Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Seven Choices - reflections upon reading the book

My gentle widow-sister Suzann sent me this book on the second anniversary of Cliff's death, and I have to say that this gift was perfectly timed, for it allowed me to reflect on the stages that I have been through (and still re-visit ... as we know grief is not a linear experience), it confirmed that projects I've been planning and wanting to fulfill were actually positive, cathartic and helpful ideas. Healing even. And it gave me further suggestions to help myself to heal more (by that I mean attain balance and happiness in my life again ... not recover/get over it/get better ... because we are painfully aware that losing our spouse is not something that we can "get over"). IMHO, this gift was also perfectly timed because eighteen months or two years ago, I wouldn't have been capable of reading it ... I remember only being able to concentrate on short paragraphs at a time (which was why "Companion Through The Darkness" was invaluable to me soon after losing Cliff).

The author never patronizes, rather she draws upon her own experience, sharing with honesty, interspersed with verbatim from other bereaved people to give real examples of what we may feel, think or behave like during each "stage". There are poems and inspirational quotes throughout. Additionally she explains the psychology behind some of our fears and reactions, along with statistics from academic studies, and she is careful to remind us that every one's grief experience and timeline is unique, then explores reasons why some people "get stuck" at one point of their grief, and how the nature of the loss (e.g. violent death, suicide, sudden death) can impact and complicate our grief.

There are sections at the end of the book on:

"helping children and teenagers"
"useful resources" - music, books, movies, art, photography, organizations, writing, dance, etc.
and a bibliography.

I found the format of listing the following at the close of each "choice" or chapter/stage particularly useful:

"what we need from family and friends"
"what is normal"
"what can I do?"
"what is my active choice?"

The seven stages and choices that accompany them are:

Impact: Experiencing the unthinkable - To experience and express my grief fully (again and again)
Second Crisis: Stumbling in the Dark - To endure with patience
Observation: Linking Past to Present - To look honestly
The Turn: Turning into the Wind - To re-plan and change my life to include but not be dominated by the loss
Reconstruction: Picking up the Pieces - To take specific actions
Working Through: Finding Solid Ground - To engage in the conflicts
Integration: Daylight - To be willing to make and remake choices

I am without doubt at the "Observation" stage but have started dipping my toe in "The Turn" too. I've made some progress in my heart and mind, having approached or reacted to my loss on a primal level, spiritually and intellectually. I've expressed myself, reached out to others who are bereaved, got my career back on track, worked out my new "budget", bought a car and travelled (Australia, Singapore, Europe, USA). Learned and grown, found coping mechanisms and grieved so deeply that I thought I would never crawl out of that deep, dark place. Discovered that some friends are fair-weather, how important blood is, that I can still hear Cliff's voice and follow his advice, that I've also lost my fear of everything ... apart from spiders and driving on ice. One of the most important lessons I learned was that I had to embrace the pain, to fight it is futile and harder work. And grief is more tiring than anything else on this earth. That those who haven't been burned by its flames say the most fucking stupid things, but that after a while you just laugh (and sometimes in their faces). I've almost managed to swallow that bitterest of pills - asking for help. And accepting it. I have learned that there are always deeper darker depths to which you can sink. That I will survive this. That grief is physical as well as emotional - and I have the diabetes meds to prove it. That the line between sanity and insanity truly is as thin and fragile as the stuff that spiders spin their webs with. That the crap that people moan about and obsess themselves with is jack-shit and meaningless. That love is stronger than death. That love is eternal. To be kind to myself. After a year I even had sex again ... to prove that I could. Then discovered that I couldn't expel him from my body in doing so ... because he is firmly attached to my heart and soul. And always will be. I've acted irrationally, and participated in adrenaline-soaked activities ... just to feel alive ... sometimes to dare death ... and laughed contemptuously whilst doing so.

