As I continue to honor Ashley’s memory, I want to share some of my thoughts on grief.
My wife had so many awesome connections in her life, that I know there is an army of people that have similar feelings to mine. Even if it’s a fraction of what I feel, I know it hurts.
In “Part 1,” I alluded to the idea that my tips for dealing with grief aren’t working for me but might work for you. That’s a stupid statement. (As Baker’s voice is ringing in my head, “daddy you shouldn’t say stupid.”) In fact, they probably are helping, they are just not helping me feel better.
Sooo, this is what I have been thinking and doing:
I realize that my grief experience will be very different than other people’s experiences. But some things are going to be the same for all of us.
I don’t know how you felt at the first news of Ashley’s death, many of you were probably in shock, in denial or very emotional, that is part of the grieving process. Supposedly time will help, but know that each of us will cope with the loss of Ashley differently and getting through this will be harder for some than others.
Below are common emotions that we might feel when going through the grieving process for Ashley’s passing.
I’ve listed what I am feeling below the norm:
*Grief that feels all-absorbing
Once in awhile grief is like a Shamwow and it sucks the joy out of everything.
Not really, I am anxious and have more energy than I have had in two years. This will probably catch up with me and I will be exhausted.
Right now yes. I don’t want to do stuff without Ashley but when I am social I feel better. It’s hard to have fun at activities that I would want Ashley to be there with me.
So, keep asking me to go do something, probably going to say no, but I might say yes.
*Loss of appetite
Yessss. I always get back to my fighting weight when I deal with grief. Luckily, I have a lot of extra insulation that will get me through. I’ve been doing better at this, working out does boost my appetite.
*Difficulty sleeping or more tired than usual
I only sleep 3-4 hours a night but I am not tired during the day. I have become very functional on little sleep. First with Fischer and Baker as infants and then with Ashley’s illness, she was constantly up in the night and I would get up to check on her.
Falling asleep is not easy either, mostly because I am reminded of the fact that when I wake up in the morning, Ashley won’t be there.
*Good days and bad days, waves of grief that come and go
Waves is an understatement. I stole this, but it feels like I’m in the ocean holding Fischer and Baker, one in each arm and the water is at my neck. Then a wave comes and as I hold them above water I trying to keep from drowning. But then the wave subsides, except I’ve been knocked 100yrds down shore and before I get my bearings, another wave hits.
*The sense that nothing is right
I lost the love of my life and the mother to my children. That is my whole world, nothing is right.
*Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
This hit me hard. Usually I have no trouble focusing, concentrating. It is one of my strengths. Now I have to have cheat sheets when I teach to make sure I don’t forget crucial but obvious information. I can’t focus, and would forget everything if I did not have my phone and my notebooks. (thanks, Ash)
*Change in family dynamics
Yes, but this is good. As the oldest of five boys I have always been the caregiver, the supporter, the help you get on your feet person in my family. Now my brothers are helping me and even though it’s not my nature its helping.
This was a past coping mechanism for me. Not an issue now. I don’t want my boys to feel that they can’t be sad.
Duh, this whole blog thing is fueled by flashbacks. Unfortunately for every good flashback, there is a bad flashback. Usually some random memory that triggers irrational thoughts. But by talking and posting about good memories, the bad flashbacks are kept at bay.
No, not yet, at least with anger. Exercise, teaching, blogging, journaling have helped.
????? Am I relieved that Ashley is no longer in pain, no longer sick, no longer needing treatment? Yes. But that’s it. She would tell you that she would go through it all over again to have just one minute with our boys.
Yes. Talking with everyone, we all have some sort of guilt going on right now. It is normal, but it is not going help. And Ashley wouldn’t have it. Go back and read her blogs. Many of them had the theme of mom-guilt, wife-guilt, friend-guilt. We have it, but we don’t need to keep it.
Yes. Yearning is “a feeling of intense longing for something”
Everyday, every hour, every minute, every second I miss her.
Yes. Sadly I knew this day would come and it was even more real after her cardiac arrest in 2016. But I am still in disbelief.
*Panic or anxiety
Honestly, this has gotten better but is still there. The hours and days after Ashley’s death, it felt like my heart and chest were being crushed by vise. Now my anxiety manifests during the end of my school day, because that is when I would go home and have lunch with Ashley before going back to the training room. It’s no longer a chest pain, but elevated heart rate, anxious feeling, dread, regret.
