Those in acute grief are not running to their local bookstore grabbing volumes off the shelves as guidebooks. I am just trying to get through the day doing whatever I can do, which right now isn’t too much.
Obviously, I was able to write this post, which I find therapeutic for me.
We all grieve in our own individual ways. There should not be any timetables, nor any explicit guidelines on how to go through it and start living again.
Each of us has to do it our own way. This post is about how I am going through my own grief, and is not meant to be a how to for others, for it is my own story.
As a therapist, I always was sickened to see proposed seminars advertised for hefty sums promising those who attended to be able to “work” through grief in a weekend.
Grieving can easily take a lifetime and then, and it is impossible to shove it into a bundle of sadness to be dispensed of like leftover emotional baggage.
After the loss of your child, you can’t expect to recover your former self, because you have loss a part of your heart, where only scar tissue will remain.
Grieving isn’t just emotional pain either, as acute grief has physical manifestations as well. Besides the physical heart pain in my chest, there is the overwhelming weakness I feel in my body.
I initially attributed this to being jet lagged and sleep deprived. We left the states on a Thursday and arrived early the next day Friday at 6;45am Paris time, when the city was still enshrouded with darkness.
For me jet lag is worse when I fly back from the states than going, because you are flying west to east and lose time.
First Saturday night back, we forced ourselves out to attend a concert of Francis Poulenc’s Stabat Mater or suffering mother. Held in a church, the somber melodic strains wielded with my own pain and resonated in my soul.
This French composer and I share a special devotion to Notre Dame de Rocamadour. In 1936 when he was visiting Rocamadour, he experienced a mystical experience at her shrine and found himself composing music to Our Lady that won him much acclaim and fame.
It was my own journey to Rocamadour, in the early 90’s that likewise was as mystical in nature that gave me a final push towards becoming Catholic.
As we started out for Sunday mass, the clouds let go piercing streams of rains, like flooding tears that I wish I could shed but seem momentarily frozen within by my numbed psyche.
After mass, Aimee and I once again shoved ourselves to the Salon d’Agriculture only because we had bought tickets months before. I love seeing all the animals and the animations, but this time it was like seeing it through a silk screen.
All in all It was good to get out nevertheless, rather than stay home probably tucked in bed. This agricultural fair is the largest one in France and is divided into multiple buildings stretched out on both sides of the Parc de Versailles exhibition place, so a lot of walking is guaranteed if you want to see it all.
At one building where they highlighted different regions of France, promoting the foods etc, Aimee tried her luck at winning a weekend in Brittany. When called to tell us we had won, we rushed back to discover that instead of a vacation, she had won instead 5 liters of apple juice, albeit very good, but awfully heavy to carry around towards the end.
The encompassing weakness persisted, so I felt accomplished in preparing the nice monkfish we bought with a beurre rosé. My favorite lady vintner’s Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire went beautiful with it
The last time I felt this weak was after a bout of pneumonia, that took months to recover feeling normal. I have a fleeting headache, that does not correlate with any increase in my blood pressure.
In addition to the pervasive weakness, I feel light-headed and not real steady on my feet. There is also a vacuous or emptiness in my head and torso. I feel I am going through the motions of walking like a robot in a total state of emotional numbness.
It is an effort to drag myself out of the bed or chair and even more so outside. I was never a ball of energy before, but whatever minute droplets of energy I have aren’t enough to propel me to follow through with the little goals I am trying to set out each day.
My thinking has slowed down to a flow like thick molasses and I feel blurred in making any decisions.
Hunger forces me out to shop for groceries. Saturday morning, as much as I love going to our outdoor marche, I just didn’t feel like facing our friendly green growers who like to tease and joke with us as we pick out their fruits and vegetables.
Certainly they would have noticed my sad face and I just didn’t have the force to explain why.
One of the many good things about living in a big city like Paris, is that if you want to eat home prepared meals, you have to get out and walk for it.
I have never had the ability to menu plan far ahead, preferring to allow my whims and the seasonal produce to seduce my taste buds, sometimes on a daily basis.
Paris provides an excellent visual and olfactory landscape to tempt you with many food smells and beautiful shiny vegetables as you walk along her streets.
Fortunately, cooking is not so laborious for me, probably because it is one of my few polished skills I have mastered. Perhaps now I do it more on auto pilot, lacking right now the ability to innovate or be creative as I was in the past.
I am doing more prep work though, as during the Lenten season, vegetarian meals require more chopping and thought for someone who does not rely on pasta and beans.
A well prepared meal with some good wine remains pleasurable. Lighting my candles every night is likewise little effort and I find the yellowish glow of the candle flame flickering about soothing.
The fresh cold air and wind feels good when I go outside and makes me feel slightly more alive and alert. The brightly coloured Primaveras that I planted a few weeks ago adorn my balcony and are a welcome sight when I open my eyes in the morning, giving me a jolt of colour against my grey mood.
I have always told my patients to just stick to the basics of self care and nothing else after death of a loved one. Even that can be a challenge, when you do not feel like even getting out of bed, and going through the motions of everyday living.
I found that I needed to make very amendable simple goals each day. Some I was able to carry through, and some I just could not muster up enough energy to even start.
Thank goodness there is always tomorrow. I have never been a conformist to rigid compulsive “shoulds” and ‘”ought to’s”, so not following through never was catastrophic, and now so even less.
When you lose a child, everything else is no longer important. Your whole perspective changes, in that what you may have deemed significant to have or to do in your life, no longer has any meaning and certainly not any priority in your life.
Your life plug is pulled and you find your life energy draining out, and I can’t find the plug, nor can I refill my strength just now.
Any restoring of my psychic well comes from my faith, as I feel that Holy Spirit makes it a point to pour whatever I need inside to carry me through to another day.
My tattered heart is riddled with jagged cuts as made with a dull scalpel driven randomly left to right, that intermittently cries out with chest pain.
I will have to go back to being the little tugboat again, pushing my heavy load of grief upstream against a strong current. Images of the cute escargots, or snails carrying their housetops slowly over rocks and terrains come to mind.
It is not important when I arrive, as I will when I can. I know not to isolate and intend to call out to my friends any time of need, for they will be there.
Seeking little grains of pleasure and joy are on my agenda, as before, but with greater emphasis than before. I often said that we must fill our glass full in order to pour ourselves out again to others in need.
Perhaps now I will be more open to others nourishing me too, filling my cup, when my own efforts may falter. I think healers in general have a hard time allowing others to take care of us.
Helping others has never been a chore, but a joy and spiritual mission that I will continue, God willing. I always described myself as a wounded healer anyway, allowing my own wounds to continue to spring forth my deep empathy and compassion as balm for other’s hearts in pain.
Although I am very emotional, and tremendously moved by others pain, when it comes to dealing with my own pain, I am more stoic. Optimistic by nature, I will plod forth with faith, stumbling and faltering on my way.
Like my little grape vine, I am hoping that new buds of life will appear in the spring and there will be sweet fruit to harvest anew.
Yesterday, as I was slowly walking around Le parc de la Vallée aux Loups, a few miles south of Paris, there were only a few trees that had flowered, but many had plump buds ready to open. Like me, they need more time and more healing sunshine to bloom again.
Life is for living and with time on my side, I have faith that my little baby steps, along with the help of my loving daughter, friends, Holy Mary Theotokos and my unending faith, I will be able to reassemble my broken heart, not hiding my scars, but living with them as best that I can.