Brain Fog

May. 29, 2019

I once gave Butch and the kids the Strengths Finder profile as a Christmas gift. It is a quick test to identify your five areas of inborn talent. Butch’s number one talent was Strategic. It is described in this way: “People exceptionally talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.” That was Butch in a nutshell. It was a very practical version, not controlling or airily philosophical. He was like a computer, analyzing data, all the time. He loved to read about history, which he then translated into understanding the patterns in the present. He quietly organized the shopping cart so that it went onto the belt and into the bags according to where it would go when we unloaded it at home. He drove like most people play chess, five moves ahead. He noticed the driving patterns of the cars around and ahead of us and shifted away from anyone who seemed especially erratic. He never said anything about it, you had to observe it to appreciate what he was doing. He never backtracked in the hardware store. He knew where things were and what he needed and worked from one end to the other methodically. Even the parking space he chose had to do with where we would be exiting at the end of the list rather than the closest entrance or the closest spot.

This was yet another example of how opposites attract. Strangely, Strategic is one of my five inborn talents. But it is not the practical version. It is exactly how I operate as a therapist. As someone talks, my brain is gathering the bits and pieces into a pattern that enables me to intuitively head in the right direction in facilitating their growth toward wellness. But in the rest of life, I meander. A trip to the hardware store consistently requires at least two complete circles from one end to the other. The groceries are random. Despite knowing where everything is in the store, it is not unusual for me to circle there as well. I am now listening to Butch’s Audible books that include presidential biographies and war history. Somehow, it feels like listening to the same books he listened to keeps him closer. It helps me know him in a new way. He would have heard the political strategies and military tactics. He would have thought about the bigger picture of the world and how and why it operates the way it does. I hear the relationships between the characters and wonder about their childhood trauma and its effect on their role as world leaders. I think about PTSD. My heart hears how hard it must have been for them to have undergone what they did. I certainly realize that nothing has changed much. From George Washington on, the haters and worshipers lined up in unyielding camps and seemed to have learned nothing from history.

This difference showed up most noticeably in our ways of running errands. He knew where he needed to go and why, before pulling out of the driveway. I am sure he factored in traffic patterns in his perfectly strategic dispatch of his list. He usually finished all the errands on his list. I, on the other hand had a list of things I need to accomplish but the order in which they were to be done was very fluid. The most critical item was first. If that was successful, then I could do item two and possibly three. If it was unsuccessful then two and three dropped off the list and we moved to four. If item one took too long, the list was reviewed for the next critical item with any optional items that were geographically aligned between item one and that new priority added if possible. In that way, items that seemed unimportant or had not been on the list in the first place, were suddenly added based on geography rather than more important items that were in another direction. All of that added up to having no apparent pattern, except what was intuitively developing in my head as were going. It was unusual for me to complete the list. For Butch, this was like fingernails on a chalkboard. It was especially irksome if he was driving.

We resolved the problem by simply discussing our philosophical differences and making some agreements. He no longer attempted to dispatch my list of errands based on his need to be strategic in helping me conquer the list. In fact, he stopped driving so he could avoid the urge to turn the car in the direction of what he thought should be the next logical stop. He simply road along. He re-framed it from “helping me run errands” to “hanging out with me while I ran errands”. That is not to say that he did not regularly wonder out loud why I didn’t do errand seven on the way to errand three when it was right on the way. He just realized that what was important to me on that list was all in my head and possibly my heart and could not be discerned by him.

This meandering way of moving through life is a common characteristic of those who have sustained a major loss. It is often described as “brain fog”. Right after the loss, it is all we can do to put one foot in front of the other. Even if we are beset with mania, frantically hurrying from one thing to another to stay ahead of the pain, it is more reflexive than thoughtful. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis describes this as “being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. It is so uninteresting.” Over time, this lessens, and we seem to land back on the planet and begin moving purposefully through our lives again. We develop strategies to manage the unmanageable and begin to gain traction in our journey forward.

While each year will get better in some ways, the journey of grief never ends. As the intensity of the pain lessens, we remember them more. The wall that blocks the pain actually blocks everything. With the wall down, there is more of a steady flow of awareness. This is both good and bad news. Sweet memories begin to drift into our consciousness. Initially, this is hard, because they are reminders of what we have lost and seem always to carry pain with them. We discover that there is no way to avoid their presence in us or in the world around us. Gradually, these memories feel more sweet than bitter and assure us that we will never lose our loved on because they are fully alive inside us all the time. Just no hugs. We also realize that, for the rest of our lives, there will be moments of stabbing pain that seem as intense as ever and come with no warning. We accept this as the new normal and give up on the fantasy that we will “get over it.” We learn, rather, to move through it, one day at a time.

