This past winter was not an easy one.  Not because the weather was that bad, but because so much of it was involved in caring for Lola.  I can’t say that I didn’t love every moment with her, even at the end, when I knew it was her time – and I can say that life is a bit easier now, not having that responsibility. But I still miss her and I still wish that she would bark when I walked in the door, or make me laugh when she did something silly.

Last night I saw the film “Rabbit Hole” and it was about the loss of a child.  How you deal with loss is such an interesting subject to me now, after having spent so much time learning about it, experiencing it.  The film depicted two characters I didn’t find particularly likable, but I did feel for them both, and understand their different ways of grieving.  I guess that’s what I’ve learned – everyone grieves differently, and at their own pace.  

So I’m ready for spring, a new beginning.  I’m more than ready. 

A friend of mine wrote me a note about changing the template for the blog and said she calls the blog “a book review a day.”  I guess I have been staying away from writing about my personal life recently because it’s been a bit difficult to write about it. I’m working on my book project, or whatever it will be, and keeping a journal – but going through a divorce and writing about it publicly, in a blog, is not easy to do.  

There are times I seem to disappear.  Usually I’m going through some difficult period of dealing with my lawyers and reading affidavits and wondering how we got to this horrible mess.  Having watched so many of my friends go through this in the past, I feel like I’m experiencing a rite of passage and I feel good about how I’m getting through it.  I don’t drink or eat too much, or spend too much.  If I do anything too much it’s reading books about divorce and getting through difficult times and writing about it on this blog.  It helps me to focus on the stuff I’m dealing with inside, with my soul.  

Some day I will write about it, but right now it feels difficult to reveal too much.  I am a far more empathetic person than I used to be and when I hear about people who’ve lost a spouse or a parent, or are dealing with a sick parent or child, or going through a divorce, or who have lost a job — I have a sense of the pain they are feeling.  Last night I listened to a man, in a big group at Friends in Deed, talk about losing a girlfriend of twenty-nine years as he sobbed and said he’d never in his life experienced so much pain.  He said he never knew that people suffered like this before and he felt sad that for so many years he walked ignorant about grief.  I’d know about grief now, the feeling of disconnection, of crying, of not getting pleasure in anything, of the worries that it’s never going to get better.  But everything does change and in this past year, I can see how much it’s changed.  My reading about divorce says it generally takes two years to feel “normal” again – whatever normal is.  I’ll let you know.

A year ago I was spending ten or so days in Spain with my husband, on one of the best trips of our life together.  Now we are separated and I am spending a week with my daughter here in NY.  It hasn’t stopped raining for a few days, but it has been wonderful to see Zoe and be with the dogs.  Tonight we are going to a seder at an old friend’s home and it happens to be right upstairs.  Zoe wanted to go to a seder and I’m so grateful to my friend Barbara, who is also inviting my friend Mona, who’s flying in today from Los Angeles.  She reminded me that it is a mitvah (an act of human kindness) to have a stranger at the seder table.  Most people often say, “I’m sorry I don’t have room” – but Barbara says “Bring anyone you know!”  What a mensch.

Several people reminded me that going through divorce takes at least two years to start to come out the other side.  I’m solidly stuck in the middle.  Not miserable, but not exactly happy either.  Some days are fine, great even, I feel on solid ground and doing my meditation, my spiritual practice, my gratitude lists, my awareness of how good my life is – how many friends I have – how much I love my two dogs and my roommate is literally AWESOME – and other times, I would like to crawl into bed and take some drug that would take away the pain.  And then I remember Pema Chodron’s message, and pretty much everyone I read who says, feel it and it will pass.  So today I am feeling it, allowing myself to grieve and to remember the good times we had, especially on our trip to Spain.  A friend of mine told me that if you really feel the grief and let it pass through you, it probably won’t come out twenty years later in some other way. 

I’m going to start taking an acting class in the next week and that will be an excellent outlet for the sadness.  

