Category Archives: healing

How To Grieve During The Holidays — and, Keep Your Sense of Humor.

 

I used to have a wicked sense of humor.

Meaning: at school, R.A. was the funniest girl in class.

Of course, this was in that archaic phase of history formerly known as “junior high”. And, maybe the cusp of sophomore year. But, details don’t matter. Once life kicked into high gear, the end began.

Yes. Somewhere between the first side impact car accident and the onset of the migraines, something started to chip away at the old edge of wit. Perhaps the newest pain medication, intended to act on serotonin receptors. Whatever. Once I got to college, a secular state university, all my energy was required just to function semi socially and remain a virgin. Well, technically, anyway. While still a sitting infant I’d plopped down, on top of a phallus sized, lead painted steel truck from my elder brother’s collection, and broken my hymen.

But, yeah. Directly proportionate to the degree of accepted responsibilities, any vestige of humor pretty much konked out, was a burgeoning skill as a tedious bore. Add to that a vocal cord surgery, in ’98. Losing my hallmark guffaw was the icing on that cake; I was the most profoundly unfunny person in the world, and couldn’t even laugh about it.

By way of outcome, or perhaps some damage to the central amygdala, across the multiple decades hence there emerged one topic about which I could speak as a veritable Rhodes scholar: grief.

It’s true. If any girl knew anything about sobbing her way through a workshop on teaching the gifted, it was I. Even attending a lecture presented for local women and hearing Nelson Mandela’s absolution on letting your light shine, I cried like a blubbering baby.  As for the dark of pre-menstrual night, and that old familiar fetal position, there would be me, screaming into the pillow like nobody’s mama.

Interestingly, grief being directly the result of loss, I seemed to have cornered the market on losing loved ones. Whether grandparents, parents, relatives, or significant others, I had spent more on funeral arrangements in the course of the gift giving budget than anything else. Add to that far too many failed attempts at intimate relationship and you had Doctor Ruth, minus the short legs and the cheery grin.

Now, as self appointed spokeswoman for the wisdom of aging, I come to you on the better side of post menopause with a seasoned appreciation for synthesis. Perhaps the out of pocket orthodontia to cure tempo-mandibular joint dysfunction gets the prize, because the migraines have significantly ceased and, with them, the need for brain chemistry altering medication. If there is anything to be gleaned from it all I now offer the following: grieving — with a sense of humor.

Herewith a list of tips. (And, no. Mind altering substance ingestion is not required.)

1.) CATASTROPHE.

As we all know, the state of the planet and the world upon it hanging on for dear life, we don’t have to look very far to find the latest disaster during the holidays. In fact, sudden horrific events seem to emerge out of nowhere just as the malls open for business. And, even if we’ve had to say goodbye to the one person we were sure would be holding our hand when we croaked, there is nothing quite like a tsunami on the Pacific rim to jolt us back into relative reality.

I recommend finding the channel which covers the latest world news, and scrolling til we find something geographic. There is a surreal comfort in gaping at massive destruction, particularly if we find ourselves a.) reasonably clothed; b.) sufficiently nourished, and c.) able to adjust the internal temperature of the room to our liking. Allowing ourselves to sit quietly and attune, as the warm surge of relief that none of what we are witnessing is actually happening in any remote proximity, can resemble momentary bliss. It can also gently nudge our better angels to remind us that we could count our blessings.

2.) CHARITY.

Speaking of taking a tally, even if we retired way too early to collect enough to pull us out of a declining demographic, sending twenty bucks to help victimized children does wonders for the dopamine. Contributing to these, as well as those who manage to survive catastrophe, is the most guilt free (and, grief releasing) pleasure on earth. We can do so joyfully, with absolutely no concern for subliminal self righteousness, which can lead to self loathing which, in turn, can frequently cause us to dial a friend and vent. Venting on friends, during the holidays, is the perfect way to get crossed off the last party list that held out hope for the most wretched among us.

But, be cautious; if we do send money, be sure that we have decided with certainty that we hate holiday parties. Sometimes the cascade of cause and effect is too powerful to quell and actually accepting that the phone won’t chime an invitation, at all, must be adequately addressed and confronted with a mature resignation.