What will catch us off guard is the way that his fogginess can settle back in unannounced. Anniversaries and birthdays might send us instantly to square one. Holidays open the door and invite us back into the haze. If we are not mindful of the potential to slip back into the fog, we are at risk. It begins so subtly that we may not notice it is happening until it is bad. Being “partially concussed” inevitably results in lost objects, often important ones, accidents, injuries, missed appointments, impatience with others who do not understand what we are experiencing, and an endless list of inexplicable moments that leave us wondering what just happened and why. Chores go undone. Goals become unimportant or unattainable. Life loses flavor. Left unchecked, we can arrive in a very bad place.

Becoming us without them will include much brain fog. It is best accomplished in the presence of loving others. They know us and will notice when we are adrift again. They will throw us a lifeline back to ourselves without losing themselves in process. Our grieving mentors will not chastise us for losing ground or tell us to “just get over it.” Being honest about the pain, we receive comfort and build confidence to move forward and upward. As we share our truth with those both ahead and behind us on the journey of grief, we grow ourselves and empower others to grow with us. The years the locusts have eaten are redeemed when our story becomes light and salt in the lives of others. We get better at negotiating the fog.

Share this page

The Dentist

May. 18, 2019

To say that Butch disliked the dentist would be like saying the ocean is moist. He had a bad experience with the Army dentist and swore never to go back. He was in so much pain when his wisdom teeth were trying to come in that he flinched every time he ate something cold or hot. They needed to be removed and he wasn't willing. He asked me one day what I wanted for my birthday. We were living outside of Fort Hood, TX. I answered that question with one of my own. “Can I have anything we can afford?” “Sure”, he carelessly replied. “Well then, I want those four teeth in my hand, and I found a dentist in Waco I can afford to do it for you.” He was cornered. We drove the hour to Waco the next week. He went in, and they began the Sodium Pentothal immediately. I heard them tell him to count backward from 100. “99, 98, 97….” In what seemed like only two minutes later, I heard the nurse say, “He wants his wife.” I found him in a tiny little recovery room, like a closet with a shelf for him to lay on and a chair for me to wait. It was then I learned that anesthesia turned Butch into a comedian. He tried to convince me to lay down with him on the shelf. I told him to behave because the closet didn’t have a door and the staff were walking by. As an assistant passed, he said, “Excuse me, miss, you can take the rest of the day off.” Had he realized how much pain he would be in by the time we were halfway home, he would have tried to sleep while he still could.

He became the most faithful user of a toothbrush and dental floss in the world to increase the likelihood that he would never have to go back. Despite his best efforts, he would require lots of dental work over the years. When he needed a root canal, he again opted for sodium pentothal to miss as much of the torture as possible. I drove him to and from his appointment first thing in the morning. I took the keys to his truck back to work with me to avoid any antics he might devise. An hour later I received a call from his boss saying that he was there, clearly still under the influence, giggling smugly about having found his extra keys and run away from home. They took away his keys and held him prisoner until he was in his right mind again.

Even teeth cleaning was tough. His idea of a good dental hygienist was someone who was friendly before and after the appointment but did not expect him to be chatty while he was hyperventilating through the procedure.

I went to our old dentist for a cleaning last week. It was tough. We had the same dentist for years. He knew all of us. I learned the dentist had retired. Somehow that upset me. One more long-term relationship gone. A piece of Butch gone with him. The hygienist remembered details of our lives and our family. She remembered Butch and how much he struggled. We had a good laugh together. She gave me back a little of him as I lay in the chair and remembered his experiences of the dentist in the stories she told. Once the distraction of the conversation was over, and she quietly set to work, I found myself crying as those memories of him played in my head. Even the dentist office, a place we never went together, is haunted by his ghost.

On the journey of grief, there is no part of life untouched by the loss. Even years later, we can be blindsided by these unforeseeable moments. We get pieces of them back in the telling of the stories, in the shared laughter, in the mutual enjoyment. We can hear their voice and see their face a little more clearly as the stories unfold. Then they are gone in an instant, disappearing again, as the past gives way to the realities of the present, and the life we are left with in their absence.