Today, in Moscow there were subways bombings and more than three dozen people were killed.  I wish I had something more cheerful to share today.  At least Obama managed to get a health care bill passed last week!  It’s not perfect, but it’s a good beginning.

There – something positive.  And my daughter is sitting on the couch, a few feet away.  A friend of mine came over yesterday and met her and he pronounced her quite terrific.  And she is and I love her.

Last night, even though I was feeling quite happy – I love snow, a blizzard was coming, etc., I decided to go over to Friends In Deed for a Tuesday night meeting which is led by Cy O’Neal.  I always feel that I am in the presence of a very wise woman when I listen to Cy.   But I was feeling pretty good and was just listening, and then…my dear friend shared something that was painful and it moved me…so I suddenly got in touch with my own sadnessThere were only a few minutes left in the hour and a half session, but I was able to raise my hand, quickly talk about what was bothering me, Cy said, “Oh, I would so much rather be you, feeling my feelings, working through the grief, being a human being….” I don’t even remember what else she said, but it felt so good just to get out the tears.  It almost didn’t matter what she said at that point, it just mattered that I got in touch with the feelings.

So then this morning, in my readings, of course I found something that related.  In the Language of Letting Go, by Melody Beattie, this was today’s reading.  (EVERYTHING IN CAPS ARE MY COMMENTS – PLEASE FORGIVE ME MELODY)

“Letting Go of Sadness

A block to joy and love can be unresolved sadness from the past.  

In the past, we told ourselves many things to deny the pain: It doesn’t hurt that much…Maybe if I just wait, things will change…It’s no big deal.  I can get through this…Maybe if I try to change the other person, I won’t have to change myself.  (I LOVE THIS ONE.) 

We denied that it hurt because we didn’t want to feel the pain.

Unfinished business doesn’t go away.  It keeps repeating itself, until it gets our attention, until we feel it, deal with it, and heal.  That’s one lesson we are learning in recovery from codependency and adult children issues.  

Many of us didn’t have the tools, support, or safety we needed to acknowledge and accept pain in our past.  It’s okay.  We’re safe now.  Slowly, carefully, we can being to open ourselves up to our feelings.  We can begin the process of feeling what we have denied for so long – not to blame, not to shame, but to heal ourselves in preparation for a better life.
(YES!!  A BETTER LIFE!  IT’S COMING!)

It’s okay to cry when we need to cry and feel the sadness many of us have stored within for so long.  We can feel and release these feelings.  

Grief is a cleansing process.  It’s an acceptance process.  It moves us from our past, into today, and into a better future – a future free of sabotaging behaviors, a future that holds more options than our past.

God, as I move through this day, let me be open to my feelings.  Today, help me know that I don’t have to either force or repress the healing available to me in recovery.  Help me trust that if I am open and available, the healing will happen naturally, in a manageable way.”

You don’t have to believe in any kind of God to buy this.  You maybe have to believe in something, love, friendships, ice cream – whatever works.  Something bigger than you.  At least that helps me.  I love thinking about babies who just have their feelings all day long.  One minute they’re happy, they’re laughing, they’re joyful and the next minute something pisses them off and they’re wailing their heads off.  Somewhere along the way we were taught to stuff all those feelings, through some method, for me it was food, shopping, TV, driving, anger, any kind of diversion to avoid feeling.  Once your heart cracks open though – through whatever reason – the willingness to actually feel seems to make it much less scary and stuffing the feelings doesn’t work.  Many years ago, in my twenties, I had anxiety attacks because I was so afraid of my feelings.  When I was a kid, if I was crying about something and I went to my father, he would say to me, “I can’t talk to you when you’re crying.  Go to your room and when you’re finished, we’ll talk.”  I loved my father, but what a schmuck.  Another friend told me recently her mother said, “Never let them see you cry.  Never let them know that you aren’t strong.”  Whoever “they are.”  All the messages in our society is, feelings are ugly, messy, embarrassing, weak and inappropriate.  I think they are healthy, healing, powerful and positive.  I was numb for more years than I care to recall.