But one huge thing remains - my home, my routine. I'm "normal" at work, and socialize at weekends, visiting a couple of close friends. At home it is as though nothing has changed. Everything has remained as it was that day. Santa's still displayed from two seasons ago. A mug and dish and sweet wrappers left by him in the bedroom. I use his toothbrush on business travel and all this clothes are still folded ... waiting to be put back in his wardrobe. His tools are still laying as he left them ... and god help anyone that touches those. As I walk around my home, cruel reminders taunt me. In this respect, I have stood still for two years. Two fucking years. Waiting for him to come back, because he never let me down, not once. I've rejoined humanity ... but only at work, only on my irrational and widow-brained terms.

I now need to start "doing". Otherwise I will "get stuck". I need to organize all those sentimental photos, pieces of paper, concert tickets and precious memories into albums and scrapbooks, so that I am assured they are there for me to look through. But when I want to. Not because they are there haunting and hurting me. Then his clothes. His tools. Get the house finished and be mature about it ... rather than letting myself succumb to illness each time someone is due to help, so that it can be delayed. Then my home will be a little more like my heart - full of him still, but on the whole, "controlled" ... allowing myself time and space to grieve when I must.

Then I will have choices. Options. I can commit to plans. Entertain. Live again ... instead of living in this time warp of January 2009. Have the home that he worked so so hard to give me, instead of living in a shrine. He'd have hated that.


I choose life.

Scary, but exhilarating.

I'm under no illusion. Making active choices and carrying them through takes courage and it will be painful. But my beautiful strong husband did that too many times in his life, even as a small child. And for me not to would be wrong. He'd understand if I didn't. But he'd be disappointed.
Thank you Suzann, from the bottom of my heart.


  1. maybe i am being too presumptuous but i do not think Cliff would ever be disappointed in what you did or did not do on a timeframe that was not your own. he knows you better than anyone. he knows how much you love him and how hard his leaving is for you. however long it takes for you to do things that others feel is "the right thing to do," he will be by your side backhanding them out of the way, making room, and time, for you to do it your way.

    we loved and loved deeply. there was a bond there that no one can deny. the time it takes us to move through whatever steps/labels/timeframe that have been created to mark our steps forward from death, i think, are notable. i am trying not to be too hard on myself if i do not measure up because so many people are in line to wield the hammer of progress down on my head. i hope you stand firm on standing still in one place for a while longer if that is what you wish.

    i wish you peace above all else.

  2. wNs, I have missed you. Is your pneumonia leaving you a little? I hope so!

    You have made an extremely important point and one that I needed to be reminded of. Don't worry, as I attempt to do things, if I find that I am not ready, I shall wait and try again and again and again till I am.

    My first step is to go through the sentimental stuff round the house. One thing at a time. I have made a small tiny dent in that whilst on leave this week and it has tired me. It's bittersweet and the tears help but tire as you know only too well.

    One thing at a time, one breath at a time.

    thank you for caring S xxxx

  3. "One breath at a time." Thank you for the smile.
    And for this wonderful post that ALL of us can relate to (and by "us" you know who I mean).
    I wanted to tell you that I agree with WNS. Cliff would not be disappointed in you.
    I think he, like Jim, would be .... sad.
    Sad that we have to feel this way and go through all of this.
    Sad that it had anything at all to do with them.
    But they'd both be(and I think ARE)very, very proud.
    We've come a long way (baby). Yes, we have a ways to go, but at least we are now at the point where we know that we'll get there.
    One breath at a time.
    Love you, Boo.
    Thanks so much for this post.

  4. Janine, thank you for your love and support ... I wish so often that we all lived closer to each other, just so we could sit together awhile sometimes, you know?

    I think what I should have written was that Cliff would be disappointed in me if I didn't try, if that makes sense :-) (because that's what I meant)

    You are right. They are sad and proud too. Cliff hated HATED seeing me cry. He really did.

    I loved what you wrote. It's astonishing that we have reached the point where we know we're going to get there. I would have laughed at the thought a year ago, and two years ago I would have probably screamed at the mere idea of it as being ludicrous.

    One breath at a time indeed <3

    Love you J

  5. Hi Boo.

    Great writing here. I really appreciate all that you share here, as reading this connected with me tonight. Of course I'm not in my old home anymore, and I have mostly surrounded myself with new things in the new house. I know that I was attempting to create a new life, one that wouldn't trip me up all the time. The truth is, I have been slowly unpacking a lot of Michael's things, and they are now making their way to the book shelves and counter tops. I even found myself putting some of his clothing back into the drawers of our chest bed.

