The Grief Diary: A New Year’s Resolution for the Brokenhearted

Exploring the Aftermath of Love and Loss. This is the second in this series.

Happy New Year!

Here we are, once more, at the start of a new year. After the disaster of 2020 it couldn’t come soon enough. Putting last year in the rearview mirror is both exhilarating and liberating. We can’t help but be optimistic as we change the calendar, opening up 365 new days brimming with promise, weeks, months, and days yet to be written with the ink of life. Anything can happen, especially good anythings. It’s like being swept up in a gust of fresh air when you’ve been trapped for months in a room with no ventilation.

Many of us start off the new year with a set of resolutions – commitments or ideals to help us get – and keep – on whatever we believe is “the right track.” Some of the more popular are to lose weight, exercise more, save money, get organized, learn a new skill, start a new hobby, and/or spend more time with family and friends. Whew! I’m exhausted already.

These are all admirable goals, but for those of us on the grief journey any one of them can be too much. When you’re just trying to get through the next hour, the next minute, without falling apart, trying to lose weight or go to the gym on a regular schedule is near to impossible. So I’m replacing these popular resolutions with one simple objective that will enable the brokenhearted to nurture, rather than torture, themselves in the new year.

To Thine Own Self Be Kind

“Kindness” tends to be a buzzword these days, usually relating to the concept of being kind to others. What about being kind to ourselves?

I recently discussed this with my pain management specialist. We’d both just read The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy, which is a profound yet simple book about kindness, self-love, friendship, and hope (read it). She and I agreed on the book’s message to not only be kind to others but to ourselves. Quite often, she said, we hold ourselves up to impossible standards, then when we fail to measure up we heap criticism and disapproval upon ourselves until we collapse. Seems we can beat ourselves up much meaner and harder than anyone else could or would. We’d never do this to a friend or acquaintance, she said. Instead, we extend to them tenderness, compassion, and generosity we routinely withhold from ourselves. This is both physically and mentally unhealthy.

Tread easy

We must remember when grieving that we are not at our best, life is not normal, and we may mistakes, neglect our duties, lose our temper, or break down in tears for no good reason at all. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up when these things happen, causing us to fall short of our unrealistic expectations. We need to step back and look at ourselves as we would look at anyone else living in our circumstances, and say, “It’s okay to be sad, or mad, or lazy, or forgetful.” Forgive yourself as you would forgive anyone else. Know in your heart that you are doing your best, that you need time to process and accept the changes that have come upon your life. It is not easy for anyone, and that includes you.

Now that’s good medicine. I’ll take it. How about you?

An Invitation

Please take this journey with me. We can communicate with one another in the comments, perhaps find healing together. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications of new posts. Thank you.

The Grief Diary: Exploring the Aftermath of Love and Loss

This is the first in a new series for this blog. The last few months – no, the last few years – have been difficult for me. There’s been a lot of loss and change, most of it unexpected, some of it for good reasons. I’m generally an optimistic person but even I have my breaking point. I’ve run into it a few times lately. This has left my mind churning and I find myself with so much to say, so much to work out. Writing has always been a means to my seeking clarity, so I decided to use my blog to figure things out. Welcome to The Grief Diary.

The Virus

Let’s start with the coronavirus, COVID-19, which impacts everyone everywhere so it’s not necessarily a personal problem in my miniscule part of the world. I have not been sick. No one in my direct orbit has been seriously ill or hospitalized. The biggest impact the virus has had on my life, thus far, is that I’ve been working from home since March 23rd, 2020. It’s doable, but not ideal. I’m a nurse in a college health center, so much of what I’m doing at home is paperwork and administrative stuff. I miss seeing the students, and I miss the daily contact with my colleagues, our conversations, brainstorming, and troubleshooting. I miss the adrenaline rush when there’s a call for a nurse to race to an emergency, accident, sick student, or staff member. I miss walking through the beautiful buildings on our campus. I miss being in a learning environment (which I wrote about here.)

Yeah, there’s a lot to miss, but one thing I’m not missing is a paycheck. I know I’m lucky to have a job where I can work from home. So many others do not. Too many others have lost so much more to this virus: jobs, homes, loved ones. I understand I’m one of the blessed.