Becoming us without them makes us great jugglers. The losses of the past, the realities of the present, and the promises for the future pass before our eyes in a constant flow. Those trained as jugglers will tell you that it takes time, practice, and patience to develop any skill. You have to focus on the balls travelling upward to anticipate where they will drop into your hand at the bottom without looking down at your hand. Focusing on any one ball, causes you to loose sight of the other two and drop.

So it is with the journey of grief. To build that new life awaiting us in the future, we look hopefully upward and trust things will drop into place as they should. If we hold on to one for too long or lose our upward focus they will fall to the ground. we spend lots of time picking up the balls and starting over again.

Reliving the Anniversaries

Jan. 20, 2019

One of the hardest parts of becoming us without them is the slow motion approach of the death anniversary. Somehow it is as if we are reliving it again. The logical part of is knows it is in the past, but some other, illogical part of us begins to quietly dread it happening in the future. We can feel ourselves growing more anxious, or flakey, or some combination of the two as the time grows closer. Facebook nicely reminded me of this via a memory of a post from the first anniversary.

This is the week of the “last times” anniversaries. It is filled with the hope that the love we realize now was successfully conveyed last time, because it was, the very last time and there are no more chances.

On January 16, 2016, we celebrated what was to be our last family Christmas with the kids at Jeremy and Angela’s.  It was our first Christmas with both or precious granddaughters.  He played Santa Claus and seemed so healthy.  January 17th was our last Sunday off together.  Our work schedules were off synch and so full, that every other Sunday was our only concentrated time together.  We spent the day mostly relaxing and getting ready for the family vacation at Tahoe that would begin on Thursday the 21st.  Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we both worked, which meant he was asleep when I left for work and I was asleep when he got home.  We sometimes had brief conversations but one of us was mostly out of it and not very focused on the other.  We talked by phone during the day, and I called him on my way home from my last appointment every night.  If he was home early, he would be waiting on the front porch for me when I arrived, still talking to him on the phone. 

So Wednesday, January 20th, would turn out to be the last time I would wake up and find him sleeping beside me.  I was always grateful to wake up and find him there, but I can’t imagine that I expressed that clearly enough to feel sure he knew.  Thursday he got up in the wee hours of the night to go duck hunting with his nephew, Bruce, and I left for Tahoe to meet the kids. 

He worked Friday and rode up to Tahoe on Saturday with Jeremy, who had come home to coach soccer for the day.  It was fairly late when they arrived.  Sunday, January 24th, was my birthday, which means I am about to spend my first birthday without him since I was 17 years old.  I will turn 65, feeling much older than I would have if he was here to celebrate with me.  We spent the morning relaxing.  My brothers and their families came over in the afternoon to celebrate my birthday.  It was a very relaxing time, just enjoying the time together, laughing, and enjoying our last family meal together. 

Monday was another day of simply relaxing and spending time with Jeremy, Angela, and Schuyler.  Schuyler was always afraid of men and, while she flirted with him constantly, she had never allowed him to get very close.  With days together, she had begun to warm up to him.  He figured out that it was his size that was the problem, so he took to sitting on the floor so he seemed less intimidating.  I caught a great picture that morning of her bringing him her favorite book and sitting on the floor next to him so they could read it together. I had not idea that would be the first and only picture I would have of them together like that.  In the afternoon, he and I went on a drive around the lake.  We enjoy a mellow evening watching TV with the kids. 

January 26th, what would be his last day in our lives, I woke up very sick and he spent the morning tending to me.  He and Jeremy planned to go snow shoeing in the afternoon and he was very excited about that.  He had always wanted to share his outdoor world with his sons but they were always too busy to coordinate their schedules do to that.  When it was time to go, he asked me If I wanted him to stay.  I assured him that I was feeling much better.  I told him he was the best husband in the world for offering.  He had waited years to go play outside with his kids and I would never ask him to miss that.  I have replayed that moment over and over, wishing so desperately that I had said, “Yes, please stay with me and don’t leave me.”  There was no way to know that he had been overwhelmed by the duck hunting adventure and his heart was probably already stressed.  The addition of the snow shoeing at 6500 ft. elevation would push him to the edge.  Carrying one bin of groceries to the car, going down three flights of stairs and back up for the next triggered the heart attack.  He dropped outside the door of the condo.  Jeremy valiantly administered CPR of over 10 minutes while we waited for the fire department.  And while Jeremy kept him alive so he had a chance to fight for his life, he had lost oxygen for too long and his brain was already gone.

