Grief and the Holidays: Survival Plan

Many people find the year-end holiday season to be  the most stressful time of year.  This is an especially difficult time for those who are working through their grief after the death of a loved one.  I am reaching back into my archives for some things that have helped me over the years since my mother died suddenly more than 12 years ago.  Yes I have copied and culled from emails and conversations with many, many people to produce this.   What follows is not "mine".  It is a gift from many grieving hearts to yours, hoping it will help you get through the season.

1. You don't have to go to that function / party / get-together.  You can say no.  You have to take care of you, if you're going to be any good to anybody.  Other people are not the ones who get to judge what you need right now.  They will say, "You never go out; you need to get out."  No.  Here's what "never go out" looks like:  you can't function well enough to dress yourself and go get groceries.  Unless you're basically naked and starving, you get out enough.  Trust me.  You "got out" of bed, didn't you?

2. If you do go out, make sure there is somebody there (the more the better) to look after you.  Check with them ahead of time.  You'll need someone to pull you away from all the people who have to tell you how 'sorry' they are -- and want to offer their theories on why your loved one bought it.  (Inevitably, these are the people who never called.)  They'll hurt you and/or make you angry, so have someone who can act as a buffer zone.  When you get to the party, find out right away where the bathroom is so you can make a tactical retreat when necessary. 

3. Don't drink.  Believe me, you'll drink more than you expected to if you do.  People will push alcohol on you to help you feel better -- which really means that they want to feel better.  If people try to push you to drink, move away from them or leave the party.  Even if you successfully numb the pain for a while, it will only be worse later.  

4. Nurture yourself in your own way.  Get a massage, treat yourself to a dinner of ice cream and cookies, spend a day in your pajamas, rent or buy musicals. Take hot baths. Go for a long walk. You deserve it -- besides, one of the sad things that death teaches us is that this life is not forever.  Don't postpone your joy.  [See also my longer post about Holiday Survival: How to Take Care of Yourself.)

5. If you can, shop during the day.  Take time off from work if you have to. Try to go with a friend.  You don't want to go when the stores are the most crowded.  If you can, do your shopping online and avoid the crowds and insanity, which will just make you feel like the only person in the world without a loved one.  It is okay to buy a gift for the loved one who died -- a special ornament for the tree perhaps.  Or to get something for yourself that you just know is the kind of thing they would have gotten you. 

6. It's okay if you don't celebrate this year.  You don't have to put up lights or bake cookies unless you really want to. After all, it's your house.  It's your life.  It's your grief.  The neighbors and relatives can stuff it -- the only people who matter are the ones who live with you.

[See also my post on Grief and the Holidays: Answers for the "How are you?" question.]


Holiday Color, California Style

Now there's a jolly sight:  coffeeberry bush in full color.  Taken on Saturday's run in the local hills.

Start your kick whenever you're ready

Each calendar year resembles a road race.  That's just the way I've thought about it for several years.  Most of the races I enter are 5 Kilometers, 3.107 miles.  So to me the calendar pages correspond approximately to the laps of a 5000 meter race on the track.

You start out with the pack at the top of the year, intense and focused.  You try to maintain some kind of pace.  By the time the "dog days" roll around, it's like that part after the two mile point where my attention starts to wander; my stride length and frequency drop off unless I struggle to maintain the pace.  

But here are heading up to the finish.  If the year were a 5K, then this coming Saturday (December 1) would be the start of the last quarter mile.  You can stick it out for one more lap, can't ya? 

Feel free to shift gears and kick it in.



In October of 2011, one of the first major excursions after my surgery was a slow walk up one of the local trails, where I happened to see a monarch butterfly caterpillar on California Milkweed (Asclepias californica).

Yesterday on my muddy long run I passed the same place, where there is an expanding patch of milkweed on the hillside (good news for the monarch butterflies!).

The slender little asclepias californica pods were splitting open to release their downy wind riders.

Does the rain act on the pod exterior to cause it to split when the seeds have the best chance for germination in moist soil?  It's all chemistry and physics and vectors and things, but behind it all there is -- isn't there -- the dearest wisdom, the most ingenious survival plan.

