Feb 092013

Mike and Beth at a winery in Washington state, 1998

Beth and I visited a winery near Seattle on a 1998 driving trip along the coast to celebrate our 24th anniversary. I had been diagnosed two years earlier and was still getting around using forearm crutches. Beth wouldn't be diagnosed for seven more years.

Over the past several months, I have spent quite a bit of time browsing forums that deal with loss. Loss of a loved one, loss of ability, loss of strength and mobility. It makes me sad to hear of so many people who feel that no longer being able to walk, or no longer having the companionship of a loved one, means that life is no longer worthwhile.

I went from being a low handicap golfer, avid hiker and runner, enthusiastic traveler, to being confined to a wheelchair and now being confined to an 11′ x 15′ room, especially when the weather is too bad to go out for a wheelchair ride. My wife of 38 years died in October, far too young, due to her own rare disabling disease (myotonic muscular dystrophy).

I definitely grieve the loss of my wife and loss of strength and loss of the life I once had. At least once a day that grief will be strong enough to make me stop whatever I’m doing and shed a tear. In fact, during the first couple of months after my wife died, the grief was so intense that it was quite painful physically. Rather than avoid it, I chose to accept that pain, experience it as deeply and fully as possible, and in that way let it help me heal. Years ago, a meditation instructor taught our class how to get rid of a headache. He said when you felt it coming on to focus on the pain as intensely as you could. Try to describe it, determine its focal point, trace it throughout your body. The remarkable thing was that once a person focused intensely on the pain it usually went away. It seems that pain is trying to send us a message and if we can pay attention, it won’t have to shout so loud. So that is Part One of how I deal with grief and loss; I embrace the pain and let it heal. In fact, I pick a fight with it by writing this blog and the new blog I have created celebrating Beth’s life.

Part Two is realizing that my life is about so much more than what I have lost. I have the comfort of feeling surrounded by family, even though many of them live far away. Beyond that, life is so exciting right now due to the advances of technology. My computer provides a window into a world that I could never have imagined when I was growing up. I can use Google Earth Street View and visit nearly any city or countryside in the world just by moving my mouse. One moment I can be “walking” beside the Eiffel Tower, the next I can be riding along the Pacific Coast Highway at Big Sur. Recently I have developed a keen interest in computer programming and have discovered the wonderful online courses offered by Stanford University. In fact I was just watching a lecture (on iTunes) by a Stanford computer professor and marveling at how much I felt like I was right in the room. That prompted me to add this article to my blog.

In a few minutes, the caregiver will deliver my dinner, attach my mobile arm support, place a bib around my neck, and I can enjoy my meal while watching the latest Batman movie on my computer. So yes, my life is populated by loss and grief, but they are joined by new sources of fulfillment. I hope that others in my situation are finding their own joy as we continue this surprising journey.

  6 Responses to “How I Deal With Grief and Loss”

  1. You always inspire me. I will always remember your words.

  2. You know how you inspire me. If I have learned one thing in 60 years it is that attitude can make all the difference. I think it was Lincoln who said “You will be as happy as you choose to be”. Loss is so hard and I think people too often try to hide from the pain. You are in my prayers Mike. You are a blessing to so many.

  3. Mike, I hope you deeply know how you inspire.

  4. Hello, Mike. I found your message very inspiring as well. Would you do us the honor of visiting our website? We are a volunteer musical organization that performs EXCLUSIVELY for skilled nursing facilities. We are looking for paitents/residents who would like to be a part of CHANGING the WORLD for residents in nursing homes and convalescent homes.

    You might enjoy this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkmLpMdgakU

    And our website….. http://www.thepayitforwardband.com/

    Hope you are having a fine day ! We look forward to hearing from you ifthere is any interest !!

  5. Mike, what a great post you shared here. The grief must be so overwhelming at times and yet you fight through it and show us that there is still a life to live and learn new things.

    I do admire you greatly! Dagmar

  6. Yeah! I have a grandma who is a great writer and painter. His works are worth going through and all he writes is about love and family. His wife died of cancer 8 years back and he had never wrote since then. He always stays depressed and silent and now he is weak and cannot walk without help. He is now taken to a nursing home in California where is looked after by a good caregiver. I knew, that he began smiling and speaking a bit when he is engaged in social activities there. The thing i understood is, such kind of seniors should not be left alone. Engaging in some fun activities would make them forget grief and problems. Such type of activities have to be accomplished in all adult care homes.

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