Tag: #grief (page 1 of 2)

Cancer, Grief, and COVID19 – The Isolation Trifecta

Isolation. A feeling we most certainly can all understand in our current circumstance. #StayHomeStaySafe #CoronaVirus #COVID19

It seems every post on social media these days is a reminder of what is going on in the world. And rightfully so. Everyone is scared and feeling the walls closing in.

Cancer

When I was first diagnosed with cancer in 2003, I was not prepared for the feeling of isolation. Even when people were surrounding me, there was still that feeling of isolation. The words “you have cancer” floated around my brain constantly. And while others tried to share their own experiences with cancer, this new path was one I had to walk alone. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and many friends were there. But it felt like I was running a marathon by myself and they were all on the sidewalks, behind barricades cheering me on. The treatments were mine alone to bear.

In 2010, when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, the feeling of isolation came back with a vengeance. This time the isolation was more tangible. I was unable to walk because of where the cancer had attacked. My husband would get me situated on the couch or in one of the recliners before he would leave for work. At lunch, either he would come or he would make arrangements for a friend or family member to come over and keep me company for a while. But then it was back to work. I was alone, while the kids were at school and he was at work, left to wonder what this new life was going to look like.

For me, metastatic cancer came with a new set of physical challenges. But also mental challenges. At home with nothing but time on my hands, I discovered the average life expectancy was 36 months after being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (thankfully I have far exceeded that life expectancy, but I had no way to know that at the time). Friends and family once again rallied around us, but the isolation sat heavy in my soul.

Grief

Similarly, when my father passed away and then four days later my husband passed away, I was surrounded by friends and family. There to lift me up, to give me a shoulder to cry on, or to make sure that I had food to eat. But again, it was the times in the middle of the night, when I was unable to sleep that I found so isolating. Even going out with friends was hard. Most of my friends are happily married. I never felt more isolated than going to dinner with a group of happily married couples when I was now a widow. I have gotten better at being in those situations, but there are still times when that pain of isolation will rise up and make me understand what I lost when I see the looks that pass between husbands and wives who have known each other for decades.

COVID 19 – The trifecta of Isolation

In some way, I feel like I have been in preparation for the isolation brought on by COVID. But, it is just a little different. This one is being felt by everyone in some way.

And yet, even this new circumstance brings about a different feeling about grief and isolation.

During each of the previous life events, there were people around me. Helping me. Comforting me. Bringing me meals, sitting with me at doctor’s appointments, in the hospital, at the funerals, driving me to appointments, cleaning my house. They were sharing in my isolation as much as I would allow.

COVID 19 has reignited the feeling of isolation that I have struggled to overcome in the last few years. The isolation and grief from a cancer diagnosis, to loss of my father and my husband.

I have discovered I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are my connection to the outside world right now, however, the posts also remind me of the other things I have lost: my husband; my limited mobility (makes it really hard to do things I used to be able to do easily), even my healthy immune system.

Thanks to my metastatic cancer and a compromised immune system, I have not left my house, other than to take the dog for a walk or go to my oncologist appointment, since March 18th. Days upon days of no contact with friends and family except via phones/computers.

The physical isolation is hard. But the reminders of the emotional isolation of past experiences is like ripping a bandaid off a wound that hasn’t finished healing.

If you, like me, are feeling the isolation from cancer, grief, or COVID I have found the following help me get out of my isolation funk:

Papers burning in fire pit
After writing down the things causing anxiety, burn them and let them go
  • Keep a pen and paper or some kind of notebook on your nightstand. When I can’t sleep it is usually because I need to process what is going on, no better way to do that than to write it down.
    • If what you have written is something you don’t want others to read, I have also found that burning the pages in my fire pit is very therapeutic.
  • Go for a walk or run (I don’t run, but you might enjoy it)
  • Find a good exercise video or sign up with a virtual trainer (I just signed up with Camp Gladiator for a 6-week challenge – all classes are on Zoom). Sweating out the frustrations has always helped reset my mind.

What have you found to help you not feel so isolated?

On the road to self-discovery avoid the exit marked “should”

This may come as a surprise to many, but I have been seeing someone lately: a therapist.

