Oct 16, 2013

As My Heart Grieves (AAQI)

The process of grief and grieving is really quite amazing. As many of you have shared, and many of us have noticed in our own lives, it can hit you at the strangest times....and pop up long after you think you have accepted a loss, or moved on with your own processing.

The loss of a loved one from any cause is so very deep and so very hard. I lost all of my grandparents before I had children of my own. I lost my best friend of over 20 years before my last child had even grown up..... and she lost her best friend, age 12..the daughter of my best friend who had also died...in the same horrific car accident. We met in college, we built our houses side by side and we raised each of our three children ...together. It was very, very hard to lose an amazing mother, an amazing child and to watch the remaining husband and two sons..also in that car accident, as they grieved as we all grieved.

I have lost all of my aunts and uncles except for two aunts..one from each side. And our extended family was huge....so many, many aunts and uncles. And then, of course, I lost my father. And that was very, very sad..even though he was 93 years old and I could see that he began to fail the day he realized he was no longer strong enough to help me care for my mother, his own beloved wife of 61 years. My husband lost a brother to cancer, his father to heart disease and his mother, who we moved into a care home near us so we could be with her for hours each day, this January.  Many losses, many pains, great grieving in many forms through the years.

And now, of course...I have just lost my mother after eight challenging years taking care of her with advanced Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's Disease is known as the "Long Goodbye". The long goodbye because you lose the person you love, day by day, bit by bit.

I know grief in all of its ages and stages. I spent many years doing a volunteer form of lay counseling with others. I became a hospice-like friend to people I had never met before. People that were in intractable pain or in end of life crisis points where doctors or therapists could no longer help them in the deep emotional places that they needed helping.

So, several doctors that I knew personally as well as a highly intuitive therapist friend would send these people to 'come and meet me' at my own house, where I would use my gifts to simply become a friend to them for periods of up to six months or even year..on a weekly get together basis. During a time when they needed someone without judgment, someone who could help create a time and space more interesting and often even down right fun, during a time when most people want to moan with pain, or cry with loss and sorrow, we created a new space in memory and in time where it was literally a mind over matter place where miracles can, and did, happen.

One of the things I learned is that when anyone we know dies, all of the losses and deaths of our lifetime, all of the abandonment, all of the pains, are often re-triggered. At funerals, people will often be reduced to total sobbing even though they barely knew the person who passed. They are not really crying over the loss of our own loved one, but the loss of all of their own. And this is just how it is, and how it works, and how it is triggered.

In a way that only the heart can understand, each and every single one of us...'good' or 'bad' is connected. And this connection makes it possible to truly connect with another and to truly forgive another when they have wronged you to the depths of your own soul. This place of true heart is also a place can can hurt..really and truly ache with total pain during periods of loss.

So, when my own heart is facing the loss of a loved one, or healing from that loved one's passings, I am well aware of all of the stages and the places our heart may travel as I do my own healing. I know the landmarks, the dates of passage where grief seems to strike more often and how it can make not just our emotional heart hurt so much, but our physical one hurt and ache, as well.

Each time, with each loss of each and every loved one...I had to put my immediate sorrow aside, all of the crying I might want to do, in order to do what needed to be immediately done. To help another family plan a funeral, make arrangement for travel, buy plane tickets, pack a suitcase, get to the airport, make the connections etc.A forced delay to the grieving process can be a good thing or a not so good thing but it is just plain 'how it is' thing. And I have been able to do what needed to be done and get to both of my parents within the 24 hrs of their passing in order to say my goodby.

Perhaps, because this recent loss of my mother after her 8 long years of the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease, deep down inside I wondered if it might be easier to say goodbye. It was, and it wasn't.

My husband once told me that it was easier for me than it was for my brothers or their wives to physically take care of our mother during all of the stages, because I just accepted whatever place my mother was in, and made the best of it. I had no denial, I saw what was happening and understood why and I didn't fight or argue or resist that process.I really tried to make every day that I was with her as much fun as I possibly could. We sang, we arm danced, I played beauty parlor with her, and got out art supplies and we had art days. We did things long past when she could do them, but we tried and laughed and had fun anyway.

So, as much as I did..and yes, I did hard, dirty, awful caregiving too, things that most people never ever do for their family members because they have social services available and don't have to. We didn't and so we did it, instead. It's all awful and it's all hard.

But you change your mind to change your matter. You don't see only the awful, you see the love and the giving of that love...to someone else..and not just about you and your life, and all the fun you can have if someone else does the hard dirty work for you. And yes, it was so very hard, that if w had this chance again, and if there was a home to have put her into, we might have done differently. Might have.

But I have not let it, or them, or how anyone is now about 'who did more' rip into the fabric of my on healing. I will not blame others, mourn the loss of those years, or see anything...any single hard or challenging thing as being a waste of my time or my life. What is the point of any of that, you see?

I had such joy in the tiniest of moments. And I can treasure those moments forever and ever now. A moment of connection, a verbal response, a laugh at a joke she should not have possibly understood but somehow did. So, yes...it's somehow even harder now to allow this grief to overtake my heart and to hurt this bad.

But I am. I am doing the intense work that I need to do and I am still seeing the beauty of that process as it flows through me in all of its flows, and tidal waves, and even the wonder of the occasional ebbing into blessed moments of understanding, acceptance, and grief.

