Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘grief

“Sadiversary” Week, Fatigue, Illness…

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Folks, later this week will be the fourteenth “sadiversary” — that is, the saddest anniversary there is — of my late husband Michael’s death. I struggle with this every year; unlike some widows and widowers, I seem stuck, and think more and more about him over time rather than less and less.

Granted, I’ve also done my best to “make new memories” and have even gone on a few dates. (Two, to be exact.) And I was in a long-distance friendship with a guy for a while with that I’d hoped for more with…but it didn’t happen. So it’s not like I’ve just shut myself down cold, even though it took a long time to even get to the point where I could try to do these things.

I keep wanting to wake up one day, and find out the previous fourteen years are nothing but a bad dream. My husband, in this scenario, is alive, glowingly vibrant, cooking me meals, helping with my stories as I helped with his (and yes, while I cook, too, Michael was the better cook; I was glad to step aside for him).

Hell, my husband even would do all the laundry, knowing I have a bad back, and if I was allowed to do anything at all, it was to sit at the laundromat with him “looking decorative” and of course carrying on a conversation.

Those were the days.

Instead, I wake up and find that the stark reality is, I’m here, he’s not, all the work I’ve struggled with, everything I’ve done, is not enough. Too few people even seem to be able to find out about our work, much less like it enough to tell friends about it who might also tell others.

When I’m sick, as I am now (I am guessing a sinus issue and possibly a weak onset of the flu), it makes it harder to believe that I am doing everything I can. And yet, I know I am. There isn’t any single thing I could be doing any differently; I can only do what I can do, and if it’s not enough, and if it drives me crazy that it’s not enough, well, I just have to live with that.

I’m grateful for my family and my friends. I’m also grateful for the two guys I went on dates with, even though I’m sure they were awkward and I knew I was very awkward, too. Even the guy I crashed and burned with in the long-distance friendship taught me something…I’m not dead, and I don’t think Michael would want me to do my best imitation of a vestal virgin because he’s already on the Other Side.

Still, I look at the totality of my life since my husband died, and it frustrates me so much.

Maybe we all feel this way, when we’re sick, that we haven’t done what we set out to do, and that we are failures because of that.

And I never expected Michael, the goodness of him, the totality of his existence, the love he brought to my life, and the sly sense of humor that invigorated every conversation and interaction with him. (As I’m trying to keep this to a PG level, as I know there are at least a few younger kids who read this blog on a regular basis, I won’t talk about the rest of it — shall we say that everything, absolutely everything, about my marriage with Michael was phenomenal, and leave it at that? Yes? Good.)

All I can do now is go on. It’s hard. I haven’t been able to see the road in front of me since the day Michael died. And even at my best with the three guys who’ve put up with me long enough to want to get to know me a little better, I still didn’t see anything but glimmers.

So, that’s where I am right now. I am sick. But tonight I’m going to try to edit, and I did manage to write this blog. Tomorrow I will do laundry, and think about Michael while I do it (as that makes me feel better, as I definitely don’t enjoy doing laundry in any way, shape, or form, but I do enjoy clean clothes). I’ll get to the doctor, do what they say to do, talk with my counselor of course as this is a very highly-fraught week, and do what she says also as best I can.

And I’ll try to be as good to myself as I can, even though that’s not something I’m all that good at.

P.S. Next week, I hope to talk about fun things again, or at least current events things…something different.

 

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Written by Barb Caffrey

September 18, 2018 at 10:53 pm

Turning Bad Circumstances into Good Ones

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It’s Friday the 13th, so I thought I’d talk about how to turn bad circumstances into good ones. (Or, at least, into better ones?)

“Why, Barb, did you pick Friday the 13th for this blog?” you ask, wearily.

Well, the answer is simple. On Friday the 13th, everyone worries more about accidents, superstitions, odd events…and what’s odder than turning a bad circumstance into a good one?

Yeah, I realize that’s not how most people think of it. Instead, we think about the negative stuff going on all around us. And it’s very easy to find…we all have stuff in our lives that could be, shall we say, improved.

And it’s hard to think about improving things, when everything seems against you.

I’ve had my back to the wall at least ten times in my life. It’s not pleasant. Every time, I’ve thought whatever was going on would break me. I’ve been through deaths of loved ones (including my beloved husband Michael), divorces before I even found Michael at all, at least five major moves, job losses, and economic hardship, and I haven’t enjoyed any of it.

(If I did, though, wouldn’t you wonder what I was about? I would, in your place. But I digress.)

What you have to do when you’re at a breaking point is to keep going. Remember that you didn’t ask for this to happen. You are just doing the best you can. Maybe you’ve made mistakes, but we all have…the trick is not to give up on yourself and not to give up on your talents, no matter what is stacked against you.

