How do I keep going?
September 10, 2015 4:11 PM   Subscribe

The last year has been filled with brutal loss and now there's more. Please help me cope with lots of death and an emotionally stunted family.

I spent last year taking care of my aunt who passed away from lung cancer almost exactly a year ago. She was the light of my heart, my best maternal figure, and the loss was really really hard for me. Three months later at the beginning of December, I lost my 15 year old standard poodle, who had been my close companion through all the hard things. He died super suddenly, which was good for him but hard for me. In April, I had to quit my job for mental health reasons. I'm now working part time for myself, and it's a mostly good transition.

At the end of July, my closest cousin died in his sleep from heart failure. He was young, fit, and just getting his life together. We had reconnected when my aunt died, and it was a comfort to both of us. He'd had a really hard life, and it was a huge blow and shock for him to die when everything was finally starting to come together. His memorial will be out of town this weekend. We'll be going.

Yesterday, my 95 year old grandfather died in his sleep. He'd been in hospice for almost two weeks, but no one expected him to die so soon. He wasn't ill and didn't have a fall or anything. It was just old age. My grandma has moderate dementia, and I won't be surprised in the slightest if she dies very soon. They'd been married over 70 years, and were still very much in love.

My extended family are a bunch of very broken and closed off people. Being around them is something I limit for my mental well being. Right now, that's not entirely possible. I mention this so that you don't tell me anything about turning to them for support or anything that glorifies family. That kind of answer will only wound me by bringing up something I don't have. I do have therapy, friends, a super great husband, and dogs.

How can I get through this? What do I do this weekend about being around my closed off family while I'm deeply grieving two recent deaths? How do I even begin to cope with so much loss in such a short period of time? Each thing that comes I feel like I've got enough time to stagger back onto my feet woozily, just to be knocked flat again. I'm running out of getting back up.

Writing this out, it doesn't seem like that much. But it still feels like more than I can take, and I know there's more coming soon.
posted by stoneweaver to Human Relations (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Oh lordy, I'm so sorry. It's interesting that you feel like writing it out doesn't seem like much, because reading it seems like this must be a really, really hard experience. I think it's okay to acknowledge how tremendously difficult this is and it might be worth a bit of pondering why you'd think this sounds like not so bad -- it sounds terribly painful. It doesn't sound at all like 'not that much'. These sound like major losses.

In any case, here are a few things that have helped me when the intimacy of family was both incredibly hard to bear and unavoidable:

-at my therapist's urging, written down every specific grievance about my family as it came up when I was on site with them. I used an email in a drafts folder. Anecdote after anecdote.

-articulating, as you do here, precisely, what is agonizing. To me, I find it's the wordlessness in certain situations to be particularly difficult and putting things in concrete terms is helpful. So writing, painful as it might be, can be cathartic, and scheduling a phone call with your therapist while you're with your family might be helpful.

-I do have therapy, friends, a super great husband, and dogs.

Lean on them. Sometimes just sitting there and petting a dog for half an hour is the best thing on earth.

Also: it takes time to heal and there really isn't any way to rush it and some days just purely suck. If you can find a tiny bright spot somewhere in the days, where you and your husband sneak off to have a drink or ogle plants in a botanical garden or something, it helps to have your small, secret comforts and know you are still you and the earth is still under your feet.

Best wishes and I'm sorry you're going through this.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:46 PM on September 10, 2015 [11 favorites]

Reading what you wrote out, it sounds like a whole hell of a lot of grief. I'm so sorry things have been so hard, that there has been so much loss.

Can you find a grief support group near you? Via google, or Meetup, or calling your local crisis line? Sometimes just having a place to go where all the people in the room know exactly what you've been through is healing like absolutely nothing else can be. Therapy, friends, a great spouse, and a dog are fantastic--and still none of those fantastic resources is quite like that empathy grounded in similar experience.

posted by Sublimity at 4:56 PM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Writing this out, it doesn't seem like that much.

It really seems like a lot! It's like you're running a marathon you haven't trained for. Be extra careful with yourself. Aside from your family, try, if you can, to cut back on dealing with things that stress you ( I know this is easier said than done).

Make sure you get lots of sleep, eat well, allow yourself a few indulgences.

posted by maggiemaggie at 5:59 PM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your losses. What a tough year you've been through.

Sublimity has an excellent suggestion of finding a grief support group. Or maybe you would consider transitioning to a therapist who specializes in grief support for a short while.

Your post really reminded me of some of Anne Lamott's writings, although memory fails at the moment of which titles specifically. But she's had similar episodes of one unexpected hit after another in a short amount of time. Reading some of her work would give you an idea of how she got through it, and the life lessons she learned. It may he of some comfort to you, to see where she found grace in it all.
posted by vignettist at 10:11 PM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Those are heavy losses, and so many of them, in a short period - it is a lot, I'm so sorry.

I think Sublimity is right on, very good idea to reach out to others, even just in conversation with friends, if you feel ok with being open about it. (If you're friends with people in their 50s and 60s - they can be helpful to talk to, I find. Most have experienced enough significant losses to have taken a perspective on it.)