 (The pictures embiggen if you click on them, in case you hadn't tried that.)
 - - -
Update:  29 July 2014.  Since Attentive Reader Dgnativegirl (see comments) knows more about milkweed than I do, here's a link for Asclepias fascicularis. (That's what Mr. Monarch Caterpillar is on in the first picture, so it's probably what those seed are as well.)


Glorious afternoon run!

The road really does seem to go ever on and on from this vantage point.  This is what late November looks like in the Northern California coastal hills.

Since the weather was cooperating, I did my "long" run this afternoon instead of Sunday morning.  5.7 miles.  Some of the hill trails are quite steep -- I walk some of the ups and some of the downs.  Since we have had rain recently, the adobe mud was in fine shape, adding weight to the shoes with every step in some spots where it was seeping.  But since the weather has been dry for a week, there were also spots where the trail is firmly molded into whatever shape the local traffic pushed it into when it was wet.  This is park land, but they lease it for grazing.  Cattle hooves create amazing texture when the adobe is pliable, and when it dries in those craters and mounds, it is a very difficult running surface! 

I'm glad I didn't have any thought of speed workout today.  I just let my watch run while I took pictures or admired the views, and walked wherever I needed to, which included drink breaks and bird-watching.  Great aerobic workout, great strength workout on those hills, and totally awesome mental-health miles.

Plus I always feel like a real trail runner when I come home with muddy legs!

Inflation at my house...

The experts define inflation as an expansion of the money supply that outpaces economic growth. So really, you silly people, there's no inflation.  Kwitcherbellyakin. 

But three weeks ago I bought two gallons of milk for $3.29 per gallon.  On Friday?  $3.99 per gallon. 

See?  That's not inflation, that's a real price increase. 

Oh, misery and pain!


Moments of Illumination

Afternoon sunlight on a distant hill.

Most of life is, more or less, drudgery.  Work is, well, work -- or worse.  You get tired.  Or sick.  The people around you get tired, or sick -- or worse. 

I do not live my life in quiet desperation.  I live in quiet expectation. 

Because there are moments of beauty, truth, goodness. 

I might be out for a run, thinking more about calories and body weight and everything that is wrong with me.  Tired, out of breath, feeling all the accumulation of old aches and injuries. 

Then:  boom.

Around a bend and there is a peek at heaven on earth.  Framed, lighted, in living color.  Photography doesn't do it justice.  Not even close. 

There are these tiny moments of inspiration, illumination.  Something kindles in the mind and spirit. 

The cause can be a fleeting expression in the eyes of your beloved.  The aroma of a favorite food.  The face of that baby being pushed in a stroller.  A few bars of music. 

It doesn't last, and it's a tiny nearly zero fraction of our time.  But for those moments I wait in quiet expectation.  I pluck them and collect them and gather them in memory and try to chisel them into the stone of my heart for use during those dark times that will also come. 

More than anything this year, I am thankful for those moments of illumination. 


Grief and the Holidays: Answers for the "How are you?" Question

People who know you have just lost someone you love will ask you, "How are you?"

They may never have gone through what you are going through.  They may have some vague notion that grief recovery is a matter of days or weeks, not years -- a lifetime.

Whenever the Holidays are upon us, I think about the heartless and cruel things people did and said after my mother died unexpectedly back in the summer of 2000.  (A compilation of "what not to say to someone in grief" will be a subject for another day.) One of the difficult recurring social situations is when you get that cue to speak.  The light comes on, the camera is rolling.  What do you say?

How are you?

There are two kinds responses that seem to work.  One is to fly under the radar -- lie and say you're fine.  The question is not really a question after all, but rather a kind of species of tribal ritual (think dog-sniffing).

The other response that seems to work is pure deflection.  Take the force of the question and direct it back to the questioner:
You look fabulous!
I am so glad to see you!
Wow look at your decorations!

