Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Anatomy of a Griever

For any scientific or literal people I will ask for your forgiveness because the way that I will use the word "anatomy" deviates slightly (or a great deal) from its technical or literal meaning. I could not find another word that would help to illustrate the meaning behind this blog.
I speak with people all day about the way that death and losing a loved one changes you. I talk to them about the expectations we place on ourselves, how we think we should react and behave a certain way. I make them aware that we also put expectations on those around us to have an amount of grief or understanding that they may not have. I talk to them about how grief affects them on every level. In having these discussions it occurred to me that the changes I was discussing always related to philosophical, spiritual, emotional and short term physical changes. I am becoming aware that in being a support to grieving people I am learning and something that I recently learned is that I did not accommodate for the permanent changes that take place in regard to your senses, memory, perception and how they are physically apparent and how it contributes to your grief journey over the long term.
The only way to make sense of what I am trying to say is to explain it using my own experiences and the awareness I have gained working these past seven months.
I am acutely aware that my sense of smell has changed. I know now that is very closely tied with my memories and how I remember certain things. Vaseline Intensive Care will always remind me of my Grandma. I have a very strong sense of smell (not always a good thing) and when I was losing Flynn there were many different smells that surrounded his dying. At times it is those smells that make me remember or bring comfort to a time when I need to remember. There was the smell of the sterile environment like the alcohol, sanitizer, and staleness of closed windows and doors. The medicinal smell of antibiotics, saline solution, iodine and soap. The metal of the tools in the room seemed to give off an earthy, cold smell that has stuck with me and all of this was mixed with the smell of blood and sweat. At times I have come across these smells and it can bring back a sense of loss or the chaos of the experience, sometimes the smell does not come from something that I can see but rather seems like a form of memory recognition and it allows me to reflect on the memory of the day and take things out of it that are more important than the chaos. This is one of the ways that my anatomy has changed.
I have had some very physical changes, not noticeable to the eye or even with an x-ray. The hole in the middle of my guts, what started as the pit, the insatiable hollow gnawing just above my stomach after Flynn died. Now it is replaced with a scarred over space that if I do not take time to appreciate it, I am reminded of its existence. A doctor would most likely read this and scoff but I felt it for years after Flynn died, it was so physical that there were times I wrenched at my middle trying to fill it or pull it out. It flares up when I am exhausted, when I watch someone hurt, it reminds me, it is another way that I have changed.
My hearing has changed, although there is a bit of a joke in this statement, I do struggle with my actual hearing at times, I mean now I listen for different things, I am not sure that I listened before. I take note of what people are wanting or trying to tell me. I hear them and I respond with sincerity. I hear joy and laughter and I hear sadness and fear, I hear more than the words. I am more aware of inflection and that words are only half of what someone is trying to say.
My arms have undergone a change as well. They hold the most significant memory for me, that of holding Flynn after he was born. He only weighed one pound six ounces, but I remember at the time thinking how substantial he felt in my arms. I am blessed that my arms remember him and at times I feel the weight and warmth of him in my arms like I held him only yesterday, I am so appreciative to have this change to my anatomy especially when my mind struggles to remember the details.
The most meaningful change has been to my heart. I am sure that again, to look at and examine it as a medical profession, it would probably appear the same as any other heart. But it was never so apparent to me that it was a part of my body. I am conscious of its existence now, I feel it beat as a reminder of my life within me. I can feel it swell with love, respect and joy and I also feel the muscles in it tense and move with more force when I am faced with other's pain and sadness. I am so grateful that it has adapted to accommodate my changes, the way that life has grown for me from the moment of tremendous loss to one filled with love and purpose.
It may not be an evidenced part of my anatomy that has changed, it would not qualify as anything that needs to be investigated medically but it is definitely a measured change in my metaphysical anatomy that I have encountered as I work on my journey of grief.

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