Archive for Death Posts

published in Death, Family, Grief, Life After Loss, Motherhood by Maryanne | December 5, 2018 | No Comment

This the 3rd blog in the Fall 2018 Life After Loss blog series:

When a Fear Demands to be Faced – Letting Hurt OUT

 

My friend Alan once said to me that perhaps not all our fears are meant to be faced. Some fears, he suggested, are best left alone – for they just might be in place for a good reason.

Some fears, on the other hand, demand to be faced. These are the ones that find their way to the surface and, like a tiger, make their presence known.

For while we can pretend, for a time, not to see an elephant in the living room; when a tiger waltzes in, we don’t get the luxury of ignoring it…if we want to survive, that is.

Such was my experience the day after my Mom passed away in the spring of 2014.

She died quite suddenly on a Monday morning. It was my brother Doug who phoned to tell me the news. By Monday evening, I was back in my hometown of Calgary with my family. Tuesday morning, we went to the funeral home to get the logistics sorted. After that, some of us piled into Doug’s truck and we went to the grocery store to pick up the makings for lunch.

And that, strangely enough, is when things fell apart.

When Doug and Pat returned to the truck from the store, they were carrying the groceries in plastic bags. And for some reason, I ignored the voice of reason in my head that said, “Don’t say anything. Don’t say anything. This is not the time to mention they should have taken re-usable bags.”

But of course, what did I say?

“You shouldn’t be using plastic bags.”

This, not surprisingly, was akin to poking an already wounded tiger – my brother Doug – in the bottom with a nice sharp stick.

KABOOM!

Now prior to this, I had never fought with my brother, Doug, in my life. And trust me, I never will again. Doug is one of my greatest fans. He gets me like no one else. I can do no wrong. This time, however, I did do wrong – and he let me know it. Let’s just say the drive back to my Mom’s apartment was a very loud and fast one, with Doug and I screaming at each other the entire way about who has the worst environmental footprint. Thankfully, the rest of the family members in the truck had the wisdom to know not to intervene but rather just let this play out— and hope to God they lived to see another day.

Now, I would like to say that by the time Doug and I got back to my Mom’s apartment, we had cooled down. But no. In fact, I think we were even angrier at each other by that point. So I jumped out of the truck, stomped over to the building entrance and yanked open the door, smashing it against a bench. Then I ran up the stairs and into my Mom’s apartment, past the concerned faces of my other family members who didn’t know yet what had happened, and into the guest bedroom. And then I did what I always do when I don’t know how to handle my feelings: I wrote.

Ten minutes later, I emerged from the guest bedroom – at the exact same time Doug was coming out of the bathroom directly across the hall. And before I even had to time to think, I threw my arms around him.

“I am SO sorry!!” I wailed. “This isn’t about the plastic bags! I WANT MY MOM!”

And then the oddest thing happened…something that has never happened to me before. I began to sob uncontrollably on Doug’s shoulder. It was ugly. It was messy. It was embarrassing. And it turned out to be the smartest thing I ever could have done.

Doug and I moved into the guest bedroom and sat, side by side, on the bed. And the best way to describe what happened next was that it felt like there was an alien inside me, trying to get out. By this point, I wasn’t just sobbing, I was heaving.

Doug wasn’t mad at me anymore; I think he thought I was possessed.

“Googie,” he said, using my childhood nickname. “What is wrong?”

“I can’t do this!” I cried.

“Do what?” he asked.

I turned to him and heard myself say, “Live the rest of my life without a Mom.”

And there it was: my fear of being motherless. That’s the alien that had been trying to get out. That was the tiger.

“You don’t have our Mom anymore,” he said. “But you still have all of us. And we will always be there for you.”

I managed a smile. “I know.”

“And for the record,” he continued, “I usually do use re-useable bags. I just didn’t happen to have any in my truck today…and it was the last thing on my mind.”

I nodded. “It was completely inappropriate of me to say something, today of all days.”

“Actually,” he said, “knowing you, it kinda makes sense. Because our Mom was just like Mother Nature…tough as they come and, in the end, she was going to do what she was going to do. Just like Mom, Mother Nature always wins in the end. Don’t you forget that, Maryanne. We are pushing Mother Nature to her limits and it’s just a matter of time before she really starts to bite back.”

As it turned out, my meltdown on Doug’s shoulder turned out to be very therapeutic, partly because it was such a physical release of the hurt, and partly because it brought to the surface a deeply rooted fear of abandonment. I cried after my Mom’s death like I never could after my husband, John’s, death – probably because I was absolutely terrified of facing the fact that I had been left behind.

