I Cry When I’m Alone


As I wrote about a few weeks ago, my grandfather has not been well for about 6 weeks now.  Yesterday he took a serious turn for the worse & has now been admitted to the hospital for comfort care (essentially hospice).  I absolutely believe this was the best decision, as he was clearly not getting any better & we all know he would never want to live the way he’s been forced to live since his fall earlier this summer.  He has had very little quality of life ever since his fall, & that is always paramount, no matter how much we all of course wish he could/would get better & return to his previous state of health.  But none of that makes the situation any easier.  grief quote

As I prepare to go to work tonight, I feel like I need to share this poem which I composed last night as I was going to sleep & on the drive home from Virginia to NC this morning.

Miss Responsible:

As long as I can remember that’s always been me

Or Mrs. Responsible now, as the case may be

But anyway, what I’m here to say

Is this:

grief

If you think I’ve got it all together

If my face should hide my fears

If you find yourself surprised

At the absence of my tears

The truth is

I cry when I’m alone

tears

Cocooned in my sheets in the dark of the night

Or sitting on the couch, hiding from the light

The truth is

I cry when I’m alone

tears quote

So if you’re shocked by my composure

Or my apparent lack of grief

Trust me, it’s there; you know

Some wounds run more than surface deep

Cogitations on a Senseless Tragedy


I should be sleeping right now because I just worked two nights in a row & I’m leaving for Boston tomorrow morning to visit my college roommate, but there is no way I can sleep after the news I’ve heard this morning.  As I was getting into bed, I saw that an acquaintance of mine from college had posted a plea for prayers for his WDBJ7 (a news station near where I went to college) family on his Facebook.  As I scrolled further down my newsfeed, I saw more & more posts about a WDBJ7 tragedy.  As it turns out, two young reporters, both essentially my age, were shot & killed during a live news segment from Smith Mountain Lake (near Roanoke, VA) this morning.  As of this time, there is no known motive & the killer is still at large.  The news segment was not about a crime so there seems to be no reason to have suspected there was any danger present.  But sure enough, a 27 year old man & a 24 year old woman who were simply out doing their job trying to make a living in this world are both now dead for no damn good reason.

These are the two journalists who were shot & killed during a live broadcast at Smith Mountain Lake this morning

These are the two journalists who were shot & killed during a live WDBJ7 broadcast at Smith Mountain Lake this morning.

After watching the horrific video in which you can hear the shots & see some of the carnage, tears are streaming down my face as I ponder the horrible cruelty of it all.  If I, a stranger who has never met these people or even seen them before on TV, can be so horrified by this senseless tragedy, I can only imagine the grief their friends & family are experiencing during this time.

At a time like this people, myself included, always ask “How can this happen?  What would inspire someone to do such a thing?  Where was God?  What is happening to this world?”  Such questions go on & on . . .grief path

The fact of the matter (in my opinion anyway) is there are no good answers to these questions.  The best answer is that these things happen because people are flawed; we are far more animalistic & far less civilized than we like to believe.  And I think that’s about as good of an answer as we’ll ever get.

I’ve written on here before about how one of my biggest pet peeves is people who go around saying the world’s “going to hell in a handbasket” & everything is so much worse than it’s ever been.  I truly do believe that the world is at least as, if not more, civilized than it’s ever been.  Nevertheless, in the face of such a horrific tragedy, I confess I too find myself questioning why I would ever want to bring children into a world of such chaos & sorrow.  I too find it hard to focus on the beautiful aspects of life in the midst of such unspeakable & unnecessary suffering.Miss Marple quote

And as petty as it is, I also want to tell all the people who think they’re safe living in the country that they need to get their heads examined because they’re clearly not as safe as they think they are.  After all, this isn’t the first time Central Virginia has made national & world news for violent murders.  Remember this?  That’s my hometown!!  And this?  That’s my hometown again!!  As I’ve stated on here before, Agatha Christie was so right when her delightful Miss Marple stated over & over again that even the quietest, most placid little village is filled with just as much crime, peril, & evil as anywhere else in the world.  Listen up, folks: the world isn’t, never has been, & never will be a safe place.  You can run but you can’t hide because violence will follow you everywhere; it’s inherent within us, or so history would teach us . . . & today’s tragedy only further serves to bear that out.

