Friday, June 14, 2013

Rising above grief.

     It's interesting how people come into our lives when we least expect it and often it's when we're doing something as basic as grocery shopping, going to an appointment, renting a movie, etc. I believe that people are put in our path in order for us to connect, share and learn from one another. When it happens & you're willing to open yourself up to someone, it can be an amazing experience that changes you and your perspective.
     I was blessed to meet an amazing woman today while getting a mammogram, but somehow I never caught her name. We just started talking during the procedure and the floodgates were opened. I was in the most vulnerable position (hard to be modest when you're half dressed) sharing my medical history and the next thing I knew we were having a full on discussion about love, loss and grief. I'm a cancer survivor & her husband passed away from cancer and as we talked the topic of grief came up. Our discussion inspired me to write about this difficult topic and I'm not sure why I didn't do this sooner. I believe that she and I connected for a reason and that reason was for me to write about something that so few of us talk about openly. Grief. What is it? What does it feel like? How do we deal with it?
     Grief is a normal process, but sometimes we don't recognize it. For myself, I didn't recognize it, because my husband had not passed away. Why would I be grieving for someone that is still alive? Besides that, I was in complete denial and shock the first year of his injury and I certainly can't leave out anger, sorrow and my personal pity party. These feelings are not wrong, but yet we may feel guilty about feeling them, especially when our spouse is still with us physically. What we fail to realize is that we're grieving for the loss of our future dreams, what we thought our life would be and the loss of our spouse as we knew them before. As someone that has written in journals for years, I didn't write in my journal for one full year after my husband's injury. Looking back, I think it was because putting it on paper made it real & I couldn't deal with that yet. I also like to control life, which I now know isn't possible. I put on a brave front that I was strong, didn't need help and proceeded to stuff all those bad feeling inside of myself. How naive I was keeping grief at a distance when it needed to be dealt with.
     In order to heal, we must grieve and the timeline is unique for each of us. Someone else you know may seem to be moving through grief at a different speed, but don't compare yourself with anyone else when it comes to grief. I have moved through the grief process quicker than my spouse and of course I want him to hurry up and heal, but it doesn't work that way. His hurts are different than mine, he is reminded of his loss everyday that he gets into his wheelchair and I can't heal those hurts for him. Friends may try to help and their intentions are good, but often they're uninformed and don't know what to do or say, which may lead to being insensitive. Don't let anyone tell you, "You should be over it by now" or "It's not as bad as it seems."
     Only you know what you're feeling whether that be: loneliness, fear, blame, rage, anger or guilt. One day you may feel that you're making great progress and then something triggers an emotion that sends you reeling back. As time goes on you're able to work through these emotions and slowly move forward again. I know from experience that even after 6 years I'm sometimes caught off guard by a wave of sadness or "whoa is me" moment. It happens, I allow myself to feel it and then I move on again.
     The most important thing I've learned is that talking with someone who "gets it" can be very therapeutic. I struggled with this for years, because in my mind, being vulnerable meant losing control. I've come to realize that I don't have to be the "strong one" all the time. What I have gained from opening up and being vulnerable is the knowledge that I'm not alone in my feelings and that usually the person I'm opening up to needs to hear my story as much I need to hear theirs. This is exactly what I experienced yesterday at my medical appointment. Two women talking openly about grief, acknowledging and understanding one another, being vulnerable and not judging where each of us is in the journey. I'll close with a verse I came across 3 years ago and it resonated deeply within me. Unfortunately, I don't know the author.

 "We do not understand:
Joy...until we face sorrow.
Faith...until it is tested.
Peace...until faced with conflict.
Trust...until we are betrayed.
Love...until it is lost.
Hope...until confronted with doubts."

It's ok to grieve the past, it's part of what makes you who you are today, but don't get stuck there and let it keep you from dreaming again. The wound may always be just below the surface, but it gets to a point where it doesn't overwhelm you anymore and when that happens you'll be able to find hope and dreams again!


Thursday, June 6, 2013

To work outside the home or not?

      I haven't worked outside the home for one year now and when I quit my job to relocate last year I thought it was going to be glorious. You may be thinking that it sounds ideal and for the first 6 months it was, but after that I started to get a little bored. Not bored in the sense of having nothing to do, because we all know as caregivers that there's plenty to do and little recognition for doing it. I'm bored in the sense that my mind feel's mushy, unchallenged intellectually, and to be honest, the housework and care-giving just doesn't make me feel valued. Maybe if I hadn't worked in the professional world for the previous 20 years then I wouldn't be having these feelings and maybe these feelings are about feeding my ego, but I know that I'm feeling them and need to sort through them.
    Two weeks ago, I saw an ad in the paper for a management position. Even though I'd been tossing around the idea of going back to work outside the home, it wasn't something that I'd been seriously pursuing. There's a lot of things to consider as a caregiver, because the decision not only affects ourselves but also our families. Working outside the home can be overwhelming or it can be a break from the stresses of home, while at the same time being a place where your efforts are outwardly recognized. Only you can decide such a personal choice. It's okay to want time away from home, but I don't recommend using a job as an escape mechanism. If you're escaping, then you may want to ask yourself what issues you're running from. I did this in the past, because I wasn't ready to deal with my spouse's injury head-on.
     I'm fully aware that some caregiver's may not have the option of working outside the home due to the level of care their loved one requires, but I'm fortunate enough to have the option. I need something to give me a purpose and challenge aside from being a caregiver, something to call my own and I miss using the skills that I acquired over the past 20 years. Looking back, I know that when I saw the ad and submitted my resume that I was somewhat impulsive, because I was desiring validation and an ego boost. Guess what? I got that ego boost when I received a call the next morning requesting an interview.
     Now that I've had an initial interview and the company has requested a 2nd interview, I'm in analyzing mode and trying not to make a decision based on emotion. My impulsive actions now require a thought process regarding the consequences of possibly accepting a job. My mind is racing: Am I considering this job, because I'm lonely? When my husband is sleep deprived and compensating by sleeping the day away, I spend the day running errands, going to church, grocery shopping and working out by myself. Who will maintain the yard? Who will do the laundry since my husband's in a wheelchair and the laundry room isn't accessible? Who will pay the bills since he's also in a constant sleep deprivation state, which leads to short term memory loss?  If I go back to work will I struggle to find balance while I'm focused on something other than my wounded warrior? Will I come home exhausted and resentful, because now I'm wearing my "Super Caregiver Cape" and trying to do it all? Maybe, just maybe, he'll take on more responsibilities while I'm away at work, but I don't want to count on that. Maybe I'm feeling a sense of entitlement to "have it all".
     Most likely, if you're like me, then care-giving is not your only responsibility. I volunteer, I advocate for wounded soldiers and caregiver's, I write a blog and I'm pursuing starting a non-profit.. These things are what I call "heart happy" activities. I have to consider the fact that if I take on a job that these things may drop down on my priority list due to time constraints and I don't want that. My personality type is to do everything in abundance. Sometimes I'm not good at creating boundaries with my time, because when I take on something, I take it on at 100% and that could result in not taking care of myself. Who's going to take care of me if I tackle too much? I believe this is a struggle for many of us. I don't want to become resentful, because I've already been there and done that. Sometimes we feel guilty when we do something for ourselves, although we know that we need to take care ourselves in order to be truly present for the people we love.
     At this point, I don't have all the answers. If you've given up your job in the past due to becoming a caregiver and you're thinking about going back then my best recommendation is to figure out what your motives are. Do something that fulfills you, propels you forward and makes your heart happy!