The Pit and the Process

OK so I see a pattern.

22 August, a Monday, was three days into my last week with no kids, just four weeks after Jane died. I had had some bright moments, been swept along in the pace of work and home life. Enjoyed being at home, setting things straight slowly, still after the Big Week. Then the vacuum of having no kids gaped and the grief rushed in. By day, I couldn’t escape it, as I sat and ached or wept at my desk. In the evenings, it washed over me, doubled up. Cruelly, the fragments of acceptance that I had gained came as shocks. It wasn’t just the idea of Jane actually being dead but some appalling knowledge of it. I spent some time with my friends, Psychodrama people. It didn’t “help”. My heart, my bones, my skin crawled for my lover.

Then Sarah arrived. By the time she left, she changed her name to Rogan, so she’s Rogan now. From the airport, we went to collect Jane’s ashes. After determining the details of how they came to be in the container they gave us, we picked them up. Heavy. About the mass of incombustibles, calcium and minerals I suppose, that you would expect of a human body. But not of something called “ash”. They should warn you about that.

We’d had to cancel the appointment with Jane’s GP who was going to interpret the Coroner’s report for us. In fact it still hasn’t arrived after nearly seven weeks.

Rogan and I had a weekend Jane-fest. We listened to the message about the award for Exceptional Adult Educator and I was pleased to hear that Rogan would be able to make it. We shared stories about Jane, about our lives without her. We looked at photos and read some of Jane’s diaries. We took all Jane’s clothes out of her wardrobe, her drawers, a basket on the floor, and one by one packed them to go to Wellington. All her shoes. We didn’t open the box of summer clothes that Jane would have been opening about now, to replace with winter ones. Some things we held up and looked at. We saw Jane inside them and loved her. Some pieces I held to my face and breathed in through.

We had some social visits, with Anja and Kate and Walter. The kids were around and had various of their friends visiting. It was gregarious. I like that. We had some fun. But most of the time, the aching nut inside me pulsed out through my body, and sometimes filled it up.

I got a bit sick of hurting so much. I wanted it to stop. I wanted it to not be happening. Jane to be not dead. Pinch or something. A bit angry.

So on the Monday night, I got a bit pissed and we watched Team America. Not doing any movie reviews just for now except “watch it”. Somehow, that all did the trick. Rogan went off to Bannockburn and the kids and I settled into a regular week. I’d found my favourite photo of Jane but I decided to take it off the desktop of my computer. At work, I didn’t just feel alright, I felt really good. Awake, alive, noticing people, in the moment. Enjoying myself. Getting some work done and done well. On the odd moments when I remembered about Jane, it was with a different kind of shock – oh yeah, I remember about her and ooh, how can I be feeling this good when she has just died? Ha ha.

Come the next weekend with no kids, well that’s kind of nice. Lots of time and all mine to decide what I do with. Mowed the lawn and cut a swathe through an overgrown “to do” list. But then the weekdays roll in. Or rather, a thin strip rolls through the middle of them saying “you better shake yer money-maker” but geeezers into what? The vacuum of my business, mostly neglected for the last month (two, taking in the US trip) and paradoxically not on its back. Nah, hyperbole. I’ve done the biz angst. It’s low key and doesn’t make much money but it doesn’t die either. Still, it does take me to be functional.

And actually, Rogan came back and we went to the opening of Adult Learning Week. It’s a global phenomenon, it turns out. Various luminaries were there. Jane had been on the organising committee so I sat, manuhiri scanning the tangata whenua for Heni. Kaore. But Mairehe was there and we sobbed together in the hongi. And Heather Clark, who had worked on this all with Jane, was, too.

Jane had organised Playback Theatre to be there, most of whom I know quite well. You know Jane wasn’t that automatically receptive to my proclivities. Her review of Playback from May 2004 was “The performers were amateur, but very skilled and dedicated.” But she still engaged them for the occasion. And they were skilled and dedicated.