I also miss what most people are missing: hanging out with friends and family; going out to dinner, shopping, a concert or a movie; not having to wear a mask everytime I go out. This too shall pass, I tell myself, and each day passes. Hopefully the newly released vaccines will become more widely available and distributed, or people will just get their heads on straight on how to mitigate this virus so life can return to some semblance of “normal.” There’s something optimistic about that, no? So it’s not the virus that has me tied in knots, although it’s not helping.

The Fridge Gallery

Not my fridge but you get the picture. Right after I made this observation I added pictures of the living to my Gallery.

Let’s talk about the fridge gallery. Do you hang pictures on your refrigerator? I do. I have all kinds of pictures – photographs, clippings from magazines and newspapers, cartoons, and inspirational and motivational magnets and mementos – covering the freezer door. The other day I was looking at my fridge gallery and realized that all of the people in the photos were gone. They’d died. This included my parents, my brother, his partner, an aunt, and a cousin. And they are not the only members of my family who have passed away recently. We’ve endured a cycle of death. Last I counted our extended family lost nine members in the last three years.

Grief is a heavy thing. You need to get out from under it sometimes. But it’s hard to climb out when it keeps being heaped upon you. Many of these deaths were preceded by illness, sometimes savage illness, like a vicious cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. Two were the result of a single tragic motorcycle accident on a beautiful summer day. All of them bring additional grief, whether it’s anticipatory as you watch someone you love suffer and slip away, or raw as someone is inexplicably ripped away from you with no warning. I’ve endured both and, trust me, there’s no way to determine which is the easier loss to bear.

The Grief Diary

As I pondered the photos on the fridge I thought of each individual life and my thoughts swirled. I felt an urge to tell their stories, to write about their lives, what made them special, why their memory endures. So I’m starting this Grief Diary to tell their stories, and my own, in an exploration of grief, love, and loss. These posts will endeavor to not only heal my broken heart but to help heal others on the grief journey. I can’t promise regular entries but I will post when inspiration moves me.

An Invitation

Please take this journey with me. We can communicate with one another in the comments, perhaps find healing together. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications of new posts. Thank you.

My Story “Mom’s Unexpected Birthday Guest” is Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s New Book “Mom Knows Best”

Marianne Sciucco with CS4S Mom Knows BestI’m proud and thrilled to announce that one of my stories was recently published in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul “Mom Knows Best.” It’s one of 101 heartfelt stories about life, love, and…  moms. The story, “Mom’s Unexpected Birthday Guest,” was inspired by my mom on the occasion of her 90th birthday party.

Mom loved birthday parties, especially her own, no matter how big or how small. The 90th was a big one, but, unfortunately, Mom had broken her hip and was laid up in rehab. We had to improvise to celebrate her special day, but in doing so something wonderful happened that made all the difference. Continue reading

From the AlzAuthors Blog: Florrie Munat Shares her Lewy Body Caregiving Story in “Be Brave”

Florrie Canva

Love Remains

By Florrie Munat

“Are you going to write about this?” Chuck asked.

I stopped sorting the pile of laundry that a nursing home aide had just left on his bed and turned to look at my husband. Had we not been married for thirty-six years, I might not have known what he was talking about. But in addition to our long marriage, for the last two years I’d been supplying him with words he could no longer remember. So it took me only a few moments to figure out exactly what he meant.

He was referring to the soul-shattering changes that followed his stroke and Lewy body dementia diagnosis. Those changes had ended the chapter of our marriage when we lived together in equal partnership under one roof, and had begun the current chapter in which Chuck was a nursing home resident and I was his daily visitor. He was asking if I was going to write about those changes.

Back when I worked as a librarian and writer, and Chuck taught high school English and then edited a national classroom newspaper, our married life included some major changes (a cross-country move from Connecticut to Washington) as well as some tragedies (the death of his ex-wife, which led to my adopting his three young children).

But those changes seemed simple compared to this one because I felt alone now. I had become the sole repository of many of our once-shared memories, which left me with a profound sense of loss.

By asking this question, Chuck was giving me permission to document and reflect not only on the cataclysmic events of the past two years, but also on however many years lay ahead of us. His question: “Are you going to write about this?” was also a request. If he’d been able to frame it differently, Chuck might have said, “It’s up to you to tell our story now because you’re the only one who can. And others may be helped by knowing what happened to us.”

Four more years passed before we had to say our final goodbyes, and during that time he continued to remind me, “Are you going to write about this?”

be brave cover imageHis question planted the seed that grew into my memoir, Be Brave: A Wife’s Journey Through Caregiving. He even gave me the title on the day he decided to stop eating and drinking and told me to “be brave.”

