“Mourning is the most intense process that most people ever go through. Grief is complex, unpredictable and primal. Many people are frightened by it-frightened by feeling it, frightened by seeing it in others. Fortunately, there are ways to move through it, and those all involve expressing your feelings. If you act upon your grief, you will make room in your life and in your heart for hope and happiness. If you suppress it, it sticks around forever. However, unpleasant or disturbing some of those feelings may be, there is no benefit in trying to ignore them.”
This is the first paragraph of Chapter 12 in my book co-written with Nancy Hathaway, entitled Giving Sorrow Words: How to Cope with Grief and Get on with Your Life.
As we approach the holidays and I see more and more people posting remembrances on our Facebook pages, I am reminded of these words over and over again. The holidays are an especially difficult time for those of us whose loved ones were killed, especially if it is around this time of year. Cari was killed just before Mother’s Day and I remember how difficult it was to function that day. I didn’t want any of the normal attention given to me by my other two remaining children. I didn’t want breakfast in bed, or mother’s day cards; I just wanted to crawl into a hole and not feel any more pain. I will never forget the first Christmas after her death. The district attorney sent me an envelope with her bloody clothes inside, that included a form letter telling me that now that the case had been resolved, her clothes were no longer needed as evidence. I cried, then got angry and called them up and gave them a piece of my mind for their insensitivity. Some days were OK, some not so good. But I got through it as we all do, taking each day, one step at a time.
Let me share with you some things I have leaned over the years in working with victims, doing some grief counseling and researching my book.
First, grieve, quit worrying about how long it has been. Grief comes in 3 stages, the beginning, the middle and the rest of your life.
Second, share your feelings, with anyone who will listen. Talk about your child, or parent or friend, and recite stories if it isn’t too painful. Feel anger, if you are angry. Many of us are. Anger at the person who took our loved one’s life, anger at our loved one for dying and in my case, anger at the system who allowed my daughter’s killer to continue to drink and drive on a valid California driver’s license after numerous arrests and convictions.
Keep a journal if you think that will help, write your loved one a letter saying the things you think you didn’t say enough when they were alive. We are all too familiar with the guilt, what I call the “if Only syndrome.” If only, I had waited and taken her to the carnival, if only I hadn’t let him drive, if only, if only. We are not God and we cannot control the universe although heaven knows I have tried. This one takes awhile to get over but it does happen in time. I had to keep telling myself I didn’t kill Cari, Clarence William Busch did.
The Holidays are here to stay. Wrap them a present if it will make you feel better and put it under the tree. Light a candle and/or put a Christmas ornament on the tree acknowledging their memory. Perhaps while you are having your holiday dinner, you could all share a story about your loved one that evokes a special memory or makes you laugh. I found traveling during the holidays didn’t help but creating new traditions did. You could also do something special in your loved one’s memory. Perhaps instead of having Christmas dinner, feed the homeless at a local shelter, or contribute to a cause in their name. My family did that one Thanksgiving as our family started dwindling due to deaths and divorce.
However, if celebrating is just too painful, don’t. I skipped Mother’s day, Thanksgiving and the first Christmas after Cari died.
Make the most of symbolism. Every year on the anniversary of Cari’s death I throw a flower into the ocean and because I do not live near her cemetery I will take flowers and put them on someone else’s grave near where I live.
Be open to the paranormal. I experienced Cari after she died, as did others, and those memories stay with me whenever I wonder how she is. I met many people in my interviews who also had after death experiences with their loved ones. There were some fascinating stories and it amazed me how many would start by saying, “you may think I’m crazy or I have to tell you I am not religious but . . . . “
Ask for help if you need it. I don’t care what the shrinks say, grief is not a mental illness. It is a normal part of life. Some people may have some severe grief issues but most of us grieve normally (whatever that is) and we are not sick and we do not heal. I want to upchuck every time I hear that word associated with grief. We don’t” heal” from grief. Grief is not an illness. It is a normal part of life. It is with us, we may move on but it isn’t unusual to come back to it from time to time. Grief is a gift that helps us cope with death. As we say in Giving Sorrow Words, “Death takes away. That’s all there is to it. But grief gives back. By experiencing it, we are not simply eroded by pain. Rather, we become larger human beings, more compassionate, more aware, more able to help others, more able to help ourselves. Grief is a powerful alchemy. It plunges us into sorrow and forces us to face the finiteness of life, the mightiness of death, and the meaning of our existence on this earth.”
Remember you may have other family members who need you or who are grieving so try not to ignore them and include them in your grief journey.
Most importantly, take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, pamper yourself, men too, and do something pleasurable. Watch a movie that makes you laugh. The movie, “Pretty Woman” was my solace after my father died. It was the perfect antidote to all the pain I was feeling. I do believe in laughter and the saying that laughter is the best medicine is true, at least for me. I understand that it takes awhile for some of us to get to that point but it has always helped me get through the darkest of times. When we were at Cari’s funeral, the family sat behind the stage and we could hear everyone sniffling. We couldn’t see anyone but we could hear the sniffles. My ex-husband who is very witty turned to us all and said “I wish I had the Kleenex concession.” We all chuckled and I knew at that moment I would survive and believe me there were times when I didn’t think I would. That was a defining moment for me – that I could laugh in the midst of such unbearable pain. It meant that I was going to make it.
I hope this helps as you deal with this particular time of year. I still miss Cari. She loved Christmas and I will always have the memory of her on the phone on Christmas day, listening to her friends talk about their gifts and her exclamations of joy at what they were getting, then her absolute need at having to go over right then and there so she could check them out. She will always be with me, but now instead of just focusing on how she died, I try to concentrate on how she lived and the joy she brought into our lives. I hope you can do the same.