New Year’s Grief

Original Painting of feeling underwater
My pastel of Cal Academy Aquarium

Who knew that New Year’s Day would bring such new year’s grief? Actually, a friend who is a retired grief counselor knew but we didn’t get together about it till yesterday.  She said she’d always warn people about it and they wouldn’t believe her

Thanksgiving was hard as I wrote in my last post. I survived Christmas quite well, making new memories with my kids, staying in a houseboat in Sausalito and seeing the sights my 3 year old grandson favors – the zoo, the aquarium, etc.

Then I flew home on New Year’s Eve and enjoyed sunset on the beach with friends. All ok.

Sailboat in the setting sun
Last Sunset of 2019

But starting the next morning all resilience was gone. Although January 1 is just another day, it seemed so significant to start a new year without my husband. The first of many. Impossible.

I felt bereft without Larry.  So lonely.

I could blame it on the jet lag, and certainly that didn’t help.

But there’s no question that all these “Firsts” are hard to navigate and they’ve come so quickly. My first birthday without him in October. My first Thanksgiving without him in November. His birthday in early December. Christmas. And now the new year.

There’s something so symbolic about the new year.   It’s all about the passage of time, and the passage of time makes you look at yourself and your life – both past and future.  After all, the custom of resolutions is associated with the start of a new year, whether or not you make them or keep them. At the very least, it’s time to tackle all the things you postponed until “after the holidays.” At the most, it’s a fresh start, a time of new beginnings, time to start new things, and leave others behind.

So what did I postpone as I worked to hold myself together through the holidays?  Not little things, big things!

All the big decisions about new beginnings.  What am I going to do with the rest of my life? Should I try to rebuild my consulting business? Should I do some other kind of work ? Retire? Where am I going to spend the rest of my life? When should I sell my big house that I rattle around in alone, making me feel even lonelier – a single small being in a space meant for two, or three or four.

I pushed myself hard in the last few days to start making some of these decisions. Then I started having panic attacks and I haven’t been sleeping.

The passage into a new year facing an unknown future alone is scary. And it feels sort of like leaving Larry behind in last year.  I miss him. There is no place of safety or security in my mind or in my heart.

Finally I realized I have to do more healing first, before pushing forward. Get over the holidays. Get past this first rush of new year’s grief.  Get my feet back under me. Stay in the present. Adjust to being home, to being alone after being with family. Not worry about big decisions, until tomorrow, or next week or month.  To stay present in today.

I’ve meditated, alone and in a group. I’ve allowed myself to cry. I’ve gone back to exercising, to yoga. I’m journaling and studying a bit about healing trauma – as caregiving over time involves traumatic experiences.   I’m doing artwork.   I’m tackling little projects, errands where I can feel like I got something done.  I’m seeing friends.

I’m still feeling crappy, but I am feeling less crappy than last week. I’m okay with that as progress through the new year’s grief.

 

Eight Months Since His Death

Original pastel painting of the emptiness I felt this ThanksgivingMy husband died on April 2.  I can’t believe it’s been eight months since his death.  Three quarters of a year gone by that I barely remember.  I think I’m just beginning to wake up again, from the death and perhaps even more from the months and years of illness that preceded it.

I’ve been rereading the best book on managing to live while grieving – Resilient Grieving by Lucy Hone.  It’s got an optimistic active view about what to do, rather than the passive view that it will just take time.    It’s not just about the research (like Bonanno’s) that says the majority of people will recover to full function in about 6 months to a year, but it’s about research that tells you HOW to recover.

I’ve been doing such activities – traveling, trying new things, meditating, exercising, journaling, spending time with friends, even taking on new clients, while allowing myself to also nap in the hammock and cry when I need to.

So I’ve been asking myself why I felt such deep anguish over Thanksgiving, finding myself dissolving into tears multiple times for several days.  Hone talks about something she calls “grief ambush,”  that she describes as the sadness overtaking you suddenly from some trigger that brings you back to the past.

