Live or Survive (the Song by TREN) and the Great Grief Dilemma

I heard “Live or Survive” by TREN this morning, and within seconds — before listening to the whole song again and again — I knew I’d share it here. Although this isn’t a song about grief,  its music nevertheless speaks to me (or should I say sings?) of the great grief dilemma I’ve faced with the death of each loved one. 

*Here’s the song:

Now, I realize TREN didn’t write this song to speak about grief. Their intention is stated on their Facebook page:

“Live or Survive” was written with a mission to play at the end credits of the last Hunger Games movie, by TREN (Taylor Miranda, Richard Williams, Eliza Smith, and Nate Young). The idea is that there comes a time when we must either fight for a chance at really “living life” or give in to circumstance and simply “survive.”https://www.facebook.com/wearetren/timeline (Twitter: @tren_music)

I’m a fan of the Hunger Games franchise. A big fan. (I won’t admit how many times I’ve read the books by Suzanne Collins and seen the movies.) I hope the producers jump at the chance to include this song. It captures the contradictions Katniss faces within herself as much as with her battle against The Capitol.

But that’s not why I feel impelled to share it here, where I write about how to help grieving friends, family, and coworkers.

What I heard was a reflection of daily battles with bereavement. “Live or Survive” captures the multifaceted impossibilities of what I call the great grief dilemma for the newly-bereaved: my life is over, but I’m still here to live it.

Consider these lyrics by TREN (in italics) — paired with grief-related thoughts I’m expressing in the present tense (to reflect new, raw grief):

  • “I hear the call, but will I listen?” — I hear the doctor’s words of diagnosis. Of pronouncement. I know their meaning, but I do not, cannot know what they mean, much less accept them.
  • “Flames pave the sky in the distance.” — My world tumbles upside-down. There’s air beneath my feet, and smoke obscures my eyes. Everything is altered.
  • “I know my place, but should I stay?” — I’m a wife, but my husband is dead. I’m my mother’s daughter, but Mom is gone. Who am I? (My friends — dear friends — who have lost beloved children are, and will always be, the parents of those precious departed souls, but these bereaved parents will forever straddle pain whenever someone asks the number of their children.)
  • “Something in my soul craves resistance.” — Denial doesn’t allow me to accept that my loved one is never coming back. Unfinished business or issues will never be resolved. It’s too much to take, so I won’t think about it. My brain is overloaded and my heart won’t let me.
  • “One by one, they drop and fall, hiding beneath already broken walls. Watch them burn to the ground.” — My plans, hopes, dreams, and expectations for the future have died with my husband. Hourly at first, then over days, weeks, and months, loss peels layer after layer from my being.
  • “Ashes of freedom never to be found. Traitor to the truth inside.” — Tethered by 24/7 caretaking, the death of my dear one delivers physical relief with a terrible, terrible cost. Survivor’s guilt means that (even if I believe it) I don’t want to hear how wonderful it is he’s no longer suffering or how glad anyone is that she’s in “a better place.”
  • “Can you stand tall against the tide?” — Grief assaults me in waves that knock me to my knees. Mourning often submerges me. Standing requires strength I don’t have.
  • “Will you put your hands in the sky?” — How can I go on? I give up. I can’t do this on my own.
  • “Or curl them into fists and fight?” — I snap at everyone around me, stuck in fight-or-flight battle mode. Uncharitable words I’ve never uttered chip at my defenses until I’m even fighting myself just to keep a civil tongue.
  • “Live or survive. Live or survive.” — If one more person tells me “life goes on,” I’ll scream. Loudly. Because it doesn’t. His didn’t. And yet … and yet … I can’t deny I’m still here. But I’m not living. Not really. Barely.
  • “Gotta pick a side.” — I have to decide. Will I ever do more than go through the motions? Will I ever want to live for myself?
  • “Can you hear them calling?” — Too many calls. Not enough calls. Don’t demand I do things now. I’m not ready. Don’t ignore me, either. I need to be called. I need to know I still matter, even though the one who mattered to me is gone.
  • “Can’t waste time.” — I can’t even tell time, let alone track it. Once-simple, 30-minute tasks take hours. Seasons surprise me. Yet funerary and other business matters demand timely attention my mind can’t pay.
  • “Revolution falling.” — My worldview’s shifting with my upside-down universe. Except for the innermost core of my being (a knowledge that God loves me and will somehow carry me through this), I take nothing else for granted but unpredictable change.
  • “I will not stand by.” — I can’t stand seeing others mourning — it hurts too much! — but I won’t stand apart (or depart) from them either. If I can help ease another’s loneliness, isolation, sorrow, insecurity, or confusion in their grief, I have to try. I have to. (Hence, this site.)
  • “Courage at the core. Go before the fear sets in.” — It requires unspeakable, exhausting courage to manage routine business matters. I count my breathing before asking for help and stave off the panic until I hang up. It takes days to muster the will to make a single phone call, and once I psyche myself up to it I must act. Fast.
  • “Stronger than before.” — Hour by hour. The only way to survive this. (If one more person says “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” I may remind them that didn’t work so well for my husband. Loudly.)
  • “Never let your faith give.” — My trust in God’s plan for my life takes a back seat to my trust in his love for me. (Back seat? On second thought, trust in “the plan” rides on a rickety trailer pulled far behind the vehicle of love where I’m seat-belted in place. It’s still there, but not easy to reach. For a time.)
  • “Live for something more.” — It’s not possible to live when your other half is severed. Only half a being remains. So when I do learn to live again, it will have to be for something more.