What follows are some answers that flowed from the sluggish Crowndot brain during a few minutes before the coffee kicked in this morning:

Fine.  You?
Fine.  You've got a lotta nerve asking that.
Fine, you insensitive boor.
Oh. Just peachy.  My Mom just died.  Did you forget? 
Fine. You didn't want the truth, did you?
Oh about as well as could be expected.
About fair.
On a good day, only fair; on a bad day... And don't ask if today's a bad day.
Well, I'm up and dressed today...
Better, thanks.
Better, no thanks to you.
About the same.  You?
Like I've been cut a thousand times  then set on fire and they put the fire out with salt and lemon juice.
Contagious.  Stay back!
Radioactive.  I will kill anyone who gets too close.
I'll be all right.
I'll be all right once I get back to some kind of routine.
I'll be all right once I get some "issues" sorted out.
I'll be all right once I get away from this party.
I'll be all right once I get away from you.
Kind of numb.
Kind of angry.
Kind of struggling.
Oh, y'know...
Everything still hurts.
I still can't believe she's gone.
I'm not afraid of death any more.
Hungry.  Where's the nibbles?


Holiday Survival: How to Take Care of Yourself

The time of this posting is the morning of 19 November 2012.  In the United States, we are on the verge of the Thanksgiving Day holiday, the start of the season of The Holidays. 

The holiday season can be especially cruel to those who are not in a "holiday mood" -- such as those dealing with depression or grief.  For those whose grief is new and raw, the holiday season becomes a marathon of feeling misplaced, forgotten, pained.  It becomes a question of survival. 

If the holidays loom fearfully before you, I offer this.  They are just a number of days.  You survive one day at a time by taking care of yourself.  I put together this list of tips some years ago after my mother passed away suddenly.  I offer it to you.
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

1.) Eat.  You may not be able to taste it, but the tissues do need nutrients.  Think simple.  Think comfort.

2.) Try to lie down for at least six hours a day.  Do it in a series of cat-naps if you want.  You may not be able to sleep.  When your body needs sleep, your body will sleep.  But being horizontal helps even if you're not sleeping.  Try not to *try* too hard to sleep.

3.) Breathe all the way out occasionally.  Breathe all the way in occasionally too.

4.) Relax you jaw muscles.  Lower your shoulders.  Lift your eyes to the horizon.  Unclench your hands and toes.  If you can do those things, much of the rest of  you might relax too.

5.) Drink a little water or juice sometimes even if you aren't eating.  Stress (and crying!) is dehydrating.  And being dehydrated adds to the stress.

6.) If you normally bathe, consider taking a shower instead; if you normally shower, consider taking a bath.  Weird, but outlook-changing.  Likewise, if you always put on your left shoe first, do the right one first today.  Try it.

7.) Comfort-dress.  Put on your most comfortable clothes, even if the colors don't match.  Your most comfortable condition of dress (or undress).

8.) Try a new brand of . . . tea, coffee, breakfast cereal, after-shave, soap, hair gel, whatever.

9.) Make some time that is you time. Then, practice *not* feeling guilty about stealing that hour from your many other responsibilities.  Here are some ideas:  A.) Sometimes I go to the library after work and read the funny parts in a couple of the periodicals I don't subscribe to (I mean, why subscribe if all I read are one column and the cartoons?).  B.) Go somewhere comfortable and anonymous (Library, park bench, a bench at the mall...) and either pull out your phone and pretend to talk to someone (like those we have lost?) or pull out a book or magazine and pretend to read.  Nobody will bother you!

10.) I hate to say it, but exercise does help.  Even if it is just flexing  your ankles while lying on your back, it can get the lymph pumping.  (I have recently discovered that some park benches are high enough to kick my feet like a little child -- gentle exercise and "it takes me back ... ")  Gentle  walks ... on up to long aerobic workouts ... it's all okay.  Don't get down on yourself for not doing *more*.

11.) Find a piece of nature you can enjoy, even if for just a few minutes:  an all-day hike in the pristine mountains; an afternoon near the  surf-sprayed tide pool rocks; a detour into and then out of the  florist's shop (the air is so great in there!); a peek into  the pet store just to watch the baby whatevers crawl over each other.

12.) Write.  Some write in a journal.  I sometimes write "letters" to those whom I have lost.  Mostly I guess my grief writing is in the form of posts to alt.support.grief.

[Notice: the above recommendations are based on personal experience.  I am not any of the following: doctor, lawyer,psychologist, counselor, traveling salesman, or multilevel marketer.Permission is granted (Yes! Do! That's what it's for!) to use all or part of this document to help anyone dealing with grief.]