Thanksgiving was a trigger like that for me, bringing me back to so many wonderful holidays with Larry,

In the first eight months since his death, the loss was dulled somehow by all the challenges of the illness.  His decline, his frustration, his incapacity, the hopelessness of it all – that was front and center.  I found it  hard to even remember Larry before the symptoms of Multiple System Atrophy.

But this Thanksgiving brought healthy Larry back, and part of the anguish was that for the first time I grieved all those six years of darkness.  All those years that I was so strong, so positive – trying to match his positive spirit.  After eight months since his death, in those days surrounding Thanksgiving, I was finally able to grieve the loss of healthy Larry.

And being by myself for the days surrounding the holiday (except for a few hours while I ate turkey), it really sank in that I am alone in the world, the only one responsible for me.  Yes, with friends, yes with family, but ultimately alone.

I feel like that descent was necessary.  Maybe I’ve passed into a new phase.  I’ve felt so wounded from it all and in need of rest, recover, cocooning – staying still in a way.   Maybe I might be ready to start to move, literally and figuratively.

I know that grief is full of twists and turns and it’s not just a list of stages you go through in an orderly fashion, so who knows what will come next.

But today, eight months since his death, and fifteen months since he was first admitted to hospice, I’m thinking that it’s time to find a life for myself.

 

Grief Tastes Like Raw Turkey – Holidays Alone

I'm not alone - I have my dogWe always used to invite “strays” for Thanksgiving – people who would otherwise have holidays alone.  Now I’m the stray.  I have an invite for tomorrow, but it’s Thanksgiving eve and I’m sitting home alone (well, with my dog.)  Working hard at not feeling sorry for myself.

All around me are houses full of guests, or empty ones that my neighbors have left to travel to their families.  For days people have been shopping, cleaning, preparing.   They ask  me “where are you going?” with a sort of pitiful gentleness. They want to make sure I’m not alone.  I’m grateful for the invitations, but I just wish it were over.  These first holidays alone are hard!

I’ve done my best to make it as “less miserable” as possible.  I’ve accepted an invite to join my neighbors, where I’ve never celebrated with Larry so there will be no associated memories.

I tried to be good to myself today.  Bought myself sushi for dinner so I didn’t have to cook.  Bacon for breakfast tomorrow – an unusual treat I don’t often cook for myself.  I took my kayak out for a sunset paddle and the sunset didn’t disappoint but I sat at the edge of  tears trying to enjoy it alone.  I lit a fire for myself when I came home.

I know there is no getting past the grief, the loneliness.  No going around it, just through it.

Grief around the holidays is the worst – it’s raw tasting.  It’s coarse and gritty in texture and upsets my stomach.   It’s like a turkey dinner in a fun house mirror – it sort of looks right but isn’t right at all.  Not at all.

I don’t know why the grief feels so different right now.  Perhaps there’s some self-pity flavoring it.  Maybe some anger.  There’s the oh-so-poignant comparison to memories of better times, and the societal expectation of Hallmark and Currier and Ives.

Larry loved Thanksgiving!  It was his holiday to shine.  He loved to cook and spent weeks choosing recipes.  He loved to feed people, giving them much to choose from.  Two turkeys, one for the table, one for leftovers to share.  Many vegetable dishes, several stuffings.  Mashed potatoes, gravy.  Home made cranberry sauce.  Everything, everything was made from scratch.  My job was multiple pies and a pretty table.  Oh, and a Thanksgiving ritual of the gratitude tree that we covered with leaves on which we wrote our thanks for all that was good in our life.

I practiced acts of gratitude today.  I sent a book to a friend who helped me find the Caregiver Grant and pointed me to Santa Fe.  I arranged flowers and delivered them to my host for tomorrow.  I gave a floating Christmas tree to my neighbors who feed me once a week, and made some Coconut Sugar Body Scrub to thank my hula hoop teacher who has given me the chance to be playful through these dark months.

