Thursday, October 7, 2010

Birthday Blues and Revelation

Tuesday was Verna’s 46th birthday, so I feel compelled to share something about her. Though she was generally quiet, she possessed a finely tuned sarcastic wit. One time, at a party where we dressed as grown-ups, Verna in a long, low-cut black dress, me in a striped suit with a floral-print tie, we capped on each other so much that by the end of the evening our excitement levels had soared into the stratosphere. We traded barbs all night long and the result was a combination of verbal competition and lust.

I miss Verna. I miss being able to joke and tease and cuddle with her.

I celebrated her birthday by talking to her more during the day. After work I went to the cemetery. A few of our neighbors had left flowers. Our friend Amanda left flowers and a postcard, which ended perfectly: “Wish you were here.” I felt tears well up in my eyes.

We celebrated her birthday as a family at a local brew pub. Verna’s father, my mother and stepfather, and Miguel and Maya joined me at the Broken Drum, though I was feeling like the Broken Heart. I ordered my meal as soon as we arrived. I had to dash out for my first support group at hospice: Spousal or Partner Loss.

Our friend Tony said, “Don’t stay in the group if it doesn’t work for you.”

So I got there early and watched people enter the bereavement wing of the hospice building, thinking, “If I am the youngest person here, I am not coming back next week. I can only relate to people in my situation, those with young children.”

I sat in a large sofa chair, lips pursed, arms folded across my chest, just expecting everything not to work out.

Once the group settled in, I was clearly the youngest griever by at least ten years. We began by briefly sharing our stories. Of the ten people there, half had lost their wife, husband, or partner 8-12 months ago, and half of us had lost someone within the past 4-6 weeks. One woman’s partner, a man, died in early September.

On an intellectual level, I know that loss is loss is loss and that age is unimportant. On a visceral level, though, I felt I’d be unable to connect to people so far beyond my age cohort.

I was wrong.

As the evening wore on, I saw and felt how similar we all were. One woman spoke about crying outside the Safeway, unable to go in because she’d always shopped there with her husband. Another woman said how sad she was now just going home to an empty house and having no one with whom to share her day. A 61-year-old man talked about the double loss of his wife’s death in late August, a week before Verna died, and seeing his 18-year-old daughter off for her first year in college.

So I realized something deep inside of me that I already knew inside my foggy brain: loss is loss is loss. We are all grieving, together, apart, and this group of strangers, I knew, could come together and ease each other’s pain.

Another woman, in her early 70s, spoke of feeling lost without her mate of 55 years. “I just don’t know what to do anymore.”

We also shared what have been our hardest challenges since our loved ones have died. I said telling the kids that Verna had died, and now it’s balancing my overloaded life as I am back to work 30 hours a week. One woman, a corporate officer in a bank, said she may working too hard too soon. Her husband died two months ago.

As I scanned the room I saw and felt the loneliness and sadness, emotions that are part of my daily existence. Through grief and pain and moments of joy and blessing I felt extreme kinship to those people. When the facilitator asked us why we’d joined the group, I said, “Misery loves company. And being to share with people who really get it.”

Almost everyone nodded.

I guess it was fitting that I began my support group on the evening of Verna’s 46th birthday, as the raw emotions of grief still bubbled on the surface. I am not much in the mood for sarcastic repartee, but I’ll get there slowly.

Happy Birthday Verna. I love you.

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