Sometimes in life you have to get a little lost before you are truly able to find your way.

Posts tagged ‘grief’

Hold On Pain Ends

I learned the most wonderful new acronym recently: Hold On Pain Ends. It’s funny how simple it seems, but how difficult it can be to practice sometimes. I’ve written before about what it means to keep on hoping through desperate or painful or sad times. But this phrase carries a lot of special meaning for me. I recently stumbled across a picture of myself from nine years ago. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I almost didn’t recognize the face staring back at me. Young. Vibrant. Happy. Successful. I wondered how just nine years could age me so much. And here’s the real kicker – that photo was taken at about 1:30 a.m. after working nearly non-stop for three days on a big proposal at my consulting firm. I should have looked ragged and tired and worn. I couldn’t even physically work those hours today, much less look good doing it at 1:30 in the morning the third straight day.

So what was it about that time in my life? I was five years into this migraine ordeal. I was clearly working way too much. But I had held on. At times where there seemed absolutely no reason to believe that my pain would lessen, much less end, that I could find happiness given some of the struggles I was dealing with, reeling from the loss of some of my closest loved ones. I held on. I continued to HOPE. Against reason, against odds. And one day, 6 months prior to that picture being taken, I was put on a new drug protocol by a truly remarkable team of doctors at the Michigan Headpain and Neurological Institute in Ann Arbor, MI. And the pain became less. It strengthened me. It renewed me. When I say I look at that picture and I see success, it is not because I was making a ton of money or even that we won that contract; we lost it in fact. But I was more able than I had been in a very long time. I was able to work for days on end with almost no breaks for sleeping or eating. I was able to sit in that conference room, working through ridiculous amounts of paperwork, barking orders at people three times my senior for their lack of focus and stop to smile pretty for the camera for my new employee photo that just had to be taken at that exact moment because it was the first time I’d been in one place in the office long enough to for the girl from HR to track me down! Tt photo

All that is well and good, but putting things in perspective, there were five years there prior to that moment when one treatment after another DIDN’T work, right? And during that time I dealt with some things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, both physically and emotionally. I had learned a hard lesson early on in this migraine thing. HOPE is essential. But so is managing your EXPECTATIONS. If I had continued, as I did in the beginning, to EXPECT each new treatment or medication or procedure, or whatever, to work, I would have lost hope. I have not a doubt in my mind. Learning early on that most things were NOT going to work allowed the treatments that have had positive impacts be more successful, their results more genuine and the overall effects on my pain, my life and ability to maintain hope exponentially greater than if I went into each one expecting it to be “the one.”

When that treatment regimen that I began in July 2005 started working, it hit me out of the blue. The alleviation of my symptoms felt like it fell right out of heaven, knocked me on the head and bounced half the pain right out of there! There was no false positive. No placebo affect. I had approached my treatment for so many years with the “hope for the best, expect the worst” frame of mind that when real, measurable improvement came, it sent me soaring. I couldn’t doubt it. And for a long time after that the quality of my life truly was immeasurably changed. It was that change, in fact, that allowed me to deal with the death of my fiance, by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced. And that series of events, I know, happened in sequence just as it was meant to.

The marrying of those two essential functions – managing expectations and maintaining hope has saved me so many times. But I failed at one of them in an extraordinary way last year. After the last post, Suicide Won’t Fix It, I got a lot of feedback and a lot of tough questions. Some people were shocked. Some were sad, angry, confused. All of this, I expected. But the only explanation I can offer is this – I failed at managing my expectations. When I learned that I was a candidate for the neurostimulator implant surgery, I allowed my doctors to set my expectations at a completely unrealistic level. I envisioned no pain. I saw doors and avenues that have long been shut flinging wide open again! I saw absolutely limitless potential, every possibility available once again. I saw a new life. I saw a new me. After 12 1/2 years of very successfully managing my expectations, I made that one very grave mistake. And I rode the high of those expectations all the way to the moon. And when reality clashed with those expectations, I lost. I fell. HARD. It was the crushing blow that at one time I had been cautious enough to protect myself from, but from which I was at last was feeling the impact. When I came crashing down from that high, I crushed every ounce of hope I had managed to hold on to for nearly 13 years.