You've experienced chronic, and multiple acute, stressors for a couple of years, now - definitely make self-care a priority over the next weeks and months. If you need help to sleep in the very short term, with OTC or prescribed medication, take it. (For sure don't use it for longer than indicated, but if you just aren't sleeping, you need to.)

I don't know of anything to help with the pain of loss. All you can do is feel it when it comes, and let it ebb, let yourself be distracted sometimes. Keep busy when that helps; cry or do nothing when you need to.

For me (not immediately, I think just feeling and doing (or not), and taking every day as it comes is all many can do, immediately), it's helped to try to make whatever sense I could of things, both of the longer view, and of the people I've lost. To try to focus on what I think of as redemptive moments in their lives, despite unavoidable unfairness elsewhere. And to remember the times we felt close, and let myself feel them again. And to know that no matter what, the fact is that I loved them, and they loved me. That is huge and lucky. That is a fact that just is, whenever I remember it.

The individuals you lost are irreplaceable, but you still have your husband and friends (and dogs) to love. There is always room for more love.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:17 PM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Writing this out, it doesn't seem like that much."

Reading it, it seems like way, way too much ... bless your heart! (And I mean that in the most sincere way possible, not that passive-aggressive, bitchy way we Southerners usually say it.)

Please be gentle on yourself. You have experienced great losses, both sudden and ongoing. The fact that you are functional enough to type this into Ask MeFi tells me that you're an incredibly strong person who is a *survivor*. I am so very sorry!

I have experienced many of the same things in the past couple of years, although not quite so concentrated as your traumas. Please reach out to me via MeMail if you would like a one-on-one sympathetic ear. I will keep you in my thoughts.
posted by mccxxiii at 4:12 AM on September 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

This is a LOT for you to go through. You've drawn the short straw for some time, and it's happened completely out of your control.

I, too, have experienced periods of rapid fire death of intimates, and it leaves a very unique sort of scarring that many people cannot or will not understand. Emotionally dysfunctional family (which I also deal with) makes this much worse.

I think with intense grief there are no right answers that can work for everyone. Sometimes, for me, reaching out to others was not helpful, because even the ones who really care are not able to "fix it", and are quite likely to make useless or even hurtful comments. Sometimes the best thing for me was to take a lot of solitary, teenager-style brooding time and just really feel the pain I was feeling without any distraction. Deep emotional pain is one of the most down and dirty, real experiences life has to offer. If you face it without fear and and without denial, there is something beautiful about it.

Maybe draw some lines for yourself (i.e. I will not drink/eat/do whatever vice I do too much), get materials you need for expressive activities (nice journal? paint and easel? ingredients for a delcious meal?), and consider changing channels to a different line of emotion when the one you're currently feeling (sadness or despair) gets too intense. For example, one thing I used to do with my dad before he died was take a whole bunch of unwanted junk like old plates and tiles to the dump and throw it out of the back of the truck in an exaggerated and angry fashion, with some yelling (no one was around, of course.) I found this very satisfying.

The number one rule: there are no rules or time limits, and you will never be the same, but you will be stronger and more interesting than before when get through this.
posted by dissolvedgirl22 at 5:44 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

During a seriously low time in my life, I made a conscious effort to see and acknowledge something beautiful and positive every day. A specific example that I think of frequently; on my way to work, I saw a bluebird. Not unusual for my area, but it was winter and bitter cold. It was beautiful and unexpected, and it made my day. It still makes me feel better years later. Let yourself sponge up the good things in every day. It can help balance the grief, and let you heal a little bit at a time.

And imagine all of us here as a big blanket of care and concern for you. Take good care of yourself. It helps.
posted by LaBellaStella at 10:23 AM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

When it rains, it pours: I always notice more Bad when I am already drenched in it. You, on the other hand, need a damn ark. Your grief is real, your needs are real, your right to speak is real.

Now, you may not want to claim that right among your family if it's going to make things worse, but that's where your husband can help. Ask him to listen to a few things you need to say, even though he may not be the person who needs to hear them. (Then, since he's doing you a solid, thank him and the two of you take the dogs for walk. :7)

If you can't talk to you family, and you don't want to "dump out" on your husband or friends too often, then writing seems like your next choice. (Whether you destroy those words or save them for some future, I couldn't say.)

Look, one of my very favorite people died ten days ago, and I am still ragged. Having to spend a whole year in labor and grief upon grief would be more than many people can take. So you have earned a break. Use your network for comfort, save your words for the page, and grieve away from your family. Your lost ones will know you are sincere, and the closed off people around you aren't who you are grieving for (or maybe even with) anyway.

God bless, and go throw a toy with the dogs until you're all pooped.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:47 AM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Thank you all for your kindness, and for helping me recalibrate my scale. Bad things have been happening for so long it just started to seem like This is how life Is. I did that stars scale test, and scored more than double the top score range of what's unbearable, and in the process realized I'd even left a lot out of the question.

The answers you gave and the kindness you showed, just thank you very much. They were each incredibly helpful to me.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:03 PM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

« Older Did I just do a clean install? or just a regular...   |   Should I buy a new smartphone? iPhone 6S edition Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.