Jun 1st 2008

Warren, Grief Observed

Posted in Helen & Warren, Izzy

Izzy and Warren saying hello to each other. You can see the impact each has on the other.
We worked on a poem about Helen,
to be posted later.

June 1, 2008 – Warren has taken care of most of the details, the insurance, the calls to relatives, the credit cards, the bank, the lawyers, and so the mornings, when he and Helen used to plan the day, are the toughest, and the evenings, when the talked about their day, and the weekends, when there is less work to do, and the grief and loss are etched in deep lines across his face. Sundays are rough. It’s been a month.
It will be like this, I gather, for awhile. There is loss, confusion, emptiness. There is guilt. “I should have done more for her,” he said.”I feel guilty that I am glad she was sick for seven years, so that I had her for seven years instead of one. And that’s wrong.”
Guilt, I wondered to myself? Is that really right? Is there anything he might possibly have done that he didn’t do? But I heard that before, from the mother whose seven-year-old boy was dying of a brain tumor, and from the daughter who gave up seven years of her life to tend to her gravely ill mother.  You hear it a lot in Hospice, this feeling that they could have done more, should have done more, when you know it can’t be true, but you can’t really convince them of that, and shouldn’t.
It is part of the process, and the process has a life of its own, as Warren is seeing and learning, and it is not alterable by people like me, or by anyone else.
Warren is a flag carrier for the World War II generation, of whom so much has been written and said. “I get up every morning and say, stiff upper lip, kid, and that’s what I was taught.”
Is that the right thing to say?, I wonder, to myself. Not for me to say. Warren is his own counselor, and his grief is personal and individualistic and he has to live it and shape it and survive it as best he can. Along with life, Hospice teaches people like me that I am not God, and cannot play God.
For Warren, Helen is not gone, but present every minute, and so the emptiness and silence are confusing. He tells me he is handling it, and is committed to the process of being open, to help others deal with it. I think he is handling it, and I am grateful he is open. This work, like all Hospice work, is a gift to me, in that it challenges me yet again, forces me to learn and listen, helps me as a writer, a human, a photographer. And again I am a bit in awe of my dog Izzy, who now comes to Helen’s sofa and lies on her quilt during every visit, and hovers over Warren like Rose over her sheep. What a generous spirit that dog has, and how much good he does. Warren absolutely lights up when he sees them and the two hug like old buddies reuniting, which I suppose, they are.
What can I do? I ask myself. What can I do for Warren?
I tell him he can call me anytime. He will not do that, he says with conviction, unless it is an emergency. He will not be a bother to other people, or intrude upon their time and work.
Okay, I say, then I will call more often this week. Maybe dinner or lunch. Fine, he says, but not if it interferes with my life or work.
So what I can do for Warren, I see,  is be present, and listen, and gently remind him that there is help if he needs it or wants it. So we went to work on a poem about Helen, inspired by a photograph of her that he has hanging on the wall. The poem is called “That Day,” and I will post it later tonight.

Izzy lies on Helen’s blanket each time we go to the house.