"Some things are true whether you believe in them or not." from City of Angels
Everyone has their own way of grieving. It's not a straight line.
Can we get stuck? Yes.
Can we ask for help? Yes.
Can we prolong our agony? Probably.
Do our beliefs shape our process? Definitely.
In the first year following someone's passing there are so many firsts besides holidays and birthdays.
At 9 months in I can't say I was over the shock of Doug's passing but I was coming out the other side and learning how to communicate in new ways. I took the day off to be with him on his first birthday in "Heaven." It was not a custom to take his birthday off when he was physical, or to take mine off, for that matter. I almost said, "when he was alive," rather than "when he was physical," but I believe he is very much alive in spirit. I just need to remind myself sometimes because I'm new at this kind of relationship.
If it wasn't a custom to take his birthday off, why now, you might be wondering?
Do I regret not taking his birthday off when he was physical?
I have stopped to ponder every first without him. I'm not suggesting you take people's birthdays off or not, that you operate out of fear-of-loss, or that you fully understand what I'm going through. Even if you have "lost" someone dear to you, we all have our own personal history that gets stirred up along with it. What I am suggesting is that the ahas from my pondering may stir some ahas for you too.
In Doug's new state, I can't hear him during the hustle and bustle of a busy workday. It has to be quiet. I have to be present to sense his presence, not distracted—not hanging out in the future or the past. I have to be open, surrendered, free from agendas. My messages come when I don't need them. They come when I express a pure desire to connect or when I initiate a dialogue without anticipating a response. I can't come from a place of desperation.
On this day I lit a candle. Set the table. Poured 2 cups of coffee. Shared a blueberry scone. I sat across the table like we used to. Maybe this is my way of letting him know I'm near. To be honest, I'm not sure. All I do know is it's what I felt guided to do that morning and it doesn't hurt anyone. I did wrestle with setting a place for Doug, previously. Was it silly? Was I wasting food? It feels awkward. Now my understanding is that he receives the essence and I can eat the leftovers or do whatever is appropriate for the offering. It definitely helps me to be present with his presence and that is my desire.
Our conversation began with the "coffee stuff." The night before his birthday I picked up a few items at the grocery store. We have always called our nondairy creamer, regardless of brand, "coffee stuff." I had plenty but decided to see if they had, creme brulee—a flavor I had recently tried, really liked, but haven't been able to find since. Much to my surprise they did have a flavor Doug and I had enjoyed together. It was another one of those flavors that comes and goes, and it had gone a couple months before his passing. There it was, staring at me from the refrigerated shelf, a year later, the night before his birthday. It was one of those moments when your eyes pop out of your head in delightful disbelief.
We loved our coffee time. I couldn't help but wonder if this was his way of acknowledging my plans for celebrating his birthday or maybe confirmation that he loved our coffee time too. Regardless, I welcome such synchronicities. You can't make them up.
A while back I had mentioned how I missed his hugs and hadn't fully realized how much I had cherished them until they were gone. He had suggested I put on his fleece when I find myself needing a hug from him now.
I'd been thinking about that conversation off and on since, so I brought it up for discussion. His response, "I am able to love you even more now." He said something to the effect of, since he is no longer physical I just have to trust it. WOW! That was insightful. How often had I sought proof in our D&T 1.0? (D&T = Doug & Trish)
That afternoon I donned his charcoal, Columbia, fleece pullover. The one he wore last before he passed, It still smells faintly of him. It is soft, it simulates an embrace, and I do find it comforting. I found revisiting some of our old photos to be comforting as well.
Doug doesn't say a lot when he communicates but it's always something profound. Like when I spoke of him in past tense and he responded, "I'm not a was, I'm an is." Of course he is. His words seem to ripple and vibrate through me. That's the only way I can describe it.
I had been thinking about the Nicolas Cage movie, City of Angels, off and on the past couple weeks so I brought that up. The thought of it seemed to have come out of the ethers on one of my dog walks through a wooded area—a route where I often sense Doug's presence. We enjoyed watching movies together and then discussing them the following morning—over coffee of course. I didn't remember what the movie was about but I definitely felt inspired to watch it again. A movie on his birthday felt perfect.
The other thing we talked about was my missing his physical presence. When I find myself missing him, often something I'm doing will prompt it. Some things I didn't fully appreciate until they were gone. Like in the morning when I'm getting the pets fresh water and making coffee. I used to return from taking the dogs out to the smell of brewing coffee, and the pets to fresh water bowls. Then I'd feed them while Doug fixed our coffee. I let him know how much I appreciated and enjoyed those things and those times. This practice of expressing my gratitude turns missing him into a celebration of him. This time Doug reminded me of how I've done some of the big things he and we had planned on doing in regards to downsizing.
We truly wanted these same things in our D&T 2.0. In my sessions with clients recently, the topic of how we twist ourselves into pretzels to hold onto people has been up for discussion. Twisting works temporarily at best. It's fear-based, manipulative, and only serves to create resentment down the road. Love never creates resentment. Ask me, I know. I played that twister game during D&T 1.0. It also led me to not like who I had become in the relationship.
Love never creates resentment; fear does.
I can't speak for his twisting but I do know that both our egos needed downsizing before we could come back around for a 2.0. I can see how there was no twisting this time—we both truly wanted the same things, to be better partners, and for us both to be happy. I was now honoring his wishes and fulfilling our dream for both of us. I'm eternally grateful for the opportunity for a 2.0. What a gift we gave each other. If you've had a sincere 2.0 you know exactly what I'm talking about. You cannot command it.
In a previous conversation I had asked him, "What are you learning?" His response had been, "Your ahas are my ahas." Come to think of it, I've been experiencing my own life review. Since his passing my capacity to love has increased as well. Some of these old memories were painful to revisit. Like realizing and acknowledging how I could be a real jerk when life didn't go my way in 1.0. "Your ahas are my ahas," he responded. My response, "That's right! You could be a real jerk too sometimes." Then I laughed out loud. What felt like the end of the world back then seems so silly now. I apologized for my past selfishness and forgave myself and him for those times we believed only one person could get their needs met at the expense of the other. Our focus had been on winning rather than on a win-win-win.
We talked about letting go versus holding on and the movie, A Man Called Otto, over coffee too, but that will be for another blog.
I/we did end up watching City of Angels that night and discussing it over coffee the following morning. It reminded me of how precious every moment is—how rich with life—and how we have to be in the present to experience life's presence. We can woof down a pear or be in the moment and experience its deliciousness with all of our senses. That goes for experiencing angels too.
I wish I had told him how the coffee tasted better when he made it more often, but at least I can tell him now and be more present in my connections moving forward. Hmm... come to think of it, maybe our favorite flavor of coffee stuff was his way of helping me to feel closer to him on his birthday. Well, it worked! It reminded me of what the coffee tasted like when he made it. The secret ingredient being love.
Thank you, Doug!
Thank you for listening to more of our story. It helps me to write. If you are in the midst of grieving my heart goes out to you. I still shed tears but moving through the missing to the gratitude and being able to tell him has really helped with all the firsts. The life review is leaving me more loving, humble, alive in spirit and grateful too. And when I find a heart that feels like it has found me, I receive it as a wink from Doug.
If you're grieving and have unresolved issues with the person, or things left unsaid, here's a link to a conversation I had with Bob Olson years ago. Maybe it can help. And of course you can schedule a session. I've got more experience under my belt in this area since this interview. How Ordinary People Can Talk With Spirits Without A Medium
Friends in this Love,