Both my family and his surrounded us in the hospitals in Tahoe, Carson City, and Sacramento, every medical intervention possible was offered.  His heart was beating on its own and although he was on a ventilator, he was breathing on his own.  But in the end, on February 11th, we put him on comfort care and watched him leave us. He quietly stopped breathing at 6 pm on February 13th, taking half of my heart with him.  On Valentines day, a day that he always celebrated with a flare, Jeremy put flowers and a card in my car so that day would not be such a black hole. 

So now we are walking through the land mine of the anniversary of those days.  So much has changed in this year.  We are all learning to go on without him.  My friends and family have been my life blood.  I have a beautiful life, a wonderful new home around the corner from Jeremy, Angela and Schuyler, and meaningful work that gives my life purpose.  But there will forever be a gaping black hole where there used to be an amazing partner and friend. 

I would give a million dollars for one more minute with Butch to be sure I tell him how much I loved him and how awesome my life with him was.  I just want to know that he knew that for sure.  But my moments are gone forever and I’ll never get that one minute I want so badly.  

Thanks to all of you whose prayers have carried us through this year and will most surely carry us through the next.

Melting the Iceberg

Nov. 25, 2018

Butch was not a huggy-feely guy when I met him. His family was not physically demonstrative in that way. The first time I attempted to kiss him on the cheek in public when we were 17, he flinched like I was trying to bite him. His idea of holding hands was to hook pinkies. He very quickly moved beyond that. Like many of our peers in high school, we would meet before school and during lunch break to snuggle in the hallway. One of our instructors was well known for his mission of walking down the hall and loudly saying, “UNWRAP” as he passed an intertwined couple. He knew full well that we would all resume our original position after he was out of sight, but he gave it a valiant try.

When Butch was stationed at Fort Hood, in Texas, right after we married, we were close enough for visits with my very large family in Louisiana and Texas. The first time we visited my Grandmama, we left after work and arrived fairly late at night. Despite the hour, there were at least 15-20 aunts, uncles, and cousins there to greet us. As each of my very huggy-feely family members introduced themselves and gave him a big hug, I fully expected him to blow up and fly around the room backwards. By the time of his death, he was a big time snuggler. I miss those snuggles almost more than anything.

We moved to Louisiana for a short time. He loved being part of a big, close family. He was amazed by the size of the family net when he applied for a truck driving job about 100 miles away and found himself being interviewed by one of my cousins. It was disappointing that wages for truck drivers were so low and usually meant driving jobs that required him to be on the road most of the time. We eventually returned to California.

My cousin’s love did not protect anyone from the traditional “city cousin” hazing. Leaving for town to buy groceries, I warned Butch not to go outside with or trust any of my cousins until I returned. Of course, he thought that was ridiculous. Returning home, I was horrified to learn that he had gone with two of my more sadistic cousins to fish in the pond behind Grandmama’s house. Bolting out the back door I ran as fast as I could toward the pond. My worst fears were realized as I saw him innocently fishing in the pond as my cousins stood on the opposite side, throwing rocks in a semi-circle toward him. They would have told him they would “shoo” the fish toward him with the rocks. He had his back to me. My goal was to get there in time to yell “RUN” before it was too late. But I had to get close enough for him to hear me clearly and actually run, rather than just turn his head toward me and stop looking at the pond. I was too late. Just before I got close enough to warn him, he seemed to lift straight up off the ground, turn mid-air, and fly away from the water moccasin, escaping from the rocks, heading straight toward Butch. If he hadn’t already dreaded the sight of snakes, that would have synched it. Another time, they handed him a 12-gauge shotgun, knowing he had no experience with guns, and told him it was a 22-gauge rifle that had no kick at all. Needless to say, he learned a lot about guns and my cousins as he lay there on his back wondering what happened. I’m sure they were disappointed that he was too old to fool with the snipe hunt. He grew to love all of them, giving as much as he got among my rowdy cousins, and even enjoying the hugs.

