Monday, December 27, 2010

Grief Work continued...

I told myself after the six month mark, September 20, that I wasn't going to write about the grieving process again until we got to the year anniversary of Bob's death.  I felt like I was being a little too honest, a little too open, a little too me-centered instead of celebrating the work being done and highlighting the situation in the majority world.

But I want to write this post about grieving.  It's now been nine months since Bob died.  In the past eight weeks, I passed our 20th anniversary, Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving which was always "decorate the house for Christmas day", my birthday, Christmas and soon New Years.  Each of these events have spun me through a cycle of grieving that wears me out.  I have written before that Dave Graf and Judy King have been listening/counseling/praying with me every week since Bob died.  Jackie Venegas (wife of Dante Venegas) and Mary Katerberg (wife of Norm Katerberg) have now joined this group.  If you followed our Reeds in Liberia blog ( you will remember the posts that we did when each of their husbands passed away - both Pastor Dante and Norm were near and dear to our hearts.  I have had very little contact with other widows and have had no access to grief support groups, so when Jackie and Mary offered to be on calls with me, I quickly said yes.

It has been so helpful, especially in normalizing what I'm learning to see is the "new normal".  I have learned about "widow brain", which I had been experiencing and worrying about but hadn't known about.  If you google it, it will say "it is a side effect of grief where your brain tries to protect you from pain - unfortunately it causes you to forget pretty much everything."  I can't tell you how often Hannah has said to me in the last few months, "Mom, I already told you three times."  I was reminded that the grieving process is a matter of many private mini-crises - which I really experienced on the trip through Southern Africa with countless reminders on a daily basis when spending time with married people who talked and laughed about marriage, retirement plans, filling out forms at the border that give choices like "married, single", etc.  Normal things but each time felt like a punch in the stomach.  Not something that you share with people but deal with privately, every day, multiple times a day.  I was told that grief is a jagged hole in the soul and the heart - eventually the jaggedness smooths out but the hole never goes away.

But one thing that I have been surprised at (and has been confirmed by other widows) is how few people ask me how I'm really doing.  How few people ask about what happened.  How some people who knew Bob, haven't seen us since his death, will spend time with us and never mention his absence.  I bring it up, hoping to engage a conversation about it - because much of the time, that's all I'd rather talk about - but no bite.

I wonder why that is.  Are they really trying to take care of me by not wanting to "cause me pain"?  Or are they really trying to take care of themselves and avoid being uncomfortable?

I guess that's why I wanted to write this blog - to encourage communication between grieving people and those who love them.  I can't speak on behalf of all those who are grieving or even all widows, but my sense is that more questions, more people entering the conversation that is going pretty much non-stop in our heads anyway, more people joining us in the acknowledgement of our loss, would be a good thing. If we cry, it's because we need to, not because you made us.  If we don't want to talk about it, we can let you know. 

Jackie Venegas surprised me when I was home in October by giving me a copy of an email that Bob had written to her after Dante died.  It was like he was writing it for me and I want to share it with you.

June 26, 2007

Dear Jackie,
I'm sorry to hear about the pain you are experiencing.  And I'm sure you knew in your head, this is the beginning of the most painful part of Dante's death.  Is it not more painful even than those last four months?
 You are absolutely right - before you can even think about a "new phase in life," you must do what you need to regain strength and stamina.  Your primary life task is to mourn, to grieve.  That takes an enormous amount of energy.  I agree with those who have told you (and you have told others grieving, I'm sure) to rest.  When you are tired, rest.  If you need to talk and you trust there are people to listen, then by all means talk.  This will help by giving vent to the emotion produced by overwhelming memories and the sense of loss.  I suspect you will need to vent.  A lot.  Perhaps far more than you think you "should."  Well, I hope you already know this:  when it comes to grief, there are no shoulds, no rules, no books.  Everybody writes their own.
Believe it or not, you are not going crazy.
There is almost nothing else I can say.  If I were there, I'd just sit with you.  This terrible part of your grief journey is inevitable, and it is yours alone (though you are not alone).  No one can ease the agony, no one can enter in at the level you experience it.  And no one knows how long the acute deep pain will last either.  But it will ebb in time.  the ebbing of acute pain will bring new challenges, but those are for that time, not to be spoken of now.
Your friend,
Bob Reed
It's great to hear his "voice" about this issue.  He's exactly right that I need to vent.  But the person I need to vent to is him.  I don't have family, friends, or support groups in Ghana.  So that means a huge amount of stuffing emotions every single day.  Which is exhausting.

I miss him.  But having my mom here over Christmas has helped a lot and I thank God for her.

Meanwhile, during Christmas...

...baking together became a challenge as Noah and Hannah frequently chose to attack their poor mother.

...someone (I won't mention any names) decided it would be a good idea to give Noah boxing gloves...hmmmmmmm....
Hannah is delighted to find makeup and manicure sets under the tree.  Before....
And after!  [Note the curly hair - she did NOT curl her hair at all - she got a hair cut this week and discovered the joy (finally!) of the effect of humidity on her natural curls:-)]
Waltzing in the kitchen during last minute baking details.