But if I could turn back the clock and go back to John’s death, I would say to heck with the stoicism crap – and proceed to have the most spectacular meltdown/s imaginable.

Because now I know that the sooner the hurt and fears are out, the sooner we can heal.

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. To subscribe to the Life After Loss blog series, please sign up here

 

published in A Widow's Awakening Book, Change, Christmas, Death, Grief, Life After Loss, Saying NO!, Widowhood by Maryanne | November 27, 2018 | No Comment

This the 2nd blog in the Fall 2018 Life After Loss blog series:

Taking Death to Parties – Mentioning Loved Ones Who Have Recently Passed Away

 

Unfortunately, it’s usually up to the person grieving the recent loss of a loved one who gets stuck bringing death to the party. 

’Tis the season for celebrating

But guess what? If you have recently experienced a significant loss, such as the death of a loved one, you may be in a rather fragile state (to say the least) and “getting out of the house and being around other people” is not necessarily the wisest option. But if parties do seem to be in your near future, then read on.

If you have recently lost a loved one and this is your first Christmas without that person:

Please be aware that the people who you are spending the holidays with may not realize the importance of mentioning your loved one. Instead, they may think that by not mentioning him or her, this will be better because they don’t want to ‘hurt you’ or ‘make you cry.’

Now, this may be okay with you…

But if it isn’t and you discover, to your growing disbelief, that everyone is politely avoiding the elephant in the living room—the fact that you have recently lost a significant person (or pet) in your life—you have four choices:

#1. You say nothing and internalize the hurt and anger (not recommended).

#2. You say to someone that not mentioning your loved one really hurts.

#3. You bring up a memory of the person yourself and share it.

#4. You leave—either in agonized silence or after a spectacular hissy-fit (highly recommended… please see below).

If you are hosting a party or family function and one of your guests has recently experienced the loss of a loved one:  

Here’s an excerpt from my book, A Widow’s Awakening, that you might find of use (the following scene took place two months after the sudden death of my 32-year-old husband):

“HE’S GONE!” I scream, “BUT HE’S NOT FORGOTTEN!”

Then I run out of my cousin’s front door, leaving behind a house full of family trying to celebrate my mother’s seventy-fifth birthday. However, since there’s a snowstorm on this particular evening in early December, I have to stop at the front door, after my embarrassing outburst, to put on my jacket, mittens and boots. Only then do I charge down the icy front walkway, stomping as angrily as possible in my new ridiculously high-heeled boots. I climb into my car, slam the door and slowly inch my way home on icy roads.

“They didn’t toast Sam!” I blubber into the phone from my living room.

“Adri?” says Dawson, on the other end of the line. “What’s wrong?”

“I was (sob) at my Mom’s birthday and my family didn’t even include him (sob) in the toast before dinner. I just can’t believe them!”

“Do you want me to come over?”

“Could you?”

A few minutes later the doorbell rings. But it’s not Dawson; it’s Dale’s wife.

“So they sent you, huh?” I say.

“Yup.”

“I’m pretty pissed off.”

“Oh, we gathered that.”

“I can’t believe my own family. Not one person mentioned Sam the whole night – not even at a goddamn toast to my mother.

My sister-in-law winces. “Everybody feels just terrible about that but I think we all figured we’d try and give you a break from the hurt.”

“Hah!” I give a shrill laugh. “Well that certainly didn’t work.”

“You’re right. We screwed up and I’m sorry.”

“Mentioning Sam’s name and talking about him,” I say, “is really important to me because if we don’t, he’ll be forgotten.”

“You do know, Adri, that at that dinner table tonight, Sam was on every single one of our minds?”

I shrug. “If no one says anything, how would I?”

The doorbell rings. I let Dawson in.

“Well,” she says to him. “We messed up.”

“It happens,” he replies. “It’s hard to know what to say sometimes.”

“Here’s a tip then,” I say. “Not mentioning Sam is gonna bury him a hell of a lot faster than the dirt they threw on his grave.”

I get the double-goldfish (both mouths drop open). Is the nice-widow façade finally crumbling?

And there you have it

If you are honest and open with the people who love and support you, then most people will try and do better—if they know better. Unfortunately, it’s usually up to the person grieving the recent loss of a loved one who gets stuck bringing death to the party. Even though loss and grief are facts of life; they can be significantly alleviated when shared memories—instead of avoidance—are put on the table.

Because an elephant in the living room should not be ignored.