It’s been 56 months since my husband died and nearly 20 years since Mom’s passing. am living again, and life is good, thanks to time and work and practice, but I’ll never “get over” loving the ones I’ve lost. No one does. Rather, we learn to live in spite of our bereavement. Sometimes, though, events (anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, or nothing identifiable) will reactivate waves of grief. When they strike again, I’ll remember I have options:

“Will you put your hands into the sky?
Or curl them into fists and fight?
Live or survive.”

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*If you enjoyed TREN’s music as much as I did, please like and share it using #liveorsurvive and #tren. When Mockingjay — Part 2 is released, I’d love to hear “Live or Survive” on the soundtrack!

Why Memorial Day Isn’t For You | SpouseBUZZ.com

I seldom repost other blog articles, but this one by Traci Moran has stayed with me since I read it a few days ago. My friend, Lynette Wilson, brought it to my attention on Facebook. This is what she said:

Please, for so many of us, Memorial Day is a solemn occasion, one meant to honor those men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country. Please don’t trivialize the emotions by including “Happy” before it. Please know this weekend shouldn’t be about the big sales, the big barbecues, the big parties.

Take a moment and think of the fatherless and motherless children, the parents who outlived their sons and daughters, the wives and girlfriends, the husbands and boyfriends who miss their sweethearts every day. Remember those lives lost in defense of your freedoms. Freedom is never free. ——Lynette Wilson

Generations of my family have commemorated Memorial Day with graveside readings and remembrance gatherings for departed ancestors, including emphasis on those who gave their lives in service. On Memorial Day I cannot help but be mindful of my recently deceased great-aunt who belonged to the DAR and who every year made sure fresh flowers covered ancestors’ otherwise obscure graves. I’m achingly aware of my husband, mother, nephew, cousin, brother-in-law, father-in-law, grandparents, and all other loved ones who’ve crossed behind the veil where I can no longer see, hear, or touch them.

However, I also know Memorial Day isn’t about me or my losses. It’s about those who have served and died. It’s about remembering them, honoring them, mourning them, and living in gratitude to the debt we owe them — and their families. It’s about recognizing the prices they paid.

Please read Ms. Moran’s article:

Why Memorial Day Isn’t For You | SpouseBUZZ.com.

And please remember.

Letterman’s Last, Rachael Ray’s Recipes, and Loss

David Letterman’s last broadcast. Rachael Ray’s five recipes. May 20, 2015, might be a tough TV day for mourners.