So, if I am missing a bit here, if I repost free pattern pages etc. ..well, that is why. I am doing my own deep inner healing work. It took 8 long very hard years of the what is known as the 'long goodbye' of Alzheimer's disease to get me to this point. So, of course, it will take a long time to fully say goodbye.

And while I am feeling all of this, saying that long afterwards goodbye, I am sewing. And I am sewing, as I always do...not for myself, or my family as most quilters do....but for others...because this is what I do that gives me the greatest joy. And boy, does the sewing help!

So, if you have lost your sewing mojo, just think of this and that yes, the doing of something is how we encourage more doing of something and less feeling sorry for ourselves or feeling stagnation, or depression, or sorrow. As that famous slogan says...'Just Do It'. Some times...a lot of the time...you have to MAKE yourself do it. But it works, trust me it is working.

13,891 - When The Heart Grieves

Donated to to AAQI (Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative) and heading for Houston( and the AAQI booth) at the Houston International Quilt Festival There is will be display for sale, with all profits going to Alzheimer's research funding.

Width: 12" Length: 9"

Materials/Techniques: Vintage designer fabrics, raw edge applique, machine stitching, oil paint sticks, watercolor paints, inkjet printing, and glass beads.

Artist Statement: Our hearts grieve for the loss of our parents who have passed on and our hearts grieve for the loss of who we knew those parents to be. But we are always, always grateful for whatever time we have been able to have with them....no matter how hard it is to see them this way, or having to do so much care giving

Dedication: For my father who has passed, and for my mother who we love and care for by ourselves in our childhood home in Alaska. We mourn the loss of our father, and we mourn the loss of the mother that we once had. We are grateful to still have our mother with us...in spite of all of the challenges of her full time care. It has been the hardest thing that any of us have ever had to do but we do it from full hearts filled with love and not anger.

Michele Bilyeu blogs With Heart and Hands as she shares a quilting journey through her life in Salem, Oregon and Douglas, Alaska. Sewing, quilting, and wildcrafting, with small format art quilts, prayer flags, and comfort quilts for a variety of charitable programs. And best of all, sharing thousands of links to Free Quilt and Quilt Block Patterns and encouraging others to join her and make and donate quilts to charitable causes.   Help us change the world, one little quilt at a time!


Unknown said...

Michele, you are so special...you say things that are not necessarily "pointed" or even specific yet they touch my heart in such a personal way. Thank you for sharing your heart and soul with us! Hugs to you, may your grieving bring you comfort.

Brenda said...

thanks for articulating the grief process for the rest of us. be kind to yourself!

DianaH. said...

Beautiful! I'm glad I took the time to read your entire post. I feel enriched!

Quilter Kathy said...

A beautiful, inspiring and comforting post to read today.
Thank you so much!

Paula, the quilter said...

So well said, dear friend. {{{{hugs}}}}

Barbara Sindlinger said...

Wonderfully worded. Since I have just lost my mother not even 2 weeks ago, a lot of what you said hit home. Thank you for putting words to some of what I'm feeling.

Jocelyn said...

Beautiful post Michelle. And everything you said is so true. When those memories come flooding into my heart, it's hard to keep the tears at bay. I lost my Mom so many years ago, but when I lost my BFF 9 years ago to cancer, it was the same deep hurt. And I think the reason was because I knew they both loved me unconditionally. It really left a hole in my heart. BUT I did take comfort in knowing that I will see them again when we are reunited in Heaven. It would be most unbearable if I did not have that blessed hope. Thanks for sharing. You should write a book.

BillieBee (billiemick) said...

Blessings, Peace, and Joy to you MIchelle. Thank you for posting. I'm sure you have touched many of us with your experiences and lovely loving attitude.

Mrs. Goodneedle said...

Sending you heartfelt sympathy as you endure these difficult days. Praying for God's presence to support and strengthen you and wishing you lots and lots of sewing success to soothe your deep and painful heartache. Thank you for posting this personal message of hope, what a loving tribute this is.

Angie said...

Great post. Watching my nana in the later stage of Alzheimer's is so hard. I hate the grieving while her body is still her, but really she is gone.

Turn The Page said...

What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing. The quilt is beautiful with a very powerful message. Peace be with you!

Sue said...

A beautiful post that hits everyone in every way. I thought that when my DH passed after twelve long years with Alzheimer's I would be fine as I would have said goodbye every single day. It does go much deeper than that and hope your heart heals without to much pain. Hugs x

O'Quilts said...

Thank u

Wendz said...

That is the most wonderfully worded expression of emotion I have ever read. l work in a care home and on a daily basis witness the look of bewilderment, grief and helplessness on the faces of family and friends. Wishing you peace of mind and heart as you travel on this journey. X

IHaveANotion ~ Kelly Jackson said...

Tears are running hot and fast Michele....I know your heart...and also choose to find the beauty, blessings and joy in each day...sometimes while I cry and grieve...but I wouldn't change it because it is about the loving process and I want to be where the love is.


Susan said...

Thanks for sharing your feelings! I have also lost 3 of my parents, both had remarried after divorce and were great friends. I had just started a crazy quilt and must just say that working on the quilt with their pictures and embroidering around it brought back so many memories all nice as I had been blessed with 4 parents. I had then been able to get all my heart sore into the embroidery. Also at that time I was suffering from severe anxiety and vertigo attacks that was triggered by my sister also having huge health problems and in the meantime she also got bone cancer. Well we are through that now and she is going on for a year now cancer free. Huge hugs to you