Saturday Afternoon Run

Four miles yesterday between hours of steady rain. 

My running has been infrequent.  Discretion / Valor kind of thing. 
Two weeks ago, daytime temps in the 80°F range.  Lately, we've had 40°s and fog or 50°s and rain -- and everybody at my house seems to be deathly ill with some kind of snotty, croupy cold. 
Sometimes rest is just what the immune system needs. 
But it sure felt good to get out and do some of those "mental health miles" yesterday!


The Shrinking of Goods

Megan McArdle was talking about The Incredible Shrinking Sugar Bag yesterday, a subject that came under Crowndotic purview (back in November of 2010 at the old posterous site).  Yes, sugar bags are mostly 4 Lbs. now, not 5 Lbs.  Not even 2 Kilograms, mind you -- which would at least be closer, at 4.409 Lbs. 

Which reminded me of another subject we have addressed before (September 2010), which I will now give the McArdle-esque name of The Incredible Shrinking Toilet Paper.  The "square" of TP has been shrinking in both directions. 


On the left, a George W. Bush era toilet paper core.  On the right, the Obama core. 

Not only is the new size cardboard core narrower, it is also larger in diameter, so same outside diameter would have fewer sheets. 

As a further insult,  "squares" of toilet paper are now increasingly rectangular.  The linear distance between the perforations is shrinking.

Lastly (is this one my imagination?  I don't think so) the manufacturers are using a stronger glue -- so the first few sheets and the last few sheets on the roll are often pretty much a loss. 

This is some of the "change" part of the hopenchange promised in 2008.  Price increases, product decreases, everywhere you look.


The Thurston J. Howell III Lifestyle

Every once in a while they clean me up and let me dip a pinkie toe into the world of fine arts.

Since I have peasant tastes and peasant aspirations, I don't clean up very well, but then I don't dip into the really haute end of the belles artes pool. 

Last week:  The High School Play!  I went two nights in a row.  It was a hoot!

Tonight:  The High School Art Display at the local co-op art gallery.  I went last year.  They didn't kick me out.  (I refrained from punching any hippies.)

My such goings on!


Ten Pounds - What's That Mean?

I was going to tape these ten bottles of water together and strap them on around my middle as a graphic representation of carrying around "a little extra weight."  (But that was too much work.)

Here are (10) each, 16.9 ounce water bottles.  Roughly ten pounds.

They seemed pretty heavy when I carried them into the living room for the photo.

So here's the question:
Why should I carry that much weight around under my skin all day every day?  Why would I want to burden myself with those "few extra pounds" every time I go running?

Ten extra pounds may not seem like a lot to some people.  But I can remember how I felt several years ago, when I was running more, and feeling better, and feeling happier. 

Right now (14 November 2012) I am ten pounds lighter than I was in February 2011.  Twenty-one months of taking the steps toward better health and overcoming the obstacles that kept me on the couch.  Doctor appointments.  Hernia surgery.  Recovery from surgery.  Dealing with work during the recovery.  Starting to exercise (walk) more.  Starting the Couch-to-5K program (again).  Running again.  Running a 5K race last February.  Finishing a 15K race in September.  Occasionally choosing the healthier snack (or no snack).  Learning to believe in myself some more again.  I feel pretty good about all that.

Anyway.  I am still about 6 pounds heavier than I was six years ago.  We'll see where it goes from here.  As the running miles add up, and the lifestyle evens out, maybe I'll be lighter, stronger, faster.

Gotta run . . . 


Proud American Porch

This is Veterans' Day Weekend in the USA. 

As for me and my house, we will keep on believing in America. 


Pre-WWI Rifle Round

 At first glance I thought this antique rifle round was a 6.5mm Carcano, because of the long round-nose cupronickel jacketed bullet. Head stamp reads DWM / 1913.  Measurement (and Cartridges of the World) confirmed what Google would also confirm: the relic is a 7mm Mauser, date of 1913, made by Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken in Baden, Germany.  Nearly a century old!


There'll be some changes made today

I am trying a new kind of Crowndot.

Same great pocketa-pocketa-pocketa, but without the Posteroustipation.

More later!