*Life feels out of control
Not really, I gravitate towards things I can control to get rid of this feeling. But Ashley was that way too. I use to tell her to “keep spinning those plates” She had so much going on because she was happy with the things she could control even if she was always close to having those plates topple over.
Yes but I don’t bottle it up, I vent and I workout or go run. I did order a punching bag just in case. (As a high school athletic trainer, I can’t tell you how many high school boys have trouble dealing with their emotions. They usually come to me after punching a wall, locker, or ground… The wall always wins.)
I have a fear that I will become indifferent to the concerns of to others. Then begin to neglect their feelings, pains, and issues…
My whole career, purpose is based on helping people. If I become indifferent or apathetic, I’m not going to do well at my job and become more miserable myself.
This was not supposed to happen. Ashley should be here. Fischer and Baker need their mom….
Ashley is at peace, Ashley is no longer in pain…
Yes that is confusing.
As you see, I’ve felt or experienced many of these emotions and I am still trying to figure them out. I see my boys trying to process these same feelings and it is really hard. But honestly, they are doing a great job of comforting each other.
So what do we do? Here are some tips that I have found helpful:
* Discuss feelings with someone you care about or trust. –Friends and family have helped me tremendously. My friends have helped me so much throughout this especially when I am at my lowest.
* Convert emotional energy to physical energy. -I’ve been working out more, playing with the boys more and even went to the memorial BodyFlow class for Ashley. I want to go more, but I will admit it was hard for me to be there without her.
* Convert emotional energy to creative expression. –I think continuing this blog for Ashley qualifies.
* Take a break from the grieving process and do something else for an hour or two, or even a day. – Still trying to figure this one out. Does sleeping count? I don’t grieve while I teach but there will be triggers throughout the day that I am still figuring out, avoiding.
Because everyone copes with grief differently and at their own pace, what works for your friends may not work for you. For example, going to a social gathering and being around your friends without Ashley there can either ease or complicate the process. I personally feel better around friends, but I am sadder when I leave them. Going to a cheer competition is going to be hard for me. But for others, that will be where they feel most connected to Ashley.
It’s normal to experience some degree of sleeplessness or some diminishing appetite when in acute grief. Remember to keep an eye on these symptoms and if they do not shift within a few weeks, consider talking to someone trained to help. (I am aware of this, and I am keeping an eye on it because, when I am sad, I don’t eat and I don’t sleep.) Just in case, I have an appointment to see a therapist coming up.
We will see how that goes. (I feel like I am going to be like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting and just mess with the therapist if they try to push textbook activities on me for dealing with grief.)
But Seriously all of us need to keep an eye on our friends and family.
SYMPTOMS TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY:
*If you find you just cannot get out of bed, or if it gets to a point where your physical health is suffering.
*Noticeable weight gain or loss
*Difficulty making or keeping social engagements
*High anxiety, either in intense periods or ongoing
*If grief is disrupting your family commitments
*A number of deaths in a short succession
*All bad days over weeks and weeks
*If you have suicidal thoughts of any kind
*Increased self-destructive behavior (alcohol, sex, drugs) to avoid grief
*If your normal faith rituals are disturbed (you can’t pray, don’t want to go to worship for extended periods of time)
*If grief becomes an obstacle to your work, your hobbies, your athletic pursuits, or spending time with loved ones
*When you don’t care about anything
*If you find yourself so consumed by the past that you are unable to make any changes. If after the first year you find you are opposing any and all changes in life
*If you don’t know how to interpret your emotional reactions
*Significant conflict in your relationships
Some more recommendations for dealing with grief and loss that I found helpful are adapted from Joyce Rupp’s (1989) book, Praying Our Goodbyes:
A PROCESS FOR DEALING WITH GRIEF
STEP ONE: Recognition
Begin by identifying and naming the loss, as well as the hurt or pain that has accompanied it. Who am I/we remembering today? How would I/we describe the place I/we find myself now?
Identify that Ashley our sister, coach, teacher, good friend, mother, daughter, wife has died. Be sure to use direct language.
STEP TWO: Reflection
Take time to reflect. Slow down, find solitude or the company of a trusted friend, colleague, or teammate. Be still. Pray. Meditate. Try to face the loss rather than staying busy as a way of avoidance. How will we take time to remember Ashley today? Do I need to spend some time alone, or would conversation with someone else be helpful today? For me, talking about Ashley is key. Talking about me, not so much.