She has been a safe place for me to express my emotions and feelings without being judged. If you haven’t seen a therapist, maybe you should try it.

Four things I have learned in therapy:

  1. Grief isn’t just for the loss of a person: I thought I was going to see a therapist to get help dealing with the grief of losing my husband and my father to cancer three and half years ago. As it turns out, I discovered I had a lot of grief that I have never dealt with regarding my own cancer diagnosis. It had honestly never even occurred to me that I should have grieved the life that I lost to cancer and the tolls it has taken on me mentally and physically.
  2. Being strong isn’t all it is cracked up to be. People see me as “strong” because that is the persona that I allow people to see. I wear a mask regarding my cancer and my grief that I have just recently begun to take off around people whom I know I can trust. I have used this mask to hide my vulnerability. You could say I don’t like to ask for help and you wouldn’t be wrong, but I have come to understand that it has much to do with feeling vulnerable (thanks Brene Brown, I watch her Ted Talk every time I feel the mask holding me down). Like most people, I do not like to show my vulnerability. I prefer to put on that mask and hide.
  3. I am a prisoner to “Should”. I have been exploring the enneagram lately (I am a 9, the peacemaker). I have a tendency to do things because I think that is what others expect of me and therefore do it because I think I should. If I do things others expect or tell me I should, it will keep the peace. Instead what I have discovered through therapy (and the enneagram) is that I may be achieving outward peace, but have sacrificed my own inward peace.
  4. I have a right to be happy. Many of the things I have done in my life were because I perceived others thought I should (yes, this is just a continuation of 3 above – but it is me learning to break the chains of should – the next level). It is OK for me to seek happiness and 2020 is the year I have chosen to travel the road to discover my own happiness.

Therapy has helped me see things in a new light and learn to explore why I feel the way I do. This morning I had an aha moment. Many friends and readers of this blog have told me “You should write a book, a blog, share your story.” This morning I realized the word “should” was a trigger. I started this blog to share my story. I even wrote a mission statement recently: “To offer hope to those on the path behind me.”

Lately, I have been avoiding writing because I am fearful of falling in the same trap.

But I’m here to tell you. I ‘m not doing this because someone told me I “should”, I am doing this because I want to explore what I may have to offer – to myself and to those on the path behind me.

Bucket list memories – who are the memories really for?

Do you have a bucket list? My guess is you do. Most people have ideas and dreams of things they want to see or accomplish before their time is up. I even wrote a post about bucket lists before my husband was diagnosed with cancer.

I have some items on my bucket list. But lately, I’ve been rethinking my idea of a bucket list. I still want to do some of those things in the link above (yes, I still want to go to the Ellen show and fly on a private plane). However, instead of making these memories for myself, I have come to realize it is the memories we make with our loved ones (be it family or friends) that will be how we are remembered.  

A year after JR died my oldest daughter graduated from college. To celebrate the fact that we all made it through the toughest year of our life the girls and I took a cruise. It was a time to get away from everything. What we discovered (aside from the fact that my snoring had gotten really bad) was that we weren’t really “cruise people.” I wanted to go on a cruise because it had been on my bucket list. JR had planned a cruise for our honeymoon, but plans had to be changed and he promised me for years that he would take me on a cruise one day. Unfortunately, that day never came and I shared this bucket list item with my girls instead.

If you were to ask the girls if they liked it they would say no. However, we did make some good memories on the trip. Like the boat ride where the dolphin played in the water beside us. Or their excursion at Roatan where they played with the monkeys. The mysterious midnight WiFi that brought us text messages even though we didn’t upgrade to the WiFi package. Watching Moana on a big screen at midnight in the middle of the ocean. And even the day we stayed on the ship when most got off (definitely one of the better days).

This weekend my youngest jokingly (but seriously) suggested I take her to Vegas to see the Jonas Brothers. She turned 21 last year and she just graduated from college a semester early. At first my reaction was “I don’t really want to go to Vegas”. The last time I was in Vegas was on my honeymoon. It would be bittersweet to go just a few weeks after what would be my husband and my 27th anniversary. But the more I have thought about it, the more I realize that I should go and make memories with her. Because when we are gone, the sweet memories are what get us through the days of sadness. And who better to make memories with than those you love the most in the world. 