3.) GORGING.

Everybody drowns their sorrows in consumables. I suspect that appetite is triggered by a gaping sense of loss.

That said, congratulating ourselves for being sufficiently devastated, we can set about the table before us with any number of syrupy, savory, and textured delectables knowing that – now that we are utterly alone in the world – we don’t have to share them with anybody.

However, keeping various protein sources at arm’s reach is strongly suggested. Every twenty minutes, as the eyelids begin to flutter, stuffing a block of cheese into the face will cut that glycemic rise, effectively preventing ten minutes of sudden coma. During grief, every ten minutes missed is ten minutes lost. And, we all know that the objective is to indulge, for as long as we can remain coherent and capable of sudden wailing and gnashing of teeth. Keeping a glucose monitor handy is also prudent.

4.) PUBLIC DISPLAYS.

Five days ago, I had to endure the excruciating extraction of my entire self from an environment into which I had voluntarily placed myself for twenty months. Granted, the psychic abuse of living in suspended disbelief, instead of squarely facing that hope for a future of committed mutual trust was likely a serious joke, had been preferable for a remarkably protracted period of time. Denial is the pablum of the pathetic.

Since then, to my personal chagrin, I have dissolved into tears in two, distinct Post Office service lines. Completely uncontrollable sniffling and face wiping, with the back of a fading red glove. And, this year, I cannot even blame a single hormone for the rush; all mine are externally introduced, on call or in the stickered ziploc.

The woman with the most empathic reaction actually allowed me back into my queue, after a failed attempt to help another customer carry her packaged burden to her car. The man in the next line who spoke the most encouraging words to me was none other than the service department manager at the car dealership where I’d purchased my Pontiac, with the lemon engine, whose six or seven gaskets had been replaced and for which I had successfully sued GM for five grand.

No. We truly cannot make these things up. Reality really is stranger than fiction. For this cause, I highly recommend that the grieving take it to the streets. Cry, out loud, whenever and wherever we go. Displaying raw, authentic emotion will spur the most outrageous outpouring of human altruism most never knew they possessed, including being reminded that crying is good because it detoxifies the body. A room full of weeping people could ensue. This would provoke entire gaggles of clasping hugs, grinding all commerce to a dead halt and shutting down the economy. Cars would remain parked, people choosing to walk, arm in arm, forsaking their petty materialisms and inviting one another in for a hot meal and some group singing around the piano, revolutionizing society for an entire generation.

So, throw back your head. Squeeze your wet eyelids til they squint out the last tear. Tomorrow will never come. Instead, you will wake up from your sleep, when your body is finally done resting, and your today will be waiting right where you left off.

Isn’t it funny how that works?

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© 11/27/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo. Thank you for respecting the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line.  Try not to laugh.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

Euphemisms.

 

“I’m treading water.”

“We could both use a break from the ‘unhealthy pace’.”

“I need space to process feelings, desires, choices and goals.”

And, to add, the operative noun:

“Imperative”.

 

All euphemisms.

For never coming back.

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The tenacious ones always get hurt.

Being a barnacle. Hanging on, trying harder, being mindful, vowing to practice good listening skills. Harvesting scraps, from dinner.

Denying how much the one so loved wants to leave.

He’d been talking about “incompatibility” for months. Good listening skills notwithstanding, I’d refused to hear it. Compatibility was a small thing; heck, I’d been “matched” for it at eHarmony.com in 2006, spending three weeks with a bona fide, raving psychotic. You laugh?

I thought that really caring, providing nurture, being helpful around his house, thinking of his needs first whenever I entered a store, trying to find solutions to an endless litany of problems, and being willing to drive the twenty three minutes each way to his place three, four times per week were the ways to show love. Oh, and, the big one: forgiving him all his sins. Past, and present. Repeatedly.

I was mistaken.

In the end, everything I said or did, and how I said and did it, drove him away. He couldn’t stand being around me. He only wanted me there when I wasn’t.

