Pondering the Pavement

March 12, 2015

Grief Relief

Grief is an odd little thing, isn’t it? It continually changes and morphs. It is something very personal with each variation stamped with a unique moniker. Everyone handles it differently. I once had a neighbor who hit on women at the funeral of his wife of nearly 40 years. I know a woman who lost her husband, the love of her life, over 20 years ago and she still grieves to this day as if it just happened. I know of another who immediately closes the emotional door on anyone who passes away the instant the last breath is drawn. “I don’t dwell on the past,” he says. I know yet another who lost her husband nearly 30 years ago yet she visits his grave several times a week. Yes, grief is as diverse as the individuals it affects.

My Uncle Bill had a particularly putrid loathing of cemeteries. A highly practical man, his disdain stemmed from frank, lucid logic. “I can go into my backyard, stare at the ground and have the same memories of a person as I would if I drove to where they’re buried. Why make the drive?” He then looked at me and said, “If you ever visit my grave I’m going to come back down here and kick your butt!”

<gulp> Yes, sir.

I attended his funeral, of course. The man was like a father to me. One year later I revisited his grave for the first time since his interment. As I stood there, staring at the grass now blanketing what he used to walk around in, I flashed back to that conversation. And, as is my custom in most situations, I began to laugh. It started as a chortle and climaxed into a glass shattering guffaw. In fact, I laughed so hard that I had to lean on his headstone in order to keep from falling over. I’m sure I was quite the spectacle for any nearby slack-jawed mourners. Upon regaining composure, or in my case the next best thing to being there, I said aloud, “OK, Uncle Bill, you win! I’m gone!” More than 20 years passed before I returned to his gravesite. Same grass, same stone, same memories, same love. Yup. We’re good.

So, yeah, each of us handles it differently. While some internalize it, I tend to wear it on my sleeves like matching cufflinks. I wasn’t like that in my youth, or even semi-youth. But when I finally accepted my mediumship, and the gates opened wide, EVERYTHING changed.

At this very moment my friend, Suzie, is gloating and laughing her head off. Shut up, you big, stupid dumb-dumb face.

According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the noted psychiatrist, there are five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance. Each of us checks off that list at our own pace. Some fast, some slow and some just come to a screeching halt somewhere in between. I believe many individuals fear that achieving acceptance means you’re over the loss and you’ve forgotten your loved one. Nope. Not even close. I believe acceptance is simply the clinical term for that blessed moment when the sorrow moves to the back seat and the fond, loving memories call shotgun and move to the forefront.

I’m often asked if my being a medium makes me numb to grief and loss. I answer that with a resounding, “Oh, HELL no!” If anything, I think it makes me even more sensitive to it. Sure, on a spiritual level, I have a different perception of death. But the physical emptiness is strong and dominant. I cannot take a clinical approach to loss. I do my best to remain detached while giving a reading but I don’t always succeed. The all-too-human emotions are sometimes so strong that it will bowl me over. I’ve been known to shed tears alongside the sitter from time to time. But I do not regret it one iota. Emotions are part of what makes us human. And, whether you like it or not, we’re all human this time around. Do not try to raise yourself above it because it won’t do you one bit of good. Face it down. Stand with it. Embrace it. Unlike a priest offering marital advice, I am speaking to you from first-hand experience. There are no assumptions here, kiddies. It’s all far too real.

I have always tried to work through my personal losses to the best of my stumbling abilities. And, like anyone, I don’t always succeed. The most severe example of this was the sudden death of my dear friend, Leigh, in 2007.

Gloating over our complete obliteration of a poor, unsuspecting dinner.

Gloating over our complete obliteration of one of many poor, unsuspecting dinners.

Appropriately, I began penning this on her 8th Angel Day and wrapped it up on the eighth anniversary of my receiving the news of her death. Each year without her still rattles through me with a haunting echo. She was my left arm. We were joined at the hip, thinking and reacting as one at times. The sun and moon often ran complete cycles during our marathon conversations. We once spent a good four hours sitting on the balcony of a hotel in San Diego doing nothing but conversing as if we were on police radios. It began, innocently enough, when a police officer on the sidewalk far below was apprehending a fleeing person of interest. The officer, upon tackling the lad to the sandy floor, radioed for some assistance. So we decided to offer our half of the unheard conversation. This improvisation lead us to creating approximately 8 or 9 different characters, all with distinctly diverse voices, evolving into a barrage of subplots and subtexts that would leave the bard himself utterly speechless. We were in tears. Never in our lives had we (or anyone else for that matter) been so brilliantly funny. Amaretto can do that, you know?

For the most part I have worked through her passing. But, as usual, I hopscotch to my own beat. I never work on my cartooning work in sequence. I just go where my whims take me so why should my handling of grief be any different? Denial was pretty quick. I just ripped off that band aid with a fast and furious jerk. There wasn’t much time spent within the bargaining column. Whenever anyone dies my first response is, “And yet we still have Carrot Top?” I’m willing to trade him in on anyone. “Bring my hamster back and you can have Carrot Top!” I’ll exclaim, but that’s another story for another time. I know I’ve accepted that she’s gone. Well, physically, anyway. As many of you know she does tend to pop up from time to time, thankfully.

If you’ve attended any of my group readings I always have a chair reserved on the front row just for her. She always gives me a sign at some point during the evening that she really is there, with one lone exception. Due to the space and configuration of the room I placed her chair in the back row instead of in the front. She made it perfectly clear to me that this was NOT acceptable by giving me absolutely no hint of any kind that she was in attendance. So, to this day, her chair is always in the very front no matter what. Yeah, I’m whipped.

