A Meditation on 2016 and Rings and Things

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Heaven help me, but I’m done with this year.

Yes, I realize that’s a full week and a half early.

The final straw? Watching one of my favorite rings go flying off my finger.

But let’s back up a second, for context.

2016 opened quietly here. Yet before it started–before the world lost Prince and David Bowie and America *cough* elected Donald Trump, I knew it was going to be rocky. I could feel something in my heart start to tug, a sensation that started when my mother said she’d not survive through the year.

Change was coming.

Throughout the spring, I kept finding myself acknowledging her time was running out and my life would change. At times it felt like grace. Other times it felt like a bad cold I couldn’t shake. The Gnawing Knowing–yes, let’s name it that–would come up in the oddest spots, at the oddest times. I’d be in the car or grabbing a sack of kitty litter and I’d just know she’d be gone soon.

Did I mention that my cat died in 2016, too? Disappeared, died–the specifics of her demise are unclear. Given that we’ve got coyotes in the area, it may be best that I never know. Let’s just say that my elderly cat split a few weeks before my mother. Like old cats do. In fact, at one point, my ailing mother wished aloud that she could do the same. That was a weird conversation, the kind of thing I miss about Mom.

By the end of summer I was mourning feline and mother alike and trying to deal with all that the grief brought with it–joy, pain, anger, love, panic attacks, bizarre childhood flashbacks, and the agonizing choice of what to do with the leftover cat kibble.

Autumn brought more fallout, sure, but also some teeny tiny glimmers of promise. In September we went to England and Ireland as a family. (The photo at the top of this post is from London’s famous Portobello Road.) After the vacation, I picked up some more freelance work, dug out and dusted off an old writing project that will likely make my third book, purged closets and drawers, and began the process of refining my identity after several years of eldercare.

Winter is supposed to arrive tomorrow, and, to my surprise, I’m stocked up and ready for Christmas. The tree is up, lights are out, presents are either wrapped, delivered, or en route to their final destination. The weather is cool, for South Central Texas, and for a few hours each day we have cause to bundle up.

Which is why I came to make homemade chicken soup from scratch-made bone broth. It’s cold and cozy enough to make the process genuinely worthwhile. Over two days I brewed, measured, and salted. It felt good, familiar. The house smelled good, familiar. As a person in charge of our home keeping and cooking food, I felt strong, confident in my rediscovered self-efficacy.

Then tonight I was warming up that concoction on the stove when the ring went flying. In a spectacular display, it slipped off my finger, flew across the kitchen tile, bounced up (straight up) into a corner near the sink, and used physics to hurl itself into the apparent black hole that hides in a corner of my kitchen.

The ring of silver is reachable now only if I rip apart my cabinets. Because that’s what I want to do next, right, with Santa on his way? Rip out cabinetry for a relatively inexpensive ring?

My first reaction was panic. I’m sooo good at that. Really good. It’s a standby, my go-to response whenever my fight/flight/freeze trigger is, you know, triggered.

But before the panic got rolling good, I forced myself to reconnect with a core belief, one burnished often in 2016: people matter more than things.

Silver rings are things.

If I can move through grieving Mom (and my cat), then I can move on from a lost ring. I can steer away from the panic and reframe the situation. I can work to find the silver lining, the takeaway. Thus, I find myself tonight hoping to embody the same surety that the physics-propelled chunk of silver displayed while aiming for the hollow space tucked a couple of feet under my knife block. At the same time, while bouncing out of 2016, I hope I won’t land in any black holes or kitchen cupboards.

Fingers crossed, anyway.

 

 

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Five New Year’s Resolutions for Anxious, Grieving Souls

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Last December my mother told me she’d not survive to see this Christmas.

Mom was right.

After twenty years battling rheumatoid arthritis, she finally succumbed to complications of the disease in 2016. Having destroyed her cartilage and joints, RA attacked her urinary tract. Then, finally, came the fatal assault on her lungs and heart.

The official cause of her death? Multi-organ failure.

She was 78 years old.

Her passing wasn’t pretty. Oh, sure, we had hospice, nurses, a social worker, and her “comfort pack” of morphine and Ativan. But in those last hours and days, even as friends and family pulled tight around us, she and I found ourselves saying goodbye under physically and emotionally painful circumstances.

