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Grief Continues to Evolve even at Social Security Age

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Date : February 18, 2017

My journey of dealing with my father’s death has taken place over five decades. At times, I travel down familiar roads only to end up spinning my grief around where it has no landing place. Other times I will go down those same roads and previously locked doors will fly open and supreme understanding flows into my heart.

The problem is not knowing when walking down a path repeatedly indicates that you are stuck in your loss or if there are new insights on the horizon. I believe that continuing the journey is how to find your truth.

I am having one of those moments now:

I have had difficulty coming to terms with my father’s death. He died fifty years ago, when I was fifteen. Maybe I am getting triggered because next month I will have outlived him by ten years. He was 56 when he died. I am going to be the social security collecting age of 66. I have written books, blogs and articles about my personal grief and loss. I often land up in this guilt-ridden, anxious, depressed state in a world that offers no comfort or answers. I have been in therapy on and off for years. Of course, I feel that therapy is very helpful or else I wouldn’t be a therapist myself. I have been in private practice for almost thirty years.

I replay the scenes of me punching my father in the stomach to protect myself from being stuck by him and him staring through me, walking away and never speaking to me again; my mother standing at the gym door announcing that my dad was seriously ill from a stroke now in the hospital; my father dying in ICU without ever seeing him; me taking on the newly assigned role of man of the house and failing miserably.

Even after all this time I continue gathering new insights. Right now, I am connecting my father’s refusal to speak with me after I punched him with the massive pain I experience when I feel rejected and abandoned. That blank look on his face and the disappointing energy my mother shined on me continually crushes the teenager within.

When I look inside myself, I see the teenager; snarl on his face, Marlboro stuck between his lips. His blond hair’s bangs swirled on his forehead-straightened and smoothed with Dippity-Do and hair clips. He is wearing a green paisley short sleeved shirt, light green Levi jeans and loafers without sox. He definitely thought he was too cool for school.

He is filled with anxious energy, hurt, anger and loss. He resents that he has no father and doesn’t understand his role in life. He has no idea how to soothe or praise himself for good deeds because he never feels that he commits acts that are worthy of positive attention. He is sensitive to criticism and has innate radar that alerts him when hurt is about to strike; which is virtually all the time. Even the massive amounts of drugs he took back then do not ease his fears and sometimes exacerbate them.

Me the adult realizes that me the teenager needs intervention. He cannot heal on his own. He doesn’t know how. He is still fifteen, working in a movie theater as an usher in the darkness. He feels isolated, alone and without hope. He doesn’t trust adults and I’m not sure if he trusts the adult-me.

The teenager-me keeps hoping for a happy ending after his father’s death. The adult-me keeps searching for the Hollywood finale to help the teenager find peace, but this process seems to work temporarily and then resorts to the same empty, hurtful, hopeless place.

I have learned to feel that the word acceptance has no real meaning. I mean how can I accept that my dad is dead? The adult knows he is dead, but the teen is seeking guidance, forgiveness that only a father can give and he is not returning to earth. The teen feels like he hits a brick wall at this juncture and believes he will never find redemption.

Maybe acceptance isn’t a curtain closing event. Maybe it isn’t where all anguish stops for eternity. Maybe acceptance is having a place to put all the extraordinary pain in an internal safe place whenever the demons decide to dance on your heart and dreams.

While I was driving to the grocery store, I had another revelation. My father’s abrupt death after I hit him when he walked away and never speaking to me again was the ultimate sign from the gods and goddesses that he had given up on me. At least that is how the teenager within experienced it. The teenager doesn’t have the vocabulary for many life’s traumas because he hasn’t been in this world long enough to have developed the concepts for grief, loss, and catastrophe and endless sorrow.

I realize that most of my life is spent attempting to prevent others from giving up on me. It doesn’t matter if they are acquaintances, strangers, friends or those closest to me. In the center of my being is a tornado warning me that whoever I am talking to will give up on me and leave me all alone. The teenager within believes that this is his story as he tries to do all he can to stop people from losing faith in him.

