Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"You Didn't Waste Any Time" and other reactions

"You didn't waste any time," was my mother's emailed response. I'd sent a photo while on a run in a beautiful canyon-n-cacti recreation area...a place I'd just begun to call home after a 2,000 mile drive.

My packed SUV included the company of Ava, our Maine Coon mix,
who tested all possible perch surfaces during the drive: crate, center console, driver's lap, and lastly, a crevice beneath the cargo area requiring a complicated extraction at the end of each day.

After 5 days of that, why would I waste any time, once the apartment key was on my ring? I woke before dawn (the light of which starts at the top of the mountains and drops down their sides), assessed the desert chill and ran for the saguaro 'forest', waiting nearby.

An often-used accusation

While my mother's expression was loving, "you didn't waste any time" has been blurted out countless times when a bereaved person makes unexpected choices. My friend, "Trina", had mourned her husband during his terminal illness. While a caregiver observes the body's weakening, the dwindling and cessation of interests and activities, there may be a detachment.

In their 2011 book, The Caregiver's Tao Te Ching, William and Nancy Martin apply the 81 meditations of the Tao to the complicated and often unpredictable journey of giving care. Readers may have seen numerous topics turned into books with an overlay of Tao. The Martins identify these commonalities:
"Caregiving and the Tao...each ask that we show up and have a direct experience of life as it is unfolding in this moment...each seems unpredictable...each contains paradoxes that our desires and opinions cannot resolve..."
Interpreting meditation 66, "Remain Behind," the Martins advises caregivers: "help them but do not control them...the river of the Tao runs through them, stay out of the way and let that river do its work."  In doing so, peace and acceptance arrive like the flutter of a gentle breeze.

Baffling Outsiders

The caregiving experience is profound and life changing, and if that "gentle breeze" is adopted as lifestyle, choices and decisions may indeed baffle outsiders. 

When death finally took Trina's husband, she sent the gathered friends and family home, arranged for "Richard's" cremation, "and I went to bed for a week." She followed that unscripted week by opening the newspaper's community events calendar and "began filling my days."

Should Trina have been cleaning closets and crying in counseling? SHOULD is a problem word, and readers of this blog recently recalled the cruelty of Victorian era proscripts for appropriate mourning
'Getting back into life' (a catchy jingle for an adult diaper brand) after a loved one's death is a Catch-22. Outsiders grow weary of coddling mourners yet they are also shocked by quick recoveries.

Re-attachment and remarriage

Three years after the fact, Sharlene's voice still carries stress as she describes her father, Edward's adjustment to widowhood: "within six months he was remarried." Edward is very typical. The San Diego Widowhood Project correlated "greater psychological well being" with a new meaningful relationship.
"By 25 months after the spouse's death 61% of men and 19% of women were either remarried or involved in a new romance."
This phenomenon relentlessly draws negative conclusions, whether about the competency of the widow or the motives of a new partner. Sharlene's family was so disturbed by the haste of the impending nuptuals, they had the woman (also a widow) investigated. There was no persuading Edward to slow down. Extravagant purchases and lifestyle changes were being made, but Sharlene's family was powerless to intervene. "We had to let it go. We had to restore our relationships with my Dad, for everyone's sake, especially the grandkids."


Just as you are powerless to change the facts of someone else's grief, you are powerless to coach them to recovery (unless asked!) The Condolence Coach addresses this reality in Chapter 1, Page 1 of Words for when there are No Words: Writing a Memorable Condolence Note

It is so important to audit every sentence of condolence writing for "gremlin power plays."
You cannot fix, advise, persuade, condemn, cajole, or shame a grieving person onto the path you believe they should take. Even if you have experienced an identical loss, your expertise is not required. Share it in a support group, offer an opinion if asked, but remember it is only an opinion formed by your own circumstances. IT IS NOT AN ABSOLUTE TRUTH.

Trina reserved a portion of Richard's ashes and has taken them on all of her travels; he has joined the sea and soil of many countries. Readers may be interested to know that the U.S. National Park Service allows, by permit, the scattering of ashes from cremated human remains. There are usually no fees, but the "special use permit" should be obtained from the desired park.
She honored one son's wishes that there be a 'permanent place to visit his father,' by purchasing a double niche in a mausoleum of his hometown, where a custom designed urn is displayed. "It's a little strange to see my name on a plaque," Trina said with a smile because, in the words of Robert Frost, she has "miles to go before I sleep."

Life "unfolded" for Edward and Trina at a unique pace, with outcomes that met their needs. The Condolence Coach encourages readers to gently observe and support the flow of another person's river.

Read other posts about the time it takes to grieve:
The Myths About Grief and Getting Over It
Climbing Out of Deep Space: through and beyond grief

Thank you for caring!

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