It’s finally late enough I can go to bed and this day will be over.  And then tomorrow.  Neither the good NOR the bad last forever.  It’s all temporary, just like our lives on earth.  I will get through it.  I may be alone tonight but at least I know there are a lot of people are out there who love me and who I love.  And I won’t spend the holidays alone. That’s luckier than a lot of people.    That’s a lot to be grateful for.

 

Courage to Travel Alone While Grieving.

Original Pastel of the Possibilities from Travel
Original Pastel of Ghost Ranch scenery

Last week I returned from my Road Scholar journey to Santa Fe called “Finding Your Bliss in the Land of Enchantment.” It was a women’s retreat full of self-exploration activities.  It took courage to travel alone, but Road Scholar trips are groups so I didn’t have to be alone if I didn’t want to.

The trip was an amazing experience.  I had been awarded one of their Caregiver Grants, which gave me both the ability and the initiative to do something for myself, which I was sorely lacking after the years of caring for my husband and the months of grieving.

As I drove to the airport in Tampa in the dark of night, I felt a great relief leaving everything behind. I was going to a place with no memories, no family, no grief attached to it.

Yes, I brought my grief and certainly cried at times. But it was reassuring to know that I could also have a good time. “Both/And.”  I could revel in noticing that I only had to worry about me, take care of me! One afternoon while journaling in front of a fire in the hotel lounge, I watched a couple negotiating what they’d do next.  It was kind of nice to know I could just go off and do whatever I wanted, and I did!  (I did crash when I got home and felt pure anger at not being able to share retirement with Larry.)

I came back with a new sense of possibility about my future alone, a sense of renewed confidence in my own ability to make things happen.

The trip itself was a perfect choice. I was glad to have been on an all women trip as it created an atmosphere where vulnerability and intimacy was easy.  Plus I was never the odd single among couples.

Our guide, Vannetta Perry, was amazing – creating a “safe” environment for all of us. As a professional facilitator, I have often cringed when encountering unskilled leadership. She was exceptional – making everything easy. Her knowledge of the area culture, geology, and history was a great part of our learning experience.

I’d never been to Santa Fe and found the art, cultural diversity, architecture, and natural beauty to be stunning. The breadth of experiences that were part of the trip – cooking, art, Zen meditation, yoga, hot springs, women healers, history – were themselves diverse and enriching. The hotel was great, the meals were great.  And I found enough time on my own to take advantage of a few of the amazing museums.

I even wondered what it would be like to move to Santa Fe, or any place where I had no history, creating an entirely new life.  I’m not ready for that, yet, but it was nice to have as a thought to consider.

I felt courageous for having chosen to travel alone, courageous for taking an extra day on my own, courageous for having rented a car to go out of town into the foothills and find Sanctuario de Chimayo, an ancient healing spot.

All in all, I returned with a sense of my own “agency” – ability to make things happen.  Someone asked me if it helped with the grief, and what I answered was that it helped me separate the grief from the pain.  I’ll always feel the loss but I don’t always have to feel in pain – a victim of the loss.  Making things happen and feeling courageous is a great antidote to self-pity.

Angry Again: How Hospice and Healthcare Failed Us

Painting of anger
Original pastel copy on Shizen paper of Marla Baggetta’s Red Sunset

I’m ANGRY.  Again. Recently I met with Tidewell Hospice leaders after sending a letter full of the ways I felt they failed my husband and me with their care.  They robbed us of our quality of life in the last few months.  I came to the meeting with a list of ideas I had about how they could do a better job for patients who have neurological diseases, rare diseases, or lengthy stays.  I sent the list by email after we met.

It took a lot of energy and courage to meet.  I had to prepare by reviewing the worst months of our lives.  I had to manage the anger and sadness that welled up every time I sat down to write down my thoughts, just as I am managing it now – my shoulders and neck tightening, the tears welling up, the lump in my stomach.

