Saying “No” to Saying “Yes”

I. Am. Done. Finally.

I began this post 6 days ago, tried to get back to it twice, and while one of those times I was successful, I was never able to actually spend enough time with it to do anything except give it a cursory once over. However, late yesterday afternoon I entered the last grade in the college class I have been teaching, hit “submit,” and not only am I officially done with that, but I am also done teaching. I looked up the meaning of the word “retired” and found I seem to have forgotten that besides meaning “being tired over and over again,” it ALSO means being able to not have to work and, because of that luxury, to be able enjoy life a bit more. I “officially retired” from teaching in 2015, which, if my math is right, is 8 years ago, and I have been teaching in some way, shape, or form ever since. So the rest of this post is about how, looking back, it seems that I purposefully made sure I was so busy that I wasn’t going to dwell on the fact that Brian isn’t just gone for a while . . . he is, indeed, gone forever. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of you may fit into this same category yourselves. I just want you to know you are not alone, and, if you are finding yourself feeling as stressed out as I seem to be, it’s time to do a hard reset. And I know you can do it because, after all, lots of change is all we have known since our spouse died, and we are still here!

So . . . here is my long overdue, but very sincere post.

I can’t believe I have not gotten off the hamster wheel that my life has into long enough to regularly post here. For me, that is akin to going without chocolate — which is almost impossible for me to do. I’ve had to sit myself down and have a heart-to-heart with the part of me that has been chasing something which no longer exists — the part that has been trying to fit myself back into the person I was before Brian died — trying to be a person who doesn’t emotionally exist, anymore than Brian does physically. That Julie, is gone. No amount of running around, trying on old roles that I no longer fit into is going to change that. This craziness has to stop. And it has to stop now.

I’m reading a great new book by Joanne Cacciatore, PhD, “Grieving Is Loving.” So much of what she writes about fits where I find myself now. Here’s what I have discovered:

I need to make the time for the things that feed my soul. Time to discover who I am now, not try to squeeze into a person who I no longer recognize. I’ve thought about that a lot. That “how did I get here and where do I go now” part of my life at the moment. After some soul searching and a lot of good old fashioned thinking, I’ve come to the conclusion that where I find myself now is not unlike where Limony Snicket finds himself in the novel series, appropriately entitled, “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” My particular situation seems to be a combination of all the years of caregiving, the layer of stress added to life by the Pandemic, the anticipatory grief that I was dealing with as a caregiver, Brian’s sudden “unexpected expected” death, and the heavy weight of loss that has shrouded my life and clouded my mind ever since he died.

Deciding that I needed to consult someone about it, I turned to an “expert”: Dr. Google. Searching for a list of life events, in order of the severity of stress level produced by each, I found the following: It seems there is a scale, aptly named the “Social Readjustment Rating Scale” which states that the more of said stressors that are present in a person’s life, the more likely a person is to have health issues. (Note to self: So far this is not looking good.) However, though it was developed to help predict illnesses, the scale does take into account the factors that determine how well one copes with stress. These include an individual’s circumstances, cultural content, and how much support is given from others, as well as the fact that all stress is subjective. Want to guess what the #1 stressor is? Uh, huh . . . you got it — the death of a spouse. The article continued, saying that aside from losing someone whose life was so tightly enmeshed with your own, so many other things change: life style, daily routines, living arrangements. . . and my mind added, “the very essence of who you are.” It concludes by saying; “If you’ve lost a spouse or life partner, give yourself time to grieve.”

And, while I know I am preaching to the choir here, we all would do well to remember that everything in our lives has changed since we lost our loved one. Absolutely everything.

“Life does not go back to life as usual. Because, for many, when someone we love deeply dies, life is not ‘normal’ — not yesterday, not today, and not tomorrow. Life is forever changed.”

Grieving Is Loving, Dr. Joan Caccitore, PhD

Even though it is long overdue, I am planning to remember that I am living in the midst of profound life change. That the only way out is through. That I need to be like the tortoise and believe that “slow and steady wins the race.” And, that starts by doing one simple thing. By using one small word: NO.

And the first person I need to say it to is myself.

We do so much, we run so quickly, the situation is difficult, and many people say, ‘Don’t just sit there, do something.’ But, doing something may make the situation worse. So you should say, “Don’t just sit there, stop, be yourself first, and begin from there.”

—Tich Nhat Hanh, “Being Peace”

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