On the opposite end of the spectrum were the ways in which my family has been there for us over the years. When we married, Butch was in the Army. His pay was very low. Three weeks after we arrived in Texas from California, we had three days left before his next paycheck and no food. We had one dime and a few coke bottles we could recycle. Out of the blue, my cousin and her husband from a nearby air force base, showed up for a surprise visit. Discovering our plight, they bought us enough food for three days and gas for our car. I found a job right away so we had enough to go around the next month. But we would have been in dire straights without them. We frequently headed to a nearby town for pizza on Friday nights but diverted to visit that cousin instead. I don’t think we ever made it to the pizza place. My sister, her husband, and I drove with our children to a family reunion when we were all young and broke. Sadly, we blew an engine somewhere in Texas. Cousins pitched in for expenses. Despite the distance from Grandmama’s, there were cousins nearby to house us, get us on the train home, and help the stragglers repair the van. When Butch died, my aunts and a cousin made the trek from Louisiana to California for the memorial. It was wonderful to be wrapped in their love. The whole family stays in touch via social media. They have celebrated my accomplishments in Butch’s absence, reminding me I’m loved and supported.

I decided I needed a big dose of those hugs this Thanksgiving. In an uncharacteristic move, I shifted things around, so I could leave for five days and stock up on huggy-feely. In addition to a steady banquet of Southern delicacies, I enjoyed a parade of hugging relatives. I was reminded, again, that despite Butch being gone, I am far from alone in the world. He is with me here, in the memories and the stories.

Becoming us without them provides us with an advanced degree in iceberg science. The initial shock of losing a loved one is different for everyone. In the early days it is much like being encased in ice, cold and numb. There is so much to deal with but so little interest in doing any of it. The pain is intense. We feel brittle and easily shattered. Those who have never sustained a major loss see only the tip of the iceberg. That looks manageable enough to them. They assure us with a litany of platitudes. As our grieving goes on, they wonder why we seem to be taking so long. Our grieving mentors, on the other hand, are fully aware of the enormity of the iceberg we actually face.

As time goes by and the initial busyness ends, the thawing uncovers new layers of pain. We may have hoped that “time heals all wounds” could actually be true. That is a hopeful fantasy. The second year is often worse than the first. With time, the numbness melts. The thawing layers expose us to chilling blasts from awakening to yet another long day in a world without them. The best memories remind us of the deepest losses. But layer by layer, we begin to feel alive again. Much to our surprise, we find them living in the deepest part of our being. The memories more frequently wash over us like a warm ocean wave rather than a stabbing shard of ice. We experience their tender presence more often than the ache of their absence. We come to understand the enormity of the iceberg in a more peaceful way. Those unpredictable moments of stabbing pain become familiar landmarks on the journey of grief that we now accept as our future. There awakens a version of us without them that we can embrace and even begin to enjoy. Hope glimmers in the distance.

Isolation is our worst enemy, leaving us trapped in frozen waters and prolonging the painful thawing process unnecessarily. Our support network draws the iceberg into warmer water where the healing occurs. There can’t be too many hugs, smiles, or words of encouragement. We can ask for them and accept them whenever they are offered. We can search endlessly for loving people to hang out with and keep going back.

Accept no excuses from that person who stares back at you in the mirror. They can’t be trusted. Ask, seek, knock.


Sep. 16, 2018

In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. shares his journey of grief after the death of his wife.  “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.  I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.  The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.  I keep on swallowing.”  As I stood in a hospital beside Butch and watched him take his last breath, I felt terror.  I thought it was pain, but that would come later.  In that moment, surrounded by people who loved me, I was drowning in fear.

Becoming us without them will take a different path for each person.  The twists and turns will unfold in a unique way and at just the right time.  We may step off the path and set up camp along the way.  Only the stories of those who have seen the way ahead give us the courage to break camp and keep moving.

Butch was someone that others would happily follow across the continent on a wagon train with full confidence that he could deliver everyone safely to the new frontier.  The modern equivalent of that was our traveling miles across the country in old cars with the absolute confidence that he could fix anything that broke.  His father taught him what he called “Oklahoma Engineering.”  If you didn’t have the tool you needed, just make one.  He inherited the tools handed down from his grandfather and his father.  When he died, we found not only classic old tools, but many objects that were very clever, but definitely one of a kind.  Even after he had the money to buy what he needed, he often crafted or modified what he needed, just for the challenge.  Now that he is gone, when I don’t know how to do something immediately, I ask myself, “What would Butch do?” Miraculously, I discover that being married to MacGyver is somewhat contagious.  I actually come up with ideas based on watching him for years and solve tricky problems on my own.  In other cases, I thank God for YouTube, and the men that step up when I need them, to help me with what I can’t do myself.