And as bad as dealing with horrific events (like deaths of loved ones in particular) can be, there actually is one positive side to it that I’ve found.

Ready?

I realized  that going through all the negative experiences in my life has actually sensitized me to other people’s suffering. And along the way, I found that being able to help someone else, even if it’s only a little bit, did two great things: It helped the other person realize they were not alone, and it also made me feel better as a human being to reach out and help someone who truly needed it.

Maybe that’s why we have things like “Do unto others as they do unto you” (the Golden Rule). It’s not just that we want to be treated well; it’s that we need to treat others well for our own well-being, and to become our best selves.

Anyway, the point of this blog is, sometimes life just stinks. There are things you have to do sometimes that you never wanted to — that you never even conceived of, when you started out as a young adult — but you have no choice.

When you’re at one of those places, step back, and try to realize that you are not alone. You can come back from whatever it is that you’re facing with time, courage, fortitude, will, and effort. Best of all, you will be able to better understand yourself and others when you do…and I don’t know of any other way to turn a bad circumstance into a good one than that.

Holidays, Grief, and Disappointment

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Folks, as we all know, the holidays are upon us.

As I have written before (most recently last year, here), this is an awful time of year for anyone who has suffered losses. You can’t help but think about those you miss, especially when you have happy memories of better days when they were alive, well, and completely themselves.

I don’t have the answers for how to deal with this, despite having to deal with it for so long. As time passes, I know I’ll be grieving more and more people, and that’s the way life works — some of us keep going, and remember those who have passed before us, and try to honor their memories as best we’re able.

But that doesn’t make it easy.

In addition, because this is a highly-fraught time of year, any disappointment you receive at this time seems magnified. By a hundred, maybe, or even a thousand…it’s an illusion, mind, borne of the fact that you’re probably already under stress for various reasons, you’re expected to be “happy happy, joy joy” all the time at this time of year, and maybe you’re expending energy you didn’t realize you were using to stay on an even keel.

When I’m disappointed, whether it’s in someone else, myself, the world at large, whatever, I try to take a step back. Will this matter in a week? Will this matter in a month? Will this matter in a year?

If the answers to all of those questions are “no,” it’s a little easier to push past the disappointment.

“But Barb,” you say. “What is it about this time and people getting on each other’s nerves?”

Believe me, I wish I knew.

What I do know is that I try hard not to get upset by what other people do. Sometimes I observe this more in the breach than in its keeping, but I honestly do try.

OK, not everyone is going to be be what you want them to be. (Maybe no one is. Maybe you, yourself, aren’t, either.) Maybe you don’t have the life you want. Maybe nothing went right for you this year. And maybe, just maybe, you are having trouble hoping that tomorrow will be better than today.

That is normal, human, and you have to realize that other people feel the same damned thing.

So, yeah. This time of year is very hard for me. I feel almost as if I’m a chronic observer rather than completely in the mix of life and all its pleasures (and annoyances), and that’s only partly because I’m a writer and my observational skills have been heightened by years of practice.

All I can do, quite frankly, is endure the holidays. Get past them. And hope that 2017 will be a whole lot better than 2016.

Anyway, may we all treat our loved ones, friends, and co-workers gently at this time of year, and throughout the year…and may we all be richly blessed, one way or another.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 22, 2016 at 11:32 am

Anniversary Thoughts — and Book Recs (from me)

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Folks, it’s my fourteenth wedding anniversary today, as I write this. (Actually, it’s nearly over, as it’s after eleven p.m. as I type this out.) And while I’m happy to remember my late husband Michael, and the happiest day of my life — our wedding day — spending my anniversary alone, again, is not the world’s most pleasant thing.

Grief is a very strange thing, you see. It’s a personal journey of sorts; how well can you cope with the pain? How well can you go on with your life, and all its vicissitudes, and yet do your best to honor your loved ones…honor your memories?

Every person’s grief-journey is different. Mine has been long, protracted, and difficult, but along the way I’ve met many wonderful people and reaffirmed long-standing friendships. I talk about Michael with my friends, and about how much I miss him, and about how much he did to help me as a writer and editor…and also about how much he enjoyed listening to me play my instruments (usually I played my clarinet, sometimes the alto sax), or discussing the music I was writing, or really anything at all.

Michael enjoyed so many things, you see. He was a strong, vibrant presence, even though he, of course, did not see himself that way.

I’m glad to have met him, married him, and been together with him until he passed — way too soon — in 2004. I will honor our wedding day every day of my life, but most especially on our anniversary.

