Archive for Life After Loss Posts

Map of Heartbreak – Loss as a Catalyst for Change

 

“What breaks your heart? The warrior knows that her heartbreak is her map. It will lead her toward her purpose, her tribe.”

– Glennon Doyle Melton, “Hurts So Good” article, O Magazine, Feb 2017

Pain as Fuel

In her article, “Hurts so Good,” author Glennon Doyle Melton wrote about a group of women in Iowa who had all lost an infant – and started an organization called “Healthy Birth Day,” with the goal of lowering the stillbirth rate in their state.

“Instead of withdrawing after their losses,” explained Melton, “or finding ways to disconnect from the magnitude of their suffering, they ran straight toward it. Their pain became their fuel. Their courage saved others from the misery they’d experienced.”

This is similar to how we chose to proceed in the aftermath of my husband, John’s, death as the result of a preventable fall at unsafe workplace. By “we,” I am referring to the police officers who started the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund and all the people who have (and/or still do) work for, volunteer with, or lend support to the Fund in some way.

In the early years, pain and anger certainly fueled our passion and guided our purpose. Nothing we did could bring John back but we all agreed that the workplace safety campaigns were better than doing nothing at all. We will never know the number of lives we have saved, or the injuries we’ve prevented…and we’re okay with that.

Would I recommend this path to others in a similar situation?

Hmmm…

Working closely with the JPMF to help raise public awareness about why and how to ensure workplaces – and the roads – are safer for everyone, including emergency responders has been my path, yes. I knew in my heart and soul, very early on, that workplace safety was an issue that I would need to tackle.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

But being a workplace safety advocate did not come without sacrifice in other areas of my life. The time, money, effort, love, and attention I put into the JPMF meant there were other areas of my life that didn’t get that. And that’s okay. I chose the path I did…every moment of every day. I have no regrets.

However, now that I have 17 years of experience behind me, I can safely say that trying to transform a tragedy into positive change so that others don’t have to experience similar suffering comes at a cost. We cannot do it all.

“Pleasant experiences make life delightful. Painful experiences lead to growth.”

– Anthony de Mello, Awareness

Thankfully, we get to choose how to respond to whatever loss we have experienced…and forge our own way forward. So regardless of whether we allow loss to be a catalyst for growth and change for ourselves and/or for others, just remember:

“Allow heartbreak to guide you at every turn.”

– Glennon Doyle Melton

When the love in your heart is your road map, you cannot go wrong.

Related blogs by Maryanne

Chick in the Road

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here. As a thank you, you’ll receive a short but saucy e-book entitled, Dive into this Chicago Deep Dish – Ten Bite-Sized Steps for a Yummier Slice of Life

published in Creativity, Death, Habits, Life After Loss, Playwriting, Procrastination, Saviour Play, Souls by Maryanne | October 4, 2017 | 4 Comments

Perilous Playwriting – Let’s Air Some Dirty Laundry, Shall We?

 

 

“Be truthful, one would say, and the result is bound to be amazingly interesting.”

― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Or…rather confusing for all concerned.

Picture, if you will, a boardroom table…

Six strangers are sitting around said table: a playwright, a dramaturg and four actors. All are gathered to read aloud a play script.

What, perhaps you wonder, might this be experience be like – for the (squirming) playwright?

Imagine a big pile of dirty laundry (belonging to the playwright) being dumped on the table and then the next eight hours are spent watching a small but determined group of strangers systematically sift through (and comment on) each and every piece of one’s (not only dirty but decidedly un-sexy) undergarments.

A tad uncomfortable?

Oh, you betcha.

For that playwright was me. The script was Saviour. And the “dirty laundry” was not just my chaotic thoughts and heartbreaking emotions experienced during the darkest days of my life, but also some marital laundry as well, such as two spectacular (but significant to the story) arguments that John and I had about my habit of procrastinating on my writing and my refusal to say no to unreasonable demands placed on my time.