Some parties aren’t worth attending anyway

If you feel obligated to socialize during this festive time of year, do be aware that someone’s casual (perhaps callous) remark might feel rather like that elephant has just sat on your chest. This excerpt from A Widow’s Awakening reflects the ultra-sensitive state a newly bereaved person may find themselves in:

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.

“Umm…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!”

Her callous reference is to another other young police officer who died three months before Sam. He’d been struck and killed by a drunk driver on his way home from work, leaving a young widow and two-month old daughter behind. Both Sam and I had been working the night that officer died. I’d taken a report from the officer over the phone a few hours before his death; Sam had attended the scene of his crash.

“When they pulled him from the car,” Sam had said to me the next day, “and I saw his uniform, it was brutal. I was so angry.”

When Sam had first arrived at the collision scene, it was believed there had been two people in the vehicle that hit the officer. So Sam and several other officers had searched for that possible second person. As it turned out, there was only the one person in the vehicle: the drunk driver who died at the scene.

“So you thought there might have been two bad guys?” I’d confirmed with Sam.

“Yeah,” he’d said, “and I totally wanted to catch whoever had done that to him.”

Recalling this conversation now makes me realize that the ‘bad guy’ isn’t always a person. Just because the drunk driver died didn’t mean there wasn’t a bigger issue to be addressed. One less drunk on the road isn’t the end of impaired driving. I think about the map in Sam’s duty-bag, folded open to the location of his death. Maybe it is a clue pointing me in the direction of the ‘bad guy issue,’ whatever that might be.

After the party, Nick, Angela and I trundle clear across the city to yet another one. I still haven’t mastered the use of the word ‘no.’ Friends and family are obviously concerned about me, judging from the number of social invitations coming my way. But the busier I allow myself to be, the more anxious and upset I am when alone again.

‘No’ is one of the most beautiful words in the English language

Consider giving the gift of ‘no’ this Christmas. If you don’t have the energy to bring death to parties, stay at home and focus on activities that bring you some semblance of comfort and joy.

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. To subscribe to the Life After Loss blog series, please sign up here

 

published in A Widow's Awakening Book, Death, Grief, Life After Loss, Vulnerability by Maryanne | November 21, 2018 | 2 Comments

This is the first blog in the Fall 2018 Life After Loss blog series:

Vu-Vu-Vulnerability

 

Maryanne Pope and Cst Jim Amsing at Cst John Petropoulos’ funeral, Oct 4, 2000, photo by Calgary Sun

“For what it’s worth, seeing you that day was the worst moment of my career. I’ve never seen a human being look so…vulnerable.”

– Excerpt from A Widow’s Awakening by Maryanne Pope

Let’s talk vulnerability, shall we?

When our heart and soul have been shattered into a million pieces, such as in the aftermath of a significant loss, we may find ourselves extremely vulnerable.

But what does this look like? What does vulnerability mean…and why does it matter?

This excerpt from my book, A Widow’s Awakening, captures the moment when I (“Adri”) saw my husband, John (“Sam”), in the hospital for the first time since his fall. I have just been told by the emergency room doctor that he has suffered a massive brain injury. He is in critical condition but stable because he is on life support:

Twenty minutes later, the social worker comes to get me and the two of us walk down the corridor together. I ask him how Sam is doing.

The social worker stops walking, so I do too. “He’s in pretty rough shape, Adri.”

I nod slowly and we resume walking. Then, for just a second, it’s like I split in two. I’m physically beside the social worker yet I’m also watching the two of us walk.

When the social worker and I arrive at a set of doors, he takes my arm. Like arriving at a party too late and entering the banquet room to find the busboys clearing the tables, no one has to tell you it’s over—you just figure it out. By the time I get to the strangely inactive emergency room, they’ve obviously given up on trying to save Sam and are instead merely stabilizing his body.

Since it was the back of his head that struck the concrete, Sam looks much the same as when I saw him last night. Except that now, he’s unconscious, flat on his back, draped in a white sheet and has tubes sprouting out from his chest, neck and arms.

I race to his side and grab his unresponsive hand. I kiss his cheek and the real tears finally arrive, streaming down my face.

“I love you,” I whisper in his ear.

No response.

“I love you.”

Nothing.

“I love you, Sam.”

My silent treatment has been reinstated.

And then it happens again: I’m holding Sam’s hand and yet I’m also observing the two of us from a few feet away.

Then the social worker gently takes my arm and leads what’s left of me out of the emergency room.