I don’t suppose there’s really a hell of a lot of a point to this other than to try to calm my own mind a bit so I can get some sleep & prepare for my trip tomorrow.  And also to try to express the horror & confusion that the Roanoke/WDBJ7 community as a whole is experiencing right now.grief quote

Speaking of my trip tomorrow, this will be my first time flying alone & my first time navigating Boston alone (just for a few hours tomorrow afternoon).  I know I’m going to do just fine, but I also know it will be a major test of my willpower & anxiety management skills.  But I will survive.  If anything this tragedy just serves to remind me that life is nothing if not short & completely unguaranteed.  So we had damn well better make the most of every single minute we have on this planet because, as trite as it may sound, not a one of us, no matter how young or healthy, knows when our time will be up.  And the greatest tragedy of all is not in death, for that is inevitable for all of us, but in a life wasted on bitterness & fear.

A Veil of Sadness


If I have any regular followers on here, I apologize for my sudden absence.  I realize it’s been over two weeks since I’ve posted anything; indeed I had to actually pull up my own blog to even remember what my last post was about.  My life has just been a whirlwind these past few weeks between general insanity at work (including doing some overtime) & my grandfather being sick.

I'm including some pictures from our recent vacation to Asheville, so this post won't feel overly pessimistic.

I’m including some pictures from our recent vacation to Asheville so that this post won’t feel overly pessimistic.

To elaborate on the last point, I rarely post such personal things on here, but my grandfather had a bad fall about a month ago & spent several weeks recovering in UVA hospital.  He was finally released to rehab only to now end up back in another hospital with aspiration pneumonia.  Over the past few years I’ve noticed that his memory has been slowly worsening, but ever since the fall in addition to his injuries & subsequent surgeries, he’s had a lot of confusion & restlessness.  As a nurse, of course I know this isn’t uncommon in someone his age who’s been hospitalized, especially after such a traumatic fall.  But nonetheless I can’t shake this horrible feeling that he’s never going to recover to his baseline.  Statistically speaking, the odds really are against him, as I well know from the many similar patients I’ve cared for over the past few years.

Wildflowers at Mt. Mitchell, highest point in NC & on all of the East Coast

Wildflowers at Mt. Mitchell, highest point in NC & on all of the East Coast

This is one blog post I kind of hope my family doesn’t see because I don’t want them to be disheartened.  I really don’t want them to know how negative I feel about this whole situation.  But at the same time I feel like I really need to express the sadness I’m experiencing right now.  I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I am terrible at expressing emotions around my family, at least so-called “negative” emotions, that is.  For example, it’s very rare that I cry in front of anyone other than my husband.  I just hate for even my own family to see me being “weak.”  I know that’s ridiculous & totally unhealthy, but it’s just the way things have always been for me.  At times like these, I realize how much harder that makes things because in the end I’m just bottling things up which is never, ever a good idea.  So that’s why I’m writing all of this, in an attempt to be more honest about how I feel & not just try to put on a brave face for everyone.  In the end I don’t think putting on a brave face helps anyone.  It’s better to just be honest & say how we really feel.dr seuss quote

I guess since my grandparents on my mom’s side are so much younger than my dad’s parents were I’ve always taken it for granted that I’d have them around for a really long time.  I never really doubted that they’d be around to see me graduate from college, get married, & have kids someday.  As it turns out they’ve seen the first two of those things & for that I’m eternally grateful.  But I just keep having this horrible thought that even I if I got pregnant tomorrow (which is not going to happen, just to be clear) my grandfather might not live to see that child.  Or even if he does he might not have the mental capacity to really understand & appreciate the experience.  And my future children might not have the blessing of getting to really know him as the man he really is.  And that breaks my heart.

Most recent good picture I have with my grandparents is from our wedding 4 years ago. Photo credit to Triskay Photography.

Most recent good picture I have with my grandparents is from our wedding 4 years ago. Photo credit to Triskay Photography.

Of course it’s possible that I’m being fatalistic & overly negative here.  But the fact of the matter is that as a nurse I see a lot of similar cases & I can’t deny that the endings often aren’t pretty.  One of the first things I learned as a nurse is that merely surviving isn’t enough.  Quality of life is everything.  I know my grandfather would never want to live the rest of his life in a nursing home, so even though he’s made a lot of progress, for which I am very grateful, I still fear that he’ll never make it back to his baseline & thus his quality of life will suffer greatly.  I really do hate to sound negative, but I’m speaking from experience here . . .