I haven’t heard back though it’s been 6 weeks.  Not a thank you for your time, not a sorry, not any info about actions they are taking, in spite of them telling me they would be taking action.  I did receive a request to leave them a legacy gift – mention them in my will.  HA.

I met with the CEO, the Medical Director, and the Nurse Director of Home Care teams – people who have the power to take action.  My fingers are shaking as I type, full of the impotence I felt while they provided their care, and my continued inability to affect change.

As I look back over the course of his disease I see so many gaping holes in the healthcare system for his neurological disease, that seem more readily filled in the field of cancer treament.

I remember when he first received the Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis after 5 rounds of previous specialists and incorrect diagnoses.  We went to this new neurologist expecting to talk about surgery to mitigate what we thought were symptoms of  essential tremor and she just announced it was Parkinson’s.    It was a bomb dropping for us, but she kept talking, though we couldn’t hear her.

Doctors are SO poorly prepared to give bad news! And the reimbursement system doesn’t give them the necessary time to spend on doing it well.

When new doctors started suggesting Larry might have something other than Parkinson’s, I remember one particularly staggering moment.  The neurologist said “it might be ALS, so I’ll arrange some tests.”  He sounded sort of excited about the diagnosis process.  His only advice was “don’t believe what your read online about life expectancy.”

We moved on to the next neurologist who confirmed it was MSA, saying “I know this is rough news.  We will do our best to keep you comfortable and enjoying a good quality of life for as long as possible.”

At least there was some recognition of the emotional import of the news.

But who was the ‘we’  who would help us?  We saw him every three months for 10 minutes.   Who else could we turn to?  Google became our best friend.  We were faced with a terminal diagnosis with no support.

As his symptoms progressed we made the rounds from the primary care doctor to the specialists – gastroeterologist, urologist, dermatologist, neurologist, and then with pulmonology, cardiology.  There was no coordination of care, no teamwork, no place for our emotions.  We had no support groups, as the Parkinson’s groups we’d previously attended were not dealing with the terminal diagnosis that we were dealing with.

I looked for palliative care specialists.  I found one at the hospital and left a message but received no reply.  We weren’t hospitalized, after all.  I asked the neurologist.  He said that palliative care was what you received in the hospital and that hospice was what you received at home, but he didn’t think we’d qualify for hospice yet.

I knew from my daughter who is a researcher in hospice and palliative care that he wasn’t right in the academic definitions, but he WAS right in the practical definition.

In essence it was the practical definition of hospice, the way it is defined and paid for that finally did us in.  Tidewell Hospice’s complete lack of understanding of the course of his neurological disease.  The “six months til death or you’re out” definition, that sent us into a tailspin those last three months.

Okay, I thought I was past my anger but as I write this I realize I’m not at all past it.  I was hoping that the list of ideas I submitted to Tidewell Hospice, which I’ll share in another post as this one is already too long, might at least help provide better care for the next neurological patient, making some good come from our bad care.  But no.  It seems my experience of them not listening continues.

So tomorrow I will write an open letter to all hospices.  I will write all the ways I wish we had received care.

 

Darkest Hours of Night

Sleeplessness - up for the sun riseLast night I was awake again at 1, and 2, and 3, and 4, and for the sunsrise.  For awhile I was sleeping better.  I even felt slightly guilty at “doing so well” – whatever that means. Maybe a growing sense I was getting both feet under me.  But travel and fatigue and change of routine knocked me down.  Now I dread going to bed.  Days are hard – empty and meaningless.  Worst are those darkest hours of night, when sleep is so elusive.

I wrote in my journal of remembering years ago saying to Larry that bedtime was my favorite time of day, when we’d get into bed and he’d gather me into his arms and hold me “safe.”  Then remembering the time when the CPAP machine with the tubing and face mask joined us in bed.  So many ways that damn disease changed our lives bit by bit.