And wouldn’t you know it but there actually was someone watching me in that very moment, which I found out about five weeks later. This excerpt sheds light on what vulnerability looks like:

In the pub, I sit beside Sam’s Sergeant, Tom. One of Sam’s teammates sits on the other side of me. I’m halfway through my beer when the teammate asks me how I’m doing.

I shrug. “Hanging in there, I guess.”

“Adri?”

I turn to him. “Yeah?”

“I, uh…I was with Sam in the ambulance.”

I place my beer bottle on the table as the air in this room gets sucked out.

“What was he like?” I ask, terrified of the answer.

“Unconscious.”

The whole time?”

“Yes,” he says. “Sam was completely out of it.”

I nod slowly. I am suddenly extremely thirsty again.

The officer clears his throat. “I was also in the emergency room when they first brought you in to see Sam.”

My most horrific moment comes crashing back. I take a big drink of water.

“And for what it’s worth,” he continues, “seeing you that day was the worst moment of my career. I’ve never seen a human being look so…vulnerable.”

I put down my water glass rather shakily. “That’s a good word for it.”

It’s now been five weeks since Sam’s death and I’m feeling more vulnerable with each passing day.

It was my dad who cautioned me about the potential danger of vulnerability. In this excerpt, we are walking at the dog park:

“Unfortunately, people believe what they want to believe,” my Dad says, “whatever makes them feel better.”

“That’s a pretty shitty thing to tell me right now,” I reply, thinking that feeling better was my main goal at this point.

“I don’t mean to upset you, Adri.”

“Then don’t.”

“On the other hand,” he says, “I’m not going to lie to you about my beliefs.”

“So I see.”

“I’m just concerned about all the religious crap coming at you. You’ve suffered a huge loss and a significant shock. That puts you in a very vulnerable position, so I just want you to be careful about what you choose to believe at this point.”

“I want to be happy again,” I say.

“Then be prepared to do the work to get yourself there because religious beliefs won’t do that for you.”

“They can help.”

My dad shrugs. “It just seems to me that reality itself is far more miraculous than anything we could ever dream up or imagine.”

In this excerpt, my brother Doug (“Harry”) took my Dad’s warning one step further and suggested a tool to use to help protect myself when in such a highly vulnerable state:

After leaving the police station with what remains of Sam’s career neatly divided between a box and a bag, Harry drives me to the cemetery. The two of us stand on the freshly packed dirt, staring at the white wooden cross temporarily marking Sam’s grave.

“I still don’t believe this,” Harry says.

“Oh, it’s pretty real to me now,” I reply, dropping to my knees.

Harry returns to the car to give me some time alone with Sam.

“You are my sunshine,” I sob, rocking back and forth. “My only sunshine…”

“You must be his wife.”

I look up to see an older woman standing beside me. “Yeah.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, dear.”

Oh. Well, thank you. I…”

“But your husband is facing the wrong way,” she says.

“Excuse me?”

“Jesus is coming back from the East—and your husband is facing West.”

Before I can formulate a response, she turns and walks away.

Back at the car, I tell Harry what the crazy lady said.

“That’s why you’ve got your bullshit filters,” he says.

“My what?”

“Your bullshit filters. Just like those big-ass headphones you wear when you’re writing, bullshit filters are your best line of defense against all the crap that’s coming at you. Remember that you choose what you let into your mind.”

But in my experience, when we are vu-vu-vulnerable we aren’t functioning properly. We are a traumatized soul wandering around without the protection of an ego…a turtle without a shell. We don’t have the ability to choose what we let into our mind. We often just grab whatever life preserver is thrown to us – real or imagined – and hope to God we make it through the night, the month, the year.

When we are hurt beyond belief, our vulnerability can be absolutely terrifying…and we will do whatever we have to do in order to feel some semblance of control again. For at the end of the day, isn’t that what being vulnerable really means? To realize that one has absolutely no control over a situation – other than how we react to it.

And an important component of how we choose to react is an awareness – and acceptance – of our vulnerability. A turtle without a shell realizes it is in no shape to take on a tiger.

Five Things to Avoid When in a Vulnerable State

#1. Making important decisions.

#2. Taking on too much (just say NO to unreasonable demands on your time).

#3. Spending time with negative people who drain your precious energy (or with people who seemingly have the answer to your problem…it’s rarely that simple).

#4. Be in a rush to feel better (healing takes time).

#5. Pretending you are okay when you are not.

Related Blogs by Maryanne

Danger Ahead – When the Dark Thoughts Come During Grief

Jesus Takes a Swan Dive – When Grief Goes Off the Deep End

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. To subscribe to the Life After Loss blog series, please sign up here