The truth is I’ve never seen the point in being overly positive or overly negative in life; I just strive to be realistic.  I learned a long time ago that sometimes it’s best to have low expectations for the things in life which you can’t control . . . I find this prevents a lot of disappointment & quite often leads to unexpected happy surprises.  Maybe some people would say that’s a negative way to live, but it works for me.

As I finish this the same way I started it, with tears in my eyes, I guess the best I can do is prepare for the worst & hope for the best . . .

Misty morning at Mt. Mitchell

Misty morning at Mt. Mitchell

PawPaw, I love you so much.  Every time you hug me I can see in your eyes how much you love me & how proud you are of me.  I’ll never be able to say how much that means to me.  I want you to recover & get back home to the life you knew before all of this.  But if that isn’t possible & your quality of life is such that you don’t feel you can take it anymore, I want you to know that we love you enough to let you go.  Please don’t hang around being miserable just for us.  More than anything I don’t want you to suffer.  I love you.

In conclusion (for real this time), I’ll end with a few Pema Chodron quotes because her words always bring me a sense of peace & calming, no matter the situation at hand.pema chodron quote 2

Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit & not be squeamish about taking a good look.”

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together & they fall apart. Then they come together again & fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Finding Peace When Times are Hard


There was a shooting in my hometown today (about three hours away from where I now live).  Being a very small town in a very rural area, this isn’t exactly something you expect to read about when scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed.  But sadly this isn’t the first time there’s been a shooting in this supposedly peaceful place.  It’s the second hometown shooting I’ve found out about via Facebook just in the past four or five years.  In any case it goes without saying that this is a horrific tragedy that has no doubt affected countless individuals.  It’s ironic to me how so many people have this idea that small towns are inherently safer, more peaceful, and generally more moral than the rest of the world.  I can tell you from personal experience that they are not & that small towns are exactly how Agatha Christie used to describe them in her books: they are a microcosm for the larger world.  All the evil that exists in the world as a whole exists just as strongly in a small town.  It just might not seem quite as apparent if given only a cursory glance.  This isn’t a rant against small towns (even though I’ve long since realized that small town life just isn’t right for me anymore, at least at this stage of my life).  I’m just trying to say that evil is everywhere.  There’s no running from it.  No hiding from it.  However, despite what I often hear, especially at times like this, I don’t believe the world is getting any more evil than it’s ever been.  First of all there is absolutely no scientific way to measure that.  And second of all, I truly believe it’s only due to technology such as TV & the internet that we are more aware of so much of the evil in the world, which of course makes is seem like the world is getting worse & worse.  Perhaps if good news received even half the attention that bad news receives, we wouldn’t be so convinced that the world is “going to hell in a handbasket,” as it were.  But sensationalism sells . . .

times are hard

Anyway, at times like these, I find myself slipping into the cynicism that inevitably rears its ugly head whenever such senseless tragedies occur.  I did not personally know the victim but I interacted with her a handful of times growing up, as she worked in the local school system, & her son was involved in a teen group at my church when we were growing up but I haven’t seen or heard from him in many years.  The alleged perpetrator as I understand it, who at this writing is still at large, was a barber in town for many years & as such was well known in the community (somebody correct me if I’m wrong here).  I believe my dad used to go to his barber shop.    Point being, I don’t have a strong personal connection to this tragedy, but even so it is a shocking event that sends the mind reeling with questions about the uncertainty & unfairness of life.  I like to think of myself as mostly a positive person but I think at heart I am actually a realist.  I cannot help but see reality for exactly what it is most of the time.  For example as a nurse, I cannot help but realize how completely futile the care I provide is at times.  Or when I think about becoming a mom, I cannot help but realize how difficult & tiring of an undertaking that will be.  I often hear women say “Babies are cute but I just had no idea how much work this would be.”  When I hear such things, part of me wants to slap them in the face.  How could you NOT realize how much work a baby will be?  To me it’s just so obvious.  Just as it’s obvious to me that a 90 year old who cannot speak, eat, or care for herself in any way & generally has no quality of life should be a DNR and should not receive a feeding tube to prolong her misery.  But I’ve strayed from the point . . .

What I’m saying is I’m struggling right now to fight my way out of the darkness.  I know there are plenty of wonderful people in the world & I truly believe that good is stronger than evil.  If I didn’t, I don’t think I could keep going.  But when you’re presented with tragedies like this that quite literally hit close to home (the shooting occurred maybe two miles from my parents’ house), it’s easy to lose sight of that.  Having no strong personal connection to this horrifying event, I feel actually quite selfish being so upset by it.  I know the victim’s family & friends are suffering so much right now.  Yet I also know there are others like me who have no real connection to this story & yet are horrified just the same.