And those were just a few of the facts (and the human response to those facts) connected to the real-life story. Add in a complicated plot, a completely imagined world (what the soul experiences as the body dies as the result of a brain-injury), and four well-developed but overly chatty characters still trying to sort it all out themselves, and let’s just say the script was in need of…some slashing ☹

Here’s a snapshot of Saviour:

Can one soul save another? A young couple, Sam and Adri, have an argument about Adri’s procrastination as a writer and belief in Virginia Woolf’s idea that in order to write well, women need a secure income.

Sam, a police officer, goes to work that night, falls through a roof and hits his head, only to discover it is Virginia Woolf who will take him to the moment of his brain-death. Meanwhile, Sam’s Sergeant guides Adri through the early days of grief – and tells her she will receive Sam’s wage for the rest of her life.

Saviour is about the need to live and die in peace – and just how difficult that can be to achieve. The play promises the audience a fast-paced, imaginative and compelling theatrical journey that has strong links to real-life events.

Though a love story, Saviour challenges the notion of romantic love and suggests instead the staying power of tough love.

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.”

– Virginia Woolf


Although I haven’t yet personally experienced this as a playwright, I suspect a workshopping of one’s entirely fictional play would be uncomfortable. After all, regardless of the story’s roots, whatever we create is an expression of our imagination. It’s our story, our creation…our baby under the knife.

But add in the fact that it is based on personal events and boy oh boy, it can get really uncomfortable.

A workshopping of one’s play can be a very useful exercise (it certainly has been for me) but it is not for the faint of heart. You pretty much have to leave your ego at the door, put on your big-girl panties, shut up and listen.

The problem, of course, is that we can’t really leave our ego at the door. Like it or not, it goes where we do. The solution to this, I have found, is to take notes. Lots of notes. And remind myself, more than once, that I have chosen to be experience this because I am HERE TO LEARN.

In other words, my big-girl panties had to be very big…granny-panties, in fact.

There are times, of course, when the playwright does get to speak…like when one of the actors asked me a question about a character’s journey that I thought was blatantly clear. But guess what: if someone has to ask the question, it obviously isn’t clear – especially if everyone else around the table has the same question.

A good question – and there were plenty of them – is pure gold in terms of figuring out how best to move forward with the next draft.

I learned an awful lot in that eight-hour workshop, both about the Saviour play and playwriting itself.

Which brings me to my next point: I choose very wisely WHO I let sort through my dirty laundry.

I have been working with the Alberta Playwrights’ Network on the Saviour script for nearly a decade. Trevor Rueger, the APN’s executive director (and the dramaturg at the table), has earned my trust over the years. Trevor knows what he’s doing. I know he’s not only going to get the right actors to the table, he’s also going to make sure the workshop is of benefit to me. The learning curve for playwriting is steep…I need constructive criticism, honest feedback and useful guidance on that seemingly endless upward climb.

Yet at the end of the day, it is my play and deep down, I KNOW which nuggets of advice to run with – and which ones to leave on the table.

And how do I know? Because of the resounding “click” I feel in my soul when someone says something I needed to hear…like another little piece of the puzzle was just put into place. And since this particular play is about the journey of four different but interconnected souls – mine being one of those – this makes sense.

That the workshop was on the actual 17th anniversary of John’s death was deliberate. I knew magic would happen. And it did. It just wasn’t the fun, Disneyland kind of magic.

It was better.

Here’s what happened:

After an intense session of brainstorming in the afternoon, Trevor called for a break. But the actor who read the part of Sam (the character based on John) and I continued chatting. Or rather, he continued chatting. I scribbled in my notebook what he had to say.

Prior to the break, we’d all been discussing WHAT it would look like for Sam to achieve peace. Sam’s goal – what he had to achieve by the end of the play (which is the moment of his brain-death) – is to be at peace with his sudden death at the age of 32. But the group had been brainstorming about what specific outcome had to happen so that Sam could be “at peace” when he died.

Here’s what the actor who played Sam said to me on break:

“I think what would give Sam the most peace is seeing that Adri is okay…and by that I mean she is taking her writing seriously and that she does, at long last, believe in herself. He needs to see that she has become empowered by him, and his sudden death, to do what she needs to do, which is write. And when he sees that she is empowered and does, finally, begin to write three months after his death, he is able to die in peace.”

