Thursday, August 25, 2016

Grief is a Bitch

Let's just get to the point. Grieving is a real bitch. I think it is safe to say that everyone can agree about this. I think we also know that grief is very different depending on who has passed away and their relationship with you in life. Two years and three months ago, to the day, I went to Seth's grandmothers funeral. She died from congestive heart failure and wounds. Eleven months before Seth died I went to Father Dennis' funeral. He was the priest that married Seth and I. He died of ALS. Four months later I went to my 93 year old grandmothers funeral. She died because she was old. And of course, I went to Seth's funeral almost seven months ago. In two years and three months I have been to four funerals. Each of these four people had their own special place in my heart. Each of these people influenced me and each of their deaths had their own unique impact on me as well. 

Four people in my life died and I have grieved in four different ways. In all of these instances I have grown and loved in new ways. In all of these instances I have recovered in a remarkably different manner. Our grandmothers were old. And although we both felt a tremendous loss when they died, we also appreciated that they both lived long, fulfilling lives, and there was peace in knowing that. We understood from the day we were young children and grasped the concept of death and dying that this would happen in our life. We prepared ourselves for this and we appreciated every moment we got with our grandparents because we knew they were precious. I did not see Father Dennis very often when I dated Seth, as I never lived in Pittsburgh during that time. However; in the time I did spend with Father Dennis he taught me a lot about life. Seth and Father Dennis are responsible for the faith that I have developed as an adult. No matter what was going on in your life, Father Dennis' Sunday sermons resonated with you. He had a magical way of bringing you back down to earth and teaching you what matters in life. He had a remarkable way of reminding you to be grateful for what you had. When he died I was grateful for the lessons that he taught me. I was grateful for what I had. 

The death of a spouse is something unimaginable. I assume that the death of spouse that you only had the privilege of being married to for 2.5 years is very different than that of losing a spouse that you were married to for 50 years. I cannot imagine the loss of someone I was married to for 50 years. I am sure it is devastating and I do not think it would be right for me to say otherwise. I feel sad for anyone that experiences this loss, regardless of the circumstances. But, much like the other deaths I witnessed in the last few years, I imagine the experiences are different. However different they may be, I still think we can all agree that grief is a bitch.

Since Seth has died I have done remarkably well and I have also been a disaster. In the grieving world this is referred to as the "roller coaster," of grief. It seems so cliche to say that, but the fact of the matter is, there is no better description for the grieving process. When I was a child I loved roller coasters. The higher the roller coaster and the more loops the better it was. As an adult, when approaching a roller coaster I become nervous. As the cart creeps to the top of the first peak I feel a sense of impending doom. I imagine all of the things that could go wrong and start to freak out that I made a mistake getting on that roller coaster in the first place. Almost seconds later the roller coaster passes over the hill and starts rushing through the sky and I am in heaven. I love the speed and the surprise waiting around the next corner. I am reminded that it will be okay and part of the fun in life is the rush of not knowing. As soon as I get off I want to get on again because roller coasters are actually incredibly fun. 

The grief roller coaster is not exactly the same. Sometimes the highs are incredible and you feel over the moon. Other times the lows are so low and you never know if you will make it back up the hill top to see what is around the corner. With grief, the roller coaster is no longer a ride. The roller coaster is now real life and you need to figure out strategies to get over the next peak and around the next bend. At the theme park, once you realize how great the ride is, you get on over and over because you cannot get enough of it. Eventually you know what is coming and you don't have to be afraid anymore. In life you don't get that right. In life you have to be content with the unknown.With grief, you have no other choice. Grief is the scariest roller coaster that I have ever faced in life.

Since Seth has died I have been amazed by myself. Hell, since Seth got sick I have amazed myself and when he got sick he amazed me too. Quite frankly when shit got real, we gave shit hell. We rocked at living life together despite some of the toughest circumstances that life can throw at you. Sometimes I really need to remind myself of this as I plummet to the bottom of the roller coaster and feel like there is no way I can make it back to the top. Sometimes I need people to remind me of this when I cannot remind myself. Those are my lowest lows and those are the times I am afraid to ask for that reminder the most. 

When I was a kid I used to get sick from stress. Every single school year, without fail, I would get stressed and become sick as the fall approached. I had shingles two times before I even graduated from high school. That is an older person disease, not a teenager disease! That is also something people get from stress. I see this all the time at work with my patients. We get kids that are so overwhelmed with the pressures of life and they have no ability or skills to express themselves emotionally so their issues manifest in physical ways. When I was a freshman in college I imagine my parents wondered how I would handle the change. Hell, I moved 500 miles away from home with not one single friend and decided of all things to do, that I should enter a doctorate program. Without a doubt they wouldn't have been concerned about my work ethic, that was never in question. But I imagine they wondered how I would handle myself when I became overwhelmed as that was something that I was never very good at. 

