Friday, March 22, 2013

Part 1 Permission to Grieve

The anniversary of Bobby’s death is less than twenty four hours away.  The restless nights have begun. The memories profuse, my dreams vivid and alive.  This year I decided to write on a subject some people find uncomfortable, grief.  For a few, the most aggravating, my sorrow over losing Bobby. 

Never wanting to burden anyone with my problems, before now, only a few people knew of my plight. The ability to write about the intense sorrow, making my way through what I have dubbed my ‘just shy of crazy days’, is only possible because I survived. After twenty three years, I finally allowed myself to drown in my loss and with the help of some amazing friends, was able to surface and once again breathe. 

Along the way some people recognized my pain for what it was; grief, delayed mourning. They patiently answered my questions, allowed me to cry without thought and helped me find closure.  Because of them I was able to let go and heal. 

Others whispered, questioned my tears and mocked my pain. A few friends even stopped talking to me. My silent tears, what I had written upset them. When asked why, they never answered.  Intentional or not, their words and actions added to my sorrow. They will never comprehend the hurt they inflicted during some of my darkest days.  It is because of their blindness and lack of compassion I decided to acknowledge and write about what I went through

Bearing my soul, stupidity or courageous, that is for the reader to decide. My prayer, that the emotional journey I traveled will help people recognize grief. Understand if not addressed properly at the time of a loved one’s sudden passing, can reoccur and continue years later. My hope, we will all learn to reach out when confronted with another’s pain instead of dismiss or mock what we cannot comprehend.  

Let me begin with part one.

What was true in my past is still true today; sharing what I feel is a rarity. Writing has allowed me to express what I fear to express verbally. Avoidance is a subject mastered. Only one person has ever broken through my emotional barricade. There was no denying the instant connection we shared. 

A year after his death, one sunny April afternoon I lie next to his grave, with my hand resting on his headstone, I confessed my love and said goodbye.  Believing that was enough to end my pain, I left Restland and tried to move forward with my life. Years later I learned accepting his death and letting him go would take longer than I ever realized. 

“To understand what was and accept what will never be is a journey wrought with tears.”

Unresolved Grief:  Denial of a loss. The pain is present, but the brain suppresses it, refusing to accept the death. Major factors, guilt over unresolved issues, words not spoken and the death is sudden.  Unresolved grief is compounded when no support system is in place; others consider the person’s loss insignificant and do not understand the magnitude of a person’s pain.  Unresolved Grief usually transforms and combines with Delayed Grief.

Delayed Grief:  When a person is not ready or prepared to deal with the loss of a loved one. Grief is avoided and/or stopped due to the unbearable intensity of feelings towards the person and the manner of loss.  It is postponed for many years rather than felt, experienced, understood and properly expressed at the time of the loss.  Ties and reminders to the person and loss are severed. Avoidance allows the person to hide their sorrow. Over time grief/pain may surface but is pushed back/denied with self-scolding until an unforeseen trigger happens.  When the grief is finally allowed to surface, the pain and sorrow is magnified from years of denial.

Permission to Grieve
21 November 2010
It was the twenty third night I spent curled in a chair next to my Father’s bed.  As I had done every night before I spent the long midnight hours reflecting, remembering, writing and watching over Dad. I looked at the clock it was a little past 2 a.m. It was time to stretch my legs and clear my brain. During my midnight strolls the whispers of the hospice house could be heard; sounds of muffled televisions, soft music and nurses quietly talking.  The usual hush was present but there was an ineffable silence as well.

Walking down the hall I found myself peering into each room as I passed.  Sadness filled me. Every patient slept alone; there was no one there to watch over them during the tenebrous hours.  The soft glow from their night light illuminated their faces as they slept.  Death awaited them yet their expressions were peaceful, welcoming.

At the end of the hall I stopped next to the last room and was still. Looking up, I searched desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of an Angel. I needed to know at least one was there waiting to take everyone home at their appointed hour. Praying for reassurance we are never truly alone. Physically and emotionally exhausted I headed back.

