Life’s Interruption

I have interrupted this (normally super positive)blog to bring you life’s interruption… a little dark cloud that creeps in when you are least expecting it. I promise to return to light hearted travel and journey blogs right after this…

I think I’ve been trying to avoid this topic but in the midst of quite a few close friends (and family)experiencing a loss, I thought it would be appropriate timing.

There really isn’t a good time to talk about it… and if you are someone who has never lost a close relative, or friend, someday this may make sense..

Suddenly in the middle of a perfectly great day, we get interrupted.

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not as simple as a customer service call… No, sometimes it’s an important call that sends our whole world into a frenzy. Sometimes it’s just the flashback…of the call, the day or the feeling we had…

I’ll warn you now that if you wanted a light hearted blog this isn’t the one, it gets kind of emotional but very real. So carry on at your own risk.

The call is, never the one you want. It’s never the right time, or the right day or the right weather.

It’s never the right response.

You never get to forget it either.

Every moment during which this call takes place you are actually living in slow motion, but yet you wish it would’ve been over faster. It’s, not the IRS.. (sorry I joke when I’m nervous)no it’s the “something has happened” call…

I’ll tell you, I’ve had a lot of experience with death, and yet it still comes back like acid reflux every time I hear of anyone’s loved one passing… I have been in the trenches of mourning and I have known the loss that few (my age) have known. It’s not a club you want to be in..

My phone call came at approximately 6:25am on a tuesday morning. July 11th 2014. A flash bulb memory…

It’s like how you remember exactly where you were the day you found out about 9/11. What’s weird is at the time of 9/11 I didn’t know what the World Trade Center was, or what was happening. When I got the phone call my dad had suddenly passed away in his sleep, after seeing him less than a week prior, I knew what it meant.

So what happened after the call? I couldn’t breath, or eat or speak. I didn’t cry right away…

In slow motion, I managed to go through the entire week feeling like I got sucker punched… Then for months I relived my sorrow over and over, and while that was happening, so was life… like normal every day things, which was so inconvenient!!

How exactly did I not see this coming? No one did, and for most people death doesn’t work into our plans…

We don’t think about death unless it’s effecting us at that moment. We protect ourselves from this fear and this sadness by avoiding it.

I was fortunate to have my band aid torn off in some ways.

My dad was definitely not the “bed ridden kind”, nor would he be a good candidate for any kind of “treatment” except “special treatment”. He really got out in the best way he could have, really.

My dad lived. He sure did fear death though, as I think we all do. The uncertainty of it makes the concept very scary. That is why many people have faith in god, others in reincarnation but whatever you believe, know that you will some day get a “call”. Maybe not a sudden and severe one, but one that will stay with you. It changes you, and the way you think of things…

It’s not that I want to dwell on death, in fact I try not to be morbid most of the time. I can’t help but know, with such certainty, that life is short. If we have good years in our life than we have lived.

Loss isn’t always the same. However, I’ve found that personally, there have been two distinct experiences that are universal:

1. Sudden and unexpected. Which consists of losing someone as a result of a car accident, an overdose, a health related incident that couldn’t be rectified, a miscarriage, SIDs, military related, gang related… and a million other sudden traumatic losses…

2. Slow, steady decline. Slow is a relative term. The usual example is someone suffering from an illness who is going through treatment, or a grandparent experiencing age related failure.

Each type of loss is equally as traumatic and devastating, I’ve experienced both. Each type comes with their own distinct feelings, as did the relationship with that person. When I lost my dad, I thought of friends I had who had also lost theirs. I instantly felt like now I could relate. Now I knew what they meant when they said things. I never knew the feelings could be so different.

We all feel loss one day, and we can never truly know the feeling until it happens… but we should know how to be there for someone during this horrible time. Whatever you say, don’t say “let me know if there is anything I can do”. Make it a point to schedule a coffee date or just say “sorry for your loss”, it’s worse to make empty promises.

When we lose someone we evaluate ourselves.

Just like we evaluate all the company around us, and yet we don’t do this in our day to day. We struggle to make it to the end of the week or just to make enough to get our needs met and yet we forget how important people are. The kindest words, the greatest stories are told to our loved ones at the wake of death. That must change!

Could we be better at telling the stories we love of each other today, instead?

