Why grief robs our memory

Memory

Memory is something I used to take for granted, at least up until Aly died. Nobody told me I would lose my memory after losing a child. It was so bad I often worried about early onset Alzheimer’s.

You too?

The good news is that we’re not alone. The better news is that there’s an explanation, and it’s not because we’re going crazy.

It turns out that when a part of the brain called the amygdala is flooded with adrenaline from fear or trauma, it anesthetizes other parts of the brain. Memory is impacted, time gets distorted, and events come back like a strobe light rather than a story.

So if nobody told you that memory loss, tunnel vision and time distortion are normal responses to emotional trauma, rest assured it’s common. I promise. Symptoms are especially pronounced after a traumatic loss.

Yes, I know—they’re still embarrassing. Especially to our kids.

Next time your kids give you the stink eye for asking the same question you did 10 minutes ago, bore them with the above explanation. With luck, they’ll never question your sanity again.

At least not out loud.

By Lynda Cheldelin Fell

 

Memory

Heavenly angel helps dress a grief-stricken mother

Grief Diaries

Teenaged girls giggled around my sister and me at the mall. They walked together in a tight group, swinging bags of merchandise. Any minute I expected to see my own daughter Liz come around a corner with a group of friends.

But Liz wasn’t here. She died in a duplex fire at college the day before.

“Let’s try this one,” my sister Sue said, guiding me into a shop that looked familiar. Of course. Liz had worked at this store during high school. A true clothes-a-holic, she’d loved the employee discount. Most of her earnings went right back to the store. Now here I was buying one final outfit for Liz—her burial outfit.

“Can I help you?” the salesgirl asked.

“Just looking,” I said.

I felt numb and far away. Sue had driven us to the mall because I couldn’t focus on the road. I couldn’t focus on anything. At the funeral home I had sat with my husband and father in silence while the director went over all the details.

“You’ll need to bring us some of Liz’s clothing,” he explained. “Any time in the next couple of days.”

I sat like a statue, not really understanding. It wasn’t until I got home that his words actually registered: Liz needed new clothes. Her entire wardrobe had been destroyed in the fire along with everything else.

I flipped through the racks around me. How many times had Liz needed new clothes? She seemed to come up with a reason every other week. My daughter was a champion shopper. If it ever became an Olympic sport, Liz surely would have won the gold medal.

“Liz didn’t get her love of shopping from me,” I said, holding up a dress for Sue’s opinion.

I put the dress back on the rack. Sue agreed: It just wasn’t Liz. How could I ever pick the right outfit without her? The clothes in the store swam together like a jumbled mass of fabric.

Liz, you’ve got to help me here, I thought to myself. I have absolutely no idea what to pick.

Sue and I moved through the store and my gaze wandered over the racks. Suddenly, a pair of khaki pants caught my eye. I grabbed a pair in Liz’s size. A few minutes later I reached for a pale blue sweater. “That’s pretty,” Sue said. “Let’s get that.”

“I have no idea if this is what Liz would want,” I admitted.

In my mind I saw Liz picking through racks of clothes. Maybe she can’t care about things like that anymore.

“I guess it doesn’t really matter if I don’t get it right,” I said.

I had once wished my daughter didn’t care so much about clothes. Now the thought of her not being able to care was unbearable, because it meant she no longer existed. Not on earth, anyway. I would never see her again.

The funeral went smoothly, not that I would have noticed any mistakes. Nothing mattered to Liz anymore. Why should it matter to me?

The day after the funeral my sister-in-law stopped by. Karen was the family photographer and had gone through her collection searching for shots of Liz.

“I found one from last Christmas when Liz was over at my house,” she said, digging into her purse. “I don’t think you’ve ever seen it.”

She handed me the photo showing Liz smiling and happily sitting on a couch with her cousins.

I drank in the sight of her face for a moment before scanning the rest of the photo. And when I did, I couldn’t believe it.

Liz was wearing a pair of khaki pants and a pale blue sweater.

You weren’t on your own, I realized. I had asked for Liz’s help. And she did.

A fashionista angel helped me choose the perfect outfit for my daughter, the champion shopper. No longer here with me on earth, but alive as ever in heaven, where one day I will see her again.

No doubt she has a new outfit ready and waiting for the reunion.

Kim Wencl
www.kimwencl.com

Grief Diaries

Grief’s Collateral Blessings

I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. Not because today marks nine years since losing Aly. Rather, the feel of the cool sheets, my sleeping hubby next to me, and the warm sun filtering through our bedroom window felt too peaceful to disturb.