I loved that scene in Broadcast News when Holly Hunter unplugged the phone so she could have a good cry.  To me at that time it seemed so bizarre, fascinating, but impossible for me to do.  Remember (if you’re old enough) how strong we all thought Jackie Kennedy was at JFK’s funeral because she kept her emotions so under control?  I guess having her two young children and all the world’s leaders surrounding her and the TV cameras made it difficult to really wail and carry on.  But my guess is she was on many milligrams of Valium and hopefully came home and cried for months.  At least I hope she did. 

If anyone is reading this blog for the first time, I will quickly get you up to speed.  This past year, 2009, has been challenging for many people – and I’m no exception. 

At the beginning of the year, I stopped working because the business I was in tanked (real estate.) I can’t say I ever really loved it, but I enjoyed the people I worked with, being of service, and having an income.  
In April, my husband and I decided to separate after 24 years of marriage.  Then in May, my mother (who’d already survived two hospice stays) got very sick and on June 9th, she died.  A few weeks later, my 21 year-old daughter (whom I adore) moved to San Francisco (she couldn’t have picked Boston?)  For all of August and September, I was left alone to sort through everything in our loft in Brooklyn, selling much of it, tossing a lot out, having a stoop sale, etc., and pack up what I could to move into my dear friend’s loft in Soho. Did I leave anything out?  Death, divorce, moving, empty nest, loss of income, no, I think that’s it.  Could it be worse?  Yes.  Is it a lot to deal with?  Yes.
With all of that on my “plate” – I have to say that in one way I got very lucky.  My move back to Soho, where I lived with my husband and daughter for seventeen years, has brought me a block away from a place that has saved thousands of lives over the past twenty years,  Friends In Deed.  I have discussed it before, but briefly it began in the late 80’s to help people cope with the AIDS crisis and it has grown into dealing with illness, caregiving and grief.  It’s an amazing place that offers counseling, groups, body work, nutrition counseling, you name it, they do it. I’ve written about it before.
Last night I went to a seminar on grief led by Dr. Eric Schneider, who is the spiritual advisor to FID.  On Tuesday night, after hearing me share in a big group, a woman came up to me and said quite emphatically: “Thursday night. 7 pm.  Dr. Eric.  Grief and loss. Come. Trust me, he’s amazing.”
I’ve done plenty of reading on grief, but I have to say that I got what I needed to hear last night and it rang true for me.  Take what you like and leave the rest, as they say:

Loss:  a perceived change in circumstances plus a perceived change in personal identity
Grief: the natural response to loss
Grief is endless.  


The five stages of grief as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about are not linear and perhaps there are better models.  Those five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  What about relief?  What about guilt?  


Another model for grief is shock, disorganization, reorganization.  

Another one:  awareness — alarm — emptiness (three levels – first level is the loss of the person, the life.  Second level, practical issues, the loss of income, a home, etc.  Third level, the constant reminders: you pick up the phone to call the person, you cook for two instead of one, you look at the chair he or she sat in.)
Disintegration- then reintegration…”the new normal.”  The spaciousness and the possibilities begin to return.  Grief is natural, like breathing.  You try to let it happen, let it run its own course.  
Myths:  You’ll get over it.  You’ll transcend it.  There is a right way to grieve.
Truth:  Your loss will transform you.  We need to get out of our way.  This is the experience, it is what it is.  Tell your friends what you need.  Let them know you can use their help.  If they ask, and you don’t know what you need, thank them for asking and ask them to maybe ask again.  Soon.
The transformation is often for the better.  Not always, but usually.  I know that I have become a much more empathetic person these past few years.

What is not ultimately helpful: drugs, drinking, eating too much, these are all distractions from the process.  The one thing many people talked about was taking something to sleep – and Eric said that dreams help keep the grieving process moving forward, so maybe it’s not such a great idea to take Ambien or Lunesta very often.   