In life we get schedules and routines. We make things important and other things “not so important”. We go so fast, yet so slow, but do we see each other? Do we look past the “good morning” or the “how was your weekend?” Do we care enough? It’s hard to take care of yourself during times of loss, and it’s easy to hide in plain sight.

The months that follow…

After the loss, we drift away from the person who has experienced it, knowing we said something, or sent some flowers. We forget that they don’t continue their lives the same way they were before. We assume they say everything is fine and move on, selfishly or consciously but with little consideration of if that is actually true…

The person who has lost their loved one, does not snap back into reality (at least I didn’t). No, they wake up everyday to remember they can’t call their dad or their mom, or their friend and tell them about their day. They won’t see them at their regular holidays. They remember good times, they remember bad times but they know they are lonely. Some people (like myself) don’t like a lot of attention with sad connotations. I’d much rather be happy, don’t we all feel that way!

There is a feeling that no one understands the feelings, or has experienced this specific scenario. The reality is, grief is universally individual. You feel your feelings alone, no hallmark card, or edible arrangement can fix or soften the experience. It’s about being seen. If we can see each other’s needs, care enough to make their day a little easier, it helps. Every little thing helps in a small way, to dig you out of your dark sad space.

Empathy.

See the persons feelings and know that you might not understand, but it’s not your time to. You might know their lossed loved one or you might not. What a grieving friend, coworker, loved one needs, is just to be seen, heard, and held. There is nothing to be said. The less you say the better. You just need to be there.

Something changes after you experience a great loss…

They aren’t the same whole person they started with. In fact, some feel the loss of their loved one forever, and while some say it eases with time, that isn’t true for everyone. That’s okay! The reality is, the way they see the world is now forever changed. It’s not that they will never be “themselves” again, but they might not want what they thought they wanted before.

I’ll give you a personal example. I used to work both a 9-5 and a side job which ranged from 10-20 extra hours sometimes even another 40 additional hours. After my dad passed, I had 2 jobs, a mother who had just been through a psychotic break and was being re-medicated, a serious boyfriend (thank god for him) and we had just made an offer on a house (luckily they turned us down). That was my level of normalcy. Going on full time overdrive, running from one job to the next, not spending time on myself or what I wanted out of life.

When we are young, we think we have forever to live. After my dad’s death and several young classmates sudden deaths, I woke up.

I had never considered what exactly my dad did for my life, since I was (an adult) out of the house. He kepted a careful balance of handling shit, without anyone knowing. We didn’t know what he did behind the scenes (what bills, responsibilities etc.). He had a small business, a commercial building and he loved working, he handled everything. He was the one that instilled a deep sense of pride and work ethic in me. Now it was up to me to fill in the gaps, my mom couldn’t do it, the baton has been passed.

My dad missed dance recitals, piano recitals, Greek school graduation and a bunch of other things I don’t remember. He never packed my lunch or helped me with my homework. I never minded, or felt bad about it, because I knew he was there (supportive, but not present). Maybe that was how I made my peace in the end, but I am digressing .

The point is the man worked a lot.

He obviously was successful in doing so, but yet he missed out (or maybe he didn’t think he did), on life’s precious moments. He was there for milestones, the guy wasn’t a total workaholic, but he did miss some things.

After he passed. I quit my second job, (I still went in from time to time) I stopped doing overtime and I realized all the money I was trying to make, didn’t make me happy!

This moment was so important. I was working because I thought I was supposed to work hard, save money, buy a house and that would make me a successful adult. I clearly learned after dismantling his life in the court of probate that life is more important than work.

Yes money was important, and I didn’t quit my day job. It was an extreme change for me. For my whole college experience, I worked every Saturday, and Sunday. I missed Mother’s Days, I missed Father’s Days I missed these little moments and didn’t think anything of it because I had to work.

In the end we wish we had more time, not money.

We wish we could have spent more time with those people we have lost. We regain a feeling that life is short, and so precious, and can be so easily interrupted.

Death changes life, but it doesn’t stop life from happening, it changes our views of it for a time. We are sad, we are lonely, we feel more easily aggravated, we may be angry, but we wake up in the morning, and we choose to get up and move forward.

Sometimes we are affected but it takes an extreme loss to fundamentally shift the way we think. This is what happened for me. I started to look at life as finite. That isn’t negative, it’s true!