From the hall I could hear Frank Sinatra softly playing in Dad’s room.  Leaning against the door frame I continued to pray as I watched my father sleep.  Cancer had silenced him; he hadn’t spoken in over a day. No more words of comfort or reassurance would leave his lips. My solitude was broken as his nurse brushed by me and announced her arrival.  Snuggling into my blanket, hugging myself with its warmth, I settled back into the recliner.  

The nurse checked Dad’s tubes, administered his medications and began a conversation about her oldest daughter.  After years of dating the wrong men, her daughter had finally found love with a good man, a midshipman.  One of the day nurses had mentioned I was married to an Academy graduate. She was curious what life was like married to a man in the military. Smiling I informed her she had the wrong daughter; it was my sister who had married a Navy man. Life was good for them, they had been married for twenty eight years.  Her expression saddened when I told her I never married.

On the way out the room, she paused next to my chair, patted my hand and said, “As beautiful and loving as you are. I’m sure you had a bunch of midshipmen chasing you. I bet there is a man out there who regrets letting you go.” Then she concluded, “Such a shame you never fell in love and married.”  The fortress built long ago to protect me from similar sentiments began collapsing. To hide the tears that were forming I looked out the window.

Wanting comfort I reached for Dad’s hand.  Tired, sick, happy, angry, sleeping; no matter what state my father was in, he always squeezed my hand when he felt it inside his. There was no response; the warmth was leaving his fingers. The reality could no longer be denied, he was going to be leaving me soon.

The somber atmosphere from the hall entered the room. The strange absence, emptiness, encompassing me was present yet wasn’t.  The last of the Frank Sinatra songs played and my iPod turned dark and grew silent.  Rising from my chair I stopped when I witnessed the screen come back on and watched as my iPod shuffled. 

The opening flutes, with a gentle orchestra background gracefully danced from the speakers and diffused the room with its longing melody. I closed my eyes and held my heart as I listened to Elton John's combination of "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Our Love is Here to Stay."  The Gershwin song I dreamed of dancing to at my wedding brought tears to my eyes. Others may think differently but in my heart I know who that dance has always belonged to. The arduous what ifs began to circulate in my heart. The nurses remark, the music, and the sensation I felt caused me to reflect on a conversation I had with my father when he was in the hospital. 

Dad had read my blog and needed to clear his conscious before he died. He told me of a handsome very excited, newly winged Naval Aviator that stopped by the house the beginning of June 1985.  When told I was not home, undaunted, he asked if he could leave a note.  Dad handed him a pad of paper, stood at the door and watched as he sat on our front porch writing. 

Dad had witnessed my countless tears over the previous two years. Believing this man would be like all the others in my past, hurt and leave me, he never gave me his letter. Instead, he tucked it away in his dresser.  Two years later, my nightly sobs tore at my father’s heart. His fears were confirmed when he unfolded the piece of paper and saw the signature. He realized my sorrow was over the man he had sent away. Afraid I would not forgive him if I learned of Bobby’s letter; he returned it to his dresser.   

Dad’s confession hung in my mind as a slide show of forgotten memories started to play on fast forward in my brain. The room spun and I could no longer breathe. Love, regret, passion, sorrow, panic, loneliness, a mixture of emotions overwhelmed me as my past rushed to the forefront of my mind.

Remembering was causing a claustrophobia of sorrow; it began to suffocate me. Insanity was but a moment away. Hoping to escape the memories, get away from the song that triggered my new affliction, I rushed out of the room. Walking to the kitchen I wiped my tears and prayed for a reprieve. 

Bracing myself, leaning over the sink, I repeated out loud, “Breathe Robinson, just breathe.”  Words were failing me, my brain was letting go and my heart was crumbling.  Hot tea would surely calm and comfort me. The cups and tea were above me, the microwave to my left.

The water flowed over the top of the cup and washed over my hand.  Staring at the scene, I was trapped in the moment. My disorientation compounded by the sound of a shock trauma helicopter flying overhead. The lonely rhythmic vibration of the blade chopping through the air, something I had heard often in my life, was now a haunting reminder of what should have been.  With each rotation, I could feel a piece of my heart vacate.