Human beings are resilient.  We are amazingly strong.
What helps with grief?


Talking helps
Not talking helps
Crying
Screaming, yelling
Being silent
Writing (in your own handwriting)
Reading
Walking
Prayer
Meditation
Your animals

These are all the tools I have been using, so it felt good to know that I am on the right track. There are other tools I find helpful – music, laughter, nature, and I would put  Friends in Deed at the top of my list.  This weekend I’m doing what is called “The Mastery” at FID.  I honestly have no idea what it is, but I’ll let you know. 

 

Last night I went out to dinner with the friend I am moving in with in a few weeks, Abigail. She is also a writer and perhaps the nicest person in the entire world. She brought over some things for the stoop sale my friends Anita and Megan and I are having today. We’re selling books, household things, clothing, all the stuff I want to get rid of so my move is easier. Although it is sad to let go of my books, I’ll be living around the block from a public library and I will be fine.

Abigail and I went for sushi and had fun talking about relationships (she and her husband split up over fifteen years ago) and men and life and sex and work. We have known each other since our kids were four years-old and they are now twenty-one. The four of us went on a vacation to the Yukatan in Mexico when we barely knew each other and had a fantastic time, but that’s a story for another day.

When I came home after dinner, I continued going through my belongings, tossing out what I don’t need, reading old emails, looking at photos and then I went through my jewelry to decide what I wanted to sell. A friend called while I was sorting the jewelry, so I was distracted and probably less emotional about deciding what to sell.

As I was looking at old papers, I found an article about Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard professor who wrote “Stumbling on Happiness.” I cut out the article over a year ago (April 22, 2008.)

In the article, Gilbert says that at one point in his life he went through so many crises at once, his mentor passed away, his mother died, his marriage ended and his son had serious problems in school – but what he found that: “the truth is, bad things don’t affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. That’s true of good things too.”

“People have an inability to predict what will make them happy – or unhappy.”

Gilbert says that if you “take a scale from 0 – 100, people, generally report their happiness at 75. We keep trying to get to 100. Sometimes, we get there. But we don’t stay long.”

“We certainly fear the things that get us to 10 or 20 – the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a serious challenge to our health. But when those things happen, most of us will return to our emotional baselines more quickly than we’d predict. Humans are wildly resilient.”

“Wildly resilient.” I love that.

He says that most of us are great rationalizers. “We expect to feel devastated if our spouse leaves or if we get passed over for a big promotion at work.

But when things like that do happen, it’s soon, ‘She was never right for me’ or ‘I actually need more free time for my family.’ People have remarkable talent for finding ways to soften the impact of negative events. Thus they mistakenly expect such blows to be much more devastating than they turn out to be.”

And then he goes on to say, “We know that the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends.

We know that it’s significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health. That’s what the data shows. The interesting thing is that people will sacrifice social relationships to get other things that won’t make them as happy – money. That’s what I mean when I say people should do ‘wise shopping’ for happiness.”

“Another thing we know from studies is that people tend to take more pleasure from experiences than in things. So if you have ‘x’ amount of dollars to spend on a vacation or a good meal or movies, it will get you more happiness than a durable good or object. One reason is that experiences tend to be shared with other people and objects generally aren’t.”

“You’ll always have Paris” is so true. I certainly feel it as I discard so many things that I thought would bring me happiness, a necklace, a book, a coat – and they never did.

Reading the article made me realize, that as difficult a period as this has been (mother died, marriage ending, daughter moved away from home, have to move, need a job) – it’s also been an amazingly transformative experience too. I have spent more time with friends and in social situations than I have in years and I have found that my friends have really shown up for me. I’m so filled with gratitude and, although I do at times feel grief and sadness, I also feel happy. My sister and I even had a great talk the other day and that felt really good.

So last night, the song “You Send Me” popped into my head. I played it and danced around the loft to Aretha Franklin. As I danced, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of well being and joy.