I read recently that grief creates a hole in your life that takes a long time to heal.  My life was so enmeshed with Larry’s in the end that the whole of my life feels like a hole.

But you carry on because there is no choice.

Kayaking mangrove tunnels in Sarasota
Kayaking mangrove tunnels

On my better days I fill my journal with all that I am doing, all that I have added to my life since Larry died.  It’s helpful to list the ways I feel courageous, trying things and expanding my “life space.”  Some have worked, some haven’t.  I’m proud that I’ve framed paintings and submitting them to two exhibits.  I celebrated my birthday by arranging a party with neighbors.  I went on my first group kayak trip through mangrove tunnels.  In the last two weeks I’ve traveled to my high school reunion (not a great idea) and to a family funeral (a difficult and courageous choice).

I’ve even started working again, because out of the blue an old colleague asked for me to do some work for them, and an old client called with a project.  It felt good to put my brain to work in new ways, remembering my competencies.

It’s good to be with friends, and be social, sometimes.  I still can’t handle larger groups and talking with people I don’t know well is completely exhausting.

Being exhausted is dangerous.  It’s when the darkness descends.  I have no extra stores of energy so my energy is depleted easily.  That’s what happened last week.  Too much travel.  Too many people I had to talk to from the past – at the reunion, at the funeral.  So many memories.  When a well runs dry it starts to suck up black dirt rather than clean water.  Then replenishment is needed.  But how?

We’re in that time of year when darkness is coming earlier and earlier.  Literally and figuratively.  What do I do with myself?  For awhile I was going to bed early.  But now I don’t want to even be in bed.  To face those darkest hours of night.  Alone.  More firsts are coming.  Thanksgiving.  His birthday.  Christmas.  Valentine’s Day.

I read an Iroquois grief prayer that has a line  “a great sob has lodged in your throat.”

This is a disjointed blog post – bits and pieces, not a whole.  That’s what my life feels like.

 

 

Mourning Rituals for 6 Months

I sit here at 8:49 PM.  Larry died at 9:02 exactly 6 months ago.  Both a heartbeat and an eternity.  I’ve spent the day in little mourning rituals.  Right now, I have a candle lit next to me which I’ll blow out at 9:02.

Larry enjoying the beach
Larry by the Gulf 10/16

In a way these “death-anniversaries” feel like a way to stay close to him.  I spent the day doing “his” things.  He loved walking by the water so I went to the beach this morning, a clear blue sky above the warm turquoise Gulf.

I came home and wrote in my journal, partly a letter to him about where I am now.

I ate some of his favorite foods – pizza for lunch, chicken wings for dinner.  I had a tiny version of his favorite cocktail – a gin and tonic, before dinner, and a tiny sip of his favorite liqueur – Amaretto.

I wore his Black Dog T-shirt that we bought on Martha’s Vineyard when we went over to look at one of his son Cody’s jobs.  I spoke with Cody today.

Larry playing in the snowI sat with some of my favorite pictures of him – the ones that show his mischievous grin – like the photo of him engulfed in snow, just after he had opened the door to our porch after a huge blizzard and fell backward in “snow angel” pose, wearing just a turtleneck and jeans.  That was obviously not taken in Florida!

And of course, I cried.  But not only did I cry when I consciously felt the depth of my loss.  I had moments throughout the day where I wasn’t even thinking of Larry specifically and yet felt sadness just leak out of me.

I had planned to take down the black ribboned mourning wreaths that have hung on my front door since the day after he died, made by a loving friend.  I figured that 6 months would be an appropriate moment.    And truth be told, I think there may be  geckos either eating them or nesting in them.

I couldn’t remove them.  It didn’t feel right.  It felt like a betrayal of the grief I still feel.

And yet – if you ask me to rate how I’m doing, I’d say I’m doing just fine.  Doing just fine, learning how to live well with the grief.  Just like we learned how to live well while he was dying.   I’ve read a lot of research about how resilient we can be, especially when we allow ourselves to feel the grief and also figure out how to move on.  That research makes me optimistic.