It’s one thing to live with chronic pain and to know that even with limitations, there are still some things that work; moments of feeling well, daily success stories. It is quite another to suddenly think you are on the brink of a new life, and to fall crashing back into that seemingly bottomless pit. So I urge you – whatever it is you deal with – migraines, fibro, depression, anxiety – manage your expectations and maintain your hope. It comes in many forms, but one way or another, in small ways or in big ones, if you do Hold On..the Pain does End.

hang in thereThere are some other interesting reasons why this acronym is so close to my heart. And this goes to show that things really do come full circle. When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with horses….mine in particular. Her name was Hope. I didn’t name her that; she came to me that way. And it was perfect. I had several posters in my room at the time. One was a herd of wild horses galloping down a beach. It was magnificent and there was one horse who reminded me so much of my Hope. And directly across from it on my other wall was a very famous poster with a picture of a tiny kitten hanging from a branch with the words “Hang In There.” I remember reading those words so many times over and over during difficult moments. And now, with this fabulous new acronym, those three wonderful things from my childhood – my horse and my two favorite posters are melded into one incredibly powerful phrase…Hold On Pain Ends. Some day I hope to be well enough to run a wildlife rehabilitation center. I have known for many years that if I am able to do it, I will name it New Hope Ranch. This lesson; this phrase; this entire lifetime of experience shows me that it is still the goal I must keep holding onto and keep striving to reach. court and hope

Suicide won’t fix it.

In a dark and hazy cloud my eyes slowly started to open. I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t swallow. I was choking. I reached for my throat; I needed air. But my arms moved only inches before the restraints arrested all efforts to stop my choking. My arms were tied. My legs were tied. My upper body strapped in place. I tried to lean forward. A woman rushed at me and pushed me back against the bed hard and told me to relax. RELAX? How could I relax? I was choking. And apparently restrained. But why? Where was I and how had I gotten there? She exited the room in a rush. I couldn’t move my arms enough to reach my face but I could lean forward just enough to reach the finger tips of one hand to the thing that was choking me. I tugged. Pain. I pulled. More pain, but progress. I yanked and with a painful, pressure-laden, tearing movement, the tube that was choking me finally came free of my throat. Relief came, but not without a good deal of pain. And blood. The woman came back. I looked at her and realized she was a nurse. I was in a hospital. She spoke harshly. “What have you done?? I hope you’re proud of yourself, you certainly damaged your vocal chords, perhaps irreparably.” She was right. But that was the least of all of the consequences of what landed me in that hospital bed.

The precise sequence of events is still a blur. My mother was there. She looked tired and scared. I began to remember what I had done; why I was there. I shouldn’t have been there. I should be dead. Then my heart sank. If I wasn’t dead; if I was here, in the hospital, someone had found me. A fear like none I had ever known gripped me. In a painful whisper I asked,  “Did Lawrence find me?” “No, my mother said, trying to choke back the tears that were falling. “Is he ok? Did he know I was ok?” I knew my mother could not have been the one to find me. I had made sure of that. But Lawrence was a different story. If he had found me in that state I could never have forgiven myself. But still my mother stood there and listened to my first words, my first concern be directed at someone she had never met. Someone I barely knew. In some ways it was a pretty good indication of how screwed up I was. My first words should have been “I’m sorry.” It would take time for my thoughts or actions to make sense. It would take time to find all of the forgiveness that was due. To my family, my friends, even to myself. I had done the unthinkable. I had been cowardly and weak and had tried to take the easiest way out of my pain. I had tried, and nearly succeeded in killing myself. Had the paramedics reached me mere minutes later, I would have been gone. My plan would have been a complete success, and my life, a failure. And I would not be here to tell of it. I would not have had the chance to beg for forgiveness from everyone I hurt. I would not have the strength to face whatever comes, knowing I have already faced the very worst, and survived. And I would not have the opportunity to tell you that whatever you are feeling is absolutely valid. And if you are considering taking your life, I get it. But I hope you choose differently than I did.

This is not an easy thing to talk about. It is not easy to think about. And I know it is not an easy thing to read. For some who know me this will be the first they have ever known about my suicide attempt. And to each of you, I am truly sorry. Some think I should not write about it. I should not expose it. But I have an obligation. Because out there, among the masses who might stumble upon this post, there are some who are there, in that dark and lonely place wondering, planning, deciding. I beg of you – please keep reading. Where it seems there is no other way, where there appears only darkness and pain, I promise you, there is hope. And I know this only because I have walked through complete hopelessness and emerged on the other side, just barely. And I am so grateful for that. For the chance to tell you there is another way. There is light. There is a reason to live. And whatever guilt or darkness or fear or stigma is eating away at your will to live – SCREW IT. You are where you are because whatever is happening in your life seems too much to overcome. And you have no idea how many of us understand that. I’m not trying to persuade you that your feelings aren’t valid. Just the opposite, in fact. They are very real. Real enough to convince you to consider death as the best or only alternative. But there’s more.

