July 6, 2017

There are months when I know what I want to write about in this column well before the submission deadline, and there are months when I simply have to start typing before a theme really takes shape. Yesterday I was sitting at my desk thinking about what I might write about this month when Kay came in with an essay she had clipped from the June 14, 2017 East Bay Times. The essay was by Marne Jameson. It was titled “Keeping a journal can help with losses of all kinds.” I knew what I wanted to write about this month.

Jameson, who has written a book “Downsizing the Family Home” about her experience clearing out the home her parents has lived in for fifty years, had received a book from another author that really spoke to her. That author is Dr. Patrick O’Malley, a grief counselor from Texas. His book is “Getting Grief Right: Finding Your Story of Love in the Sorrow of Loss.” O’Malley’s theme is “Whether we’re dealing with loss through death or living loss, as in the case of divorce, we grieve both the person, and the possessions that represent the person. Saying goodbye to the material items is part of the story, and journaling about the process is honoring the act.”

You can find Jameson’s essay here. She highlights these points from O’Malley’s book:

  1. Fear Not – “When you define grief as the result of love, there is less to be afraid of.”
  2. Don’t Move On – “You don’t move on from grief, you integrate it into your life.”
  3. Feel The Love – “Don’t be hard on yourself. If the process brings up a lot of difficult feelings, that’s a normal, healthy response.”
  4. Allow For The Differences – “You can create a lot of unnecessary tension by insisting someone is going too fast or too slow, or is too clingy or too unfeeling.”
  5. Tell Your Story – “The way forward is through stories.”
  6. Why Bother? – “When you suffer a major loss, you hit the wall of that existential question: What’s the meaning of all this?”

Jameson’s closing words are – “But one thing’s for sure. Writing it all down helps.” Karen and I have found this to be true. Her mom, Nedra, died on October 24, 2017. In February we sat down to write about the last fifteen months of Nedra’ life. This is how our reflection begins:

As we write, it is mid-winter, four months after the death, at age 80, of Nedra Faye Hathaway, Karen’s mom and Jim’s mother-in-law. Nedra chose to end her life on October 24, 2016; over a year after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, almost eleven months after major surgery to remove her pancreas and four months after learning the cancer was still present even after eighteen chemotherapy treatments.

It is accurate to say that while at peace with our mom’s decision to utilize California’s End of Life Option Act, it also is accurate to say that questions, regrets and uncertainties remain. Among them are:

  • Could or should we have pressed her to delay taking this action?
  • Are there things we could or should have done with her that would have been meaningful to her? For instance, why didn’t we take her to see the Golden Gate Bridge one more time?
  • Did we leave important things unsaid?
  • Did we express clearly enough that she was not a burden to us?

If you would like a copy of the full essay, please let me know and I will get it to you. And, I can assure you that Karen and I are fully convinced. Writing it down helps.

Peace,

Jim H.

(LABC Grief and Loss Ministry meets the 2nd Sunday at 11:45.)