It takes work. I push myself to expand my comfort zone little by little.  I so miss being able to just sit quietly with the person who loves me, who I love.

These little 6 month mourning rituals helped me get through this day.  I sort of felt with him.

Six months.  A heartbeat and an eternity.

The candle is now out.

Extraordinary Empathy of Grief

My heart is ripped open again.   Raw mThe loss of light - a sunset signifying the empathy of griefemories have returned that had just started to fade  – of those last days before Larry died and the days and weeks just after.  A family member lost her husband last week and I have come to know the extraordinary empathy of grief.

I don’t just think about her loss with sadness, I vibrate with the pain of it.   I literally feel her pain in my body, making me want to reach across the miles and join my broken heart with hers.   I want to take away their pain but all I can do is tell her to be gentle to herself, that there is so much chaos of emotion to come, so many ups and downs.  I want her to know that whatever she feel sis ok, and that if she feels the world has changed for her but not for anyone else, that it has changed for me as well.

I heard an unusual interview between Steven Colbert and Anderson Cooper in which they discussed their grief over the deaths of their parents.    Steven Colbert commented that all of life is a gift, including these painful deaths.  Anderson Cooper couldn’t seem to agree or to understand at first.  Colbert explained that if not for his own grief, he would not have understood Cooper’s grief in the same way.  He would not have been able to write the condolence letter that so touched Cooper.

I guess it is one of the gifts of being human that we can feel for one another.  It brings us closer even in our aloneness.  I know there are many other life experiences that I truly didn’t understand until I went through them myself – getting married, having a child change your life, empty nester syndrome, losing a parent as an adult, etc..  Is that the key difference between sympathy and empathy?  The experiential quality of understanding?

But even in the shared experience of losing a husband, our experiences are different.  My loss, coming home after the funeral with no family within a thousand miles, is different than her loss, surrounded by children and siblings.  My loss, after years of Larry’s illness and watching him lose his body slowly, is different that her loss after her husband’s very brief illness.   And different from another family member’s loss of her husband after a sudden accident.

So while I feel that extraordinary empathy of grief, I also feel incredibly alone in this renewed recollection of the days and weeks surrounding Larry’s death.  I wake in panic, a feeling almost like an electric current running through my body and a heaviness in my chest.  The hours of the day pass slowly, even though I am doing things, and when darkness falls, even the minutes seem long.

I worry about what next, and tell myself not to worry.  I work at staying in the day.  And then the worry returns.

I know that these awakened memories will start to fade again and some of the happier memories will take over.  And I will continue to make new happy memories. In the meantime I can only be gentle with myself.  And be grateful for the gift of being able to feel this empathy of grief, even as much as it is painful.

 

Five Months and Not Fitting

These things don't fit together
They don’t fit

It’s a little over five months since Larry died.  Just writing that makes me sigh.  I’ve been feeling different – it’s this intense sense of not fitting anywhere.  Anywhere!!!

I love my house but I feel like it just doesn’t fit.  I have good friends and neighbors but I feel like I just don’t fit into the activities we do.  I have visited my kids around the country and I sure don’t feel like I fit where they are.  I went back to Cape Cod where Larry and I lived four years ago and I don’t feel like I fit there either.

I don’t know what other words to use.  It’s an awkward, uncomfortable feeling.  It’s more than not belonging.  It’s more than being single in a world of couples. It’s more than not having the one person in the world you’re completely comfortable with.

It’s more visceral than that. It’s physical. Like my shape isn’t right for the space I’m in.  It makes me crazy – I want to do something to change it, to make the feeling go away.

Do what?  Sell the house?  Move?  Move where?  Get a job?  Doing what?  Everyone says don’t make a major decision for the first year, but what do they know about these feelings?

