Renaming Grief and Other Shit

After a mostly sleepless night, I have a throbbing headache but have maxed out my painkiller quota for the next four hours.  Having sciatica issues makes it difficult to sleep.  I cannot get comfortable and my legs, (sometimes one, sometimes both) burn, tingle and ache.  Yoga and stretching are not helping and I have decided to seek some medical help and get them to look into what is going on with my lower back.   I am a light sleeper and one of the problems I had last night was hearing this strange scratching noise outside.  I lay awake in bed listening, trying to figure out what it was and then heard what sounded like a bear giving a frustrated long grunt, the dogs started barking and I flew out of bed. The dogs live outside and I don’t want them tangling with a frustrated bear.  Shawn and I are outside with flashlights having a look around, the dogs quieted down and we were left cold and wide awake. There is a beautiful creek right beside our property and the salmon are spawning so it is like a bear picnic at the edge of the yard.  Shawn thinks it was a raccoon, but he did not hear the noise the animal made.  I decided that he can think whatever he likes, but I heard a bear.

Okay, 2:45 am and I am wide awake.  We watch a little TV and head back to bed but the pain in my back and legs won’t let me get back to sleep.  So it is now 5am and I am still awake and in pain.  So I try meditating, becoming one with the pain, breathing into it, just breathing and finally drifted off to sleep for a few hours.  I don’t think people who have never dealt with chronic pain have any idea how debilitating and tiring it can be.  I look fine, you would not know that I have been in constant pain or discomfort for 3 weeks if you looked at me.  This happened to me about seven years ago and lasted for over a year.  Chiropractor visits, massage, acupuncture, yoga, and meditation were all part of my healing.  It got to the point where I could not put on my own pants, socks or shoes and was unable to lift my leg high enough to get in the tub.   I also could not drive because I could not move my foot quickly enough from the gas to the brake pedal and almost ended up in the ditch at the end of my driveway.  This was a year from hell.

However, it as nothing compared to the emotional, mental and spiritual pain I suffered when Howard was diagnosed with cancer and passed away a few months later.  While physical pain is a “damn pain” it has a different quality than grief and emotional pain.  It is not just the loss of someone you love, but also your hopes and dreams, and in my case my business, job and home as well.  Yes, it was my choice to close my business and to stop working.  I could have made other arrangements to take care of those things.  But, I did not have it in me to still manage those things behind the scenes while Howard and I navigated cancer world.  One thing that a lot of people do not realize is that the moment you or your loved one are diagnosed with a terminal or life-threatening illness is that the grieving can start immediately.  Life as you knew it has ended and you are thrust into a world full doctors, appts, chemo treatments, medications, and the never-ending supply of people who are only too happy to tell you what they think you should do, or criticize what you are doing.  Just navigating the medical system and being pushed to have this treatment or that treatment without being given enough information to make an informed decision had me wanting to pull my hair out and scream. The man I loved was dying and it seemed that some people, even those in the medical profession did not care, it was just another day at work for them.  He was just another cancer patient.  They did not know his story, or our combined story.  They did not know he had the biggest heart of anyone I knew and spent most of his life doing things for others or that he had finally started doing something he loved and was creating the most beautiful sculptures out of recycled metal. They did not know that I was terrified.  They did not know us and did not have the time or the desire in some cases to get to know us.  They did not know.

I made it my mission to let them know.  I talked to people, I annoyed some people, I got pushy with some people and I even told some people off.  They said I was angry.  Your damn right I was angry.  I was angry, terrified,  heartbroken, and I was watching this big strong man who was my rock waste away and there was nothing I could do to stop any of it.  One of the most annoying questions I was asked when people found out Howard had cancer was,” Oh, what type of cancer is it?”  What the hell does that matter?  I would tell them lung cancer and immediately their next question was “did he smoke”?  So if he smoked then he deserved to have this cancer, he brought it on himself.  If that was the case, then all assholes should get colon cancer, and heartless greedy people should have cancer of the heart, well they do have a type of cancer already, it is cancer of the soul.  Don’t be one of those people!  So my guy is fighting for his life and some people don’t ask if there is anything they can do, they just want to know what type of cancer he has so they can go to sleep at night knowing it will not happen to them because they don’t smoke.  Yup, I was a little angry.  But that is also one of the stages of grief, so are denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  The experts in the field of grieving and loss bandy these stages around and some think it can all be summed up just like that.  The bad news is it is much more complex, sometimes you are in one stage, sometimes the stages overlap and other times (at least for me) there seemed to be whole new stages that had no label.