So I’m going to dust off my bucket list and figure out who wants to make memories with me – memories that we can share now and they can use to reminisce when I’m gone (don’t worry, I don’t think that will be anytime soon – I have lots of items on my bucket list and adding more every day).

God’s gentle reminder to take out the trash

If you are new here, welcome. Several years ago I was talking with God. I wanted a sign, kind of like a hand signal, to remind me that He is around me and in control. Like a lot of conversations, I tried to lead it in the direction I wanted it to go. I was determined my sign would be a ladybug. I think I had just read a book where a ladybug was present at many crucial times. But as I was telling God I wanted the ladybug to be my sign, He gently whispered in my ear “Butterfly.” I really didn’t want a butterfly because it sounded so cliche. But there it was. And now, God’s sign to remind me that he is here with me and in control is the butterfly. What does that have to do with a rainy Friday in January, you ask?

Lately, I have been feeling a little out of sorts. Recently, the medication I take for metastatic breast cancer had to be changed because of some slight progression. I am still getting used to the new side effects from the medication which has not exactly been a joy ride. In addition, it is the height of Cedar season in Austin, and with an immune system that isn’t quite as strong as years past, I am struggling with allergies.

Today, God reminded me He is still with me and in control…

Friday is trash day. Last night, in the rain, I was taking the trash can out to the curb. When I pulled the can away from the wall, I noticed something on the wall. I didn’t think much about it. Mostly because it was 10 PM, it was chilly and raining and I just wanted to get the trash out to the street. I had procrastinated earlier in the evening, and then it started raining, so I procrastinated some more. Since it was raining, I knew I just needed to get the trash out and I would have time in the morning to get the recycle out.

In my neighborhood, the trash pickup comes earlier than the recycle. This morning, even though it is still chilly, I caught a break in the rain to get the recycle bin out to the street. I noticed, again, that there was something on the wall behind the trash and recycle bins. With a little more light this morning, I could see that it was a butterfly.

Butterfly
A gentle reminder from God

I don’t know about where you live, but in Austin, Texas you don’t really see a lot of butterflies in January.

There it was, attached to the wall. A butterfly. A gentle reminder from God. Nudging me to move the trash out of the way.

I have all sorts of trash that I allow to pile up. Whether it is my diagnosis and the recent progression, the loneliness of being a widow, the cedar fever, disagreements with friends over small things, or just plain old procrastination – be it taking out the trash or working on my book. All of these things pile up and I find myself separated from God.

But God always finds a way to reveal himself. Today it was ever so gently by placing a butterfly on a garage wall behind a trash can.

What kind of trash do you need to move so you can see God at work in your life?

Dear Cancer…A letter about how I really feel

I’ve never been good at expressing my feelings. I generally like to find the good in things. Don’t get me wrong. Situations can get me frustrated. But I can usually get past it after a few days and see things in a better light.

I have been able to do that for years with cancer. I have written about how cancer has given me hope and how I don’t let it tell me what I can and can’t do. But the reality is, cancer has taken a toll on me mentally and physically over the years. And it really pisses me off sometimes. So here is my Dear Cancer letter…

Dear Cancer: It’s not you, it’s me. 

Wait, that is so NOT TRUE – it very much is you and I’m tired of being nice to you. If you could just leave now and never come back it would not be too soon. 

In 2003, without any warning, you came into our home and disrupted our life. You were an unwelcome guest that barged in and made yourself at home. When you finally announced yourself on October 8th after a surgery to remove what we believed was a just a non-cancerous fibroadenoma, I was in shock. By the end of the month, I had 2 more surgeries and met the doctor who would be my oncologist. Less than one month from your intrusion, I began chemotherapy. It was all very fast and very surreal.

In the summer of 2004, after 8 rounds of chemo and I can’t even remember how many rounds of radiation, we packed your bags and kicked you out of our house. You had already overstayed your welcome and it was time for you to move out. I hated you then, and I still hate you. You took away my kid’s childhood by just being in our lives and for that, I will never forgive you.