It is eight years later, and I am still angry about it. Yes, depression is a small zit protruding on the forehead of anger. I’m the first to admit that. But it is anger that, like Leigh herself, takes a position in the front row.

Why? Well, I’ll tell you…

I have been very blessed to be a part of an amazing process. I have been honored time and time again to help connect those in Spirit to those here in the physical. It really is a gift. The gift isn’t so much being able to do this work as much as it is being fortunate enough to be a part of it and to witness it firsthand. I do not do it myself. Nope. I’m just the middleman, the bridge. I don’t lay claim to being some kind of oracle or anything equally outlandish. I am simply where I need to be and doing what I need to do. End of story. I have experienced miraculous reunions between parents and children, brothers and sisters, dear friends from both long ago and recent days, even pet owners and their “fur babies.” Time and time again I am mystified by the whole process. I have been given the chance to help so many individuals throughout my years of service with Spirit. Most of these individuals are complete strangers to me. Some return for more sessions while others go on with their lives, sharing their healing with those who will listen. It’s all just so breathtaking.

My anger stems from a very selfish place: I have helped so many strangers but why couldn’t I help someone who was so close to me? Why wasn’t I given a heads up so I could prevent it from happening? WHY? I get to tell someone to watch out for an upcoming auto repair. I’ve been given information on the much needed repaving of their driveway. But I am NOT able to save a life of someone I truly love, a piece of my very own heart? Sure, I know what you’re saying… “It was meant to be.” Do you really think that makes it any better? Nope, it doesn’t. I am perfectly aware I have been having a major temper tantrum over the whole thing. I feel like I want to take my mediumship ball and just go home.

So, as you can see, I grieve just as anyone else. There’s no Get Out of Jail Free card for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still working and I will until I draw my last line or breath, whichever comes first. But every now and again the anger barges through and that’s when things get bad. How bad, you ask? I had two heart attacks in 2006. They were nearly 5 weeks apart. There was nothing on TV so I thought, “Hey, let’s try something new!” FYI: NOT a great way to kill some time. Just sayin’.

In the beginning I followed my cardiologist’s words as if they had come down from upon high. I was walking the walk and talking the talk. And let me tell you Leigh was holding me accountable on everything. She demanded I give her my doctor’s contact information, a list of all of my meds, the diet I was following, you name it. It’s a wonder she didn’t have a chip imbedded in my skull. (Note to self: inspect your scalp for any unusual scars in the bathroom mirror later tonight) She was my task master and I towed the line, no questions asked. She took no prisoners while she was here and that trait hasn’t changed on the other side. She always shot from the hip, ricochets be damned.

Then, one horrible morning, she was gone. And I have to say I just stopped caring at that point. I didn’t give a damn about much of anything. Everything seemed pretty pointless for the most part. It wasn’t like a light being turned off. It was more like *I* turned the light off myself. I didn’t care to see what was around me. And I just stayed there… Not good, Charlie, not good.

This year is different, however. It feels different. Leigh always called me on my crap. I couldn’t get away with anything with her—and I did the same with her. She was direct. There’s no doubt about that. She once gave me what I consider to be the greatest compliment I have ever received. Out of the blue she called me and said she HAD to see me that weekend. She was flying from her home in Chicago just to see me so I was ordered to drop everything and prepare for her arrival. Fortunately, I never had anything to drop so it was all pretty effortless. Over dinner I asked, “Why the urgency to visit?”

She looked at me over her wine glass and said simply, “I needed to be with the one person who knows my bullshit is nothing but bullshit.”

It doesn’t get any better than that in my book.

Well, you know what? I had forgotten that MY bullshit is exactly that, too. Bullshit. But she wasn’t here to call me on it. Or so I thought. She found little subtle avalanches that would get my attention throughout today’s anniversary. I always welcome these signs. It always amuses and amazes me how they can find a way to get through to us. I rarely get direct messages from my loved ones, however. They almost always rely on signs and/or reaching out to me through what I term as a “disinterested third party.” I don’t trust myself to get out of the way when it comes to personal communication. I have a vivid imagination—it is my livelihood after all!—so I just leave it to someone else.

But sometimes, when it is needed, they kick down the door and just yell at me. Today was one of those days. I was picking up a few items from the local market when I found myself being lured by the seductive catcalls of the bakery. Donuts and I have had a long-lasting affair for decades. As my eyes grazed over the glass display case I heard an all-too-familiar voice scream in my head, “CHANGE IT, DON’T BLAME IT!”

I spun around and, of course, she wasn’t there. (But, of course, she was.) She called me on it one more time.

So, yeah, it’s time to change for good, literally and figuratively. I’m going to change the anger, the reasons, the emptiness. It won’t happen overnight and I’m good with that. But it does have to change. Blaming gets us nowhere. I was angry and rightfully so. However, it was not right STAYING that way. It’s a discredit to her memory, her soul, and it is incredibly disrespectful to me. If you don’t allow someone to disrespect you then how on earth can you allow yourself to do it? Do as I say, not as I do is NOT a way to live…it’s an excuse. You can’t live in the anger…you have to wade through it and come out on the other side in order to accept THEY are on their other side.

But, God, what a blessing knowing they break through connecting their never ceasing hearts with ours so we all truly beat as one.

You know what? As I finished writing this piece the song “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin started playing. What an ideal seal of her “it’s all about me” approval! And she’s right, you know? I never have had a friend like her but I know she will always be with me. 10-4, Leigh…I love you, too.

Copyright © 2015, Charles A. Filius, All Rights Reserved

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