I hadn’t fully understood how inherently afraid I was until he died. I didn’t know how much courage I borrowed from him. In the beginning of the grieving process, it made sense that I was so miserable.  We had been together since we were 17, fought through three rounds of marriage counseling to be different than generations past, and had arrived at a place of comfort and intimacy by age 64 (Better late than never).  We believed there were many good years ahead of us.  Losing that was terrible. 

Entering the third year in the grieving process, I noticed that much of what I was feeling seemed as strong or stronger than at the beginning.  Being a trauma therapist, I began trying to figure that out.  People reminded me that grief takes as long as it needs, and I was probably expecting too much of myself in terms of “getting over it.”  It wasn’t that it felt bad that was the problem.  It just felt “off.” 

In a therapy session of my own, I realized, that as the daughter of an extremely insecure mother, I had absorbed her fear.  It didn’t help that she was often verbally abusive, assuring me that my breach birth was an indication that I couldn’t even be born right.  I tried very hard to be good enough to earn her love.  This included the classis oldest child tactic of parenting my younger siblings in my role as the best little enabler you ever met. Overwhelmed by life, she often threatened to leave if “somebody didn’t do something.”  We lived in a wind tunnel, always waiting for someone to flip the invisible switch that would send us all into the chaos of her outbursts.  I came to understand that I lived with a sense of impending disaster my whole life.  A part of me was relieved when bad things happened because the waiting was over…..briefly. 

Another therapist and I were given the opportunity to do a workshop recently, on the topic of anxiety and grief.  Looking at grief through the lens of trauma and what we now know about how the nervous system adapts to traumatic events helped me put the pieces of my own grief puzzle together. Reading about concepts like mindful grieving and radical acceptance flipped a switch, and the light dawned. There are certainly moments when the pain of missing Butch feels like a sudden stab with a burning poker.  But most of the time, what I was feeling was fear, not pain. 

The nervous system has a very clever way of forcing us to take care of ourselves.  The pain of a sunburn keeps us from further damaging our injured skin until we heal.  But it is clear that if we are still protecting our skin as if it was newly burned weeks after the burn, it is fear of pain, not actual pain that is the problem.  The pain following a loss works in much the same way.  Our entire world is turned upside down.  Someone who was an important part of the rhythm of life is gone and we are in shock.  The very nature of grief causes us to slow down, pull back, and protect ourselves from further damage until we heal enough to go back out into life and start again.  If we grew up in a family that modeled safety and belonging and taught us to be resilient in tough times, we rebound from loss very differently than those who are not.  The former grow from the loss and come out better and stronger.  The later fortify their defenses to prevent the next loss from occurring.  It feels like a matter of survival.  Since loss is inevitable, the only hope is to avoid being hurt again by avoiding risk altogether.  The natural urges to step back out into life must be thwarted.  The nervous system responds to that survival terror and uses pain to force us to “take care of ourselves.” 

I realized that I was drowning in the fear of pain, not pain itself.  Trying to find myself and the new person I was becoming felt like loosing Butch a little bit more with each step forward.  Periods of enjoying my new resilience and confidence were followed by days of paralysis and procrastination.  Like many trauma survivors, I was standing in a cage constructed by the fear of the next disaster, unable to see that there wasn’t even a lock on the door.   It felt like leaving the cage would result in my running completely off the edge of the Earth.  Strangely, just saying all that out loud while writing and delivering the information in the workshop helped me differentiate between actual pain and fear.  I immediately realized that I couldn’t lose Butch, even if I tried.  Strictly speaking, my nervous system has been formed by millions of interactions with him that aren’t going anywhere.  I can add millions more interactions with life to my story and Butch will remain safely stored. 

Somehow people equate “moving on” with entering a new relationship.  But if that is all we do, then the new relationship is a patch, not a repair.  If we do not fully discover and explore “us without them” we miss out on so much.  Our grieving mentors and support people help us remind ourselves that doing nothing doesn’t prevent pain, it guarantees it.  As we take small risks and survive, we can take larger ones.  As we allow ourselves to grow into what we were created to be all along, we become resilient.  At each new juncture, we fight the fear that calls itself pain.  This allows us to have more compassion for ourselves when we feel the actual pain that will be with us for a lifetime. 

Only when we are able to enter deeply and expectantly into relationship with ourselves are we fit to be in relationship with God and others.