It’s hard. Every single day you miss the person you lost. Every day you think of something that reminds you of them. What we don’t remember to do daily is to check in with someone who has just faced, what we have faced. We assure ourselves that because they have a spouse or someone else that we don’t need to say anything or do anything else…

We forget that they are in the midst of the battle that is grief. Once we have gone through a true loss, we are either afraid forever to face it again, stuck in a state of grief where we seek out others who are also experiencing grief or we simply avoid it all together. We protect our delicate selves in which ever way we know how.

I must remind you though that the person who feels the loss may just need a shoulder. I am writing this blog to remind you that life has interruptions. It’s not always happy, and it’s not always sad. It’s not about how much you work. It’s not about the money or the stuff or the status you have. It’s not about the kids all the time. It’s not about your bosses needs. It’s about love. Life is about how much you love. Let your neighbor, your friend, your partner, your relatives know that you love them. Tell them a story, don’t wait to make the phone call.

Don’t avoid love. Wrap yourself in it. Surround yourself with it and give it. Make love your only priority. Love is forever.

Maya Angelou once said, “people may forget what you did but they will never forget what you made them feel”. I always felt that during my grief, there were certain people that stood out, that listened, and that made me feel seen. There were others that didn’t. It’s okay, not everyone understands, but if you know the feeling, don’t let someone feel lonely. They might need you. You might need them. Even if it’s not convenient.

Life is hard for everyone, but particularly hard when you lose someone who is intricately woven into who you are. You lose yourself for a while, and when you find yourself again. You are changed, you see the world differently, maybe better, maybe worse but you are never the person you were before.

Share this with someone who needs to know you love them. Share it because you want them to know they aren’t alone. Share your thoughts and feelings and don’t be afraid to ask how someone is doing. They might need it. You might need to stop in the middle of life and interrupt yourself to see someone else’s point of view. Interruptions happen, sometimes they are life changing and sometimes they aren’t but know that when you least expect life can throw you a curve ball.

Be kind. Extend a caring heart and don’t forget that life is short! Do yourself a favor and don’t hold a grudge, don’t be mean and listen a little more.

We are only human, and we do the best we can. Thanks for listening and please share with someone who might need it.

(Pictured is the wise, chicken scratch of my late grandmother. She may have been the smartest, most loving woman I have known.)

Let me know what you think, if you can relate (I’m sorry for your loss) and if not that’s okay (just be kind)! I hope someone took something away from my story. I’ll be honest it was a hard one to tell. I look back now, still sad and longing for more time with my dad but so grateful for the time we had. So many people touch our lives and make an impression, as we do theirs and so let’s be better humans and love a little more! Until next time…

(I promise for a happy blog next)

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How to Break Your Stress Cycle… (and other adulting hazards).

When did you decide this was it? Did you wake up today and decide this is exactly what you meant to do? Well from 7:00am-5:30pm, Monday through Friday I do not. Then, after my day is over, I return to what I meant to do with my time. I know what you’re thinking: You’re Batman?! Sadly, no. I’ve managed to micromanage myself into a clear cycle… one which must be broken!

Here we go!

I go home, and proceed with the rituals established when I started a 9-5… (exercise, make dinner…you see where this is going). If you have kids you already know the struggle. Butthis is not a parental story, this is self imposed insanity! Arguably worse because there is no small child to blame for why I am so burnt out. (Sound familiar, friends?) I digress.

On the weekends I have the luxury of relaxing right?

Absolutely not.

I’m cleaning. I’m prepping. Yes, I’m having a little (carefully scheduled) fun. But all the while thinking: “I need to do something productive so I’m not ‘stressed out’ this week.”

Yes some might say this is anxiety in full form; stressing about feeling stressed. I happen to think it’s a condition that being in the modern workforce instills in us. It’s the fear…

What is the fear?

You’re afraid to be late.

You’re afraid you’ll get fired.

You’re afraid you aren’t meeting the goals.

You are afraid that you might derail your diet or whatever limits you’ve placed on yourself.

You’re afraid of drama in the office, or just nervously watching your back because fake-friend-Terry (not a real person) is going to snap at any moment.

Afraid of your boss.

Afraid of offending someone.

Afraid of growing old.

Afraid of being a disappointment or failing your team.

