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The Roads of Grief Have No GPS

The Roads of Grief Have No GPS

This is a little different from my normal blog posts, but the heart of the piece is possibly more about ‘writing the roads of grief’ than any of my previous posts.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a two day workshop presented by, Robert A. Neimeyer, PhD, titled
TECHNIQUES OF GRIEF THERAPY:
Creative Practices for Counselling the Bereaved

Much ground was covered over the two days. A couple of stand outs for me were watching videos of actual clinical sessions, noticing when certain words or observations caused the person to retreat or even shut down. Also noticing when they lit up with love, when encouraged to share photos and stories of the person whose death they mourned. When we use the name and acknowledge the value of the life of the one who has died, we give a gift beyond words. Because we all grieve differently, it’s important to allow the person who is grieving to take the lead. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when dealing with bereavement.

I knew these things from my own experience of grief, but to see them from the other side was both powerful and empowering. It encouraged me to have confidence in the value of my grief experience as a tool when working with others.

The most important part of the workshop for me was the writing section.
For one of the exercises we were given a group of words:
- traumatic loss, empty house, crying child, animal, mountain, sunrise.
- 8 minutes writing time
- and then instructed to give our piece a title that contained a verb
The following is my 8 minute write (The only thing I’ve changed is the spacing) I’m itching to edit this piece but feel it’s important to show precisely what can be accomplished in 8 minutes.

To Listen Silently is Everything

He is dead, he is dead,
I cried to the rising sun.

I could recall vividly
his first cry
as he came forth from my womb
26 years ago.
My grief was higher than Everest,
but my memories, ah my memories.
They were more beautiful
than the view
from the highest mountain.

His love for his dog, Digbee,
the way he would come home from school,
sit on the back deck
and share his day with his dog.

I would ask ‘How was your day?’
‘OK’ he’d reply.
And to my ‘What did you do?’
his response would be
‘Not much.’

He saved his stories for
his dog,
the perfect listener.

Home would never be the same
again.

Tricia 7/2013

(The one thing that surprised me in the above piece is that it’s 40 years since my son’s birth. I sense I wrote it was 26 years since his birth because he was 26 when he died.)

This was a special experience for me both for the precious memory it evoked, and for the valuable insight it gave me for future writer’s workshops. To give people too many choices can be stultifying. Bob’s very specific instructions had my pen racing over the paper. No time was wasted in getting lost in deciding what to write about. One thing I do know is that decision making can be difficult for the bereaved, and so this simple set of instructions was far more valuable than the page of choices I’d previously given people.

This is the third of Bob’s workshops I’ve attended. I also attended the 8th International Conference on Grief and Bereavement in Contemporary Society where, Bob, was a keynote speaker, presenter and panelist.
The following is the link to Bob’s website where you can see the full scope of his work, including some of his poems, and the artwork that accompanies them.

http://tinyurl.com/neimeyer

Bob’s work and words found a home in me the first time I heard him speak about grief. He, and my grief psychologist, inspired me to do something with the bag of grief that I’d been lugging around since the suicide of my son, Ken. Bob, was my long distance mentor in the creation of my first writer’s workshop, even encouraged me to document my work and submit my findings re participants progress, to Death Studies, a peer reviewed journal. But sadly, my precious husband, Rod, collapsed and died in my arms before my workshops had gained momentum. I needed time and space to come to terms with this second traumatic death.

Also, with the death of my husband, I was confronted with the reality of my chronic illness. My husband had cared for me in such a way that I’d not realised how much my health issues limited my ability to do many things. Added to this I had a year long battle with the, Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM), over errors in my husband’s initial autopsy report. My grief was once again, ‘complicated’.

http://www.complicatedgrief.org/bereavement/

The roads of grief are different for everyone. My husband and I both grieved the loss of our only child, but we lived that grief differently. It was important for our relationship that we gave each other the time and space to grieve individually.

Now, thanks to good therapy, hard work, loving extended family and friends, lots of writing, and the help, encouragement and support of some who shall remain nameless, I’m ready to move on with my life. I will always grieve the loss of my son and husband, but my grief is now a gentle companion.

I reconfigured and recommenced my writer’s workshops at the end of last year. They will be refined again as a result of my experience of this latest workshop. And while my health permits, I will do what I can to accompany others along their roads of grief, be it health related grief, grieving the death of a loved one, or one of many other grief issues. One thing life has taught me is, death doesn’t own grief.