So I laid there and allowed my mind to wander over the past nine years. I replayed that night in the field when I sat next to Aly, how I held her warm hand while strangers on scene surrounded me with love. How Jamie called for an update on the fender-bender only to learn his youngest daughter was covered by the stark white sheet of death.

How we made our way home as the full moon gave way to dawn, wondering when we’ll wake from this nightmare.

What I didn’t know then that I know now is that I would survive.

In those early days I didn’t think I could endure the agony, and many days I didn’t want to. The pain is beyond any words in a college textbook.

How could I learn to live with Aly in my heart instead of my arms? I didn’t know. But whether I liked it or not, I was about to learn.

My playbook of grief begins with a fog of shock so strong, I don’t remember much. The next few chapters are filled with wailing, gnashing of teeth, and spewing vile words. I then embarked on a desperate search for comfort, for relief from the agony. The end of my playbook remains unwritten but the rawness has softened and the current chapters teach that my heart can hold joy the same time as sorrow.

There are many lessons and chapters in my playbook, but the most surprising of all is the one about transformation. In the early days we don’t believe this is possible. How could we? We can’t see past the pain. But as the rawness softens and our coping skills strengthen, we move into an unexpected—and often positive—transformative phase.

What I didn’t know nine years ago that I know now is that Aly’s death was the gateway to many blessings.

My circle of friends has expanded to strangers around the world who speak all loss languages. This taught me that the foundation of mankind is love.

My skillset has expanded to things I didn’t know I could do. This taught me that limitations are self induced, and I can do more than I think.

My compassion has grown in ways I could never have imagined. I learned to see outside my own pain into other hurting hearts, and how helping them helps my own heart to heal.

My gratitude has evolved into an intentional mindset. This taught me that being grateful is a powerful healing modality. The more grateful I am, the more gratitude I have.

Am I grateful for Aly’s death? No. It’s a hellacious journey. But I am grateful for the collateral blessings. This taught me that there is more to grief than meets the eye.

Nine years ago I didn’t want to live. But others held that light of hope when I had none. This taught me the importance of sparking, igniting, and shining our light for those in the darkness behind us.

I’m often asked whether the pain ever truly ends. One cliche is that we don’t get over grief, we move through it. I don’t believe we move through it. I believe we learn to carry it with us as we move forward in life.

To answer the question, I do believe pain eases. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. The timing might be different, but don’t give up. Life’s second act will be different, but enjoy the moments when the pain isn’t as suffocating and you’ll find that you don’t have to choose between sorrow or joy. The heart has room for both, and eventually the joy will grow.

Nine years ago I didn’t believe I would survive losing Aly. What I didn’t know then that I know now is not only would I survive, I might actually like—no, love—life.

I love you, Lovey.

Written by Lynda Cheldelin Fell
08/05/18

Missing Mom

When we lose an aged parent, many chalk it up to the natural progression of life. But does that mean we miss them less, or we shouldn’t grieve their death? Meet Judy Taylor, author of Mum Moments, whose authentic emotions to her mom’s death put her on a path to self discovery—and discover new friends in unlikely places.

Why suicide isn’t selfish

In light of Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain‘s deaths by suicide, I’m struck by the harsh comments by those who don’t understand. Suicide is not a crime (thanks to modern law), and it isn’t selfish. It happens when pain exceeds coping skills. Just as people with heart disease sometimes die from a heart attack, depression is a mental illness that sometimes leads to suicide.

It’s important to understand that suicide can also happen in the absence of depression, like a teen or young adult in acute pain from overwhelming circumstances they can’t see past.

If you haven’t lost someone who died from suicide or know someone who survived a suicide attempt, it can be hard to wrap your brain around it. But judging someone else’s actions when you don’t walk in their shoes only brings more heartache to the loved ones left behind who now face a lifetime of shame and stigma.

My heart is broken for all families left struggling in the wake of suicide, and serves as a good reminder to embody simple kindness. One hello can change a mood. One hug can change a day. One act of kindness can change a life.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Text HELLO to 741741
1-800-273-TALK. It’s free and open 24/7.

 

Grief Diaries

Can a marriage survive grief?

Grief Diaries

Grief Diaries

It was a beautiful fall day. The temperature was perfect and only a few clouds hung suspended in the blue sky.

The date was November 18, 2007, a Sunday. We had been living in a hotel because our home had been flooded when Jacksonville Electric Authority did something called pipe bursting on the house behind ours. That day we were finally able to get into our home to start the cleanup. Barry asked if we would need him there all day because he needed to finish a project for school. He said he would be at Auntie’s house using her computer and then was going to help with the setup for his younger cousin’s birthday party. A couple of hours later he called to ask if we were going to make the party. We said no, because we still had more to do and no time to change. He said okay and then we exchanged, “I love you.”

