Grieving for Karen

Me, Karen and Cathy. July 11, 2011.

Sisters – me, Karen and Cathy.
July 11, 2011.

Thursday, July 25th is the Deathaversary for my sister Karen, who is the inspiration behind Chemo Buddies. She died two years ago from Triple Negative Breast Cancer and frankly, I’m still not over it.

The past two years have been difficult. How does one move forward and go on after such a great loss? I don’t have that answer.  People going through that valley now have asked me, “Does it ever get better?”

The truthful answer is no, it doesn’t get better, but it does get less frequent. The intensity of the raw waves of inconsolable grief that visit you daily now will come less frequently with time.  With time, you will be able to sing again, to laugh again, and be comforted with the good memories of your loved one.

But make no mistake, there will also be times when a memory will trigger your grief, and you will be reduced to a puddle all over again. On those days the feeling of grief is just as intense and overwhelming as it was on the first day. I don’t know if it is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or not, but that is what it feels like – traumatic flashbacks.

I recently sat with a dying friend in hospice while her family discussed what she should wear in her casket when the time came. I flashed back to the day my sister Cathy and I went shopping to pick out a dress for Karen. We bought several and let Karen choose.

It was a simple task, one of many that you must do when someone you love is dying. Even though a year and a half had passed since Karen died, I cried all the way home from hospice that day, and was unable to function for a day or two just remembering and re-living the trauma from her last days.

There are also certain days that bring on an emotional meltdown. Obvious holidays like her birthday and holidays when you gather as a family and her seat is empty, but I was also surprised by the sadness of days that were significant in the journey of her illness.

The pattern for me is about a week before one of the significant days, I will start to feel off. I will get headaches and cry very easily over little things. My anxiety level rises and I have no patience. At first I didn’t know it had anything to do with Karen, but a wise friend pointed out the pattern to me.  I was short tempered and full of anxiety the first week of July and I literally said out loud, “What is wrong with me?” and then I was reminded that it was the anniversary of the day we got that shocking phone call telling us she had two weeks to live.

Your subconscious is not necessarily your friend is the world of grieving

About 6 months after Karen’s death I had a serious talk with a counselor. I was concerned because it felt like I couldn’t move on or “get over it.” She assured me that grieving was a process and even though I couldn’t see it because I was still emotionally raw, I was in fact moving on.

The simple act of continuing to function is in itself healing. Stuck people who still can’t get out of bed or work months after a loss, are the ones who should be concerned and seek medical attention. (And for the record, I highly recommend anti-depressants, but that is another story.)

Of course, this is just my experience and I don’t claim to be an expert. Everyone processes things differently, and there is no judgment here for others on the journey.

The key to grieving, in my opinion, is to allow yourself to feel what you feel when you feel it, and be gentle to yourself. You’ve just had the emotional equivalent of open heart surgery so don’t spend time like I did criticizing yourself with thoughts like, “I should be over this by now,” or constantly apologizing to others for being sad.

The pace or speed at which you move forward is completely subjective, and don’t compare yourself to others in your family who are walking this road with you. Give yourself permission to take as long as it takes to feel better.

Every day that you continue to function and live on, you are moving forward. Accept those bad days as part of the process, and be extra kind to yourself when you see one approaching on the calendar.

There are grief support groups, self help books, counselors and medications to help you so if you need that, do that. You are not alone, and it is not constructive to isolate yourself or condemn yourself.

Just keep moving forward, one day at a time.

The coming week is going to be tough one for sure, and my entire family has decided to experience it together. We are convening for the week at the ocean. For me, there is such renewal, peace and hope at the ocean.

We will laugh, play games, remember, and love on each other daily. We will celebrate Karen, but equally important, we will make new memories as a family and treasure each other with new appreciation of how important it is to enjoy your loved ones while they are still here on this side of heaven.

We will continue on the journey appreciating the time together and leave no kind words unspoken, because you just never know how long you have with someone you love.

And that, in my opinion, is the best way, to get over it.

Posted in blog, death and dying, Karen

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