Just plain old strung out and scared for Monday…. All throughout your weekend… as you fly from errand to errand, carefully making sure to stay within your budget, while you grocery shop with the rest of the working class crowd.

Then FOMO (“fear of missing out”: for the real adults) kicks in, and you realize you spent so much time being afraid you only really have 1 day or maybe mearly hours of your weekend left. Those precious hours of recharging or just being “yourself” are quickly evaporating. Now that you’re really triggered, you’re scrambling to make the most of what is now the end of your Sunday. You realize that you still have to return to your daily “grind”…and the fun sizzles right out…

So why are we hard wired with the fear?

In a book I recently read called Tribes it addresses the fear as a manifestation of a “sheepwalking life”. Basically, if you deviate from your self imposed or office imposed “norms” then you get the fear. The fear is not defined in the book but I thought it was valuable to mention.Throughout this book I find it outlandish and yet romanticized to consider changing up the “status quo”, and forge a not-so-cookie-cutter path. However I don’t know when I’ll have time… (But if you are ready to change or or perhaps already have, the book is compelling and worth a look! Back to my point…)

Insert sadness…

Then sadness and reality is the next stage: It’s Sunday. That Friday-feeling has completely turned into your meal prepping Sunday blues…

How do you make a mark on the world with 2 days off (if your job is insignificant) and when 79% of the total 2 days is spent stressing out about the week ahead?

Regret, here it comes people…

It is during this point that you decide to sulk. You have to return to real life and yet you feel that you hardly got started. Suddenly the high school math homework nightmares seem like they really could have been the answer. You should have gone to school for something “better”… and the Monday-dread wouldn’t be this bad. Bargaining with yourself is also a stage of grief… (just saying).

So the cycle continues…

How do you break the cycle of adulting stress? I have a couple of simple solutions to get your needs met and live a little!

1. Make a list of happy wants and needs.

Yes I want to clean out my closet. I do not need to do that to function on Monday. Make your list work for you!

Use categories:

  • Things you want to see this weekend: A movie? An art exhibit? A new park in town? Yes the world exists outside of Facebook, you need to get there!
  • Things you want to do for peace of mind: (see above cleaning of the closet.) There is a lot to be said for good living space vibes and fung shui.
  • Goals are always good. They make us feel like we must pay attention to them. If you need to set goals to see a movie, do it!

2. Make time for yourself ALONE, no social media allowed.

  • The latest Facebook rant can wait for 45 minutes. You need time for you.
  • Find a quiet space and just hang out with your fur baby, or read, or be still. Meditation is an idea but something tells me you aren’t there yet.
  • Gather your thoughts. Focus your attention on what your body is telling you. Maybe you need a pedicure, and it’s clear…
  • Give yourself the break you need, don’t harp on the things that aren’t getting done. You don’t NEED to do everything.

3. Try something new.

  • I promise: It’s hard but it’s rewarding. Try a new route to the grocery store. Try a new recipe. Try to step outside your comfort zone and feel uncomfortable. I assure you it’s a step in the right direction. You need this!
  • Change the routine in a way that allows you to get your needs met and gives you new perspective. Maybe you just needed to do your grocery shopping online for once, from the luxury of your couch. So what if it costs $10 for delivery! You deserve a break!

4. Do something you care about, if you don’t know what that is… take the first step.

  • Maybe you always wanted to learn a language. Try it!
  • Maybe you like to paint or draw or some art inspired thing. Do it!
  • Maybe you really want to give back to your local community.
  • Maybe you just want to spend time looking for ideas for a new project.

Burnout is born when we give up our time for things we don’t care about.

We must actively pay attention to what our thoughts and our body and our lives are telling us. I know personally, I’ve been known to overdo it. I have to check myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed and bring it back to home base.

Perspective is how you look at things, but self reflection is how you choose your path. You can conquer the things you think are looming and have a life! You can look at it as a positive or a negative but you still have to show up on Monday…

Remember! You decide how to spend the time you have. Once you find yourself in the cycle, I hope you dance (I mean stop it from spiraling)! If you need an intervention phone a friend, make a plan, but don’t sit idle and suffer through a weekend of the same stressors. You need to recharge and you don’t need to be everything to everyone!

Now get out there and be free to own your freedom!