We thought we had dealt with you and kicked you out to the curb, but unknown to us at the time, you had left a small unpacked bag behind for us to discover at a later date. 

When you interrupted our life in 2003, it felt like just a bad dream. For 10 months, we let you run our life. You told us when we had to be somewhere, you took my energy and my hair. But what you didn’t take was my spirit, as much as you tried. We had friends and family help with meals and house cleaning and other odd jobs that popped up. My husband took up a lot of the slack and didn’t even really complain. 

We fought with you on our terms and thought we had put you in our rearview mirror. That is until October 8, 2010. After months of pain in my back and hip, you once again came storming back into our home – that small bag that you left behind had turned into a huge duffel bag (kind of like those sea monkeys that you “just add water” and they grow). 

As you came in and unpacked the huge duffel bag, we discovered that you were there to stay this time. An uninvited guest that was now living in the house and had no intention of ever moving out. You had changed your name from breast cancer to Metastatic Breast Cancer. It was like you wanted to make sure you were in control again. Discovering the pain in my back and my hip was actually due to breast cancer metastasizing in my bones, we now understood that you were here to stay and there was nothing we could do to kick you out.

Through the pain and the uncertainty that you brought I really hated you. Not only had you disrupted our life in 2003, but now you had taken my ability to walk. When we saw the scans and the xrays that showed how much of my left hip anatomy was now gone, it was no wonder that my pain level had soared to a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10. 

You moved in and still wanted to run our life. Frankly cancer, your gift-giving abilities SUCK!

Surgeries, chemo, radiation, more radiation, another surgery, more chemo and drugs, another surgery, recovery and learning how to walk with a rebuilt hip, And you just kept giving.

After the surgeries, you decided it wasn’t enough and you had to move to my ribs which meant more chemo and drugs to try to keep you in your place.
My oncologist, through some trial and error, finally found the drug that managed to keep you under control. The chemo finally turned the water off that was making the monkeys continue to grow and we finally learned how to keep you in your place.

For 7 glorious years, we were able to tame you – to the point where I sometimes wondered if you really had decided to move on. I still had doctor appointments every 6 weeks to remind me, a daily pill to keep the faucet turned off, and scans every 4-5 months in which your distant relative anxiety would show up and we would all hold our collective breath until the results would come back with the words STABLE. 

But controlling my body and my life wasn’t enough for you. Maybe you thought I wasn’t paying you enough attention, but for whatever reason, in 2015, you opened the door for your cousin renal cancer and introduced your cousin to my husband. At this point, I had made my peace with you and had learned to accept your constant presence in my life. But DAMN you for thinking that was not enough. 

Kim and J.R. December 2015

Your cousin was not as well behaved as you and after 10 months, you brought your second cousin Grief. Why? I have no idea. I thought we had an understanding, you had taken up residence within my body, but if I thought I hated you before, I discovered a new level of hatred. Taking my husband and the father of my children was a new low that frankly I never saw coming. 

My girls have had to live with you since they were 8 and 5. They grew up with you as part of their life and they too had learned to accept that you were the distant relative that you had to put up with. 

I feel as if you have just piled on one thing after another and I’m F#@*$%G tired of it. Breast Cancer, Metastatic Breast Cancer, Renal Cancer, Grief. You can all just go take a leap and leave me the hell alone for a while. I’m so tired of you and your dirty relatives.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, you finally found a new way to turn the water back on. And this summer you decided my body was your playground again. Now we are back checking the arsenal to find something that will slow down the leak that you have created. I am not willing to put my life in your control again. I have every intention of fighting you and sticking around to watch my daughters as they embark on the life that you have tried to steal from them not once, not twice but 3 times.

I want you to know that you have just begun to see me fight. And although I know one day you will have the final say, until that day, I will fight you till hell freezes over and then fight you on the ice (#GoFrogs).

Grieving Widow is NOT my Identity

For J.R.s birthday this year, I planned a few fun things. I didn’t want to sit at home and brood, and I didn’t want it to go unacknowledged either.