If you’ve watched any late-night American TV in the last 30 years, you’ve seen David Letterman on CBS’s Late Show (or in earlier years on NBC’s Late Night).  Whether you glimpsed him during rare bouts of sleeplessness or your rest depended on counting down his “Top Ten” instead of sheep, you’re probably familiar with his often irreverent and occasionally tender entertainment presence.

Like ocean waves, tax hikes, summer sun, and family genes, I took that presence for granted — until the announcement of his retirement.

Millions will tune in for Letterman’s final show.

I’m not sure whether I will or won’t.

Endings are harder now. My husband seldom watched late-night TV, but when I heard the news my thoughts ran straight to grief: “No! Dave was always on. He was on when my husband was alive. And now they’ll both be gone …”

The retirement of David Letterman and the death of my husband aren’t connected. I know that.

My moving-on-yet-still-grieving brain says otherwise.

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On a different TV note, I’m definitely avoiding Rachael Ray’s “5 More Recipes to Make Before You Die segment scheduled to air this same day. I usually enjoy her show, so I’ll give you the link to the promo clip that alerted me:

When you’re missing someone who died, you don’t want to hear that food is “to die for” or be told your life will be incomplete if you don’t make a particular meal “before you die.” Such phrases highlight the absence of the deceased, who will never have the chance to taste these decadent dishes because their too-short lifetimes were incomplete.

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While I’m harping about food and grief, I’ve bitten my tongue (for over a year) about a snack I saw at the Winter Park Art Festival in 2014. The deep-fried potato crisps were covered in bacon, cheese, and — who knows what else? It looked delicious, but they called it something they probably meant to be cutesy: “Heart Attack on a Plate.”

I was with another widow at the time, a woman whose husband died of a heart attack.

Not cool, marketing department. Not cool at all.

Mourning on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day hurts. I don’t like dwelling on the downside of death (although that may seem like a strange thing from someone who writes about grief), but the best way for me to get through every second Sunday in May is to close the blinds and hunker down in solitude.

Sometimes the light of love (and its loss) shines brighter against the darkness of grief.

Sometimes the light of love (and its loss) shines brighter against the darkness of grief.

It wasn’t always like that. As a kid I picked flowers, drew cards, and poured adulation on Mom. As a young adult, then a new bride, and eventually a mother myself I appreciated her (and my grandmas and aunts) more deeply than before. My cards and gestures of appreciation (which once seemed so grand) paled next to Mom’s lifetime of service — though my daughters’ creative endeavors for me melted my heart.

After Mom died, Mother’s Day went dark. I still went to church that day, but mostly for my children’s sakes. (I wanted them to see me attending weekly even if I didn’t feel like it, and I knew they and their peers had practiced a song for all the moms.) I enjoyed their lovely hugs (and songs) and cards and “interesting” breakfasts in bed that one day of the year.

But the moment memories of Mom meandered into the day, renewed mourning overtook me.

Over the years I’ve learned to live with my mother’s loss, but there were always certain days per year — like Mother’s Day — wherein the pain of being a daughter without a mother hit me again. Hard.

Those hits became all-out assaults after my husband died. The pain of being a wife without a husband knocked the breath out of me.

This is my fifth widowed Mother’s Day. It’s easier … and yet it’s not. (My plastic smile will be a little more convincing as I smile at the children singing at church this year, but I know better than to bother wearing eye makeup.)

If you know someone grieving this Mother’s Day, let them know you’re mindful of their loss. Let them know you’re thinking about them. Let them know you know this year is different than it was.

Don’t say you know how they feel, because you don’t — especially if you’ve never suffered a similar loss. Only bereaved mothers, for instance, can nearly understand the raw feelings of other mothers who have buried a child. Acknowledge the unique, personal, presence of their grief.

Some people need interaction with others to distract them from tender days like this. Reach out and invite them!

But if they ignore or decline your invitation or phone calls, don’t take it personally. They might be like I am, needing to hunker down this year, but also appreciating messages of support. (I’m keeping the “Please do NOT disturb” sign on my door all day.)

Whether they take you up on your offers or don’t bother responding, let them know you’re aware and you care.