That said, I also wanted to talk a little about writing today. Michael was a writer, and he loved to write. He also loved reading my stories, and talking with me about works in progress; I like to think that he’d be ecstatic that ELFY is out in two parts, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE, because Michael thought Bruno’s journey from discarded orphan to worthy hero was well worth reading. (Plus, it’s funny, and Michael, like me, was always partial to that.)

My publisher has priced AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE at ninety-nine cents, so it’s quite affordable. And if you enjoy that, you can go grab A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE for only $2.99 — the two together are less than the price of most fast-food hamburger meals, and are far more satisfying (with far fewer empty calories, too).

That being said, I also wanted to point out that several other stories are available right now, including several that Michael had a great deal of input in (actually writing two of them). All are ninety-nine cents to buy, but are free to read with Kindle Unlimited. (I still plan to get up versions for other sites, but that hasn’t happened yet.)

TO SURVIVE THE MAELSTROM is a novella featuring Peter Welmsley, one of the few survivors of the Battle of Hunin. How can he continue to live while his best friend, much less his fiancée as well, are dead? And what does an empathic were-mouse have to do with Peter, anyway?

Note that the Marketing for Romance Writers Group on Goodreads featured TO SURVIVE THE MAELSTROM as its book of the week for June 21, 2016…thank you so much for that!

Also, considering I’m talking about my husband this evening, the main impetus for me to write this story was a 2,000 word story fragment Michael left behind. I wanted to figure out the rest of the story…so I did. (And I do hope you will enjoy it.)

Next is Michael’s fantasy-romance novella COLUMBA AND THE CAT. This story features Princess Columba of Illnowa; she does not want to be a princess, as she’s suited to be a musician-sorceress instead. She’s been looking around for a familiar animal — someone to help her with her mage-studies — and happens across a small cat with unusual markings while out riding. She rescues the cat, and then magical things start to happen…including dreams of a near-perfect suitor (not young, not overly handsome, but smart and funny and interesting). But the cat is a shapeshifter…when, oh when, will Columba figure that out?

And, finally, there are the two stories of spaceman and adventurer Joey Maverick, written by Michael (with the second story being finished and expanded by me), A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT and ON WESTMOUNT STATION.

I hope you will give these books and stories a try, as it’s the only present I want for this, my fourteenth anniversary. (And thank you.)

Buddha’s Advice for the Grieving (An Apocryphal Story)

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Folks, it’s that time of year again. It’s the holiday season, and as I’ve written before, here and here, it’s the time of the year when grieving people feel the most alone and misunderstood.

We feel isolated, you see. And that sense of isolation gets worse when you hear all the festive music, see all the twinkling holiday lights…so many people are bustling around buying gifts, you’d think that was the only reason anyone ever had to celebrate Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, Christmas, or any other celebration save Festivus.

For some reason tonight, I was thinking about a story my late husband Michael told me about Gautama Buddha. (Michael was a Zen Buddhist.) This is in my best paraphrase, and does not come from a holy text — but I hope it will prove enlightening despite its apocryphal nature.

A distraught woman came to the Buddha and said, “I feel terrible. I grieve so much — surely there is some place on this Earth where people don’t hurt like this? Teach me, Buddha.”

And the Buddha is said to have told her, “I cannot give you this answer. But if you go around the world, ask people about grief. Then come back and let me know; I want the answer, too.”

So the woman went around the world and asked if anyone had the answers.

What she found is that everyone grieved something. Whether it was the loss of a loved one, the loss of a beloved pet, the loss of opportunities, even the loss of jobs, everyone grieved about something.

So the woman went back to the Buddha and said, “I did not find anyone who does not grieve, Buddha. Now what?”

And the Buddha gently told her, “Daughter, that is your answer.”

You see, if we all realized that we all grieve, there would be more understanding in this world. And understanding is the key to peace, if not necessarily the key to happiness itself…and it is understanding, along with the love of friends and family, that can help you when you feel lost and alone due to grief.

That does not take the grief away, mind. Nothing can.

But if you can talk about it, if you can accept it, that is the first step toward peace during this fractious, difficult, and often frustrating holiday season.

So please, do what you can to talk with your family members this holiday season, even the difficult ones who suffer from grief, anxiety, frustration, angst…try to show them kindness, love, and support.

That, to my mind, is the best gift you can possibly give during this holiday season.

Musings on September…and Mortality

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Folks, it’s no secret that I do not like September.

Why? Well, the main reason is that my husband Michael died during this month. So when the weather turns to fall (or at least the calendar does; in Wisconsin, we’re still in summertime mode for whatever reason), I start having trouble with all sorts of things.