I nodded and continuing scribbling like a madwoman as this total stranger summed up Sam’s journey as it relates to Adri – and therefore, of course, John’s journey as it relates to me.

And the actor had more to say.

“Oh, and I think,” he added, “that’s what the connection to Jesus as Saviour is about, too. It was likely not the intent for Jesus to come back and single-handedly save humanity with a magic sweep of his hand. Rather, his job was to be a role model to empower people to save themselves and each other.”

So I HAD hit the mark!

I just need to make the story less convoluted. Easier said than done…but certainly do-able.

After the workshop, I returned to John’s sister place, where I was staying, and collapsed on their couch…overwhelmed and exhausted. I stayed there, staring at the ceiling and processing the day – until a steak dinner got me back on my feet.

The next morning, I woke up, dusted off my bruised ego and jotted down a summary of the key insights. Thanks to the workshop, I now have a clear idea of what needs fixing, why…and how to fix it. My imagination will take care of the rest 😊

You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes and failures. 

– Elizabeth GilbertBig Magic

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here. As a thank you, you’ll receive a short but saucy e-book entitled, Dive into this Chicago Deep Dish – Ten Bite-Sized Steps for a Yummier Slice of Life

 

 

published in A Widow's Awakening Book, Change, Death, Grief, Life After Loss, Widowhood by Maryanne | September 21, 2017 | 6 Comments

This is the second blog in the Life After Loss Sept 2017 blog series:

 Being Alone vs Loneliness – When Being Around Others May Do More Harm Than Good

 

“I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.”

– Robin Williams

Ahhh…loneliness. Not the most cheery of subjects to blog about. But then again, stumbling forward with life after a significant loss is not usually the cheeriest of times.

And to be perfectly honest, I may not be the best person to be writing about loneliness in the wake of loss because…well, after my husband, John’s, death I didn’t really experience what I would call loneliness.

At least, not when I was alone.

Yes, I missed him terribly and I was an emotional and psychological basket case for months. But when it came to feeling “lonely,” I figured something out about myself pretty quickly: more often than not, I felt better (relatively-speaking) when I was alone – with just my dog and my thoughts – than I did when I was with other people…especially large groups of people.

Now, there were exceptions to this, of course. I was extremely blessed to have several key people who I could talk to…and believe me, I did. They became the life preservers that, slowly but surely, pulled me from the depths of grief to the shore of a new life. For even though I was alone – I was a widow with no children and I lived alone – I could never have navigated my way through the grief without the help of others.

But here’s the thing: as the Robin Williams quote suggests, my loneliest moments in the weeks and months (and who’s kidding who, years) following John’s death occurred when I was with people who I didn’t feel comfortable talking to about John – or about what I was experiencing, trying to come to terms with his death.

Those were the times I felt a horrific loneliness…like I was standing on one side of the Grand Canyon and that person (or group of people) was on the other side – and John was somewhere in the middle, at the bottom of the Colorado River flowing away from me as fast as could be.

Yes, I had already lost him. But when people began to stop talking about him (which inevitably happens but boy does it hurt), it felt as if he was really gone…not just the man but the memory, too.

Life goes on – we all get that. But when a loss has shattered the very core of our being, we need time to process that loss and begin to heal…and to do that, we need to do everything in our power to surround ourselves with the right people and situations.

Not the opposite.

Be careful about saying yes to social events out of obligation

To illustrate the importance of staying clear of situations that may not be the best fit for our…current emotional state, this passage from A Widow’s Awakening happened two months after John’s (“Sam”) death:

Tonight is the annual Christmas party for Sam’s team and Tom invited Nick, Angela and me. I said yes, thinking it might be nice to carry on the tradition – and because I should go. For I am The Cheerful Widow whose job it is to make everyone else feel better by pretending I’m A-OK. In public, I’m the smiling little trooper who asks lots of cute questions. Back home, I’m weaving the answers into a dangerous rope into which my own neck might fit quite nicely.

