The brave spears of the garlic
rustle in the damp hair of the wind
off the marsh brushing them:
a sound you will never again hear.
The maple is waving little russet
hands. Long brown scaled buds
line the beech twigs. Spring
explodes into hundreds of daffodils
on the hillside that was yours.
Tulips strut their brilliance bowing
to the sun where you will no
longer pass. My tears are
brief years after you died. Still
my thoughts are bouquets like
the red tulips I can never lay
on your invisible grave.
Lifted from the greatpoets lj community
The second Christmas since my father died and I feel like all my attempts to manage the situation have come to nothing. I find myself plunged into grief again. I realise now that my mistake lay in imagining that I could “manage” the situation in such a way as to avoid experiencing painful emotions because, let’s face it, that’s what I really wanted to achieve, even if I didn’t admit it to myself at the time.
Content note: death, bereavement, grief
When you’re bereaved people say things to you that are so stupid, so crass and insensitive, it takes your breath away. I’ll give you an example from the last couple of weeks. I told a colleague that I was feeling a bit down because the following weekend would see my first birthday since my father and grandmother died, and also because a supportive colleague had just left the organisation. This colleague replied, “It’s not all doom and gloom. You have to see the positives”.
I was startled by the way my colleague’s interpretation of what I’d said not only managed to dismiss my pain, but also made my feelings into the problem – I was being gloomy and not seeing the positives. It was interesting that what she reflected back to me was not what I had actually said – I never said that everything was “doom and gloom” and nor did I imply that I couldn’t see any positives, I just said that I was feeling upset about certain losses in my life. But of course I shut up, stopped talking about it, and made a mental note not to raise the subject with this particular colleague in future, which I’m fairly certain was the unconscious aim behind her response. She certainly won’t have to deal with my pain again.
One of the problems with being bereaved is that the grief starts to kick in just as society expects you to be getting “better”. My father died in May and I didn’t really start to feel bad until August, since when I’ve felt progressively worse. And I know it’s only just beginning; I don’t really believe that my father’s dead and still feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.
One of the most difficult things to cope with (and write about) recently has been the resurgence of my eating disordered thinking. I’ve had problems since I was 14 when a bout of binge-eating lead to weight gain which was followed by dieting that quickly turned into anorexia nervosa. The situation improved spontaneously after I had therapy when I was 17 and I was pretty much OK until I left university when stress triggered off disordered eating again which, by my mid twenties, turned into bulimia nervosa. I managed to stop that when I was around 27, but continued to exercise compulsively and maintain a low body weight. This culminated in what I can now admit was really a period of exercise addiction between 2007 and 2008 – of course, at the time I said it was about “health”, not weight, even though I was doing far more exercise than was required to be healthy.
Several factors over the last 12 months have resulted in my gaining what I feel to be an unacceptable amount of weight – these include simple changes like moving closer to work so don’t have a long walk twice a day and not being able to afford a gym membership, as well as more complex factors like Dad’s illness and death which led to erratic eating patterns and my not feeling well enough to do as much exercise as I did in the past.
So, now I find that I haven’t recovered and weight gain of maybe half a stone (I’m not going near a scale!) produces levels of anxiety in me which feel about equivalent to suddenly finding myself in a burning building. The most depressing thing about it has been the destruction of my treasured illusion of recovery by the realisation that all I was really doing was holding off the illness by maintaining a low body weight that felt “safe”.
I am quite stunned by just how bad it is. How can you explain to other people that you really do feel like the most important thing in the world is losing weight? How can you explain that your main worry about your grandmother’s funeral is being under pressure to eat and other people watching you eat? How can you explain to friends who are heavily into fitness that, although you still care about them, you need to distance yourself from them at the moment because they are triggering the hell out of you? I know it all sounds utterly, utterly irrational to people who don’t have eating disorders, but I suppose that’s the nature of a mental illness.
I’m fortunate that my partner understands, having grown up with an anorexic mother herself. We’re mainly focussing on reducing the anxiety as much as possible at the moment, but I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that I probably need more counselling on this issue because, while I’ve had quite a lot of therapy for other problems, I’ve never had any specifically for the eating disorder.
Although this has been a nasty wake-up call, it probably has been necessary and ultimately a good thing for me to realise that I’m not better now that I have time to work on it. I find that there are so many things I want to write about in relation to the experience of having an ED that I’m wondering if it would be a good idea to start a separate blog about it. I’m not totally decided on this – it would be nice to have an outlet where I could blog whenever something came up, but it might also be too many writing projects.
My 96 year-old grandmother is dying and I’m having a lot of difficult emotions. She’s refused to let me visit her over the last few weeks and, now that it’s reached the final days, I’ve been dithering because she hasn’t requested my presence or said anything about what she wants me to do.
So I’ve been wondering if I should just get on a train and go to see her anyway, not knowing whether she’ll even be conscious or aware of me, or whether my coming will cause her distress because she doesn’t want me to see her like this. But if I don’t go, I’m worried that I’ll regret it, maybe for the rest of my life. I’m frustrated, angry with her for what I experience as her controlling behaviour, guilty about feeling angry with her, and also guilty about the fact that I don’t really want to go because I don’t want to go through another experience like the one I had with Dad just eleven weeks ago. Death can bring up so many conflicting emotions.
However, I’ve realised that my suffering in this situation has a lot to do with attachment to ideas about what grandparents should be like and what our relationships with them should be like. Somewhere in my mind is a fantasy of a loving grandmother who dies peacefully, but first calls me to her bedside to hold her hand, to be blessed and accepted and told that she loves me. Of course this fantasy is all about what my ego wants and not about the reality of my dying grandmother.
When I put this fantasy to one side, I have to admit that my grandmother has always been a spiky character: stubborn, strong-willed, and at times even ruthless in her determination to live her life her way. I spoke to her on the phone yesterday and while she did tell me she loved me (after I said it first!), she also said that she didn’t have anything to say to me, which hurt my feelings.
I don’t doubt that she loves me and she’s always been supportive in her way, but her acceptance of me has only ever been partial – she disapproved of my undertaking postgraduate study and I’ve never had the courage to come out to her as gay or introduce her to my partner for fear of her reaction. Her homophobic and also her racist views have always upset me.
We’ve never had an emotionally close relationship, but she’s always been a powerful presence in my life. I suppose an apt metaphor for my relationship with her can be found in the sweaters that she used to knit for us when we were children, sweaters that were warm and durable, but also a bit scratchy and which had neck openings so tight that we felt like we were getting our ears pulled off every time we put them on.
She’s a proud woman who’s made the best of an unremittingly hard life. Some of her actions have had terrible consequences, in particular separation from her child for over 20 years. But those actions were taken in the context of options limited by the laws of the time that treated women as unequal to men. She’s suffered extremely painful health problems in recent years with incredible courage and dignity and has spent the last few months of her long life watching her only son die of lung cancer. Part of my grief is about the starkness of her suffering and my wish that things had been better for her, but to all this I know she would say, “Never mind, it can’t be helped”.
At the same time, I admire the way she’s always claimed the sexual and romantic fulfilment that’s been so important to her life (even now she has a boyfriend); she saw her grandchildren grow up, the birth of her great-grandson, and she has a devoted step-granddaughter as well. She’s loved gardening, knitting, cooking, and socialising and I seem to have inherited those last two from her, as well as my smile and the underlying bone-structure of my face.
I’ve now decided to go and see her tomorrow whatever happens. She may or may not be aware of me, but weighing up the stress of the visit with the possibility of the life-long regret of not trying to see her before the end, I’ve decided to risk the stress.
This isn’t about her accepting me so much as it’s about me accepting her for who she is.