What are these new stages you ask? When the shit hits the fan make them laugh,  they will never know how torn up inside you are.  If you have read any of my earlier posts you may have the idea that I have a sense of humor and you would be right.  My sense of humor along with dear friends and family helped me get through one of the toughest periods of my life.  If you have a sense of humour use it, if you don’t then cultivate one and watch comedies that make you laugh or do whatever you need to do to laugh.  Laughter heals, even hysterical grieving laughter heals.  My sense of humour is a little warped sometimes and it is one of the ways I deal with life,  my inner comedian comes out. It is one of my strategies for coping with life.  It came out at my mother’s funeral, it came out at my father’s deathbed and it came out when the six of us ( Howard’s parents Pat and Bob, Me and 3 dear friends) were sitting in the living room with Howard waiting for the funeral home to come take his body away.  I sat on the bed beside him and did the only thing I was capable of doing at the time.  I told funny stories about our life together and we all cried and laughed together.  I was exhausted, I was heartbroken, I was relieved it was over, I was terrified and consumed with guilt for feeling relieved that it was over.  I made everyone leave around 4:30 am and collapsed on my bed.  I did not remember anything for six hours.

Did I mention, that I did not get much sleep last night?  Well, now I am really tired and having trouble getting my thoughts out through my fingers so I will end this here.  If you want to know more and haven’t already clicked on something more entertaining, then I will  let you know what I called the other stages in the next few days.  I think they should all be renamed.  All that is going through my head at the moment is the seven dwarves but that would be way too Disney for me. I think the stages of grief need some new labels that have a little edge and a little humor in them.  I definitely think one needs to be called, How dare you die and leave me here all alone to deal with this shit!  Can’t believe I just typed that but it is true.  Don’t judge too harshly.  Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to the pub I go.

Love you all

Donna

PS  That is one of Howard’s sculptures in the picture and one of my favorites!

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The Salt

I love old things, and older people for that matter.  I thoroughly enjoy listening to the stories that my elders tell of times gone by and their experiences. I love their wrinkled faces that give physical evidence of the life they have lived.  My favourite is eyes all crinkled from laughter, smiles and sunshine.  I also enjoy the stories that antique items tell in their own rusty and timeworn way.  I have a slight addiction to antique fire extinguishers for some reason and also to old cars.  The picture above is me and my little shadow Georgia (if great danes can be called little) at 7 in the morning after we unloaded my 31 Model A from the trailer that delivered it late at night.  I think I threw a hoody on over my pyjamas and ran outside to look at it and placed my hands on it.  I put my hands on a lot of things to feel the energy of them and in some ways I think that the items become a part of me, as if I can absorb their history through my hands. If that truck could talk!

The Model A arrived not too long after we returned from our trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats for the land speed races.  I had never been to the salt flats before and had no idea what to expect.  The salt flats are a short drive from the lights, sounds, and throngs of people at the casinos in Nevada to a  white covered world that reminded me of the moon.  There are no animals, plants or insects on the salt, at least none that you can see. It is barren and beautiful and if you ever get the chance to visit during the summer I highly recommend it.  In the winter the salt is covered in water and looks like a large lake. In the summer it transforms into a white wonderland that draws racers from all over the world hoping to break land speed records.  This area is so flat that you can sometimes see the curvature of the earth as you look across the salt to the distant mountains.

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Donna at the starting line with one of the race cars
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Panorama shot of the Bonneville Salt Flats

There is something about this place that seems to become part of your blood and the people who frequent the salt call it salt fever.  I am not normally an overly emotional person, but the day we said our goodbyes to the people we met and the place itself I cried like a baby.  I did not want to leave.  For anyone who has been there they know that my words only scratch the surface of what goes on here. There is a bonding that happens with the salt and the people.  Everyone is friendly and helpful and there does not seem to be much of that us and them attitude that is part of most car gatherings and races.  People are just as excited to see the rusty old cars that don’t look like they could run let alone be driven hundreds, if not thousands, of miles as they are to see the race cars that people have put hundreds of thousands of dollars into for the chance to race.  There were speed records broken, dreams dashed, friends made and old friends reunited in a place that calls you back time and time again.

My guy has been going there for years as a race spectator.  Some years he drives from Vancouver Island to Wendover, Utah only to discover that the races have been cancelled because the conditions on the salt are not suitable.  One year it was still covered in water and on another year it was just a big mud pit. I am so thankful that the conditions were perfect for my introduction to the Salt Flats. In 2017 we will be there again but this time my guy Shawn will be behind the wheel of his own 1955 Studebaker racing across the salt in search of the speed record in his class.  I will have my ear on the radio so I can hear his speed called out for the mile markers over the noise of the engines at the start line.  I can’t be in the race car with him as he flies across the salt but my heart will be.  I have a feeling that the salt from my happy tears will hit the ground and i will also become part of that place forever.

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Love you all

Donna