It was just this week that I started to explore the idea that this is just grief in another form.  Duh?  It doesn’t show up as before, crying, intensely missing Larry, being lonely.  I mean I feel those things, although perhaps less often during the course of a day.

I realize this grief is more about a sort of proprioception of identity.  Proprioception is the sense we have of where our bodies are in relation to our surroundings – what keeps us from running into walls and furniture.  It extends to things we ride and drive (which is amazing when you think about it) so we know pretty much where the edges of our car or our bicycle are.

My identity for many years came from a life tied fastly to other lives, one with many – parents, kids, and of course Larry.  In these last few years my life wasn’t a separate life running parallel and along with Larry’s anymore but rather so intimately bound in time and space and goals and outcomes that our two lives became one life.  My proprioception of myself was of that whole one life encompassing us both.

So the space I took up in relation to what was around me was of that entwined two lives.  And now I am only one half of that.  I don’t take up all that space.  So I don’t feel like I fit.  A horrible simplified analogy is a fitted sheet that you’ve ripped in half and are trying to fit on your bed.  Or to go the opposite way, driving a tractor trailer after you’ve been driving a Mini-Cooper.  It’s wrong-sized.  Life feels wrong-sized to me.  I’m like Gulliver on his four travels – not fitting in anywhere he went.

It helps to name it grief.  To see these new feelings as part of the process of letting go of the old life, of letting go of Larry, of starting to create a new life.

It isn’t absolute reality that I don’t fit.  It’s just a feeling.  My neighbor said “Nancy, you do fit.  You just feel like you don’t fit.”  Feelings come and go. I’ll just have to breathe and grieve and let time pass as I figure out where the edges of my identity are again, and where I am in relation to my surroundings.  Easy to write and hard to do!

 

 

 

Grieving in the Neutral Zone

Original Pastel Painting of Walking through Light and Dark or grieving in the neutral zone
Light and Dark at Discovery Park in Seattle

Years ago I discovered William Bridges’ work on transitions and used his three part model in work I did with organizational change.  I returned to it recently and found the three parts of “ending, neutral zone, and beginning”  to help me think about my grieving process, although not quite as linearly.  Grieving in the neutral zone is more of a pendulum swing process, from dark to light, from past toward unknown future.  Back and forth repeatedly.

Bridges wrote a more personal book called The Way of Transition; Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments.  He applied all his theories to his own grieving process after the death of his wife.

The ending is obvious in the case of a death, such as his wife, such as my husband, Larry.  What Bridges urges is to look not only at the loss of your spouse, your identity as caregiver (in my case), but also at what else you have to let go of.  I have to let go of the future we’d hoped for, as well as the suffering of the past few years.  I have to let go of yearning for things to be other than they are.

In the neutral zone, I have to endure the chaos of the unknown. I walk daily  in between the past life as I knew it which is now gone and the future life I will build still to come.   I live walking from darkness into light, and back through darkness, and back into light.

Bridges describes the neutral zone as exhausting, anxiety provoking, and full of vulnerability.  Oh, yeah!!!  On the other hand he offers some benefits if we can stay in the neutral zone and not move on too fast.

He describes the creative possibilities:  a time to challenge the status quo (what your life has always been) and being hospitable to new ideas (new directions your life could take).  He suggests thinking of it as a time of “active waiting.”

For me what also stands out is the word itself:  Neutral.  Neither good nor bad.

Feeling the intensity of grief  I felt the other day isn’t bad.  Feeling the glimmer of new possibilities isn’t good.  They are just feelings.  Temporary, at that.  Maybe if I sit quietly I can find the peace that sits under both, the presence in today.  In “active waiting.”

I went to a meditation class last night and felt that underlying peace momentarily.  Felt the existence of both grief and ease to be two parts of the same whole.  Two parts of grieving in the neutral zone.

I have this instinct that that pendulum swinging back and forth is important progress.  That movement from dark to light and back to dark and back to light is movement – it isn’t standing still.  And movement will give me new perspectives.