When writing articles on grief, my focus is on two things. Me and You. I assume, which may or may not be true, that if you’re reading this article you’re likely suffering from a loss, or you’re anticipating a loss. Either way, many of the effects and emotions can feel the same. Doom and gloom cannot be sugar coated, no matter what you call it. It’s painful losing a loved one, and the heartache we suffer is very real. Until I lost Annie, I would never have read an article on grief. It’s a real downer. But to a griever that doesn’t seem to be the case. Perhaps, that’s because we’re already approaching the lowest point in our life, but need to go a bit lower, always searching for answers, seeking an understanding where there is none. Death will have that profound effect on you. And I want to say to you, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” I lost my precious “Annie” four years ago, and I guess that was the day the music died for me. Please don’t despair, in this writing there is hope.
The Day The Music Died
In the early days before the cancer, words to our favorite songs, even the sad ones, were innocent enough, but what happens when the music dies. Those same words become sad, lonely, and take on a whole new meaning. The depth of sorrow we feel listening to our old songs that we shared, is driven down and down. It’s like a bottomless pit with no ending. Realistically, how can we listen to the music we shared without falling into that pit. Simply put, we can’t.
Here’s the real truth behind the day the music died. Since Annie died, it follows that the music had to die too. Unknowingly, listening to a loved one’s dead music, is one of the best things we can do. Through the depths of our sorrow, the music is driving us further into the darkness of the bottomless pit, but, over time the resilience of our body kicks in and we find ourselves clawing and scratching our way back out of the pit, and into the light. We are healing! I know now that it was imperative that I hit rock bottom, as when I started leaving grief behind, “I was being released from its clutches.” It’s so true, “It takes grief to heal grief.” There is no other way…We must suffer in order to heal.
It seemed to me, that during the initial stages of my grief, the whole concept was based on looking back, and wondering how things could go so terribly wrong. I didn’t question what happened, I knew what happened. She got cancer, and died. What troubled me the most was, how did we let it get that far, before cancer brutally led us to the understanding of, just how precious life was. Annie and I always loved each other but we were so busy working and planning for our retirement we sort of forgot about “Today.” We were living in “Tomorrow.” Quite simply put, we were chasing an illusion. And grief used the illusion to hurt me deeply.
Annie would say to me, “Let’s take a short break and go to Hawaii.” She took a trip there with her sisters and loved it.
Instead of going, I’d encourage her to go spend time in Los Angeles with her sister Lesley while I stayed home and ran our business. Then when she came back, she’d run the business while I went to Nor Cal and spent time with my family. I know, when a married couple are living together and working together 24/7, having a short but separate vacation is considered healthy to the marriage. And it may well be, but grief doesn’t see it that way. The regrets I had for not taking the time to do the little things in life with her, ripped me apart. As hard as I tried I couldn’t justify my actions or defend myself against the relentless and unforgiving grief. And you won’t be able to either.
Imagine, within a week of Annie’s diagnosis, we shut down two small businesses, and I became a 24/7 caregiver for thirty months. Cancer immediately put life in perspective, and it didn’t take me long to realize, we were never promised a tomorrow, so why try to live there. And yes, good old grief reminded me of that every day.
So I say to you, if you have an opportunity to do something special with, or for a loved one, or simply someone very special and dear to your heart, do it. Don’t live in “Tomorrow.” It may well turn out to be an illusion, and you might not get a second chance.
Four years later, I still shed a tear or two now and again when listening to our music, looking at our pictures, or perhaps just thinking about her. But the music is no longer dead, the pictures are special, and are simply a reminder of the life and love we shared together.
Goodbye My Friend (by Linda Ronstadt)
“Oh we never know where life will take us, I know it’s just a ride on the wheel,
And we never know when death will shake us, And we wonder how it will feel.
So goodbye my friend, I know I’ll never see you again, But the time together through all the years will take away these tears, It’s okay now, Goodbye my friend”
Is Grief Dangerous–The Broken Heart
Absolutely–Some folks, although probably rare, don’t survive their grief. And that’s why it’s so important that when grieving you pay close attention to your body. If you can get regular check-ups, please do.
This Happened to Me
After being Annie’s caregiver for thirty months through an intense cancer, she died! And I’m going to tell you something—I never saw the bulldozer pushing the grief my way coming at me. It absolutely engulfed me, then stranded me in no man’s land. The place where there appears to be nothing more than sorrow, misery, and a million questions without answers. My heart was broken.
Four months after Annie’s death, I started having heart arrhythmia problems. I kind of blew it off as my being, so sad, and generally overwhelmed with my grief.
One afternoon while looking at grief posters, I saw one of a broken heart. That’s when my light bulb came on, and the question came out. Can people really die of a broken heart?
A few days later I went to Heartland Cardiology to see Annie’s long time cardiologist and friend Dr. Assem Farhat. I’d know him for years too. When he came into the room, I simply looked him straight in the eyes and asked him the question. “Has anyone ever died of a broken heart?” His reaction and response was immediate, “Bob, that is not an option.” Again I asked the question and got the same response. After listening to my heart he went on to say that some folks come here, we can fix their heart problem, but due to their grief they really don’t want help and will just go home, lay down, don’t take care of themselves, and some simply go to sleep and die, or have a heart attack that results in death. So the answer to my question was “Yes.”
Just think! My problem was discovered in the fourth month of grieving, with my heaviest grief period being over the first three years. If I hadn’t been placed on heart meds when I was, it’s possible I would not be here today. Make no mistake, my grief was very long, challenging, and sometimes I was afraid I was going to die, then ten minutes later I was afraid I wasn’t going to die. Really insane! Still, my heart wearing down was due to my intense caregiver duties over thirty months, witnessing so much trauma, pain and always dealing with anxieties over all the various unknown entities. And of course the grief and heartache I was feeling was simply intensifying the problem, in a sense trying to finish me off. I suspect it would have been easy for me to lay down and give up on life, while listening to the whispering voice in my head continually filling me with despair. But I didn’t, and instead chose to fight back.
Over time I learned to fight back by taking control of my grief and not letting it control me. Sounds difficult, but it really isn’t. I continued to do the things that hurt me the most. Beyond the music, I started spending time looking at photo albums, invoking memories that I really didn’t want to have at the time, but need too. It just made sense to me—the things that hurt me the most, would in the end be the things that cause the biggest out flow of emotions, allowing me to start healing. I’m really glad I got my problem seen to…Dying, was not an option. I want to live, laugh, and perhaps love again.
Nope, life will never be the same, but I will no longer pity myself. I’m here, and Annie who lived and loved her life, is gone forever. “Death Is So Final.”