Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘grieving

Sunday Thoughts: Working Through Pain

with 6 comments

Folks, as it’s Sunday, it’s time for me to reflect on something bigger, something more profound…or at least something I usually don’t.

This week, I wanted to talk about pain, whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. We all deal with pain from time to time in our lives, and it can seem overwhelming. And dealing with the pain is damned hard, because it takes so much of our energy just to keep functioning while we hurt.

I wish I could tell you that the pain will go away tomorrow. Unfortunately, I can’t. (Refer back to the apocryphal Buddha story of how everyone suffers in life for further details. I wrote a blog on this a while back.)

What I can tell you is that you’re the same person you were before, with a few more life experiences under your belt. And that none of us — not one, single, solitary, blessed person — gets through life unscathed.

But while you’re in pain, it’s very hard to function. Especially when the pain is new and raw.

All you can do at such times is take it day by day, moment by moment, sometimes even minute by minute. And remember that who you are at your worst is not who you are any more than who you are at your best; it’s all the places in the middle that matter more to you, as a person, than that. (Though of course most of us try to be our best selves as often as we can, that isn’t always possible. And we have to forgive ourselves when we can’t do it — while vowing to do better later, natch.)

My late husband Michael had a trick that I always attributed to his adherence to Zen Buddhism, in that he told me at times like this to feel the pain, no matter how bad it is, for ten minutes. Then, after ten minutes, tell yourself, “OK, self, I’ve heard you. I’ve felt this pain. Now I need to get on and do what I need to do anyway.” Most of the time, doing that will allow you to carry out the rest of your day unscathed; some of the time, though, you may have to repeat this exercise two, three, even four times a day, just so you can do whatever you can the rest of the time, and tell yourself that you have, indeed, heard and felt what your inner self is insisting you must hear and feel right now, thanks.

I know these tricks do help. They aren’t a cure-all, no. They aren’t going to make the pain go away. They aren’t going to make you feel that much better, either…because that’s not the purpose of the exercise.

Instead, the purpose is to help you remember that you can still do things.

You aren’t stuck forever, in short, unless you want to be. (And most of us don’t, though sometimes it does take a while to get through the pain. It took me nearly twelve years, after my husband died, to deal with the worst of it, for example. I still have moments where it seems overwhelming, even now.)

You do have options, even in times of great pain. There may not be many, and they may be just the best of all the available horrible options. But you do have a few, and you have to be able to look coldly and rationally at what they are, so you can make the best decisions possible for yourself.

As I’ve said before, you do matter. Who you are, who you want to be, who you’ve always been…that all matters. And what you do for yourself to create beauty, joy, and purpose is also incredibly meaningful.

These are the things that make life worth it, in spite of the pain. (Or maybe because of it. But that’s a separate, future blog post.)

So, do your best to look past the pain, if you can. (Can you tell I’ve dealt a lot with pain in my life?) But if you can’t, feel it as long as you need, and then go forth and do whatever it was you were going to do anyway.

That’s the best way to go, and eventually you will realize that you still have more to offer…even if it wasn’t quite in the exact, same way you’d hoped.

Advertisements

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 4, 2018 at 3:13 am

Musings on September and Mortality, Part 2

with 5 comments

Folks, last year I wrote this post about September and mortality. My husband Michael died in September of 2004, and I miss him even worse during September than all of the other months put together — though that seems almost impossible, considering how much I miss him all the time.

Anyway, that blog is still a good read, but I wanted to update it a little. Maybe talk more about what I loved about my husband — how he lived, and what he enjoyed doing, and what he thought life was about — as those memories are among the best I have. And for some reason, I realized I’d never put them together quite in this way…thus, this blog.

So, here’s a few of the many wonderful things I remember about my husband, in no particular order:

Michael believed that if you were going to do something, do it with all your heart and soul. He committed to things, in his own quiet, wry way, but did so in such a fashion that you had to know him very well to realize just how passionate he was about the things that mattered to him.

He was self-deprecating to a fault, loved puns, loved how words went together, and helped many writers codify their thoughts.