This makes him hypervigilant and overwhelmed. He doesn’t know what to do and he feels so guilty. What kind of boy hits his sick father? A loser that’s who. A bad person that’s who. He feels so lost and isolated. He is ashamed to talk about this and doesn’t trust adults to help him. He also doesn’t feel that he deserves their help.

I see my father’s face when I punched him. He was hurt, astounded and in disbelief. That image surrounds and overpowers. I am crying from deep inside. He also was not in his right mind as I learned later. He had a series of strokes that crippled his brain function.

I go out of my way not to give up on people and now I know why. I get triggered when I am around others who have seemed to give up on life. I do my best to help them reach inside and dig out the hope.

The same father-teenage configuration that existed between my father and me takes place inside of me-Bob. The father ignores the teenager to the point he is not aware of his vibrant presence. The father inside doesn’t comfort the teenager. He doesn’t hold him and he doesn’t comfort him. He doesn’t seem to know how or believe it will help-maybe the way my father thought about me with his stoke addled mind. The adult-me can do this for his clients though. He makes sure he tells them how brave, smart and persistent they are- How they have all the qualities to be successful and happy in life. This is the talk the adult and teenager do not recall anyone ever having with them. Perhaps this not entirely accurate non-the less it feels like truth.

The adult does not seek out the teenager when hopeless, anxiety and depression break out. The adult does not seem to be aware that these feelings are emanating from the teenager, not the adult. The teenager takes over when fear is initiated and rules all that follows. The teen doesn’t know how to ask for help and he doesn’t trust adults either including the one inside him.

Do these two even know each other? Are they aware of each other’s existence? Do they know what the other looks like or what they enjoy or hate?

I went out for my normal five-mile run. I was listening to Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t make you Love Me. Her words describe my feelings about my father in the aftermath of punching him. He never looked at me again and I felt that “I can’t make you love me if you won’t”. Tears flowed from my eyes as I choked up as the hurt stabbed deep into the morning.

While I was into my third mile Diane Reeves version of Ricki Lee Jones Company came on. I was missing my father intensely at this moment as I heard these lyrics, “But we’ll never be the same
And I know I’ll never have this chance again No, not like you So, I’ll see you in another life now baby, I’ll free you in my dreams.”

I looked inside and saw the adult with his long hippie hair, strong body for a senior, dressed in jeans, a stylish colorful shirt and shoes without laces. He is looking at the teenager who is dressed in his usual get up. The adult calls out to the teen, “Rob, I know I want to help you feel alive. I want to help you recover from your loss. I want to love you.” Rob walks toward the adult me and puts his arms around me. We both cry rivers of tears.

The adult asks the teenager to look at photos of his father smiling upon him. He shows him his dad’s writings that proves that he loved him. The adult says, “Rob, our dad did love you and he would have loved me. He didn’t strike you because he hated you. He hit you because he was not in his right mind. We missed so much by not having him in our lives.” Rob smiles and sits down next to the adult-me and proceeds to ask questions about his life and all our lives.

I know finding harmony with the adult and teen inside won’t be a quick fix. The adult and adolescent need many more of these moments. Lots of internal distrust, compartmentalizing to overcome before integration of the mind, body and soul takes place.

The next song that flows through the headset is the main theme of my life’s playlist. It is called What Becomes of the Broken Hearted and it is sung by Jimmy Ruffin. What does become of the broken hearted? Their hearts are shattered into many fragile pieces from trauma and loss. The different parts of the heart stop communicating with each other and become fragmented pieces of pain. Overtime with fierceness and perseverance, the shattered pieces gradually reconnect with each other and learn how to love each other again.

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Letting Go of Grief
Move Your Body to Rock and Soul

Letting go of Grief: Move Your Body to Rock and Soul teaches you how to work through your losses. These losses could be the death of a loved one, the end of an important relationship or other trauma. Grief is an evolving process and you will learn what the term acceptance means. It means that you will always have the option of honoring your loss, but you don’t have to be continually consumed by it. In this book, you will learn to find a landing place in your heart for grief. You will learn to embrace the pain instead of being afraid of facing it.

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