I guess last night I hit 100 and today I’ll be back at 75.

This week seems to be a difficult week, not just for me but for a few of my friends. One friend found out that her closest friend has brain cancer and probably will not survive. Another friend’s daughter tried to commit suicide this past week. Fortunately, she is still alive, but the guilt and grief my friend feels is overwhelming.

I know that a lot of the sadness I’m experiencing is not just about the present, it’s a holdover from my past. Having my mother die and the marriage end, as well as my daughter moving away from home brings up feelings of abandonment that are very old. And packing up my life, finding old photographs of my mother, of our family, photos of Zoe growing up, old letters, cards, memories, is not easy. I think it’s all part of the healing process though, to feel the pain and move through it.

The other day, I knew I needed some extra support, so I went back to Friends In Deed for their noon big group. After I spoke, the group leader said, “Robin, if you had only had your daughter move 3,000 miles away – you could claim your seat here. Or if you were just going through a divorce – you could claim your seat here. Or if you’d been a caregiver for so many years and then lost your mother, you could definitely claim your seat. But to have all three happen at once, is terribly difficult and for some reason, it’s frequently how life happens.” I listened to other people’s stories and knew that I was part of a group of people who knew how much suffering is a huge part of our journey. Unspeakable losses and pain were expressed by everyone who spoke, along with acceptance and even some laughter. I liked when the leader said, “Grief is spoken here.” He compared it to American tourists traveling around the world and being annoyed when people don’t speak English and understand what they are saying. Not everyone understands grief, nor can they be expected to, nor can we be annoyed when someone doesn’t know how to respond.

My childhood wasn’t easy, but many of my friends went through the loss of a parent, or a divorce in their family and I couldn’t really understand what they were going through. I think my first real glimpse of pain (not just of loneliness, because I felt that most of my life, but of loss) came when I had a miscarriage in my fourth month. I was already thirty-five at the time and I was afraid I would never be able to have a child. I remember only one person really understanding that this was a death and he encouraged me to grieve. I didn’t even really know what that meant, but I let myself feel – and eventually it passed.

These days I feel good for weeks at a time, like riding gentle waves of life and then suddenly a tsunami hits and I feel overwhelmed. This morning I made a few calls, and meditated, and re-read my favorite Pema quote for early morning blues: “When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in that moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this.”

In the big group the other day at Friends In Deed the leader mentioned “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. He reminded us of her message, that life is about things falling apart and then coming together again…and falling apart….and coming together again. I guess we have to give ourselves the space and go through these cycles and to know that the coming together is inevitable. And also to remember all that we have to be grateful for, even after a tsunami. I managed to get out of bed and walk the dogs this morning. We are all grateful for that. And just the knowledge that we’re not alone is also comforting.

“Grief is spoken here.” It’s not where we live, but it’s definitely understood.

The past five days have been spent in a beautiful house in Cold Spring, New York, relaxing, reading, taking long walks and feeling some painful feelings. I wish I could skip the grief, the fear, the letting go, the worry, all of that shit, but I can’t. The only way out of it is through it, so they say.

It’s hard after twenty-five years to overturn one’s life and start over again. It’s hard to let go of the structures, the routines, the good times, the fantasies and come to terms with what’s real. I know that half of all marriages end this way, at least in this country, so it’s not like I’m breaking new ground here. It’s just new ground for me.

The support I’ve received from people who have been through this is amazing. It feels like anyone who knows what this is about is only more than happy to listen and offer advice and comfort. And I even heard from a friend the other day whose relationship just ended and I was able to help him as well.

I guess the message is that we are not in any of this alone, that there are people who help us through every day, and I am grateful for all the blessings in my life. Especially this past week, sitting the beauty of my surroundings and listening to the sound of the trees and the wind.

And – I’ve been watching “The Wire” with a friend and we’ve been mesmerized by the brilliant writing, acting and directing.

