Jun 22nd 2008

Grief Observed: Warren, Organizing the rest of your life

Posted in Helen & Warren, Izzy, Lenore

Warren got a double-barreled love dose from the Hospice dogs today. Lotsa love.
Warren got a double-barreled love dose from the Hospice dogs today. Lotsa love.

June 21, 2008 – Cool, dry. Storms passed. No damage. Warren says one of the things he wasn’t prepared for was the question of how he will make decisions about the rest of his life. He was so used to making decisions for and with Helen that he simply doesn’t know yet how to make them for his life without her. He is thinking of a new car, but, he wonders, is there a point to that? How long will he be driving it? Should he bother to replace the trees knocked down by the recent storm? Does it matter one way or the other?
At first, this seemed like depression to me, but I realize that it is something more than that. With death, a whole system of living changes, and the survivor has to find a new way to rationalize and conceive of life.
“I am not saying I don’t wish to live,” he said. “I do, and I have things I want to do. It’s just that I’m no longer sure of how to make decisions about organizing my life.”
For 60 years, he discussed every decision with Helen, and she with him. Now, she is not there. I asked him if he wanted to join a Hospice bereavement support group, or see a counselor, and he said no, not yet. He said he felt he was nearing the end of one phase of grief, entering another. He is, he said, preparing to return to the world a bit.
He and Helen were so close, so connected, that he has not yet, I see, envisioned a life without her. But he is working on it. He faces a number of medical decisions, as well as other life choices, and he seems confident, purposeful and resourceful. I told him I was concerned that he was bottling up a lot of grief and pain, and that I couldn’t imagine what he was feeling, which I can’t, not really. I said I just wanted him to know there was help if he needed it.
He said it was important to talk with me about it, and he wouldn’t hesitate to get help if he needed it, and would ask for it. I left it there. He knows himself, and these are his decisions. Warren talks about a lot of different things when we meet, and he is gracious and interesting, as always, but I always make sure to bring the conversation around to Helen, and his loss, and he is ready for that. Active listening, and more active listening. No one can tell anyone else how to grieve, or knows, for that matter.
Warren says that at his age, one can’t help thinking about death, and he is eager to rejoin Helen in the hereafter, but nothing, he said, really prepared him for the space in between.
Izzy and Lenore continue to have a pronounced emotional impact on Warren, as they did on Helen. When we pull up, Warren is at the door, smiling and calling to them, and they come bounding down the walkway to the door and rush into the house. Warren is instantly laughing and talking to both dogs, throwing dogs, giving them treats.
I am pleased with Lenore’s great progress in Hospice work, beyond what I expected. Lenore, interestingly, seems acutely aware of Warren’s painful legs, and never bumps into them or him, showing some of the intuition that makes Izzy so effective. An enthusiastic, even boisterous dog, she just seems to know.
In Hospice work, the dogs are often beyond control or command. You have to trust them sometimes. I completely trust Izzy. I am trusting Lenore more each visit.
They light him up, and the change in his mood is palpable. He is simply at ease around them, and opens up, lightens up. These dogs are doing important work, and all three of us are learning and growing all the time, and I am excited and fortunate to renew my commitment to it.