At the Christmas party, I soon realize that being the widow of a fallen officer watching her dead husband’s teammates trying to party is a like a drug addict in rehab, watching other addicts shoot up. I’m not emotionally equipped to observe the reality that life is going on without Sam. So off to the buffet I waddle.

With a heaping plate of food in one hand and a beer in the other, I find a seat in the living room and a woman I’ve never seen before sits beside me.

“And who are you?” she asks.

“Ummm . . . my husband was the police officer who just passed away.”

“Oh now, which one was that?” she says loudly, waving her wineglass. “There’s been so many lately, I get them all mixed up!”

Ouch. I could have punched her for making such a callous remark. In hindsight, I kinda wish I did. But for the purpose of this blog 😊 my point is this: when you are in an extremely vulnerable state, you have to be very careful about the situations you sign up for and the people you surround yourself with.

In this next excerpt from A Widow’s Awakening, two more weeks have passed (I am “Adri”):

For American Thanksgiving, I order Chinese food from our favourite restaurant and watch our favourite Thanksgiving movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Since I didn’t watch it at Canadian Thanksgiving, I figure watching it now would be acceptable to Sam – in our new relationship as red light and wife.

What I don’t remember about the film is that the main character is a widower who carts around a photo of his dead wife. At one point, he’s sitting in his car during a snowstorm chatting away to her. Sitting on Sam’s perch, surrounded by pictures of him, I can certainly relate. The dead are often better companions than the living. I’m far happier staying at home alone, talking to the walls than I am venturing out into the world and hearing what the mortals have to tell me. For as the two-month marker of Sam’s death approaches, I’m noticing a definite shift in the clichés coming my way.

‘You’re young, dear,’ is a popular one from the over-fifty crowd.

‘I’m so sorry,’ is being replaced by an oddly enthusiastic, ‘Well, at least you didn’t have children!’

That’s right, you morons: now I don’t have a husband OR a child.

And my all-time favorite, occurring with alarming frequency and frightening conviction, is: ‘Losing a spouse isn’t as bad as losing a child.’

‘GRIEF IS NOT A PISSING MATCH!’ I scream at the water fountain when I get back home again.

Then there are the dozens of people who take my hand and softly confide, “Adri, I just want you to know that your loss has really made me appreciate what I have.”

I’m so pleased my nightmare could be of assistance to you. Not.

In other words, I finally figured out that spending time with strangers – or with familiars who didn’t know what to say – was doing more harm than good. Although the ridiculous comments made by others were not intentionally cruel or rude, they certainly served to stoke the fire within…and believe me, my fire did NOT need more stoking! I was doing a damn fine job all on my own ☹

Loneliness leads to isolation

And the more isolated we feel, the more isolated we become – and then the more treacherous our path becomes because we are far more prone to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse or dangerous thoughts, to help bridge the gap between us and…everything else. But unhealthy coping mechanisms won’t bridge the gap – they only widen it. More on that in a future blog.

Choose Wisely Who You Surround Yourself With

To find a person who can truly listen is a tremendous gift. It’s also one of the trickiest things to find because a good listener is a rare gem indeed.

If you have recently experienced a major loss of some sort in your life, when it comes to loneliness, my advice is this: be VERY careful who you spend time with. Choose wisely.

And how do you know if you have chosen well? By how you feel when you part ways. If you feel better, you’ve got a keeper. If you feel worse, you can throw that one back.  

“Loneliness is that prominent, gaping hole in your life that just can’t seem to be filled regardless of what you do…But being alone is a different situation completely. Being alone is a state of being; loneliness is a state of mind.”

– Andrea Cope, Thought Catalogue

 

Animated Empathy Video Hits Mark

If you haven’t seen the short (3-min) animated Brené Brown video about the difference between empathy and sympathy, I highly recommend viewing it. It’s brilliant! It illustrates the danger of using the words, “At least…” when supporting someone going through a difficult time.

You can view it here on You Tube.

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here. As a thank you, you’ll receive a short but saucy e-book entitled, Dive into this Chicago Deep Dish – Ten Bite-Sized Steps for a Yummier Slice of Life

 

For further info about the Life After Loss blog series, please click here.

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