The craziest thing I did was book a Discovery Flight with Genesis Aero in Georgetown. For me, it wasn’t just a flight to discover if I want to be a pilot (which would be AWESOME by the way), but it was also about rediscovering who Kim is before she puts on any other hats.

You know the hats I’m talking about: mom, daughter, sister, wife/widow, friend – but before I put on any of those hats I am KIM first.

Between cancer and grief, I have forgotten who Kim is as a person – not a cancer patient, not a wife or grieving widow, not a mom. What is it that makes Kim, well, Kim?

The Discovery Flight was about reclaiming my sense of adventure.

As I shared with friends about my discovery flight I began to notice a similar reaction from a lot of people (aside from the “are you really going to do that?”). Almost everyone asked if J.R. was a pilot or if that was HIS dream. Ummmm. NO! They did not understand that although I was doing this on his birthday, I was doing this for ME! And then they really thought I was crazy.

J.R. was not a pilot, although he liked playing simulation flying games, something most people didn’t know about him was he was terrified of heights. He was fine on a commercial flight, but I’m not sure how much he would have enjoyed the little Cessna I was co-piloting. This was NOT about him, but it was another way I continue to try to honor him – by rediscovering KIM.

Honestly, I was the one in the relationship that loved to do what he might have called “crazy” things. (If you know J.R. you can imagine how he probably did more crazy things before we met to last him a lifetime). I was the one who jumped off the cliffs in Italy. I am the one who wanted to try skydiving (although I never did get that done and I’m not sure the doctor would sign off on that now).

What’s next on the adventure horizon? I’m not sure yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if it includes scuba diving lessons or ziplining (don’t worry, you won’t be seeing any bungee jumping videos, I may be adventurous, but even I have my limits).

Open to New Possibilities

I have been reading the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron with a few friends. It has been a slow going process. We don’t meet every week, in fact, it has taken us almost an entire year to get through 9 chapters. But what started as an exercise to help me “tell my story” has evolved into so much more.

I started this blog to tell my story. Then my husband got sick and it became our story (which it really was all along anyway). After 10 months, he passed away and I started writing a little more about grief and the healing process.

I’m excited to share with you that with the help of my Artist’s Way friends, and some other very unexpected events, I am working on a new project. I have been shown some new possibilities for a way to express what I have been wanting to share with the world (or at least with those who need to find hope when all else seems lost).

This new project is fiction, however, like most things people write about, it is based on things I have learned along the way through my cancer diagnosis, my husband’s cancer and death, and my journey of healing through grief.

I cannot express how excited I am about this new path that I feel is being laid before me.

I hope to share just a few gems along the way as I travel down this path.

Today’s gem came to me as I was doing a writing exercise exploring the antagonist- Grief.

Grief is a Bully. When you are in the midst of grief, it will butt in at the least opportune time and take control of a situation.

Move Forward vs. Move On

Have you ever felt stuck? Sometimes we get stuck and don’t even realize it.

We don’t know how to Move Forward.

A couple of weeks ago I realized I was feeling stuck and decided to sign up for a GriefShare group. My husband has been gone for 2 years and I was feeling like I was still stuck.

Two years later I am not as quick to break down in front of people, but I do still find myself occasionally wondering if I will ever feel like I’m getting on with life. (To those of you who know all the things I have done in the last 2 years that may sound strange because I don’t sit and wait for things to happen, but there are times when I feel like I do things because they are expected, or because I don’t want others to worry about me).

Last night I was watching the video at GriefShare and one comment resonated with me. I thought about it the rest of the evening and was still thinking about it this morning. Honestly, I can’t even tell you what the rest of the comments were, but what struck me was a comment about the difference between “moving on” vs “moving forward.”

The commentator talked about how “moving on” felt like you were leaving your loved one in the past. “Moving forward”, however, was not forgetting your loved one, but experiencing a new you. It is amazing how changing one word can give you a different perspective. If you have never been through grief, changing that one word may not sound like a big difference, but if you have experienced the loss of a loved one, you get it.