Freshman year, first semester, I did not do very well. In fact my grades were so bad I lost my academic scholarship that I received before going to college. I worked my ass off, but the biology classes crushed me. I would have preferred to major in chemistry anyway. After losing my scholarship the school gave me only one semester to bring my grades up in order to receive it for the remaining three years of undergrad. My parents also only gave me one semester because after that they would not be sending me to an overpriced private university without a scholarship. I should also mention that if I did not get my GPA to the required average to get into physical therapy school I would be kicked out of my doctoral program. I had until the end of the second semester junior year to do that. It sounds like I had a lot of time to earn my way back into the program, but those first semester grades were bad, really bad. From that point forward I learned that I had two choices in life, "to do" or "not to do." I chose "to do," and I learned that I was the only one that was responsible for making sure that I could. I have never worked harder in my life than to get my grades up and I did. I got my scholarship back, I earned my keep in the PT program that had accepted me in high school and I kicked ass in PT school. "Doing" became my personality and gave me drive. 

Thus far in life, I have done very well "doing." I work my ass off to achieve my goals. So in hindsight, when Seth got sick, it is no wonder that I "did!" The only difference was that I had a new goal in life, get Seth better! The problem was, I actually had no control over that. Nobody did, not even the doctors. Seth worked his ass off and he fought hard. He changed his diet, he exercised, he worked, he socialized with family and friends (mental health checks), he took 41 rounds of radiation and 19 (I think, it is actually all mixed up in my head now) rounds of chemotherapy like a champ! Seth "did" and I was right there beside him encouraging him and loving him all the way. But he died anyway, and it was not fair. I am so angry that this happened to him. I am so angry that this happened to me. Loss is a bitch and the grief that ensues is the ugly step-sister. 

Imagine how much sadness one feels when they are not good at "doing" anymore. Imagine how much guilt one feels when they remember their husbands unwavering strength and they cannot even get up the hill from the bottom of the roller coaster. Imagine how alone you feel when you cannot even "talk" to your own husband anymore because you feel you are not handling yourself well or honoring him in the way that he deserves. Imagine how stressful it is when all of this makes you feel weak and you hate that because when you were at the top of the hill you were so proud of yourself for being so strong and "doing." Imagine that...

I put a lot of pressure on myself as I deal with grief. I assume there are ways that I should feel or that people want me to feel. I spend too much time caring about what other people might think. But mostly, it comes down to the fact that I am constantly second guessing myself. I am constantly worried that I am not honoring Seth. I am constantly worried that my fears and anxieties are proof that I did not actually love Seth. I go so far as to convince myself that I am a bad wife. Sometimes I believe, that I did not deserve him. This is not very easy for me to say out loud. This is why I have taken to writing. Writing is non-judgmental. People are judgmental. Mostly - I am judgmental of myself. Recently I have opened up to a few people but only after experiencing such intense anxiety that I finally have to spit it out in the most awkward and strange ways. I am not good at verbalizing my emotions because I am ashamed to have them. I say I am afraid of what people will think. But the truth is, I am afraid of what I will think when I hear the thoughts that escape from my mouth.

I recently went on vacation. Before I went on vacation I started struggling with a few feelings that I was having. All of a sudden I had overwhelming guilt. I know this is not rationale, but I cannot turn off feelings of guilt. I have read that other widows feel guilt too. I am not sure if that makes me feel better or makes me feel like this hell will never end. Either way, I guess it is good to know that I am not alone. I wish I could say there was just one thing I feel guilty about, but the list is longer than that. As soon as I feel better about one topic something else consumes my mind and voids me of my energy. The roller coaster keeps going and I just cannot stop it. Previously I was afraid to post this publicly. But after being encouraged by my friends I know now that I should not be feeling guilt. I was also recently encouraged to stop making excuses and get my feelings off of my chest. These are very personal but I have decided to open up because I know I cannot be alone. Maybe I can encourage another widow by allowing her to feel these thoughts and letting her know that she is not alone. And maybe if I opened up, people would actually tell me I am strong. And maybe I just need another reminder that I am not crazy, that I am strong, and that I am "doing." Maybe I need a reminder that even while I am kicking ass, I will have my down moments too and this is okay. Sometimes I only need one person to reassure me. Other times I need a million strangers that read my blog to reassure me because that is not as scary as saying it out loud to myself or to the people that I love.

Before I went on vacation this is what I was feeling...

     1. Guilt about the last three days of Seth's life. 
     2. Guilt that I am doing well "living." This is what I will talk about today.

2. When I am not worrying about those last days with Seth, I am doing very well. And thus, there is guilt that I am doing well "living."

I promised Seth that I would be okay after he died. We talked about what I would do once he passed away. I told him that I would be sad, but that I would also be okay. I have written about all of the things I have done since he passed away. I have traveled on vacation. I have gone swimming in Cape Cod. I started a scholarship fund. His brother and I gave away $5,000 to graduating seniors from WMHS in his honor. I got a promotion at work. I signed up for a half marathon. I am swimming a mile in his honor for the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center. I am riding my bike 100 miles along side my incredible patients. I am traveled across the country. I created a team in his honor at the annual Pittsburgh Sarcoma Run. I am working on three quilts with his clothing. One for me, one for his parents, and one for his brother. I have truly been living. 