Tricia 24/7/2013

Bedtime

Bedtime

Tonight her last night in
Their bed

New bed not wanted
Necessary
To meet the needs
Of chronic illness
A specially made bed
To ease her symptoms
Improve her sleep
And yet

She wanted to hold on to
Their bed

Tomorrow her new whizz bang bed
Arrives
It will raise her back
Elevate her feet
Dip in the centre
Take pressure off her spine
Even vibrate gently
And yet

It will no longer be
Their bed

One final night
Remembering
Reaching
Longing
Spreading out
Curling up
Letting go
Preparing herself

For her first night in
Her bed

Tricia 6/2013

Twinkly Lights

Twinkly  Lights 

 
My discontent with the dark
Had returned
No bed for me
I can’t hold back the night
But I can refuse to sleep
In the too big
Empty softness
Place of our last laugh
Final silly cuddly conversation
 
I shut the drapes before
The coming of the ‘twinkly lights’
There shall be no night
Instead lamp light
Shining
On the dull days of 
My confused heart
Missing my husband my son my life
 
The pendulum of grief
Swings 
Back to previous pain
I don’t understand why
Exhausted reliving mourning’s mystery 
No energy left to try
To make sense of unwanted night
 
Endless gritty eyed days
Staggering
On swelling legs
Alcohol or lack of elevation
Who knows
Who cares
 
Resting in my chair
Holding my special bear
My iPad pings a message
The musical link broke me open
Jack Johnson – All At Once
 
“All at once
The world can overwhelm me
There’s almost nothing that you could tell me
That could ease my mind
 
.. it’s always all around you
And the feeling lost and found you again
A feeling that we have no control”
 
Eventually I read the accompanying story
A little boy fighting the night finding a way
 
Thank you Caemon for All At Once ‘twinkly lights’ and finding ways
 
Tricia 6/2013
 
(With love and gratitude to Timaree, and Jodi, for sharing their story so honestly. And to their precious son, Caemon, who died  of Leukaemia on February 5th, 2013. He was 3 years old.)
 

Mother’s Day Book Spine Poem

This years Mother’s Day Book Spine Poem – for the motherless child and the childless mother.(for some reason I can’t get the photo to print. I’ll try it as a stand alone entry.)
Heartbroken Open
Layers of Silence
Latitudes of Melt

 
Tricia 2013 

Son and Sky

Son and Sky
 
Laughter back in her life
Interesting projects
Meaning and purpose abound
And yet
Three sleepless nights this week
It would appear her body
Is aware
The black stallion of Mother’s Day
Is galloping toward her 
Hooves pounding the tempo
Requiem for a Dead Child
Fourteen years since
Her so sad son
Laid down the intolerable burden
His life had become
Her childless mother lesions
Ache
With familial longing
As she sits in the dark
Waiting for dawn
Slowly it comes
Swathes of colour
Join together
‘Till the sky is a breathtaking blaze
Her atheistic heart
Longs for a moment
To see her artist son’s hand
Painting this gift of morning skies
But what was
Can never be again
The yin of grief settles
Beside the yang of love
It is enough for today
 
Tricia 5/2013
 

 

Christmas in Tricia Town

 

Christmas in Tricia Town
 

I began to think 

This year it would be easier
My grief is a gentler thing
I’ve lived the lessons of loss
Maybe I’m ready to rejoin the joy 
I experienced the almost forgotten pull
Of the ‘before’ Christmases 
Wandering around a big shopping centre
Singing loudly along with Christmas songs
That many loathed
But I delighted in
Selecting gifts for those I love
Even though the two most important people in my life
No longer have need of gifts
Nor the food I lovingly prepared for them
There’ll be no one sneaking the pork crackling
As soon as my back is turned
The tears began to trickle
As I realised
There’ll be no pork with crunchy crackling in my home
No dried apricot and sage stuffed turkey
No roast potatoes soft on the inside
Crisp and crunchy on the outside
My shopping centre wandering days are done
Many days I don’t make it up the driveway to the letter box
Some days my body struggles to toss a simple salad
It’s time to accept
My christmas cooking days are done
As I slowly come to terms
With my increasing limitations
I’m learning death doesn’t own grief
It appears loss has more lessons for me
When it gets too tough 
I wander via the keyboard of my iPad
And browse the snippets on YouTube
Today it’s the outrageous Eric Idle 
Who brings a little joy to my world
With his wonderful song 
Fuck Christmas
If you want to hear the song
That made this sad woman smile
Just wander over to You Tube
But if the title offends you
Maybe Christmas in Tricia Town 
Isn’t for you.
 
Tricia 12/12
 
 
 

My Life in Freefall

 

My Life in Freefall
 
I’ll never witness The Northern Lights
Thanks to the wonder of the internet
I’m able to see amazing photos
I’d like to say that’s enough for me
But it isn’t
 
I’ll never hold my husband in my arms again
We knew a love that few experience
I have so many precious memories
I’d like to say that’s enough for me
But it isn’t
 
I’ll never hear again the words  
Oh I do love you ma 
For 26 years my son loved me unconditionally
I’d like to say that’s enough for me 
But it isn’t
 
I’ll never hold a grandchild  in my arms
Smell the newborn scent that emanates from the fontanelle
I have precious great nieces and nephews
I’d like to say that’s enough for me
But it isn’t
 
I’ll never run again or slowly sink into a bath
Chronic illness a thieving bitch I know well
In my reverie I still dance naked in the ocean
I’d like to say that’s enough for me
But it isn’t
 
I’ve the loving selfless assistance of extended family and friends
Combined with psychological and medical support
Without help I’d struggle to live alone in my home
I’d like to say this loving assistance and support is everything to me 
And it is
 
Tricia 11/12
 
Freefall is a style of writing taught by Barbara Turner Vessalago.  It’s a method of writing without censoring, following each thread and allowing it to take you to places you might otherwise never venture. 
 