    It's crazy behavior. I know. But like an addict, I often find myself powerless to it's gravitational pull. I constantly tell myelf "Dan, this is not good for you." Then I tell myself to fuck off, and do it anyway.

    And guess what? I may be joining you in grief induced diabetes. My doctor informed me that not only do I now have high blood pressure, but that I am also borderline diabetic.


    How did that happen? Maybe I'm eating too many sweets? You know, the sad part is that I don't really care enough to do anything about it. I have a family history of diabetes, so why not me. Hey, life seems to fuck with me alot, so I'm used to it.

    Sorry for dropping the "F" bomb twice, but something tells me I'm in good company.

    Love you.


  6. Beautiful, beautiful writing, Boo.

    I have never found that reading books about bereavement helped me. Well-meaning people have given them to me, but I always find myself arguing with them! As a dull, analytical sort I have to do this thinking and pulling apart of my feelings for myself, but I think what the books do do well is to put names to what we are feeling - and I can understand how that helps a lot.

    As for the clearing, just keep at it at your own pace. It is simply impossible to explain to people how difficult this is - the feelings of panic that the thought of throwing away even a single piece of paper can induce. This 'stuff' is the shell that protects us, and chipping away at it lays us bare every time. We then have to develop our own toughness to fill in the gap.

    There is a drawer in my dressing table that R used to use. It is literally full of rubbish, swept in there so I wouldn't nag him about leaving it out on view. I keep opening it because I know it has to go - and I'd really like to use it myself! Then I close it again and move on.
    One day I will empty it, and sort the things that I really want to keep - but it is the mess inside the drawer that is the essence of R, not the objects themselves.
    Try explaining that to The Untouched!

    But keep at it my dear. I don't know where it will take you, but you will get there in the end.

  7. Dan, maybe it isn't bad for you to do that ... we have to do what we have to do to get through this and if you gain comfort in the short-term from having Michael's things around you, so be it. When you want to, when you are ready, perhaps you will pack them up again, perhaps you won't though. I know a widow who at 10 years still has a few cherished items of clothing in her wardrobe. I think I will always have some of the things that Cliff loved around my home because I love them too ... not necessarily because he did.

    Diabetes? OMG I'm sorry to hear that. I am sure it was grief-induced ... I understand what you're saying about antipathy regarding getting it under control, but please consider that your day to day life will become more of a battle if you don't ... simply because it makes you so damn tired, and we're already tired enough as it is. PLEASE think about it because I love you x

  8. J - you are right about doing/clearing when I'm strong enough ... I have managed to do some, then tried other things and fell apart :-( Soooooo, later I will try again, but it's recognizing that we can't do it, NOT YET ... isn't it?

    I completely understand what you are saying about the mess being the "thing" as opposed to all the individual items, that you would miss. And yes, the untouched would think that a little weird ... but to me, it sounded completely rational and I "got it" immediately.

    thanks for your support J xxx

  9. What a lovely summary of your first two years' journey. I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to print it out and take it with me to the widows' course I'm giving. I think it will be inspirational for those people who are just in the beginning stages. I haven't read that book yet, but I'll add it to the resouce list and buy a copy when I get back from vacation. thanks,

  10. T - anything that will help another widow is fine by me :-) I don't think I swore too much?

  11. The summary of your journey so far is valuable to me, Boo. Even though our paths to widowhood are very different, we still must walk this stinkin' widow road to find ourselves once again.

    I've started reading this book on my Kindle, but think I might do better with a hard copy. Or maybe I need to recognize that it's just too soon for some things.

  12. AMWJ - I'd really recommend the following books for the first months:

    Companion through the Darkness
    A Grief Observed

    (there are links on the right hand side of this blog that you can order from)

    Seven Choices was excellent for me at two years in ... but if you just read the first choice ... it may help, then pick it up again when you feel ready. It is so hard to attempt large chapters in the rawness of your grief.

    Be patient, kind and gentle to yourself my friend xs