Going into those last days, I’d read up on hospice care, what to expect when an elder dies—you name it. But none of it prepared me adequately for what I saw and heard those last days. I counted on Mom to go “gently into that good night,” but that’s not how it played out. It was rough stuff.

Nor did any of what I read prepare me for the impact of grief on my body when she died this summer. Expecting tears and low moments, I was blindsided by somatic ailments ranging from plantar fasciitis and tendonitis to breathtaking 3 A.M. panic attacks. My long-time endocrinologist, the same man who helped me put my Graves’ disease in check, admonished me to keep my stress levels under control lest I fall out of remission. He does this at every appointment, but this time he was extra emphatic.

Perhaps that’s because I broke down sobbing at my regular check up?

Grief on top of my anxiety issues. It’s been a struggle. Now I’m about to leave behind the year in which Mom’s took her last breath. Honestly, that prospect freaks me out more than thinking of this as the first Christmas I’ve ever had without her.

To help me manage the transition, I’m working on a list of resolutions that I hope will lift me up and out of 2016’s sadness. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Resolution #1: Keep up the self-care.
This one is vital. Checking in with my therapist monthly kept me afloat during the eldercare years, and thankfully she continues to keep tabs on how I progress through grief. My therapist is unafraid to help me touch some of the more tender spots of my heartbreak and coach me through them.

On a day-to-day basis, physical activity—especially when spent outdoors, in nature–help root me to the present. I’ve seen over the last weeks and months that when I feel disconnected both from my body and nature, then my grief can more easily lead my anxiety into a spiral.

Resolution #2: Keep and set emotional boundaries, especially online.
In the fall I trimmed my private Facebook connections considerably. That’s because I want to ensure that when I share the deepest, most personal stories about my grief, I’m only doing so with people who genuinely care. The most personal stuff? I will continue to only relate in person, via private messages, or over the phone.

My biggest weakness is that I am a current affairs hound, but the news can be a lot to take when you’re bereaved and anxiety-prone. I’m working on setting aside a specific time each day to wade into the news feed and then quickly back away. Dwelling on what I can’t change in the world tends to backfire, sparking another round of anxiety and panic. (Besides, for things I really care about, I can always make donations to relevant organizations.)

Resolution #3: Stay vulnerable with those whom you trust.
Curiously, staying honest about my grief work has deepened connections with others who have lost their own elders. There’s a gentleman at my grocery store who checks in on me routinely, having lost his own dad a few years ago. He gets it. Another friend lost her father a couple of months after my mom died. She gets it, too. Between us, we use a sort of shorthand, one that signals we’re doing as well as can be expected. We never have to pretend everything is great. That’s terrific medicine.

Resolution #4: Practice gratitude.
This can be easier said than done; yet each time that I’ve sat down to count the evidence of my good fortune, I do feel a bit of a lift. It also helps me to count my blessings when I wake up at 3 A.M. in a raging panic.

Resolution #5: Take a series of deep breaths several times a day.
Of all the things I’ve read about grief and managing one’s way through a personal crisis, the book that resonates most with me as 2016 shuts down is Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart {Amazon Affiliate Link}.

Given that my mother’s death brought an end to my identity as her emotional caregiver and a patient advocate here at midlife—just as my tween son asserts more independence himself, I’m learning that grief is an uncomfortable but illuminating call to understanding that suffering and impermanence are a natural part of life.

For this reason, I found Chödrön’s description of Tonglen meditation, a Buddhist practice, helpful. While I’m not Buddhist, the spiritual exercise meshes well with my existing belief system. Through the meditation, I’m learning to breathe in gently the suffering of others and myself while breathing out into the world compassion and love. This normalizes my grief and anxiety while getting oxygen into my cells and calming anxiety. It’s a win-win for my body/mind.

Those are my personal resolutions for moving forward with grief and anxiety, but if you, too, are dealing with anxiety and grief, I’d love to hear yours.

Pamela Price is a writer, author, and blogger. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Related and recommended:

Don’t Be Surprised By Suffering

Grief Woke Me This Morning

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