And so, he treated me in kind. I often found my words dismissed – grammatically and syntactically correct texts, each one requiring an intolerable twelve seconds to digest – deleted because there were just too many of them; my overall behavior frequently subjected to declarations tinged with sarcasm and outrage; sweeping generalizations about what was “normal” regularly put up as the barometer against my every act. And yet, to sum it all up, this was “just me”, and who was he to try to “change” me?

By now, with the single exceptions of downhill skiing, skydiving, scuba, performing surgery, and giving birth, everything about life had happened to me. There’d hardly been an experience to which there hadn’t been at least some tangential connection. I’d hiked to the top of Mt. Washington, reeled in a mahimahi off the Honolulu coast, and played on stage with YoYo Ma. Taught competitive marching band (not very competitively, being a poet and aesthete), choir, chorus, hundreds of strings, scores of private students, and coached/produced/directed childrens’ drama ten times in ten years. In 1984, traveled alone to Scotland, England, France, Germany and Switzerland. Written and illustrated three childrens’ books. Bought my own house at age 29, my own cello at 28, and my own Steinway at 57.

But, being dumped as a single woman, at age 61. That smelled more like terror. Who wanted an old woman, for a partner? Surely not an old man. Men were largely unteachable, to begin with, unless groomed by a registered Suzuki instructor by age 4; how could they be expected to adapt to anything, by this time?

I suppose that, just like I myself declared in the musings of a prior piece, beginning again at age 61 might entail going more solo than ever before. That multiply published author, as she traveled the college keynote circuit, never made mention of either a husband or even children. But then, the tiny one, in the bookstore. Carefully laying out all the major novels as her world for the remaining winters of her solitary existence.

So, what did I want? And, what would it be? Serving at the soup kitchen, on Christmas day? My own mother had regularly helped do the very thing, every week in the final few years of her life. She died, anyway, at age seventy six, not a day older than she was at seventeen.

Ask, and ye shall receive. But, isn’t it better to give?

Well?

I’m tired of giving. Giving up, that is – most of my entire self, for another (but, keeping the house, dammit. The only thing I hadn’t done was build it, for God’s sake.)

Maybe spreading love around is the secret. I’m a sprinter anyway, after all – good in short, intense spurts. For the long haul? The biggest load since the space shuttle crossing country on a flatbed.

No matter that the shuttle altered life on the planet as we all knew it. The shuttle was never intended to win friends or influence people, or get tucked into bed at night between the dogs and the warm, familiar embodiment of romantic idealism.

Even as a child, I was not well liked. My own mother found me irritating. And, she was quick to say so. I bore every, single trait inherited from her husband which she never knew until after he’d married her.

So, time to go.

Or, stay.

Tonight, I’ll be at my house. It’s warm, inside. Been mine, for thirty years. Plenty of space, to fill with perpetually collecting reminders of everyone who’d ever been next to me in the room, now to sit alone and think.

But, just don’t ask me to feel.

For that, I would need a really exquisite, carefully selected, and truly exceptional metaphor.

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© 11/26/18   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.   All rights those of the world’s most rejectable woman, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for stifling your self satisfied derision.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

Covering the Mirror.

 

The henna tinted haircut had become oily and matted. Clothes, twice worn, and I’d missed the shower in the a.m. It was nigh on 5:37, and the service was to begin at 6.

I looked a sight. Yet, the temple being a scant four minutes from the house, my heart told me that missing their open invitation would be the greater regret. Dabbing some under eye concealer, a bit of pink powder and a neutral lipstick, I fluffed what remained of the haircut, grabbed the short raincoat, and headed for State Street.

Turning left at the top of Cherry Street, my Pontiac soon joined a steady trough of traffic. Parking at the temple’s Jefferson Society lot was limited, and street options could extend north all the way down the hill if we didn’t get all the greens heading east. I wondered how many from as far away as Fairview had also accepted the invitation?

West of the stadium, cars were already lining the curb. But, two schoolbuses were also present, next to the academy. The stream of drivers was intended for their evening football game. My thymus relaxed, a little.

Reaching the temple, I was relieved to see a spot up from the Jefferson entrance. People were still walking from lot to front, and I joined them, hugging the mustard yellow rainjacket around my jeans to cut the wet chill. Sure enough, ladies were in mid calf skirts, men in dark dress, and then Jack, looking pensive, the news cam man who’d taken my one and only career black and white decades earlier. I resumed my customary cringe. Find a seat in the very back, slide in swiftly, say nothing. Stepping past the security guard and the packing, body armored special agent, I entered the foyer. There was Charles, standing at the door.