We received three more phone calls from our son’s cellphone. First, he said he was back at the hotel and asked if we were going to bring something to eat. In the next call he said he was going out with friends. The third call was from his friend saying Barry had been shot and they needed to know what hospital to take him to.

We drove so fast down U.S. 17 that we saw the ambulance and followed it all the way to Shands Hospital. Barry was whisked into surgery and we were ushered into a waiting room. Hours later a minister came and asked if we’d spoken to the doctor yet. We told him we hadn’t, and he left to go get him.

We are so sorry.

Nobody likes those words at the beginning of a doctor’s statement.

Barry and his girlfriend were robbed while walking to a friend’s apartment. They stole Barry’s cross and wanted to accost the young lady. When Barry stopped one robber, the other shot Barry in the chest. The bullet pierced an artery in the heart, and they couldn’t stop the bleeding. He died in the early morning hours of Monday, November 19, 2007.

I was told by a couple of people that my wife and I wouldn’t survive the loss of a child. Not because they were being mean or spiteful, but because of what they’ve seen happen to others in our situation. And it is true, I’ve seen it also. There is no guaranteed survival after the loss of a child. There is work. You have to want to do this work. The hardest thing in life to do is bury a child. Your child. So if you work at it slowly, because it’s going to take time, you can make it through.

Burying a parent, you know you have to do that, and even your spouse. Life will not start over for you, and the majority of the people you meet won’t have a clue as to what you’re dealing with. Everything outside of you will exist as it is. Children will play in the park, people will still wave their fists in anger when someone cuts them off on the road, and you will survive. You will be a survivor.

I can’t promise you that every day from here on out will be sunshine, and you wouldn’t want me to. I can tell you it will be hard, exhausting, and it will feel like it would be easier to go your separate ways. Love tests for your heart and soul multiplied by infinity. Stay in that love, and communicate. You are a survivor!

Written by Barry Brooks, Barry’s 19-year-old son was murdered in 2007. His full story is published in Grief Diaries: Will We Survive?

Grief Diaries

The Life of a Grieving Mother

Grief Diaries

The warm summer day started out just like any other. I was busy organizing the kids, planning dinner, making a mental note to fill the car with gas and pick up a gallon of milk on my way home from their soccer game. Suddenly without warning, I was engulfed by a raging fire. I suffered third degree burns over my entire body. Not an inch of me was spared.

People rushed to my side to help but there was nothing they could do. Medical care was limited and the best medications did little to ease the agony. I wasn’t sure I could survive such intense suffering. Worse, nobody could tell me how long such agony would last.

Doctors gently gave me the news that although my physical self would heal, the disfigurement would remain for life. My family, friends, and coworkers no longer recognized me. I no longer recognized myself.

At first, doing little things like sitting up in bed or standing were so excruciating they took my breath away. The mere thought of eating, bathing, and dressing left me feeling helpless and hopeless.

Pity and sadness were apparent in the eyes of everyone who came to my side. I understood the sadness but hated the pity. Why on God’s green earth was I spared the peace of death?

Learning to live with complete disfigurement and extreme pain is overwhelming. Excruciatingly slow and exhausting, it takes years of great effort to master what were once basic activities. Some days I hurt too bad to even try.

When out in public I pretend to be normal to ease the discomfort of others who are brave enough to approach me. Those who avoid me merely add further angst to my broken spirit. Pretending to be normal is exhausting and quickly depletes all my reserves. By the time I finish errands and return home, I’m utterly spent.

Worst of all, there is absolutely nothing that I nor anyone else can do about it.

For you see, that complete disfigurement and intolerable pain described above is on the inside of my body. The pain is unchanged, the disfigurement is still complete, and the scars are permanent. The new life thrust upon me that day when my child died caused a firestorm that engulfed every part of my life. The only differences between me and the patient who suffered third degree burns over her entire body is that I lived. And my pain is invisible to the world.

Welcome to the life of a grieving mother.

Written by Lynda Cheldelin Fell 08/01/13
Creator, Grief Diaries

Finding life after suicide

Grief Diaries

Grief DiariesI met James Cameron Mjelve in 2005 while we were both living in Edmonton. At the time he worked for a laborer’s union. We married in 2007 and had three beautiful children together, one boy and two girls. In 2009, Cameron decided to go back to university and finish his Education degree.