Sometimes I am incredibly proud of myself for living life to the fullest. When I am being rationale I know that is what he wanted me to do. Hell, this is what he did when he was facing cancer! He was not afraid to die, but Seth was worried about me after he died. I made him a promise that I would be okay and I have been doing my best to keep it. I have been working hard to be patient and genuine with myself and it has been helping. I smile, I laugh, and I enjoy my time with family and friends. I am doing what he asked of me, and yet I feel worried of what he will think. I feel guilty that I am not hating my life. I feel guilty that I am doing too well. 

Sometimes all I want to do is hate life. I want to sit at home and cry without an end in sight and just feel the emotion of missing Seth. Sometimes I feel like if I do that than I will be remembering him better. If I do that I will be honoring Seth better. If I could only be non-functional then he would look down on me and know that I truly care about him. He would know that I love him.  But I cannot do that. I don't hate life. Sometimes I think life is a real bitch. Sometimes I think that life is not fair. Sometimes I am angry, but I don't hate life. And I cannot sit at home and cry all day, it is just not like me to do so. Even though I write a lot of emotion on paper, I am not a very outwardly emotional person. It is not in me to stay at home and cry all day. Some might call it denial, but my coping mechanism is to keep pushing forward. My coping mechanism is to keep myself so busy that before I know it I am doing "okay." Sometimes I feel really guilty about my coping mechanism. Sometimes my coping mechanism fails because I become tired and com-bust anyway. Sometimes I can't sleep because I am consumed with praying to Seth. I am consumed with telling him that I do still love him, even though I am doing "too" well.

That is what I was feeling guilty about before I went on vacation. Then I went on vacation and I had so much fun. I felt such a sense of relief. I spoke with my friends and they assured me that I was not crazy, well not for the reasons that I thought anyway.  Although neither one could personally understand my feelings they recognized that they were mine to have. But they both agreed that I was nuts to care what other people think. We also agreed that the true problem was not what people think of me, but rather what I think of me. We agreed that I was being ridiculous. I mean rationally, I totally get it. Of course I love Seth. Living my life has nothing to do with that. Thinking about my future has nothing to do with that. I am actually living because of him! My sister in-law told me that Seth wanted me to live. Hell, only a few paragraphs ago I wrote that! She reminded me that only one week before he passed away, when he was feeling ill and relying on a wheelchair, he still got dressed and forced me out of the house to go to work to be filmed for a documentary on a patient that I had worked very hard to help - and he came with me! Duh, all of a sudden I was reminded that I was being absolutely crazy. 

Although vacation was good and I got some sense knocked into me, the first two days since I have been back to the grind have been challenging - the roller coaster effect. In a matter of days I was back at the bottom of the hill, albeit only a small one this time. Maybe I am not doing "too good," afterall. Maybe I am just riding the roller coaster just like I am supposed to be. This is the part of the roller coaster that I don't like. This is the part of grief that is a bitch. This is the unknown part. This is very difficult for me to grasp because I am a planner. I like to know what is coming. I make plans and I "do!" But the fact is I cannot know what is coming. All I can do is work hard to take care of me and supply myself with the tools that I need in order to face the next hill, the next valley, and the next curve in the roller coaster. All I can do is remember that I am strong and that I have people to go to when I feel I cannot be. All I can do is keep on keeping on. Eventually the roller coaster will not be so hard because I will have practice. I will know what to expect and I will be confident in myself to handle the things that I cannot.  

~ Meredith



#SethStrong in Oregon ~ Courtesy of Vacation with the Betts


#SethStrong in Portland, Oregon ~ Courtesy of Vacation with the Betts

That time my friend convinced me to go sky diving while in vacation in Seattle, WA. - but I would do it again! If nothing else it taught me that I can conquer my fears. It was also super fun. Seth would have loved it!

I just love this picture of Seth and I. :)


Dear Seth,

I love you Seth. I hope you know that I will always love you. I hope you know that you made the world a better place. I hope you know that you taught me courage and strength and faith. You taught everyone so much and you made a difference in this world. People carry you with them everywhere they go. You were the one that knew me the best. I hope that you still do know me best. I hope that you know above all else that I think at night when the rest of the world sleeps, is that I love you. I love you so very much.

You've been traveling a lot this summer, I included some pictures to show you. Enjoy. :) 

Love,
Meredith


American Cancer Society Relay for Life ~ Courtesy of the Seeman Family
Luminaires - American Cancer Society Relay for Life


The Seeman family honored you along side their grandfather, "Fuzzy."
Saratoga, NY ~ Photo courtesy of Erin Michael
Hatteras, NC OBX ~ Photo Courtesy of Erin Michael
Corrola, NC OBX ~ Photo courtesy of cousin Jeff
Corrola, NC OBX ~ Photo courtesy of cousin Jeff
Ocean City, MD ~ Photo courtesy of Aunt Kathy
Florida ~ Photo courtesy of cousin Lynn
View photo in message
Mount Hale, NH ~ Picture Courtesy of Amy and Jeff
"Don't give up. Don't ever give up." ~ Jimmy V.

"You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live." ~ Stuart Scott

Seth Jacob Budai Caring Bridge Page

 





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