STEP THREE: Ritualization
Create a personal or family ritual that honors the loss. This may include a symbol of an image, or some kind of movement or activity. Is there a meaningful place where I have found comfort in the past (nature, a religious site, a playing field, etc.)? How can we best honor Ashley? How would she most have wanted us to remember her?The Celebration of life was a start. I have a lot of things in mind but trying to find what works best for the boys and I.
My good friend Trisha and Godmother to Baker, brought over some special blankets for the boys. ” Mom’s hugs.” Anytime the boys want to feel mom’s hugs they can wrap themselves in the blankets.
Rituals are essential to the grieving and healing process. They do not need to be complicated, but they do need to take place. You can design something meaningful to honor in your own way.
STEP FOUR: Reorientation
Welcome the healing process, accepting change and new perspectives. What helps you get up in the morning? What small things have helped you find hope?
The grieving process can take a year or more–the experience of living a full 365 days from the moment of the loss through to the first anniversary is a charged and reflective period of time. Anniversaries of the death often trigger memories of the loved one and can be tough for those left behind.
Each of us have our own way to deal and cope. Some of us will go for a run, play a game, workout, do yoga, wear her motto “choose happy”, have Ashley’s initials or her monogram attached to our clothing, or even carry a picture of her with us. Whatever way you choose to remember her, understand that what feels right to you and gives you the most comfort is best.
My boys and I watch The Greatest Showman or listen to the soundtrack everyday (awesome movie and if you have the Blu-ray there is an extra called “Music Machine” that just skips to all the songs!). This was the last movie we watched as a family. My boys know very word to every song. It tugs at my heart but they are smiling. We talk to her every night before bed. We use her sayings, her rules, her mannerisms, and her patterns throughout our day. This keeps things normal and safe for Fischer and Baker. We include Ashley in our daily life and the boys love this. Sometimes this makes us sad, but most of the time we are smiling.
3 plus weeks without Ashley
I am able to get up each morning, get the boys and myself ready for school, drive them to where they need to be, get myself to school, prepare to teach, teach all day, plan for the next day, go home and deal with the mounds of paperwork one must fill out when your spouse passes, feed Baxter, get Fischer off the bus, go get Baker, prepare dinner, make lunches, play with the boys, workout, do bath time, reading time, console my boys, pray, and go to sleep.
I am able to do all that and I do CHOOSE to do it each day.
Choosing Happy, Right?
But the reality is that this is extremely hard. During any given day, I wanted to stay in bed, forgot to make the boys breakfast, I cried at a song, packed the boys in the car and forgot my phone, got my phone but forgot my coffee, got my coffee but forgot to put Baxter up, called or texted friends 5-6 times to help me get through the next 30 minutes, stared at the wall, cried at a Timehop.
(Ashley loved Timehop because people usually only post good things so it remembers those good things a year or years later and reposts them),
Forgotten to eat, filled out a form wrong so I have to do it over again, cried at a picture, lost Fischer’s ninja warrior jersey (Baker probably threw it out because its orange for his team the Tigers and Ashley had him trained like a pit-bull to hate orange) forgot to eat again, cried at a lotion bottle, overshared with the blogosphere, remembered to eat, but overate so my stomach hurts, kept the boys up too late, went to bed too late myself and slept for 2 hours only to wake up at 3:30 am and not go back to sleep till 5:30 so I can wake up at 6.
But there is also the other reality.
I had a quick breakfast with my boys, got hugs from my in-laws, taught students that are eager to learn or at least see how long it will take before I crack, chatted with work friends and colleagues, went and picked Fischer off the bus, consoled and be consoled by a friend, played with my boys, talked to my mom, ate dinner with my boys, watched Greatest Showman for the 50thtime, snuggled my boys, prayed with my boys, read with my boys, and watched them sleep.
I don’t know if this will help you, some of it is helping me, my boys. I figure if I am going to be sad and there is something I can do to help with the hurt, I am at least going to try it. I think Ashley would agree.
Nerd Alert- references below. There are a ton of excellent books out there, so go read one
Fairbank, D., & Williams, J. (2005, January 23). Athlete’s Survivors Coping. Retrieved from Daily Press: articles.dailypress.com/2005-01-23/news/0501230010_1_softball-players-grief-william-and-mary
Rupp, J. (1989). Praying Our Goodbyes.Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press.