart is heavy, but the weight is now bearable.  I don’t believe I will ever completely heal, but a friend suggested that the scab will get thicker.  I find that, for now, I don’t want to read anything about grief and all its aspects.  I don’t want to talk about the pain for it seems to make it much harder. The third month anniversary of my sister’s death was this week.  My father’s birthday (who died in 1973) was also this week.  I was in a small fender bender.  I don’t think the three are mutually exclusive.  My brain feels like its been bouncing around inside my skull as if I’ve taken a hard blow to my head.  I expect this will happen on occasion.  I expect that holidays and anniversaries, along with birthday reminders, will be difficult to bear.  But, as I’ve done thus far, I will get through it.  I can’t truly imagine (and honestly don’t want to) the horror of losing a loved one to murder, a car wreck, or any tragedy that I can consider.  I don’t know how the loved ones deal with it and continue their lives.

I also don’t believe I’ll ever feel this intensity of grief again.  I could be wrong, but I certainly don’t want to be.  I feel as if a hardened shell is forming over my heart and won’t allow me to feel this horror again.   I’ve begun to understand how those in the medical field, the military, and coroners manage to deal with daily death, along with having to tell the family.  One must create the shell that keeps your heart from shattering each and every time that you must deal with the reality of telling others about the death of a loved one.  I have grave doubts that I could come close to doing that.  Just not in my DNA.

I recently read an article about how to determine who your real friends are.  Going through my grief, I’ve discovered that people I didn’t consider close friends have shown up to be there for me.  This includes a close friend who drove 4 hours one way to come to the funeral of my sister (she also drove 4 hours one way on the wrong Saturday  – this is a true friend).  There was another who came because she felt she should be there.  That is often the real essence of friendship.  The actions you take show others that you care.  The words you say can be meaningless if not accompanied by action.  I have to remember this.  It’s an important part of friendship.  Another friend I’ve never actually met sent homemade jams and pickled okra.

How do I show my love?  I do try to be there.  I doubt I’ve tried hard enough. I will do better now because of have the horrible ability to see how it feels.

My sister died of ovarian cancer.  She had 18 months after the diagnosis.  Please don’t take your health for granted.  Ovarian cancer is not detectable until it’s in the 3rd or 4th stage.  I believe she did all she could to fight this horrible disease.  I now know a lot more about this disease and the medications given to the dying – more than I ever wanted to know. If you or someone you care about has any of the below symptoms, please get to your doctor quickly.

  • A swollen or bloated abdomen, increased girth. Some women notice that their pants or skirts are getting tight around the waist. The bloating is a sign that fluid, called ascites, is building up in the abdominal cavity in later stage disease
  • Persistent pressure or pain in the abdomen or pelvis
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary concerns, such as urgency or frequency
  • Change in bowel habits with new onset constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Unexplained vaginal bleeding

Early detection is vital.  And please be a friend to those who are diagnosed.  Women do live with early detection.  My sister wasn’t one of those.  I’m not happy to write about this.  I’m not anywhere close to pleased that I know as much about this as I do.

I read my sister’s eulogy.  I don’t remember doing it.  The mind truly will protect you from the pain.  I didn’t know that until this happened.

Please take care of your health.  And please be a “show-er upper” for your friends.  They will then know that you truly care.