The circumstances that brought me to that place are fairly irrelevant. Not because they weren’t real or valid or enough. But because these circumstance are different for everyone. The results, however, are the same. Being suicidal comes from something different for each of us. Those close to me always want to know how I could have thought death was the only way. In truth, there were times in my past when it actually appeared to have made more sense that I would have been suicidal. And there will be people who ask you this question, who will not understand how you could think death is the only way. All that means is that they are lucky enough not to have experienced being where you are. It is not judgement. It is fear and love wrapped up in what often feels like judgement.

The circumstances don’t matter. That sounds harsh, I know. But it’s the truth. Because no matter what each of us is going through, no matter what has brought us to this place of unimaginable suffering that we know we cannot bear for one more moment, the only thing that matters, is that those circumstances, all put together, no matter their enormity, are, above all else, TEMPORARY. In fact, all of what we experience is only temporary. The fleeting highs and the apparently interminable lows. The good days, the bad days. Our triumphs and our losses. All of these things that make up our experience of life are temporary. And to use a permanent, irreversible action, suicide, to deal with/escape/end/fix…however you choose to describe it, is…this decision is, at its core, illogical and flawed.

I wish I had known so many things that day. I wish I had known that despite the hopeless way I felt, hope did still exist, and would find me again. I wish I had known that the enormity of all of the things that I was dealing with, while they felt too much, too big, too heavy, too powerful to overcome, would, in fact, be overcome. Not all at once the way I felt I needed, but little by little; they have been…they are being overcome. Some part of me wishes I had known the true nature of pain that I was about to inflict on those who love me most. That I could have foreseen the pain ingrained in every fiber of my mother’s being because of what I had done. But perhaps it’s best that I couldn’t grasp that in those moments because for me, guilt was a heavy weight on the scale inching me towards suicide. From this side of the choices that I made that day though, I live with the fact that I cannot erase the permanent image of me lying in that hospital bed, bound to it, unconscious, with a machine breathing for me and tubes coming out of me that she has etched in her memory. I wish with all my heart that I could take that away. I wish I had known the panic and terror in the hearts of everyone who was desperately searching for me, knowing that each minute that passed by could be the difference between life and death. I wish I had known that less than a year later, I would be sitting here on my couch in my new apartment, minutes from the ocean, having overcome so much of what I thought that day, in those last moments I would never be able to live with. I wish I had the voice of someone who had been in my shoes speaking into me the strength and hope that might have made the difference in the choice between life and death. Or simply a hand to hold in silence that might have delayed my action long enough to change my mind.

Suicide is a funny thing. For those who are truly suicidal, what many people do not understand is that it can be the one, solitary thing that we feel we have control over. It feels like the only thing we can do to change our circumstances, end our pain, fix what is broken. To an extent, that is sometimes true. We do have control over it and many things in life are out of our hands. But the flip side, the reality, the truth we find hardest to see, is that we also have control over the choice to live. To find a way, however impossible it seems, through whatever brought us to that edge. We have that choice. And choice is power.

Suicide is alluring, almost intoxicating because in our darkest moments is promises to fix everything at once. It ends all the pain and suffering and hopelessness in one fell swoop. That promise, that idea that “suicide fixes everything at once”…it’s crap. It’s not real. It’s just a way to avoid facing the harder, better, stronger, braver choice to get through it all…whatever your all is, one tiny step at a time. Don’t feel like you have the strength to take another step? Fine. You crawl. You inch. You slide one hand forward before you can crawl. You make a movement and it is PROGRESS. It is substantial and brave and powerful. It says FUCK YOU to everything that is breaking you down. It is success and it is HOPE.

And no matter how alone we might feel at the bottom of this pit – we are never truly alone. Our actions do not happen in a vacuum. We do affect others in profound ways that we cannot fathom. No matter how alone we feel there are people who will mourn, who will take our actions upon their own shoulders and walk heavy with misplaced guilt, much the same way many of us have/are doing. If you have not a soul in the world who you believe will care if you are gone, there is a paramedic who will be unable to save you. A coroner who must examine you. Someone, some people will suffer from your actions. I say this not to inspire more guilt. The choice we make  must be about ourselves, not those around us. I say this to remind you that no matter how isolated you feel,  you are never truly alone.