Michael believed in a Higher Power — he called it “Goddess,” but said if someone else wanted to call it “God,” “Deity,” or “Hey, You, Big Guy in the Sky,” it didn’t matter to him. He wasn’t sure what the Goddess was doing all the time, but he firmly believed that living the best life he could had led him to me…and me to him, in turn.

Michael believed in blessings, and in miracles. (He thought our marriage was both.)

Michael pretended he didn’t care much about professional sports, but he actually did. He loved baseball, football, and could tolerate basketball (mostly because he admired both the athleticism and erudition of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). He’d been into running, as a kid, and if he hadn’t developed arthritis in both knees early in adulthood, he’d probably have continued to run until the end of his life. (As it was, he enjoyed brisk walks, using his wooden shillelagh on days he felt he needed additional support.)

Michael loved music. All forms of music. His favorite group was Kitaro, which plays a type of Classical fusion music infused with Japanese and Asian themes. He also enjoyed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Cher, musical theatre, and Barbra Streisand.

Being married to an instrumental musician who couldn’t sing a lick was new to him, mind. But he loved to hear me play. I played my five-piece suite for alto saxophone (alone), Creation, for him, and also the Paul Creston Sonata and some of the Ibert Concertino di Camera…but he probably liked the Alexander Glazunov Concerto the best.

Of course, Michael also heard me play the clarinet many times, too. There, I think he probably liked the Mozart Concerto the best, along with Saint-Saens and Poulenc and a number of other pieces. Mozart was his favorite, though, because of the clear and distinct melodic line.

And Michael adored writing. He spent much time on his stories, getting the universes  right, thinking about all the different permutations of this, that, and the other…he could be astonishingly meticulous on one hand, and then say, “What the Hell?” on the other and laugh.

Michael did love to laugh. Nearly everything could be funny, and, given time, he’d find a way to make even the worst situation seem much less bleak.

So, even though it’s September, and even though this is a very difficult and frustrating month for me in many senses (especially as CHANGING FACES is still not done, and that vexes me no end), I am doing my best to remember my husband Michael as he was. He was a living, breathing, thinking man who inspired me, encouraged me, and gave me a tremendous amount of love and support.

When I can see him, smiling, or maybe leaning over my shoulder saying, “Did you mean to say that? OK…,” I feel better. Because so long as I continue to live, at least part of him lives on…it might not be the part he expected, or I did, either, but it’s still here. I remember him, and remember his goodness and his worth and his humanity and the allness of him.

In short, Michael’s life mattered. And I will never, ever forget it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 12, 2016 at 1:04 pm

Losing the Family Pet

leave a comment »

A week ago, one of my family’s dogs died.

Blackie was a sweet-tempered, forty-two pound Cocker spaniel who enjoyed food, walks, driving in the car, and being around human beings.  We were endlessly fascinating to him, and he to us — especially as he had two younger compatriots to keep an eye on that were always getting into mischief.

Over the last year, Blackie’s health wasn’t as good as it had been before.  He showed obvious signs of aging, including the stark white muzzle contrasting amidst his all-black natural fur coat.  He still ate well, drank plenty of water, and got his exercise . . . but he had obviously slowed down.  He took many more naps.  He didn’t hear as well.  He startled easily.  And he had severe separation anxiety whenever his family members weren’t around, which was worse than all the rest of it put together.

Still, he remained a gentle, good-hearted dog whose only flaw was in how many times he could knock the garbage pail over in his endless search for food.

That is, until last Monday.

Something happened on that day that I cannot explain.  He started feeling poorly.  He did not want to eat, but while I noted it at the time, Blackie did eat a little bit and drank as much water as ever.  He even went outside, as he usually did, and sniffed for a long time at the yard.

That was the last time I saw him go out.

On Tuesday, he mostly lay on the couch.  He was gasping for air, and it grew worse the longer I listened.  But our vet had gone home for the day, and Blackie had only just gotten sick — so we thought we could wait.

