Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lorelai and Rory: a Prescription for Grief

When I lost my husband in May of 2014, my friend Jennifer had the idea that we should start watching the Gilmore Girls together because it's light and witty and a perfect escape from reality. It was hard for me back then to find shows or movies that wouldn't hurt me in places, or that were predictable enough to ease my fear of getting blindsided by story lines of suicide, violence, or tragic loss since I had little bits of PTSD symptoms.

Anything too sad or dramatic also seemed to be wrong as a mood lifter. It was amazing to me that my usual go-to shows could trigger the pain of the trauma I'd experienced when my husband completed suicide. Watching characters on cop shows experience a violent loss hit me in the gut. Watching characters turn the gun on themselves when faced with a terrible turn of events had me reaching to change the channel or squeezing my eyes closed. I had a significant startle response for a while and shows that kept me on edge were never best. Even when nothing specific in my usual shows hurt me or startled me, the tone was all wrong. Nothing felt right.

I had never watched the Gilmore Girls. I knew it was a popular show from about a decade earlier and I knew it had a big following. I knew some of the actors in it from snippets I'd caught on TV when passing through channels. That was all. So when Jennifer brought over the Gilmore Girls on DVD that first night almost 2 and half years ago, I was new to the show.

In the days following Rick's death, I never imagined that something as simple as a TV show could help me heal. My time with Jennifer was sacred to me and brought with it something extra to anticipate - a bright spot in my week surrounded by friends.

It wouldn't be a stretch at all to say that early on what got me through each week was the friendship of three women: Jennifer, Lorelai, and Rory.

It felt good to smile at the characters on the screen... to laugh at the antics of the plots... to lose myself in the town of Stars Hollow. I initially felt much the same way I always felt reading and re-reading Anne of Green Gables... there's an idyllic comfort in Stars Hollow, like a modern day Avonlea.

That's the thing about the show - it's like a place. You're there. Home. Happy. Invested. Content. And so, as time went on for me and my new life, we kept watching...and season after season, the Gilmore Girls became like home.

What made the escape better was being able to share it with my friend, though actually it was quite the other way around: my friend was sharing it with me. In a way, she wrote me a prescription for grief. "One dose of Lorelai and Rory at least once per week."

It seems funny to credit a TV show with healing powers, but the fact of the matter is my heart hurt less when I watched it.

So we ate junk food with the Girls, we celebrated every town festival, we drank coffee at Luke's, and we lived.

When we started, I had no idea the show would transport me in such a perfect and emotional way. We  laughed imagining what Rick would say about us, snuggled with cats in my living room every week with our special TV show. We penciled in days on our calendars as though Lorelai and Rory were a serious commitment...because they were. We toasted to Rick when I reached the first anniversary of his death.

Our time together with Lorelai and Rory waned as we gained different jobs and juggled new schedules, but still we made the promise to finish every season. I met Jeff along the way and explained the importance of our commitment to the Gilmore Girls like I was sharing a beloved and hallowed tradition. We hit the 2 year mark of my widowhood. Much later, when Jennifer and I made the trip to Connecticut to experience a town like Stars Hollow, Jeff wasn't even surprised. He had known it would come to fruition, because the weekend away was on par with a serious job meeting or event. We had a mental appointment there.

Believe it or not, it was only AFTER Jennifer and I had arranged our stay at the inn in Connecticut that the Gilmore Girls Fan Fest came into play. They announced it and sold tickets AFTER we had booked our own weekend. When we saw that the Gilmore Girl Fan Fest was not only in the same area of Connecticut, but on the same weekend we'd already booked, we knew it was all meant to be.

We were on the last season of the show when we traveled to Connecticut last month. We sat in our room at the inn, smiling, relaxing, and knowing it would soon all come to a close. We played the theme song in the car as we entered the town and laughed. We talked fast. We drank a lot of coffee.


