Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mourner's Rights (Dad, skip this)

While we were on vacation, I found that seeing little girls, from babies to girls Katie's age (12+) was noticeably painful. I was drawn to every little girl I saw...and the thought popped up: should we adopt a child who needs a loving home? But we all agree, as I told Katie (when she suggested it, before she passed away), "No; there is no replacing you."

Katie's words to me, spoken with a tone of quiet acerbity, were: "There goes the only granddaughter." She meant herself, my parents' only female grandchild; she also said, I'm sorry that you won't have any grandchildren from me. I told her that I didn't care about grandchildren; that what I wanted was for her to live.

Can you imagine having this conversation with your 12-year old daughter, while she is in the bathtub?

She was thinking of our future, without her. I cannot quite fathom how she had the guts, maturity and greatness of heart to look this situation squarely in the eye, to have empathy with our loss (and her grandparents' loss), all the while knowing that she was dying, but she did.

We don't want a new child. We are too old to begin again; it wouldn't be fair to anyone, not to a baby, nor the three of us, nor to Katie's memory. No little girl could ever give us what we are missing; we cannot give ourselves fully to any little girl. I don't want another daughter; I want Katie, and I cannot have her here with me.

My heart is so broken that its core feels exposed, as if a nerve is raw and open to the elements. It reminds me of a bad dental situation, when a nerve in my jaw is open to the elements, and heat, cold, liquid, solid -- anything-- hurts and irritates the area that is unprotected.

Thank goodness that, when we arrived home from Canada, a letter was waiting for us from Hospice of Kitsap County, containing helpful thoughts about grieving (thank you, Dee!). I felt that several of the ideas were sent just for me. It’s called the “Mourner’s Bill of Rights,” and it has 10 points.

"1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief. No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So when you turn to others for help, don't allow them to tell you what you should or should not be feeling.
2. You have the right to talk about your grief. Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don't feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.
3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions. Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt, and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don't take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.
4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits. Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest, eat balanced meals, and don't allow others to push you into doing things you don't feel ready to do.
5. You have the right to experience “griefbursts.” Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.
6. You have the right to make use of ritual. The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don't listen.
7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality. If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won't be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.
8. You have the right to search for meaning. You may find yourself asking, 'Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?' Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. Watch out for the cliched responses some people may give you. Comments such as, 'It was God's will' or 'Think of what you have to be thankful for' are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.
9. You have the right to treasure your memories. Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.
10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal. Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever."

These points make sense to me, and they remind me that this is a situation that is not universally understood, though it is a fact of life for many people around the world, at any given moment (think of the people in refugee camps, the parents of soldiers, the families of victims of violent crime). The wisdom of experience speaks through this "bill of rights," the wisdom of compassion and reasonable expectations. I thank God for Hospice, and the respect and compassion that makes their work possible.

This blog is a place where I can talk about my grief as much as I want to, as often as I want to. It is helping my healing process, and I feel safe, knowing that no one has to read it if they don't want to. It's a way to put my feelings into words without hurting anyone else, without wearing out everyone around me. I'm thankful for this little place of my own.


Amy said...

As I'm getting ready to type this my little 3 year old wants me to play dress know darn right that is where I'm heading after this note.

You are so brave. You have every right to feel the way you feel and feel alright about that! Katie seemed to be such a bright and mature girl. What great conversations to have had with her.

I am glad that you blog...I gather joy from you even in your time of hurt, anger, and have brought smiles through Katie's life and reached out to let us all know about her! For that I am thankful!

Suzanne said...

Karen, I love reading your blog. I don't love that you have endured so much pain. But I am learning from you. your patience. your deep insight. The mourners rights...that is a good one. I never saw that myself.
I really could have used those thoughts years ago.

amanda said...

I love the Mourner's Rights. I have never seen it before but am printing it off to use in my practice. It is a lovely validation of people's emotions long after the loss of a loved one and justifies the saying "their is no time limit to one's grief".

As always, you are all in my prayers...

A said...

Dear sweet friend, I am so grateful that you share with all of us part of your journey. I am immeasurably blessed by your honesty and truth...I continue to love you, near or far, in contact or out...sending you love, Angela

Smileygirl said...

The Mourner's Rights is so true and perfectly well said. I am going to pass this along to a friend of mine who is also in need of these words.

Have you read the book The Shack? I just finished it and thought about you a couple of times throughout the book. I think you would like it.

ChiTown Girl said...

I can not even pretend to imagine what your grief is like, and God willing, I will never find out. You are so brave, and generous, to share this raw pain with us. It puts so many things into perspective for me, and I'm sure many others who read your blog.

Contemplative Photographer said...

Wow. these last three posts are absolutely amazing. And I love that line: "We are faced with brokenness now, and now, and now, with no way out but through it. Learning to love my broken self, and our broken life, is not easy." Thank you for all your helpful observations on this process of life.

B. Fox said...

I sent your Mourner's Rights to a dear friend who lost her son to ALL last year. She has been saying these things in many posts to her CB site. You are full of Grace, even while being broken. Katie is beautiful and the world is certainly a more sad place without her. God Bless you.

heather b said...

Thank you thank you thank you for letting us share your burden. It is an honor and a priviledge and talk away all you want about katie, your grief, and processes.