We greeted, me offering the self deprecating reference to shabby attire and he quick with the witty retort, something about God not caring and me hoping so. He, with his hearty, reassuring laugh.

My seat awaited, one of four in the far right rear row, two fellow Gentiles on either end. I sat beside Maria, who looked as Bavarian as if she’d just arrived from northern Minnesota.

The room was filling, rapidly. I recognized several, from various stages of my own history in our ageless community. The men, in their yarmulkes. A respected surgeon, in his, plus blue scrubs. An extremely tall gent, in his, ball of the hand curved over a carved walking stick. The current Erie County Executive. A former Mayor of Erie. At least two Mizrachi, with stronger noses in profile than hardly anyone saw anymore, likely never in a fashion rag. And, me, feeling every percentage of the Persian/Turk in my Ancestry.com DNA reveal.

I missed, quietly, Rabbi Len and Faith Lifshen, and their son, Moshe. This had been their temple, prior to the move south and Rabbi’s subsequent death. Turning to Maria I made mention of them, and pointed out the Ark of the Covenant glass encasement in the center of the altar. After my lengthy paragraph, she mentioned the Torah scrolls, me realizing that, yet again, I’d presumed the role of teacher rather than learner.

One of the last to enter was a short young woman, who chose the remaining seat beside me. She was the only female in a yarmulke within my sight line, and I hadn’t remembered ever seeing a woman wear one. Just as she became settled, removing her coat, around the aisle came a slender man who extended his open palm to the Gentile on the left end. He took the hand of each one of us in the back row, introducing himself and asking our names. He was the new Rabbi up from Pittsburgh, where he lived, to conduct the Shabbat Kaddish at Temple Brith Sholom.

This was my second Jewish service. At Yom Kippur, several musical colleagues and I had been invited to the other temple, across town, by another of us who, being a Jew, was slated to play the Kol Nidre on her flute. The rabbi that night was a woman, a guest from New York, and the remaining four vocal musicians and their pianist were all Gentiles but one.

The music at this Shabbat was all vocal. It was produced by the Rabbi, and his seasoned congregation.

After an earnest and warm welcome from, surprise! Doris, a retired teacher with whom I had worked nearly thirty years earlier, the rabbi explained in detail what we as the guests could expect from the service. He encouraged us to select a prayer book from the racks attached to the chairs in front of us. The prayer book pages were turned briskly, from rear to front, as the rabbi chanted in fluent Hebrew and the congregation sang along. I was reminded that, let alone a language strange to my tongue, unless I could see the notation my ability to retain a new melody was woeful. We sat, and stood; remained standing, and sat. Stood. Turned; bowed; sat, again. At each rise and return, a room filled with slightly damp athletic shoes squeaked, in chorus.

The Kaddish, Rabbi explained, was the congregational prayer, uttered in unison aloud. Some Shabbats were mourning Kaddish; this one would have two aspects, the first for private mourners and the second for the victims of the tragedy at Tree Of Life.

Just before the time had come to offer up the Kaddish, the Rabbi spoke in short sermon. He described the innumerable traditions which were the foundation of conservative Judaism. One point in particular spoke to me, as an aspect of mourning.

He said that Jews, by their nature and by their tradition, are open. They encourage emotional expression. Crying during mourning is a given. But, he also insisted, mourning was to be embodied. There would be no preparation of fine adornment; instead, Jews were to begin by eliminating bathing. They were to immerse themselves, entirely, in grief. And, to render this practice intently selfless, they were to cover all the mirrors in the house.

My eyes opened, wide. I looked at the Rabbi.

For that moment, and in the moments later, I stood in solidarity with God’s chosen people against both the recent horror and an entire epoch of vile hatred which had wrenched their global family. Soiled, unkempt; unclean, I was right there.

Out of body, present in spirit, I no longer saw myself.

Only Adonai.

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© 11/2/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.       littlebarefeetblog.com