Pets, People, Death, and Grief

(I’ve composed this post — in my mind — dozens of times since February, but couldn’t bring myself to word it while my 13-year-old dog’s kidneys were failing. She rallied for a miraculous while, but this week her energy and appetite declined. For her sake, I had to let her go. Now that she’s gone, I can’t not put it into words.)  

Two weeks after her diagnosis, my dog rallied for several weeks. Each extra day was a gift!

Two weeks after her diagnosis, my dog rallied for several weeks. Each extra day was a gift!

If your friend lost a beloved pet (or person), remember that grief is the body’s natural (though awful!) response to losing someone with an emotional connection.

  1. Pets are not people,
    but
  2. Pets are people, too.

Huh? Didn’t I just contradict myself? Yes.

And no.

Pets are not people. Their bodies have different biological rhythms, their life spans (for most species) will run out long before their humans’ lives do, and they are 100 percent physically dependent upon the people who care for them.

Kind of like children. Their bodies have developing biological rhythms that differ from those of their parents (think of newborn sleeping, eating, and um, diapering needs), their life spans (with tragic exceptions) will outlast their parents’ lives,  and for years they are 100 percent physically dependent upon the people who care for them.

As we care for our pets, our children, our elderly relatives, our spouses, and our family-by-choice friends (whose bonds of kinship in some cases exceed those crafted in blood or in law), we join our hearts, minds, and extremities (hands, paws, wingtips, scales, fins …) with theirs.

We and they become family. We serve them, they serve us. We love them.

And when they leave us, they take that joined part of our hearts, our minds, and even the feelings of our extremities with them.

We mourn them.

As with other losses we’ve experienced, we can draw upon our own pain to help us better understand those who are mourning. But we must never, ever compare our losses or one-up “my grief is harder than your grief.” Ever.

I’m mourning my dog. Every part of my house and every part of my day reminds me of her absence. It HURTS. But as much as I love and miss her, this grief is not the same grief I felt after my husband’s death or my mother’s. It’s a different, less intense grief.

And yes, each “new” grief brings back a degree of the shock and the pain of each “old” source of bereavement.

Several people who dearly, deeply love their pets made comments they intended to help (but that did the opposite). When I needed to express my grief over the man who fathered my children, I didn’t appreciate hearing anyone say they “knew” how I felt because they’d had to put down a sick dog once several years earlier or they were dreading “going through” what I was experiencing when the inevitable happened to their pets.

My daughters didn’t appreciate similar comments comparing their dad’s death to the passing of friends’ cats, either. I don’t mean to imply that the loss of a pet is insignificant, because it does matter. When you learn a friend’s beloved fur baby has passed, by all means, speak up and share your condolences! (“I’m sorry about Flipper. She was a good goldfish.”)

But don’t rush in to judge or suggest courses of “replacement” — and this applies to the loss of  a person as well. (Do NOT ask whether — or when — they’re going to get another dog, cat, spouse, or child. Do NOT ask how soon they will start visiting animal shelters, dating, or “trying again” for another baby!)

Comparing losses or rushing to “replace” those we’ve loved doesn’t work. Think of it like this: Would it be better to lose your dominant hand or one of your legs? Which of your senses would you choose to lose? Who would you prefer to mourn when death steps into your circle of loved ones?

All loss hurts. All grief has to be worked through.

Let your friends know that you know they are hurting. (“I’m sorry about Donatello. I know you’re going to miss that sweet, stubborn donkey.”)

Be there with them. Bring tissues or chocolate or music or whatever your friends will find soothing.

Share your memories of their beloved. (“Remember the time Bunny chased that obnoxious salesman away? Good ole rabbit…”

Send word. Drop a line of text, a Facebook comment, an email, or (gasp!) an actual note or letter. They’ll be appreciated.

Many of my kind human friends have already done that for me. I thank you. You are amazing, and your compassion has brought sweetness into my saddened heart as I mourn my beloved, ever-faithful fur friend.

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Helping Your Child When the Family Pet Dies” by the ASPCA includes some validating suggestions and further links at the bottom of its page.