Before too long, I realised that it wasn’t just Jane being into adult learning, it was me, too. Jennifer Leahy recounted some of the history of ACE (Adult and Community Education) and how it was once called National Association of Community Education (NACEd pronounced “knackered”). I was a member of it in those days. When I was working for the Salvation Army Employment Programme, actually at about the same time as Jane worked for the SAEP in Dunedin. We celebrated together, present and remembered, those magical moments of ako, learning and teaching. And then they presented Jane, posthumously (how Can That Be?) the award.

Rogan and I stepped up to receive it in Jane’s stead and then went home to reflect. The next morning she dashed off to daily Wellington life leaving me to my Chch one. I went to a play with Ron. It was pretty good. I received a beautiful email from Helen Mitchell (can I put that here, Helen?). It cracked me open. The days unfolded like stepping stones each placed only just in time, even though I had my diary out for the next two months.

So there’s the pattern, for these two weeks, anyway. Nearly seven weeks in now. I don’t mind it, you know, having the slumps. Because I’ve figured out a thing or two about how this all works.

Eliz K-R calls it “DABDA” (Julia taught me that):

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

I wrote about denial. Kicked in straight away and thank God for it. Manifests as disbelief quite often, and then pretty much as forgetting. Valuable protection. If you experienced the loss unattenuated and without relief, it would break any human being, no matter how well-held, I’m sure of it.

As it was, I don’t know how anyone could stand the feelings that I felt in those first days, without the nest of loving arms that held me. I can easily imagine why people anaesthetise and even harm themselves in response to that level of pain. And here’s where I kind of get off E K-R. In two ways. Firstly, I can’t find something in her classification to match that pain. Closest might be “depression” but I haven’t really depressed much. When I feel that pain, I feel it. It fills my whole body and soul. There’s no fun in it. It feels like sinking to the bottom of a cold, dark and wet pit that doesn’t feel like it has a bottom. It’s quite scary, that. I’ve had it before when I didn’t know where the bottom was.

But this time I do. Thank God. It still feels as though I will never come out of the pit, but I do know where the bottom is. I do feel thankful for this. I can sit in the pool at the bottom, feel around the walls a little, feel their steepness and slipperiness, feel the impossibility of climbing out and know that this is the bottom.

Cher Williscroft once recommended “get to know the song that is playing at the bottom of the pit”. Kate Tapley says “the work is done in the pit”. And these both make sense to me. You know, it doesn’t feel like anything good is happening when you’re down there. It feels terrible. Like the nastiest experience you can have. And it does somehow dupe you into thinking you will never get out. After a while, tho somehow you have done enough and something new emerges. Feeling better. And it can feel quite good, even a short time after being in the pit. If Kate is right, tho this is the integration phase or even better, simply getting the fruits of spending that time in the pit. A seasonal kind of cycle. That nastiness, is somehow necessary.

Which is why I don’t avoid it. I’ve spent enough of my life dragging around old hurts that I haven’t had the holding to be able to feel. Bless you, my loving Family and Friends and blog-readers that you hold me this time (and that you held me last time, when I felt much of that old unfelt hurt) while I feel what is in me right now. And I appreciate what I have done and been to have created you in our relationships.

At the ACE night, Alison and I talked about our shared experience some of this.

OK, back to E K-R. Could we call that Pit of Misery “Despair”? At least it begins with “D”. You know Despair has something of giving up that is usually characterised as a bad thing. Giving up. I think it’s kind of necessary. Practising for acceptance. A precondition for that “third thing” that Kate mentioned. But what about straight “sadness”?

So there’s the first thing. I really don’t go with the “Depression”. And the second is, that even tho I’ve felt bursts of anger – and had moments of guilt that I can reasonably identify as Bargaining, the cycle has been pretty simple for me, in my words:

  • Denial
  • Misery
  • Acceptance

Perhaps I have Anger and Bargaining coming? I know E K-R says that everyone experiences this differently – and her framework has been helpful to me (I googled it about two days in).

What this is is what I have learned about me in this particular experience.

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