In 2010, Cameron was in his second year when I began to notice that he was struggling more with the course load. During Christmas break Cameron seemed different, a little off from his usual self. Perhaps a little depressed, but nothing to be overly concerned about. In January 2011, our youngest daughter was born with a disability and the stresses of life became overwhelming for Cameron. He began to struggle even more with his university courses.

On July 21, 2011, my husband committed suicide. We were both forty-two at the time and our children were three, two, and five months old.

There is much that has changed in my life from losing a spouse. Perhaps the first is that I’ve had to learn how to use the word widow when speaking about myself. That alone has been a tough adjustment. I’ve become single again and I’ve had to learn how to be comfortable in a room full of couples. I’ve had to become comfortable in a room full of widows. I’ve had to become comfortable crying in front of both those groups of people.

It has been a difficult experience, losing a spouse. I’ve had to face major decisions for myself and the children alone. At times this has been very stressful, especially when I’ve had to make decisions which impact my children’s health or our financial stability. It has been so difficult not having anyone to bounce ideas off of. Friends will always tell you they are there to help you and listen, but it’s still not the same. I miss my friend who shared everything with me.

But I have learned from my experience, and developed a stronger decision-making process. As a result, I have been able to become more confident in the decisions I make. Another way my life is different is that I simply cannot do the things I want to do. I cannot run to the store at 10 p.m., there is no one to watch the children. I cannot sleep in on a Saturday if it’s been a tough week of being up in the night with sick children. Even something so simple as taking a vacation has become a major undertaking. Not only is there no one to help me with the children, but there’s no one for me to share the experience with. Even if we as a family are on vacation and the children are enjoying themselves, who did I get to tell about my experience?

Life is lonely. I don’t have anyone to share even the small moments with. There is no spouse who laughs with you or remembers with you. There is also no one who touches you. Yes, the kids hug and climb all over me, but it’s different than the simple loving touch of a husband.

Life has been different and even difficult, for sure. But I also see it as an opportunity to grow. Although my life will never be what I had dreamed it would be, I am discovering there is a new life that I can make. It unfortunately doesn’t include my husband, but it does include my children and we take Cameron’s memory with us wherever we go. And we are learning that we can still live a life that is full of meaning and adventure, even if it wasn’t the life we originally chose. And I do feel like I have a choice. We live in a society that is very focused on couples. This is not the life that I chose, to be single at forty-two years old, but I also feel like I’m presented with a choice on how to react. I can sit and wallow in self-pity and despair over broken dreams, or I can get up and start life over again.

I will always, always remember my husband. I will always grieve his loss. I will still cry over his loss. But I will choose to keep on living and to help my children find their life as well.

Written by Julie Mjelve. Julie’s 42-year-old husband Cameron died by suicide in 2011 Read her full story in Surviving Loss of a Spouse.

Grief Diaries

Guilt begins at 0.08%

Grief Diaries DUI

“It will get easier.” Now, eleven years later, I can say that yes, in some ways it has. My Dad’s death is no longer one of the first things I remind myself of when I wake up, nor is it the last thing I think about before I fall asleep. But it has been 4,019 days, and I still miss him. April 22 is a constant reminder. I still have days and weeks when it’s just as painful as it was eleven years ago, and I still have moments that make my head spin, today will always be one of those days.

Grief DiariesThere are several things in particular that almost always trigger one of these moments and force me to quite literally say hello to my grief. There have been countless occasions when I’m watching a movie, TV show, or listening to a song and something hits me. A line or situation sticks out, reminding me of my dad in some way. Suddenly something’s different; there’s a pang of sadness, a feeling of nostalgia, or a flood of bittersweet sentiment. Sometimes this moment is brief and I bounce back immediately. Other times, I feel the tears rushing to my eyes.

There’s something incredibly bittersweet about accomplishments, knowing that my dad’s not here to enjoy them with me. Hands down, one of the hardest things that has come with losing Dad is the occasional realization of how much time has passed and here we are eleven years later. Birthdays, holidays, and other milestones are all reminders. There are days when I feel like it was just yesterday that he was taken from me, other times, I feel as if it has been a lifetime.

Many people who have not lost someone to homicide mistakenly believe that it’s something you will get over, or that you’ll have some sort of closure. However, the truth is, I still hurt eleven years later. It’s not a constant, overwhelming, consuming grief, but the little things within which grief hides hit me when I least expect it.

Take a good look at the photo and for the love of life please give no less than 100% of your attention when driving.

Life can change in an INSTANT. There are no second chances. Drive safely and responsibly. The presumption of guilt starts at 0.08%. Responsibility starts at 0.00%.

Written by Carl Harms. Read Carl’s full story in Victim Impact Statement, and Surviving Loss by Impaired Driving.