"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
-Oscar Wilde
Brilliant at Breakfast title banner "The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
"...you have a choice: be a fighting liberal or sit quietly. I know what I am, what are you?" -- Steve Gilliard, 1964 - 2007

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"I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum." -- "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (1954-2015), They Live
Saturday, March 08, 2014

Grief, Loss, Leave, and More
Posted by Jill | 12:18 PM
So here it is, almost noon on a Saturday. It's perhaps the first full day off I've had since the beginning of the year. I actually slept in a bit today, having risen to feed the cats (Eli the Little Guy, who took Jenny's spot as Resident Bicolor Cat back last August; and Sammy the Schmul, a Russian Blue mix who adopted me three days after Maggie died) and then gone back to bed. Two hours later, I opened the door and the boys were there waiting for me, unlike Maggie, who would have scratched at the door howling for two hours straight. I'm a bit discombobulated, having lost the two hours that I would have had I awakened at five am the way I usually do, and I'm determined to do at least SOMETHING in this disaster of a house today.

Whatever people told you about grief, they're all wrong. Here in the USA, we try to deny death. We make up corpses and display them in elaborate boxes so people can pretend they're just sleeping in a particularly narrow bed. We have some kind of ceremony and then go out to eat. Observant Jews have it right, I think, what with getting the immediate stuff done quickly and then having guests over every night for a week. But after the rituals are over, that's when the real process starts. For me, it didn't really kick in until Maggie was carried out the door wrapped in a blanket, only to arrive back home later in a 3" x 5" wooden box with a certificate asserting that yes, this was truly the remains of Maggie.

It's not constant. It's not like you sit in a chair crying all day. What you are is a bit raw around the edges. One minute you could be standing up after watching "Inequality for All" at a Unitarian Society, talking about how we have to stop preaching to the converted and frame our ideas better, and the next you're driving past the hospital Where It All Began and screaming. You just kind of have to expect that.

Today there's another member of this club no one wants to join, and that's the wife of one Terry Coppage, who was the mastermind behind one of the first blogs I read regularly; the often gonzo, sometimes insane, but always truthful Bartcop. Bartcop was a blog before there even was such a thing as a blog, and one of the earliest sites to rail against the atrocities of the Bush Administration. And only now, after he is gone, do most of us have a name to associate with the writing. Like Al Weisel, who blogged as Jon Swift, Coppage created a persona that went beyond merely being a person. And now, "Bartcop" joins Steve Gilliard and "Jon Swift" and Paddy over at the Political Carnival in that great blogosphere in the Great Beyond. And "Mrs. Bart", if you read this, contact me. I get it. I really do.

Tremendous loss is a serious wake-up call. It causes one to take stock, to look at one's life and one's home and one's job and say, "Is this really where I want to spend the rest of my days?" I've been working pretty much seven days a week since the beginning of the year, and I have to admit that I am not functioning on all cylinders. The Job That Ate My Life has really been hungry, and frankly, after once again having to scramble to keep to a timeline on a project that keeps slipping because I am the only one on the team who is held accountable for delivery of the project, I find my psyche and body screaming "I WANT TO RETIRE!!!" I want to retire. I want to get enough sleep for a change. I want to take up and sit on my deck and drink coffee and read the paper. I want to take long walks. I want to have time to clean a little every day. I want to do things that make a difference. Mostly, I want to LIVE.

When Mr. Brilliant was sick, sitting in front of that damn laptop for 10, 12, 14 hours a day gave me structure in the midst of chaos. It allowed me to feel secure that I could keep a roof over our heads, food on the table, and get him the best medical care I could find. Now I look at things I know how to do and they might as well be written in Aramaic.

Here in the US, there is no such thing as "grief leave". Many companies, including the one that employs me, provide a few days of bereavement leave, usually 3-5 days depending on whether the loss is local or overseas. Three. Days. You can't even get a body from a hospital to a funeral home in three days if the death takes place out of state. And yet, you're supposed to deal with the logistics, deal with the financials, and "get over it" in just three days, then move on with a smile on your face, lest you make people uncomfortable. And the truth is, none of what happens after a death is about your loss, it's all about how others feel. That is why your friends will insist that you will remarry without even asking if you would want to. That is why they get discombobulated when they ask how you are and you say, "Compared to what?" Actually feeling a loss is regarded as unseemly. And if you can't function on all cylinders, you are shit out of luck.

I decided to look into a leave of absence, to rest up, get my head together, and breathe a bit. And the only options available to me are pretty distasteful. Under the Family Medical Leave Act, I could take an unpaid leave for up to twelve weeks (six weeks paid like unemployment because I am in New Jersey), with job protection, but I would have to have a physician certify that I have a "serious disability", in my case, depression. I am not depressed. I do not need medication, nor to be committed to a psych hospital. I have had four major losses in less than a year and I am grieving. And I will not pop pills just because I live in a society that insists you be smiling all the time. The other option is a "personal leave of absence", which must be approved by your manager, takes you off health insurance, and doesn't protect your job. In America, lose a spouse or a child -- the primary relationships of your life -- and the response is "Suck it up and deal." One of the things I want to do in what time I have left is to change that. Because there are going to be a shitload of people dealing with this as our generation ages, and since many can't afford to retire, there will be a lot of "widow brains" trying to get by.