I was raised in the military. My dad was in the Army. Each month there would hold a “Hail and Farewell” at the officer’s club. In the military, people came and went all of the time. This gave everyone the chance to say hello to the newcomers and to say goodbye to those moving to their new post. As a child watching this and making the moves to new places, I realize that we “moved on”. I did not stay in contact with friends from elementary and/or middle school. Sure I tried with a couple of friends to stay in touch, but those did not last long. I did not form long-lasting attachments to friends because I never knew when the next “Hail and Farewell” would be and which one of us would be ‘moving on.’

I realized last night that I was afraid to ‘move on’ because I didn’t want my husband to be forgotten like the friends in my past. But as I listened to him describe ‘moving forward’ I knew I needed to change the vocabulary I was using. Moving forward does not mean forgetting the life we had. Instead, Moving Forward empowers me to allow myself to find joy and experience what life has to offer. He told me in his last letter to find a reason to smile every day- I think this was his way of telling me to move forward.

I am a different person because I had him in my life. I will forever be shaped by that love. And as I move forward, I can’t help but carry him with me because of the love we shared. I feel like I have just been shown how to move the gear shift from Neutral to Drive.

It will feel strange to shift into Drive, and there will be times that it may slip back into neutral, but knowing I can move forward will make it easier the next time to shift it back into Drive.

 

 

The Isle of Grief – Acknowledge, Accept, Find a way off

I feel like I have been living on a deserted island….The isle of Grief.

The Isle of Grief

This weekend marked 11 months since my life drastically changed. The first few days are a blur. There were so many things that had to be done immediately. I didn’t even realize the adrenaline that was cursing through my body to be able to make the decisions and get things done.
Friends were there along the way holding my hand and helping any way they could.
Then the funeral came. The numbness from the shock (and inability to sleep) helped me get through the funeral and the reception. So many people offering condolences and holding me up (some quite literally). It was an exhausting day.
Over the next few weeks friends called and texted me just to check in. Some just sending a heart to let me know they were thinking about me (a sweet friend who had gone through a loss of her own suggested that idea to close friends).
So much change was happening in my life I hardly had time to let the grief sink in. Less than a month after my dad and my husband passed away (four days apart), my youngest daughter started her freshman year in college. I also began house hunting and signed a contract to build a new house before a month had passed (yes, people tell you to wait, but believe me when I tell you I had a lot of friends telling me that my situation was different, and it was).

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Another First – Father’s Day without a Father

I have been a little low this week. At first I thought it was being back from vacation, but that should have worn off already. Then I thought it was because I had my doctor’s appointment yesterday, but that was just a 6-week regularly scheduled check-in – not a big deal.

It wasn’t until this morning when I opened Facebook and saw it:

Don't forget Father's Day

Father’s Day is on Sunday

 

That is when it clicked. Father’s Day. A day to celebrate the men in our lives. Only this year, we don’t have two of them.

This is one of those Firsts that you hear about when people talk about grief.

It is our first Father’s Day without a Father. My first Father’s day in 50 plus years to not be able to talk to my dad and wish him a Happy Father’s day.

The first Father’s day in 22 years (yes, he got a Father’s day gift when I was pregnant with our first daughter) where I will not roll over in the morning and tell my husband before anyone else Happy Father’s Day.

I admit I have gotten better at identifying why I am feeling down, but this one snuck up on me. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because of all of the activity that we have had going on lately.

Since March life has been moving ahead. I closed on my new house and moved, I sold our old house, my oldest graduated from college, we went on a cruise to celebrate graduation and surviving the past year. Next week we are going to look for apartments for my oldest who will now be moving on to graduate school.

All of that in three and a half months is enough for anyone. much less someone who had 2 devastating losses less than a year ago. Sometimes I look at my kids and I amazed at how well they have handled this year.

On Sunday I will hug my girls, tell them how proud I am of them.

In my heart I will wish I was calling my dad one more time to tell him Happy Father’s day….

Happy Father’s Day Dad

…And giving my husband another homemade coupon entitling the bearer to a  trip to Barnes and Noble with his spouse to watch him read every back cover on the Sci-Fi aisle, looking for the perfect next book.

Happy Father’s Day J.R 

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