I won’t go in to all of what kept me alive when I was absolutely, resolutely determined to die that day. For now, I will say this. I had planned meticulously. I hurt more than I ever had dared to imagine possible. I was 100% sure of what I was doing. I was crumbling beneath the weight of things I no longer had the power to keep from crushing me. But I was WRONG. I know that now. And if you are in that place I promise you with all that I am, you are wrong too. You can, and should CHOOSE to live. That much you do have the power to do. The rest of it, whatever it is, no matter how much it hurts, will someday be behind you. But first you have to make that choice. Take that step. Move, just a little – forward. It is worth it. YOU are worth it. You are more powerful than you can, in this moment even conceive. I know you are, because I was you. And today, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am more powerful than anything that life might throw at me. And despite the years of falling down into that pit, in that place where the cold and the dark and the fear and the hopelessness and pointlessness all collide, my choices can keep it all from owning me ever again. And your choices, today, can lead you out of it. So choose. Be braver than I was. Be the strength you don’t dare to believe you have. Do the one thing you feel you cannot do. Choose to live.

Remembering is a Mixed Bag

Six years ago my fiance died. Every year at this time I struggle to understand what I’m supposed to do. How do I best honor and celebrate his life; how do I best live mine; what is the right way to remember him?

LIVE. There are certain answers that are true for all of us. (us being everyone who’s ever lost someone they love) Somewhere along the way (a LONG way down the road) I realized that the way I honor him is by living the best life I can.  That sounds absurdly simple when you read it, but that came after years of making my life about his life, our life, the one we had, the one we were “supposed to have”, and about his death. I also realized that I must do it for me, not for him (that part took some real getting used to). Each of us who has lost someone must live fully and take comfort in knowing that those who have passed have a beautiful front row seat to watch all of our accomplishments, and that they are with us for each of life’s tougher moments.

The inscription reads: "For a Lifetime of Memories - Valentine's Day - 2001"

REMEMBER. Remembering is a much more personal game. Pictures, shrines, memorials, cemeteries….it’s a mixed bag that is certainly not a one size fits all deal. Six years later, I have consolidated my pictures of Mark to one collage and a couple of other framed photos (the albums not included of course). I save looking through his memory box and mine for anniversaries like this one, and what would have been our wedding anniversary (six months apart, nearly to the day, coincidentally).

FIND THE COURAGE TO SPEAK. What I love most, and what brings me the most joy and comfort, are the moments when I can just sit and open up enough space within myself to let him in and talk to him. It is easiest when I head up north to Rochester and I can sit at the cemetery where his body rests. It’s as if there is a gate there that opens up a direct line to him. It’s such a gift. I can only hope that everyone who is dealing with such a loss can at some point find a similar gateway. I don’t usually offer advice on this topic, but if I have any, it is this: find the space within yourself to let them in and the courage to speak. The rewards are endless…for you and your loved one!

This one’s for you Baby….it’ll always be our song!

Small Wonders

For all those who have lost loved ones, I hope you find some comfort in these words.

In loving memory of Evelyn Marion Small Colvin and Helen Small Barter

Small Wonders

There are some things, some people,

that are like fixtures in our lives.

We always know where to find them, 

and just how they will be when we get there.

They are permanent; they have a place.

They are timeless, and elegant…

the perfect balance of wisdom, beauty and grace.

Without ever meaning to, 

or perhaps ever knowing that they do, 

they serve a purpose in the lives of others.

They are a sort of beacon about which we orient ourselves,

and come to know our own places in the world.

They serve as a standard by which we measure

not just our own worth, 

but the good of all that surrounds us.

We come to rely on them.

We depend on knowing where to find them, 

and just how they will be when we get there.

But when they move, or are gone, 

it takes time before our own lives make sense again.

This is the time in which we heal.


Death of a Great Matriarch

Evelyn Marion Colvin

Death, dying, passing away, losing loved ones…these are all words we use to talk about the unimaginably painful event of saying goodbye to someone we love. And for many of us…when someone we love has died, we treat it like a 4-letter word; we just don’t say it. We don’t talk about it. We don’t face it. We just plain do not deal with it.

But as we all know, death is, unavoidably, and sadly, a part of life for all of us, and one way or another, facing it is a necessary evil.  I’ve lost more people in my time than I care to mention. And while perhaps some might say that each of those deaths should be treated with equal emotional response, the fact is that my personal connection to each of those people was in direct proportion to my response to their passing. We all know there are good, or healthy, ways to deal with death, and those that are not so healthy.