You see, it’s hard to create when you’re fighting against grief. Because grieving takes energy. A surprising amount of it, actually…and even though I try hard to set that all aside, sometimes I just can’t.

Mind, I know my husband Michael would not want it to be this way. He was all about laughter, and joyfulness, and creativity…this isn’t the legacy he’d want, for me to feel terrible during the month of September.

Even so, I feel what I feel. Trying to change that doesn’t do any good.

So what do I do when grief gets to be too much? Usually, I read something amusing or divert myself with sports documentaries. (I’m quite partial to ESPN’s “30 for 30” series.)

Sometimes, though, I just have to experience the mourning. I don’t like doing this, but by accepting these awful feelings, I can better put them aside. (I learned this trick from Michael, who was a Zen Buddhist. He felt it made no sense to deny how you truly feel about anything. But if you accept the feelings, whatever they are, and then tell yourself, “I’ve heard them” or “I’ve felt them,” then it’s a little easier to set it aside. I’m not sure why this works, exactly, but it does.)

What’s frustrating is when I run into someone who says, “Barb, it’s been eleven years. Why in the Hell can’t you get past this?”

I know it’s been nearly eleven years. Yet some days, it feels like yesterday; on others, it feels like forever.

Michael was by far the most important person in my life, and I miss him every day. He saw me for what I was, loved every part of me (even the parts of myself I have a hard time loving), helped me create the Elfyverse, cheered me on while I wrote an earlier draft (or two) of CHANGING FACES…he was my biggest cheerleader, my biggest partisan, and my best friend, along with being the only man I’ve ever met who truly understood me.

Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to “get over” his loss. Because it truly is an incalculable loss, and I am well aware that it is. And I refuse to deny this truth, because if I did, I’d be a much different — and far lesser — person.

Besides, I don’t think you ever “get past” someone you loved deeply. I think all you can do is go on; you don’t “move on,” exactly — you go on, with the memories you have and the experiences you’ve had, and you do your best to build on them.

I know Michael would want me to continue to fight it out with CHANGING FACES, and he’d probably say in the end, no one will be able to tell just where I’ve struggled, and why.

So even though September, in general, is a bad month, I’m going to continue to do my best.

Michael wouldn’t want it any other way.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 16, 2015 at 7:18 am

Commentary on Charleston, plus cover reveal for “To Survive the Maelstrom”

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Folks, I’d planned to do this cover reveal today for my forthcoming short story, “To Survive the Maelstrom,” before the events in Charleston last night.

Because this story deals with loss, grief, and a soldier with PTSD finding a way to continue on with his life, I decided to go through with it anyway. I plan to release this story sometime next week in time for my thirteenth wedding anniversary.

But before I do that, I’d like to comment a little on the Charleston shooting.

My heart is heavy. I don’t understand why anyone would sit through an hour’s worth of Bible study, then calmly and coldly shoot nine people to death.

I know that the man who’s been ID’ed as the shooter is a self-proclaimed racist. I know that he wanted to “kill black people,” and left one person alive to explain just why he did this. I also know the shooter is only twenty-one years old…because I don’t like talking about someone so evil, so twisted, and so bizarre, I’m not going to give this perpetrator the dignity of having a name. (I think he lost that when he took those nine people’s lives in cold blood.)

Anyway, while I cannot understand the shooting in Charleston at all — a church, of all places, should be safe, even in times like these — I do understand how it feels to live after grief. And overpowering grief is very difficult to bear.

This is why I wrote “To Survive the Maelstrom.”

Note that Michael, my late husband, is credited for two reasons. One, I’m playing in his Atlantean Union universe. And two, I found the story of how Peter, my hero, met his weremouse (an empathic, sentient creature), to be uplifting and inspiring — and Michael had the bare bones of it in one of his unfinished manuscripts.

The blurb for “To Survive the Maelstrom” will go something like this:

Maelstrom3Command Sergeant-Major Sir Peter Welmsley has lost everything he holds dear and now suffers from PTSD. He wonders why he lived, when so many others died at Hunin — including his fiancée, Lydia, and his best friend Chet.

Into his life comes Grasshunter’s Cub, an empathic, sentient creature known to those on Heligoland as a “weremouse.” Grasshunter’s Cub is nearly adult, and knows he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the weremice in his tribe.

Weremice are known for their ability to help their bond-mates. But how can this young weremouse find a way to bring Peter back from the brink of despair and start living again?

Ultimately, “To Survive the Maelstrom” is a story of hope and faith, told in an unusual way. I hope readers of military science fiction will enjoy it.

I also hope that showing someone who’s lost everything and found a way to claw his way back will be inspirational, maybe even heartwarming.

Because we need stories like this right now.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 18, 2015 at 7:30 pm