Certainly this is a time of grieving for my hometown & there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking our time to grieve & process such a horrific event.  As I wrote around Christmas, grief is a ghost that will haunt us forever until we learn to work through it (https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2013/12/18/processing-grief-during-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year/).  We each must identify the coping mechanisms that help us to work through our grief and the cynicism that can naturally follow such a tragedy.  For me music is quite often the best healer.   Music along with writing is what helps me make sense of a senseless world.  Or perhaps I should say to come to terms with a senseless world.

As it turns out, earlier this week I was fooling around on YouTube, as I often do, & came across a new song by a band I discovered at Uproar Festival in Raleigh in September of 2012, shortly after we moved down here.  The song is called Times are Hard by Redlight King.  I have been listening to it almost non-stop for the past few days & I cannot help but feel like the timing of discovering this song was quite providential for lack of a better word.  The song talks about how when life is hard, when tragedies take us by surprise & there seems to be no balm for our wounds, we need to find someone to hold onto to keep us strong.  How appropriate at a time like this.  To me it’s an empowering song, yet it doesn’t gloss over how difficult life can be at times.  I don’t know if the song was necessarily written about this kind of horrific tragedy, but that’s the beauty of music: it can mean whatever you want it to mean.  It can speak to you wherever you are at this point in time.

I’ll leave you with the lyrics & a link to the song on YouTube.  Check it out.  It’s powerful stuff.

Sooner or later life will pull you in

Make you choose to either sink or swim

Somewhere down the line it’s gonna break your heart

Put you out & make you wear the scars

All these dreams, they come with all this doubt

When we can’t fit in we try to find a way out

Learn to fight so they don’t seal our fate

They say you never see it coming till it’s way too late

These times are hard, feels like nothing’s gonna change

Nowhere to start, & you got nothing for the pain

`Cause when life moves fast, it don’t matter who you are

You gotta find someone to hold onto

Damn, these times are hard

We build those bridges & we watch them burn

So quick to pull the trigger, so slow to take our turn

We’ve all been locked out & we’ve broken down the door

Some of us hit the dirt, some of us still come back for more

When the thirst gets so bad, you’re just dying to get a taste

When it don’t involve religion, when it don’t involve the race

And there’s everything to lose `cause we were never born to win

Willing to sacrifice everything we have just to roll the dice again

These times are hard, feels like nothing’s gonna change

Nowhere to start, & you got nothing for the pain

`Cause when life moves fast, it don’t matter who you are

You gotta find someone to hold onto

Damn, these times are hard

 

Life isn’t perfect, so it’s just what you make it

And that’s what they tell you

But it’s hard when they’re holding you down

Somebody out there for you

They’re praying it all gets easy

Someone you hold onto

These times are hard, feels like nothing’s gonna change

Nowhere to start, & you got nothing for the pain

`Cause when life moves fast, it don’t matter who you are

You gotta find someone to hold onto

Damn, these times are hard

Processing Grief During the Most Wonderful Time of the Year


A week from today is Christmas so I know I “should” be writing some kind of joyful, uplifting post about how this is the most wonderful time of the year.  And in many ways it is.  But I work in a hospital so whether I like it or not I’m confronted with the fact that Christmas can actually be a very sad & difficult time of the year for many people because of sickness, accidents, mental illness, drug abuse, and of course death.  My own family has lost several members over the past year & this will be our first Christmas without some very special people.  I don’t mean to be depressing, but I just feel like I need to address this subject because I know I’m not the only person who is feeling very conflicting emotions at this time of year.  Part of me loves all of the decorations, parties, Christmas music, & general “cheer” that the holidays bring.  But part of me also feels the weight of grief in knowing that this Christmas will be a bit different than those of the past.  This leads me to a greater topic that I want to address.