Reality was escaping me. Frozen, unable to regain control, in slow motion, I watched my cup drop and shatter at the bottom of the sink. My legs gave way as I fell to the floor in a crumpled mass of tears. The exclamation I cried shocked me, “Oh God, Bobby where are you?”   

The sound of shattering glass, my anguished cries brought my Dad’s nurse to my side. No words would form; I couldn't think, the pain so fresh it crippled me. She held me, urged me to let it all out.  Refusing to relinquish control, I fought the desperation trying to engulf me.

With mastery I had gained since Bobby’s death I quelched my tears and pulled free of her embrace.  She handed me a tissue and asked if I wanted to talk.  I shook my head, how could I? My father lie dying in the next room yet the tears I shed were for a man who had died twenty three years earlier. There was no reasoning away this betrayal against my father. How would anyone understand what I could not explain?

My tears were halted but my body was still trembling. The last thing I wanted was a witness to my meltdown. If she left, I could let whatever this was pass and pretend it never happened. My voice quivered, I thanked her for her concern, told her I would be fine but wanted to be alone. She refused. She insisted talking was necessary to heal. Expecting her to confirm my treachery and bolt in disgust, I confessed my cries were not for my father. Her reaction astonishing: she hugged me, had faith my father would understand and assured me I had committed no sin. Her reasoning; grief adheres to its own timetable. 

A few hours later, half asleep I was awakened by a knock on the door. Through the haze, I rubbed my eyes; a woman introduced herself as a grief counselor and invited me for coffee. Cordially I declined; afraid she would confirm the ‘whispers’ made by friends after I had written about Bobby, I was crazy. No was unacceptable to her. One cup of coffee and after I could decide whether or not to keep talking.

Relief and answers were sought over Folgers and deli sandwiches. Sharing a bagel, I acknowledged my defenses first weakened in May 2010. The actual beginning was Facebook  I had reconnected with lost friends. People I had purposely avoided in the past were now constant reminders of what could have, should have been. Through Facebook an invitation was sent and accepted.

Almost twenty years had passed since I had attended a Navy function.  My reintroduction to my old life was a retirement ceremony for one of Bobby’s lacrosse teammates. The empty chair next to me a stark reminder he was gone and how much I missed him. Looking at his old friends, in my mind I could hear myself tell him, "Bobby you should be here." I questioned God why he wasn't. The speeches were lost to the memory of a conversation Bobby and I shared; at least one of his boys would play for Navy and they would win the lacrosse championship that had eluded him in 1983. In the audience were several teenagers, none his. Bobby died before his dream of children could be realized. 

A few days later I began writing the series of blogs on Bobby. Believing if I let go of some of my memories, it would be enough to stop the tears that were beginning to surface after a long absence. With the conclusion of the series, after the last word was written, I thought Bobby was once again safely laid to rest in my heart. Dreams began to confuse me; not sure if I was remembering in my sleep or wishing.

The answers I knew could be found in my journals but I refused to seek them; terrified I would discover the dreams were real and not fiction. Not understanding how can you love someone yet lose so much of what happened? Bury so many beautiful memories?

The counselor's conclusions were reassuring; I was not crazy. To survive my brain hid what I was not prepared to handle in 1987. The mind has a way of protecting the heart. I needed to read my journals to find the truth. My peace could only come if I allowed myself to finish grieving. To complete it, I had to acknowledge who Bobby was to me and no longer hide what I felt.

Over the next few months whenever I felt overwhelmed we shared coffee. With her help I came to an important realization; in life and in death I have always been consistent with Bobby.  In life for a time I ran from him, convinced I was not good enough for him, afraid of the secret he kept, scared I had no control over my feelings and terrified of the intensity of it all. 

Since 23 March 1987 I had been running from Bobby, specifically his death; hiding from the overwhelming sorrow. Through the years I ran to protect myself from the immense guilt and regret that haunted me. To cope, I hid what I felt, denied my tears, buried memories. Slowly I cut off all ties to everyone and everything that reminded me of Bobby.      

Reality is often hard to acknowledge. To understand everything, my assignment, I had to take a very painful examination of whom I was and who Bobby was to me. Relinquish my sorrow and give myself permission to grieve. 

End of part one
next a look back 

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