With the exception of one chapter about our family’s celebration of the Irish New Year shortly after Chuck’s dementia diagnosis, I wrote the first draft of Be Brave after Chuck died in 2009. Then, with the assistance of an insightful developmental editor and a talented book designer, I spent three years rewriting that draft—and in December 2017, Be Brave was finally published. Kirkus Reviews chose it as one of its Top Indie Books of 2017, calling it “a beautiful, richly panoramic book that should reassure caregivers and delight memoir readers.”

While I worked on Be Brave, I was processing my grief by writing and rewriting our story until I found some meaning in those six nursing home years by placing them in the context of our forty-year marriage. This is not to say I discovered a reason why our lives played out the way they did. That remains an unknowable mystery. And if I could have an intact, healthy Chuck back right now, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

But by writing our story, I did find some consolation embedded in our suffering. And that is that no matter how difficult life became during the caregiving years, our love for one another was never in doubt or in danger. In fact, had we not lived through those last six years, we would not have known the depth and magnitude of our love.

Like all good teachers, Chuck asked questions; he didn’t provide the answers. He wanted me to figure out why “writing about this” would be a good idea. I think he knew his question would lead me to the understanding that even after much is taken, much abides. Now his illness is gone. But our love remains.

florrie munatAbout the Author

Florrie Munat is the author of Be Brave: A Wife’s Journey Through Caregiving (2017), a memoir focusing on the years she was a caregiver for her husband Chuck who suffered from Lewy body dementia. Florrie has published several children’s books, articles, stories, and over 150 young adult book reviews. She’s worked as a reference librarian, English teacher, and university press worker. She lives near Seattle, Washington, where she records audiobooks for the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library, and is writing a YA novel and a memoir about grieving. Learn more about Florrie and Be Brave at www.florriemunat.com.

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New Release Spotlight: “A Very Austen Valentine,” Austen Anthologies Book 2

 

new release spotlight

In this New Release, six beloved authors deliver romantic Valentine novellas set in Jane Austen’s Regency world. Robin Helm, Laura Hile, Wendi Sotis, and Barbara Cornthwaite, together with Susan Kaye and Mandy Cook, share variations of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility, featuring your favorite characters in sequels, adaptations, and spin-offs of Austen’s adored novels. Experience uplifting romance, laugh-out-loud humor, and poignant regret as these authors deftly tug on your heartstrings this Valentine’s Day. 

I loved Book 1, A Very Austen Christmas. Why wouldn’t I? The unforgettable, irresistible Mr. Darcy starred in every story, which were well-written and entertaining. I’m looking forward to Book 2. Darcy’s in two of these stories too.

a very austen valentine book 2 - ebook small (1)

Story Descriptions: 

I Dream of You by Robin Helm

Newly-married Elizabeth Darcy has a plan: to charm her too-busy husband into desiring her company as much as he did when he was courting her.  A series of romantic dreams gives her just the push she needs to put that plan into action.

Sir Walter Takes a Wife by Laura Hile

Faced with a lonely future and finding himself strapped for cash, Persuasion’s Sir Walter Elliot manfully decides to marry again. But his careful plans go sadly awry! A lighthearted Valentine mash-up featuring two of Jane Austen’s worst snobs.

My Forever Valentine by Wendi Sotis

Jane and Charles Bingley have married, even though Miss Elizabeth Bennet remains certain Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy gave his best effort to keep them apart. After Mr. Darcy refused to stand up with Bingley and did not attend the wedding, she despises the gentleman more than ever and finds his company intolerable. How will she endure her visit to Kent if Mr. Darcy turns up everywhere she goes?

Pretence and Prejudice by Barbara Cornthwaite

A chance encounter with a handsome stranger forces Elizabeth to resort to subterfuge in order to discover his true intentions.

My Valentine by Mandy H. Cook

Little Charlotte was always determined and independent, traits which served her well as she battled a serious childhood illness and later as she took on Polite Society. Will those traits now deprive her of true love? Or would her lifelong Valentine win her heart?

The Lovers’ Ruse by Susan Kaye

In this Persuasion alteration, Anne is so altered by Wentworth’s love in the summer of 1806, she refuses to give him up when both her godmother and father try to persuade her. “The Lovers’ Ruse” follows Frederick and Anne through their whirlwind courtship and their secret engagement. When Wentworth returns for his Annie girl, the cat comes out of the bag. Continue reading