grief

A friend of mine recently posted something on Facebook about how sad she thought it was that some religious people believe that grieving, even at funerals, is wrong because the focus should be on the loved one being in Heaven.  I was very struck by that post because I too have witnessed this sad phenomenon.  I have been to lots of funerals in my life and over and over again I have heard the same basic phrases: “She’s better off now.  She isn’t suffering anymore because she’s with Jesus in Heaven.  Don’t despair.  You’ll see her again someday.”  To be perfectly honest, until my grandmother died five years ago I was quite guilty of saying some of these things myself to other people whose relatives or friends had died.  However, when Granny died I realized how completely unhelpful such things are.  I know that people mean well when they say these things, but standing in the line at the visitation the night before Granny’s funeral, I realized that the only words that really comforted me at that time were these: “She was a wonderful person.  We all loved her so much & we will miss her forever.  I’m so sorry for your loss.”  I needed people to recognize that, yes, this WAS a major lossAnd I had every right to feel sad, depressed, and even angry at the fact that she was gone.  (To be honest I’d worked through a lot of these emotions even before she passed away because of her being on hospice for quite some time, but even so the pain of losing a loved one is never easy.)  I remember going to her funeral and wanting to cry so badly but feeling like I couldn’t.  Now, this is largely my own fault I suppose for not feeling comfortable enough to cry in front of my own family.  How ridiculous is that?  My sister wasn’t afraid to cry, but I was.  I never once cried in front of my family when Granny died.  I only cried when I was alone or with my now-husband (then boyfriend).  There are a lot of underlying reasons for why I only felt comfortable enough to cry in front of him, and I am still working through those reasons even now.  But I can’t help but feel one of those reasons was that for so much of my life I’d been inundated with the never-explicit but always strongly implied idea that grief was somehow sinful, somehow selfish.  I don’t know exactly where this idea came from and I am blaming no one in particular for it.  It was just there.  Maybe I made it up, but I don’t think so.

When I was a junior in college one of my OB nursing professors told us a very personal story about her own miscarriages and the eventual birth of her first child who was either stillborn or died within a few hours of birth.  The point of the story was that there was so much grief involved with losing this child and that she had to learn to work through it.  She learned that no matter how much she tried to just “move on with life” and push it away, the grief was still following her.  I’ll never forget that lesson.  I remember so strongly sitting in that class, thinking about how it had been a year since Granny’s death and I had done everything I could to run away from that grief because I was busy with nursing school and just didn’t want to deal with the grief of her passing.  I just didn’t feel like I had the stamina to process it so I kept pushing it away.  And just like my professor said, the grief kept coming back.  It kept haunting me.  It wasn’t until I heard her speak about how she finally learned to confront the grief, to handle it, to honor it, to accept it, to process it, that I realized how much I needed to do the same thing.

My professor was so right.  Grief is a process.  It isn’t something that goes away overnight.  For some losses, the grief will never totally disappear, but no matter how much we feel like we can’t handle dealing with our grief for whatever reason, it will never go away at all until we start to process it.  Indeed, grief will haunt you forever until you learn to really work through it.  This can mean so many different things for different people (and can be different even for the same person depending on the nature of the loss).  I think it’s fair to say that most people process grief at least partly through tears.  I know there are exceptions to every rule, but the majority of people do cry when they’re sad.  But sadness is just one part of grief.  There’s so much more to it than that.  Grief can encompass anger, frustration, and so many other feelings because whenever we experience a loss in life there is a part of us that wants to shake our fist at the sky and ask “Why?  This is so unfair!”  And quite often it is unfair.  And there is nothing wrong with feeling that way!  It’s just part of human nature, of experiencing life.

charlie-brown-christmas

So my challenge to myself and to anyone reading this is to really think about the losses you’ve experienced in life, especially any unresolved grief that might come back to haunt you at Christmas, this time of year when memories can seem stronger than ever.  And instead of trying to just forget it or push it aside, really confront that grief.  Begin to process it.  Sometimes we think we’ve moved past a loss only to realize months or even years later that the wound is as fresh as ever.  And that’s ok too.  We just have to find ways to process our grief.  For some of us that means listening to music or reading a book or writing a poem or song.  For some it means seeing a therapist or counselor.  There’s no right or wrong answer here.  The point is that we need to be honest about our grief.  We can’t try to hide it or deny it.  As families and friends we need to support each other and not be afraid to show our “weaknesses.”  If this is your first (or second or tenth) Christmas without a loved one, don’t be afraid or ashamed to cry or just not be as “jolly” as perhaps you usually are.  It’s ok.  Just be honest with yourself and your family and friends about your grief.  You never know who else may need your encouragement to process their own grief as well.

I hope this post wasn’t too depressing but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot this year and felt like I needed to write for my own sake as well as hopefully to encourage others.  Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to all my lovely readers!