When My Neighbor Died.

We bought our dream house four years ago. This is not to brag but rather quite an accomplishment from our previous digs only a few years before. You see, in 2010, when my life imploded, we lived in, well, a house broken into different apartments. At one point, Homeland Security raided the house. At another point, the man in the apartment under ours died and no one discovered the body for a week. My husband got a staph infection. Our friend Shelby was the only friend that would come in and hang out. It was preferred that we meet other people at their place.

Then, as life does, our life came together beautifully and we found a 120+ year historic home with a zen garden (that required a lot of work to become a zen garden). I love this house.

When we moved in we were greeted by a gruff looking kind man. He brought over a case of Miller High Life, which to him, was an act of kindness similar to a pie. He welcomed us to the neighborhood. He was full of life, jokes, and adventure.

Then the dogs and the fence.

Our neighbor had a dog when we moved in. His name was Earl and when people say owners look like their dogs, they really nailed this relationship. I believe Earl was our neighbor’s spirit animal. Then Earl died. This was devastating.

A few months later, they rescued two new dogs. One, Lucy, a terrier type with a hook nose, made our dogs crazy. They would have destructive fights at the fence. I would end up in tears. We tried every different way to stop these fights. It was frustrating and I grew to hate those dogs. I would side eye Lucy when she’d sneak that hook nose through our front fence to say hello. Her bark, it was like razor blades.

Then, a few months ago, I came home for lunch and the police were parked outside our neighbor’s house. They wouldn’t tell me what was happening but I was not leaving until I found out. Eventually, a family member came out crying. I asked what was happening and she tearfully stated that our neighbor had died unexpectedly in his sleep. He was only 50 years old.

I shared this news with my husband. We coped by blaring Bob Seger on our turntable and attended the funeral. We learned at the funeral how close he was to his grandchildren. This answered the always puzzling question about why he wore a baby monitor on his belt.

His wife is moving this weekend. They close today. A new, younger couple, is moving in. They don’t have dogs but they want dogs. The fence will probably still be a problem.

But, now that I have the longview, the fence was never that big of a deal. I would love to look at that hook nosed dog and have fights at the fence if that meant we could still have our handy, kind, funny, neighbor.

During the frustrating fence wars, I forgot the one truth of life, it all goes away. The only truth is change and loss. Damn.



My Love Letter To Grief

“Grief is the price you pay for love” – Queen Elizabeth II

(Full disclosure: I have wanted to write about grief from the beginning but it seemed so daunting that many iterations of this copy have sat in my drafts box for a month now. I think it is as ready as it can be)

It has been said that death is the great equalizer. I think we do a poor job of addressing grief and death in our culture. Maybe it’s because we are so scared of death that we like to pretend it doesn’t happen. Until, inevitably it does, and then we are left with no skills or language around how to deal with a loss that lasts forever.

For some, their faith slides in and the floor is promptly back under their feet. For others, it is not that easy and even people of faith struggle to deal with the complexities associated with death and grief.

We allow ourselves a three-day bereavement period during which we are supposed to do all the grieving that is expected of us and then return to the world as if the loss did not happen.

Three-days and we are supposed to be fine? 

Or, there is the weird idea floating around that “It’s been a year and I should be over it.” Which is absolutely ludicrous. There is no time limit on the feelings associated with loss. You will always miss them. It will never be easy that they are gone. Over time, we are forced to adjust to their absence but we are never the same without them. It is insulting to them, to us, and to the relationship with the person to think that we would ever forget them.

Some days it feels like they’ve been gone forever and others it feels like they died just moments ago. I saw a video online this week that thrust me back into the throes of grief.

This is life after loss. 

Grief is expressed as many emotions coming in waves sometimes all at the same time. In the early stages after a loss you can feel turned inside out by all the emotions pouring through you. But because we don’t talk about how that happens, people come to me asking if they’re crazy.

You’re not crazy, you’re heartbroken.

I would never ask for less of grief because I know that would mean I would have to ask less of my love for the person. I’ve experienced some of the darkest depths of grief. I’ve watched as the people I love sit in the deep dark pits of grief with no ability to help them other than to sit with them. I know that is the price they paid for their love.

I was presenting on grief not too long ago and I told the audience that grief doesn’t end and the other clinician tried to soften the harshness of my statement. A man that knows the deep pain and loss of grief personally was telling me I was coming across too harshly. Perhaps, he was correct. I’m not one for couching something as big and powerful as grief.

I don’t expect it to end and I don’t want it to end. I don’t want to stop missing them or remembering them. If grief is the price I pay for love, and I believe it is, then it is a price I will pay again and again. 

Of course, grief is a person specific experience and there are some occasions where grief doesn’t affect you like it does the people around you or you don’t experience the intensity like you think you should. That is okay, too. It’s just not okay to tell someone else they are feeling too much or too little grief.  

When my grandfather passed away six years ago (he was my rock, my secure base, my home and what followed his passing was a season of more grief and loss that will also always be part of me), I was pouring through the handwritten cards and letters he sent me over the years and I found one signed:

as some actor, in some movie, at some time said: until we meet again

Does this mean that I am not happy in my life? Absolutely not. It’s just not as simple as people want (or need) it to be. Our emotions are complicated and messy.

I have a wonderful and beautiful life for which I am grateful everyday AND I experience moments of deep dark sadness within the context of my wonderful life.

I’ve included an excerpt from and article that I reference frequently as it relates to grief:

A psychotherapist for more than thirty-three years, Greenspan sees the dark emotions as potentially profound spiritual teachers — if we can live mindfully with them. – by BARBARA PLATEK

Greenspan: Let’s begin with grief. There is a kind of shattering that happens with, say, the death of a child, or any death, but perhaps most of all violent death. Not only is your heart shattered; you lose your sense of who you are and what your life is about. So reconstruction is needed. But first we need to accept that we are broken. This initiates the “emotional alchemy.” If we can hang in there with grief, it changes from a feeling of being “hemmed in” by life to a feeling of expansion and opening. We will never get back to the way we were, but eventually we reach a new state of “normal.” I’m not talking about the mundane kind of “getting back to normal,” in which we find ourselves doing the laundry again (although that is important too), but the deeper kind, which is a process of remaking ourselves and how we live.

Grief is a teacher. It tells us that we are not alone; that we are interconnected; that what connects us also breaks our hearts — which is as it should be. Most people who allow themselves to grieve fully develop an increased sense of gratitude for their own lives. That’s the alchemy: from grief to gratitude. None of us wants to go through these experiences, but they do bring us these gifts.

From: http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/385/through_a_glass_darkly?page=2



Image from: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/46021227413416535/