The first time I read “The Wisdom of No Escape” I remember being relieved about the concept that no matter how you are feeling, it’s important to honor those feelings. So if you’re angry, or sad, or feeling hopeless, it’s quite all right to sit with those uncomfortable, annoying emotions and let them live inside you. You don’t have to feed them, but you don’t have to work on getting happy, or upbeat, or cheerful either. It isn’t about wallowing as much as it’s about feeling the feelings and sitting with them in your meditation, or your daily life for as long as they last. And knowing that eventually, they pass, just as everything life changes.

I was so accustomed to trying to numb those feelings by a) eating b) shopping c) watching television d) exercising and whatever worked at the time. I hear lots of people talking these days about wasting time on computer games or on Facebook. But when you’re feeling grief over deeper losses, I find that nothing really works to alleviate the feelings. Certain things help – but unfortunately, this is what grief feels like.

And believe me – I know it could be far worse. It’s just that pain is pain and so I’m not going to minimize mine.

The problem is that right now I don’t enjoy eating, although I try to give myself healthy meals and sometimes a little treat. Actually, often a treat. (But nothing tastes good except fruit.) Last week when I was in Connecticut, in the woods taking a fantastic hike with my dear friend Julie, I kept thinking, “Wow, this is the most beautiful forest. Look at this, look at the sunlight as it shines through the trees. Look at this lovely, peaceful pond and the birds.” Honestly, I couldn’t take any of it in. The fourth of July party was really fun and I enjoyed talking to people, but I felt outside of myself sometimes, thinking, this is nice, I’m having a good time, wow, look at those fireworks!

Sometimes I feel like I’m just going through my day feeling disconnected, unable to take a deep breath, feeling like there’s a bowling ball sitting on my chest, or in my chest. Sometimes I have a good cry and feel better and sometimes it doesn’t help at all. I have to say that the times I’ve felt best in the last few weeks were when I did have some good cathartic cries, when I heard from someone who really cares about me, and particularly when I performed the opening of my show on the retreat, making people laugh. And for that five minutes, I was out of my body and my mind, just having fun and moving through the fear.

If I could skip all of this I would. But since I can’t, I’m going to allow myself to sit with it and write about it and share it and just keep moving my feet, except when I can’t. Then you’ll probably find me somewhere in Central Park or Fort Greene Park, sitting under a tree. I have watched enough friends deal with really catastrophic challenges and I know how strong we all can be. It’s just a matter of allowing oneself to sit with the pain and practice acceptance, I believe.

I hate to write that, but a friend of mine, after finding out that her husband was having an affair with one of her best friends, said that last summer was “her summer of grief” and I realized that this summer is filled with a lot of sadness for me.

The retreat was wonderful and challenging. It brought up a lot of feelings of what home means and that was painful. The great part was being around so many brilliant and talented people. We all had to do a presentation and people wrote the most amazing things. Some of them were hilariously funny and some were sad. We also had a performance night and I did the first few minutes of my solo show and it felt great to have a chance to perform again. Good practice. And the talent at this retreat is truly brilliant.

Now I’m at my friends’ Julie and Keith’s home in Bethel, Connecticut. I’m getting ready to leave today, but we’ve had a great Fourth of July weekend. I just hate waking up in the morning and feeling down. The big mistake I made was that I purchased the book “On Grief and Grieving” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler and I read the section this morning on depression and I got really really depressed.

So I wrote a few emails and poured myself a cup of coffee and now I’m speedy and a little anxious. But I remembered other times when I was dealing with a lot of sadness and I thought about Pema Chodron’s advice to just accept wherever you are as being in the right place, so that’s what I’m doing. I cried a little, which helped, and did some meditation. But grief is grief and it is the journey I’m on right now. I’d love to skip it if I could, but I know that isn’t really an option. It will just show up later on and I guess right now is the perfect time. The weather is beautiful, I’m off on a train trip back to Brooklyn today and to my dogs. And I just have to get through this a day at a time.

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