When we heard the Gilmore Girls revival would come out on Netflix the day after Thanksgiving this year, we knew we had to finish the series in time. So yesterday, stocked with donuts, coffee, candy, pizza, and Chinese food in true Lorelai and Rory fashion, Jennifer and I sat in my living room from 9:30 am until 7:15 pm and watched the remaining episodes of the Gilmore Girls.

We laughed and we cried. And we ended where we began, back in my living room together. When we started, I was a young widow in a sparsely furnished living room, crying with my friend and my cats in the dark. When we finished yesterday, I felt my house was bursting at the seams, Jeff talking football scores and feeding our new dog, as Jennifer and I sat on new furniture in a newly painted living room in a space I'd somehow been able to clear of the kids' piles of art supplies.

I'm grateful for Jennifer and her idea that changed my life and my grief. I'm indebted to Lorelai and Rory for their part in my healing process. I'm not sure I can truly ever explain what the show means to me. The world and the people around me may change, but Stars Hollow will always be home.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Gratitude in Loss

Every new loss I see in my hospice work is another opportunity for gratitude. Every death is a chance to be thankful for the people I have in my life. As I meet new people and watch them let go of someone they love, I am reminded of the wonderful relationships I have. I invite the emotions to swirl around inside of me, sadness stirring, empathy seeping from my pores, and I say silent thank yous.

If a wife says good bye to her husband, I can remember too well what it was like to say good bye to mine and then I smile on my drive home to my significant other who is most likely making me delicious food or waiting to tell me about his day. If adult children are saying good bye to their mother, I take it as a cue to call my own mother on my way home to tell her I love her and am so glad to have her in my life.

If these losses are cues to be grateful (and to express my gratitude) for my own relationships and the people close to me, the daily interactions that are full of impending loss are cues to be grateful for my own health. I never want to take my health for granted. I may sit regularly with fabulous people who are living with (but dying from) any number of conditions - various cancers, ALS, heart diseases, MS, etc. And as I sit with them, traveling through their thoughts and memories with them, I am reminded to be thankful for my own vitality, mobility, independence, and wealth of wellness. I get in my car and sing to the radio, cognizant of the air filling my lungs and the power behind my voice. I walk, aware of the spring in my step. I go to sleep each night with the promise of a new and beautiful tomorrow. I am lucky.

Is it possible that I can leave a trail?

I'd like to think so. I'd really like to believe that amid grief, I can leave something behind. I think we all can. Sometimes, I feel like the world doesn't give me what I need. Things are not offered that I wish were offered. And when that happens, I sigh really loudly and become upset/dejected/irritated for a moment...then, I make the first move. When I want to feel better myself, I send things out into the universe.

How do you welcome a life-altering event with open arms? How do you relinquish control and give yourself over to the process? How do you move forward each day without expectations, just gratitude?

Those are the very questions I asked myself in the past few years since my own life-altering event. I still ponder them every day, holding fast to the belief that gratitude changes everything.

I may have a baby face, but I have an old soul. And I know that we were put here on this earth to live life to the fullest. "The fullest" means something different for each of us, but we are not meant to live for fleeting moments of amazing, resigned to status quo the rest of the time - we are meant to turn those fleeting moments of amazing into hours and days and weeks and months and years. That is the secret to this thing called life.

When you're shown a slice of amazing, it's a gift. It's okay to stand in awe of it for a little while... but then you have to let gratitude show you the way.

Every time I'm shown a slice of amazing, I soak it up and carry it with me. Then when I go to sleep at night, I say to myself: How can I make more of this happen? How can I have more of this in my life? How can I treat this as something precious so it never goes away and actually multiplies?

I'd like to think that's why my life is not a mess of misery and pain. It's not that there's not misery and pain in it at times... it's just that I choose not to ignore the amazing... in fact, I am beyond thankful for the amazing... and in asking for it to multiply, the misery and pain diminishes considerably.

My heart often hurts for the grief, loss, and pain I see. But rather than carrying it with me in a way that internalizes that ball of sadness, I do my best to turn it into something else as I make my way through my own daily life.

When loss incites gratitude...when loss invites're doing it right. At least that's how I choose to think of it.