After losing several family members in the course of just a few years, it began to seem as though “family time” was always being spent in black clothing gathered in funeral homes or cemeteries. And then the unthinkable happened. My paternal grandmother, the great matriarch of our wonderful family who has been healthier than me my entire life, the life of every party, the center of every gathering and the source of endless joy for the Colvin Clan, was taken to the hospital on Thanksgiving, 2004. I had never known my grandmother to be sick so the call to go to the hospital came as a complete shock. She was 95 years old and I was sure she’d live forever. I had grown up in the same house with her, spent summers with our extended family vacationing on the same beach on Cape Cod that she had been visiting for 92 years. I had brought her to say goodbye to her younger sister, Helen, just two months earlier, two days before she passed away after a long illness. But Gram was different. She was stubborn and set in her ways and healthy (despite the never-ending string of cigarettes that clung to her lips like permanent extensions). She told wonderful stories of her younger days, stalwartly bulldozed through the grief that came with the passing of family members and most all of her friends. She looked at me with utter confusion when I tried to explain my migraines, having never experienced a headache herself. She was “too mean for the bugs to bite” her. Her Scottish ancestry made her “hardy.” She always claimed that as a child her parents had set her crib on the porch…all year ’round because “the fresh air’s good for ya.” And year round, till the day she died, she slept with the windows open, no matter how cold the New England weather got.

When she was hospitalized she was angry at all of us. It was “absurd” and she wanted to go home because there was “nuthin wrong with me!” I was terrified. I wanted to believe her. But the look on my mother and our family doctor, Dr. Asher’s faces told me the real story was very different. As it turned out Gram had suffered a mild heart attack and was dealing with congestive heart failure. While Gram was tearing off monitors and climbing out of bed to head home, my world was shattering around me. There was no time for that though. At that moment I had to help convince Gram to let the doctors do what they needed to do and to stop fighting them so much. There would be time for the pain and shattering to happen later.

That night Gram was admitted to the ICU (after QUITE a battle) and from that moment on she was not alone again for even the briefest time. Somewhere in me, in the parts of my heart and soul where Gram’s legacy thrived most fervently, I stubbornly refused to believe anything really bad could happen. I was still sure that in no time, we’d be bringing her home. One particularly wonderful nurse came in during the first few days and asked if he could call her Evelyn rather than Mrs. Colvin. She told him “you can call me a son of a bitch if you can get me the hell out of here!” That was Gram. Family members took shifts staying in her room with her. The ICU staff was wonderful about accommodating us and ignoring the usual visiting hours. My sister and I, in particular took on a great number of shifts. Not because we felt like we had to, but because we just couldn’t be anywhere else. Growing up with Gram had been such a blessing. We got to live with her, be surrounded by her amazing spirit and benefit from her stories and lessons everyday, unlike my cousins who only got to see her on holidays or when they visited our hometown or during the summers when we all went to the Cape. But that blessing came with a price. Not one I would ever trade, but a heavy one just the same. Two weeks after Gram was admitted, after a few hopeful improvements in her condition, she passed away with so many of us packed in her small hospital room. Windows open. I was holding her hand and hugging her from my seat by her bedside. Slowly, as tears fell, everyone began to move away, but I couldn’t. The thought of letting go of the very last hug I would ever have with my beloved grandmother was too much. I remember someone, my mother, I think, trying to pull me away and I pushed her arm away as if it were assaulting me. I just wasn’t ready. My sister was right beside me. One of my cousins said something to the effect of, “those poor girls, they’ve lived with her all their lives, this must be just killing them.”

My fiancé at the time, Mark, was there too, giving a respectful distance so we could all be as close to her as possible, but ready to catch me when it was time to fall into his arms. Some time later, I did release my stronghold on Gram. I knew that I too, had to let her go. We stayed at the hospital for a while; I couldn’t even guess how long. Time had seemingly stopped for me that day. As Mark drove me back to our home in Keene, NH, I told him we needed to stop at the grocery store. I needed to get hot dogs and yogurt.  Everyday for as long as I can remember, and for many years before that, Gram had eaten an Oscar Meyer all beef hot dog and Dannon fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt 362 days of the year (excluding Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving). In her words she was “a creature of habit…only the best!” (The best referred to her chosen brands.) I’m not sure how many days I ate that meal for, but for a while, I once again had lunch with Gram each day. Perhaps it was just food. Perhaps it was a silly coping mechanism. But looking back, I realize now that the important part was that I coped. I felt the pain. I endured the loss. I allowed myself to cry and laugh and sit with all the many emotions that Gram’s passing evoked. Her death was the last healthy grieving I did. Afterwards, I put up walls, made denial an art form, and tried (and failed) to protect myself from the pain that comes with living. And I paid dearly. In the last year I’ve done some difficult work. I’ve undone some of the damage from denying the losses I’ve endured since Gram’s death, and tried very hard to live as best I can. It is a constant challenge for each of us, but one that we all, ultimately, must take on, even if it means eating hot dogs and yogurt everyday for lunch!

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