A few hours later, Blackie somehow got off the couch and into the kitchen.  By the time I got there, the floor was full of urine-tinged blood.  Blackie lay quietly by the outside door, and before I set to clean up the floor, I petted him for a few minutes.  I told him, my voice breaking, that I knew he’d been trying to go out.  And I told him, “Good dog.”

Then I got out the bleach, put it in some hot water, and started cleaning up the floor.   My Mom helped after a few minutes.

It took quite a while, an undifferentiated moment of eternity, before both of us were able to not only clean the floor, but get Blackie back up again.  We cleaned him as best we could with paper towels as neither of us thought he could stand to be put in the tub, mostly because his legs were shaking and it was obvious he was extremely ill, then got him back up on the couch.

Mom and I discussed what to do.  There is a local animal hospital that takes patients twenty-four hours a day, but it’s also extremely expensive.  And we really wanted Blackie to see his own vet, the vet who knew him, if at all possible.

So we waited.

Overnight, I watched Blackie.  I gave him a little water — maybe he drank a half a cup, if that much — and offered him a bit of bread soaked in milk, as that had calmed him a few times in the past.  Blackie licked a bit at the milk, but could not eat.

This was an ominous sign.

Blackie insisted on being moved to his usual place in the middle of the hallway, where he could keep an eye on everyone.  It wasn’t easy, as he could barely walk by this point, but he and I made our slow and stately way to the hall, where he lay on a freshly laundered, extra-large dogbed.

I needed to get some rest, so my Mom got up to watch Blackie as we waited for the vet’s office to open up.  But when she called, it turned out that our vet was not in the office.  We were referred over to a different animal hospital that’s less expensive than the twenty-four hour one, and prepared to get Blackie ready to go.

However, when Mom wasn’t looking, Blackie must have convulsed.  She asked me to check on him as she was afraid he was dead.  There was vomit on his muzzle by the time I was able to get to him, and he was no longer breathing.  His eyes were open in puzzlement, while the other two dogs stared in shock.

It is not legal to bury your dog in your backyard where I live.  We knew that.  So we called to find out what was legal, and found that cremating your pet in a mass cremation (where you do not get to keep the ashes) would be fifty dollars.  And as that’s far more dignified of an exit than putting poor Blackie in a garbage bag — something we flatly refused to do, even though people do it all the time despite its illegality — we decided to do that.

There was a nearly four-hour wait before we could bring Blackie in to the crematory.  All that time, Blackie lay where he was, until Mom got out a sheet to carry him in.  We got Blackie to the car, where Mom flatly refused to put him in the trunk.  (I didn’t like the idea myself, but thought it might spare Mom what followed.)  Instead, Mom carried Blackie on her lap all the way to the crematory, dressed only in a sheet.

The owner of the crematory was there to help us get Blackie inside, which was a good thing as both of us were about to break down.  The kind man took our money, promised that Blackie would be cremated with dignity, and gave us a flyer about pet loss with several helpful Web sites on it.

Then we drove away again.

I haven’t discussed it publicly until now because it’s been a really rough go.  I’ve been ill with some sort of allergy along with a nasty virus, and grieving Blackie’s loss just puts the snow atop the mountain.

Besides, even though Blackie was a sweet dog, he wasn’t my favorite.

Still, I enjoyed being around him.  Blackie, like me, was a night owl, and an ideal companion for a writer.  He demanded almost nothing, and gave back so very, very much.

Basically, Blackie was a dog that had all the classic Cocker spaniel traits, good and bad.  He was a very kind-hearted dog that made canine and human friends extremely easily.  He loved everyone he met.   He adored being petted.  And he lived the life of Reilly for eleven years, the eleven years he spent in my Mom’s household after being adopted from the Humane Society.

Maybe that’s the best epitaph anyone can ever write for a dog.  “He loved everyone he met.”

I will miss that big, black dog.  And I do hope that someday, maybe in the next world that is said to be far more beautiful than our own, I’ll get to tell him one more time what a good dog he always was.  (Even when he was knocking over the garbage.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 10, 2013 at 4:40 am