I'm luckier than most people. I've always been pretty self-sufficient, and as the primary breadwinner and Keeper of the Household Bills, I didn't have much to do on that front. There wasn't much of an estate to deal with, and the house falls to me anyway. My friends and colleagues have for the most part been great, except for the one colleague who stated that because Mr. B. was so difficult in the last few years, that I must be happy that I am "free." But you don't have to have "complicated grief" to recognize that life is very, very different, and if you fall down the stairs, there's no one to call 911. There are people in the social group for widows and widowers that I've joined who are essentially nonfunctional except for the evenings we all meet for dinner. I go to work, take care of my pets, pay the bills, and go out with friends. Most of the time I am doing "OK". It's kind of a sucky OK, but it's OK. But right now there is this 800 pound gorilla sitting in my head telling me it is time to get off this crazy merry-go-round and start living.

When we bought this house, I wanted a house the way most 40-year-old women who haven't had one yet want babies. It was a very real hunger. Now I have this same hunger to fix up the house to sell, get out of New Jersey, settle where I can actually have a house with a nice kitchen and a garden, and have time to keep it up. I want to set up a group like the one I joined, which isn't about sitting around crying but about figuring out how to build this new life. I want to write again. I want to LIVE again, something I can't do now as long as I am tied to a black box that says "Lenovo" on it. And my financial adviser says I can't do it yet. I'm disappointed, and not thrilled about having to wish another fifteen months of my life away before I can consider it, but at least it's possible to do, and at least I CAN stay put for the time being.

This is something that Terry Coppage's wife is apparently unable to do. Here his his last wish:
I have a favor to ask and it's a big one. I left Mrs Bart with a mortgage that she can't handle by herself.

When the doctors told me I wasn't going to reach old age, my first thoughts were worry about Mrs Bart and how she was going to make it without me and my income.

You know me, I'm a gambler to the end, so when Bartcop Manor flooded in 2004, I/we gambled that I'd live long enough to get the house paid off, or at least paid down to where she could see the end of the payments. Since you're reading this, it means I lost that gamble.

So I'm asking you this hueueuege favor - would you keep your subscription going?

I know it's a lot to ask, but the thought of her having to sell Casa de Bart for a loss and move into some smaller place is something too sad to think about.

I'm in, because I don't want to see someone go through this and not have even the options that I do. If you are too, please send Paypal to bartcop@bartcop.com. Thank you.

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Blogger Patricia said...
Jill, everything you wrote is true. I was widowed at 42, with 2 children to raise. Everyone said I had to go to a grief counselor and she put me on the Prozac. Why? Because you are not allowed to grieve. My shrink had no experience with the kind of loss I was dealing with.(my husband died on the Garden State Parkway, on his way home from work)You are lucky you found a group. All the groups I tried to join had no one under 60, raising children and trying to manage a career. Couples I was friends with stopped inviting me out, people just don't know what to do with the widow. This culture is death denying. Worst of all you aren't even allowed to feel bad or sad. You are left behind to do everything, alone. I feel your pain. I am so sorry. I once had a widow tell me it would take 3 years to fell human. That was very accurate. I hope it won't take you that long. If there is anything I can do, please email me. I know everything is hard now. Be gentle with yourself. You will be ok, but it takes time.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I do not know you , I only occasionally read your blog ... you are an excellent writer . I would advise you to quit work and write full time , do it , you will be happier and I bet you find great support and energy . I am sorry for the losses you have suffered . Grief takes its its own time .
I lost a brother suddenly , he was only late 50s and had recently retired and started to get fit and enlarge his hobbies , I miss him every day ... good luck to you
Lucy Finn Smith , Little Rock AR

Anonymous Anonymous said...
For what it's worth, I just wanted you to know how much your writing has meant to me. I feel for you at this time, and want you to do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself.


Blogger Phil said...
Thought I would stop by. You suddenly popped into my thoughts and I was wondering how you are doing.

I have to admit you are a tough one.
I can see you are doing your best to cope and deal with the loss of Mr.B and are questioning the sanity of working yourself to death.

Good on all counts in my book.

I just wanted you to know I haven't forgotten you my dear, life on my end is as frantic as ever.
I have been working six days a week myself for over a year and finally hit the wall recently.

My Father kicked the bucket last October and I almost feel guilty because the grieving process was remarkably short.

I know I have had issues with him my entire life even though he tried to make up for it a bit there the last few years.

I don't forget though.
Must be the Irish.

I sincerely hope you can find some peace and the time to get back to living as you wish.
Ya gotta remember that this isn't a practice round honey, you only have this one shot and it is too short to be doing everything just for other people all the time.

You most certainly deserve to do right by yourself.

Glad to see you got some new kitties too, they are cheap entertainment, the little buggers. We have four now , not to mention all the freakin' neighbor cats my wife feeds behind my back. ;)

Take care of yourself.


Blogger Bob said...
Lovely (yes) heartfelt writing.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
You are so very right about the emptiness. It has only been a year but, late at night, I forget she is gone and call out to her, as if she is only in the other room.
Then, I remember.......