This poem,  My Life In Freefall, is not about rapid decline, rather it’s an exercise in downward movement,  allowing words to fall freely onto the page and take me to a place of acknowledgement, depth, understanding and gratitude.

Words and Wounds

Words and Wounds

Words are my constant companions
My friends and confidants
But
There are days I loathe the words
Brave, courageous, determined
Not all days
Just the really difficult days
Stoic is a stand out on the loathe list
A tiny pebble
Hiding in my shoe
Rolling and rubbing
Until eventually
The skin blisters and breaks
Then there’s the word
Closure
I want to write this blight in large black letters
On a huge white sheet of paper
Cut out each letter
Tear the letters into tiny pieces
Put them into a rusty old jam tin
And set fire to them
When the black ash of closure has cooled
I want to take the tin to the top of a mountain
Shake out the ash
Allowing the winds to swirl and dissipate
This monstrous mantra forevermore
Because with death
There is no closure
We can relearn our lives
In the wake of absence
Savour our memories
Even learn to laugh again
But the illusion of closure
Is a pain inducing panacea
An exhausting trek along a road to nowhere
Forty years ago today
My son was born
Thirteen years ago he died
Most days I live in peace
With his absent presence
But today the pain is as raw
As the day we discovered his body
I know from experience
Tomorrow will be a better day
Today will be a mixture of longing and laughter
Crumpling and climbing up again
As the kaleidoscope of memory rotates
There will be no closure
And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Tricia 18/9/2012

Fifty

FIFTY

 
Eccentricity has always appealed
Now at fifty I feel a freedom to be
Happy, sad, playful, joyful
All the things that are authentically me
I love teddy bears and yes I talk to them
They don’t answer me, which is just as well
There’s a line between eccentricity and neurosis
I’ve occasionally crossed it I’m not ashamed to tell
Over fifty years I have grown in wisdom
I don’t think I’ll be crossing that line again
Because I know myself and I like myself
I no longer feel any need to pretend
I walked down Chapel Street in a purple feather boa
Carrying my darling mate Ted E Bare
Some people smiled, others gave me a wide berth
But quite frankly I don’t care
What others think of me is no longer important
It’s how I see myself that brings me peace
I’m no stranger to sorrow and suffering
I walk side by side with grief
Yet within me lives a childlike joy
An appreciation for the beauty nature displays
By accepting and living each sensation that arises
I survive the sad and relish the joyful days
From this freedom to be who I am
Flows an acceptance for others to be
Authentically living in truth to themselves
We all have the right to be free
As I explore how I feel deep within
I find I love being fifty years old
I am who I am and that’s comfortably
Reubenesque, courageous and bold
Thoughtful, forthright, honest and open
Aware that I still have a lot to learn
I struggle with the concept of limitations
But I’ll get to that in its turn
Yes I’m fifty and slightly eccentric
Trying to contribute my bit to this world we all share
And ‘though fifty doesn’t look like twenty
My cupboard of beauty is far from bare
 
Tricia 12/2000
 
The above poem is almost 12 years old, but I’ve been having a wee debate with a journalist on the Huffington Post about women who play with dolls. This poem was my final retort.

Hands

HANDS
 
She couldn’t stop thinking
About hands
 
At first it was his hands
And her inability to remember
Their look
Texture
 
     The way they felt
     As they tousled her hair
     After he touched his lips
     To the top of her head
 
          The warmth of them
          Cupping her breast
          Thumb teasing nipple
          Gentling her into sensuality
 
               Their comforting circular rhythm
               Easing her into sleep
               On nights her mind
               Roared and raced
 
Conversely she could never forget
How cold and heavy they were
When she lifted them to her lips 
For one last kiss
 
The hands of a clock
Winding down
As the mechanism of her life
Slowed
Once simple tasks
Now as daunting as Everest
 
Her own hands
Gripping the handles 
Of her walking frame
Tenaciously gouging 
Independence
From an uncooperative body
 
Hands of strangers
Tentatively offered
Gratefully accepted
As she struggled
With the minutiae of life
In public places
 
The hands of family and friends
Reaching out
Giving comfort and assistance
Wrapped around the handles of her wheelchair
Pushing her lovingly
Back into the gallery and theatre of life
 
Tricia 03/2012
 
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