Sunday, March 11, 2012

Coping With Loss

I realized this morning that I’d left an  especially important Shawshank reference out of my last post, though I did link to the right clip: “rehabilitation” has been a very important word for me over the past year, but I’m not actually sure I do know what it means. What is “habilitation”? I know we all think we know what rehabilitation means, sonny, but maybe it is a made-up word. It makes me think of “habitation,” as if I’ve been preparing my mind and body to once again act as a suitable vessel for my personhood. But then maybe it would be called “renovation”. So I’ve looked up habilitate. Now I can’t help but see the word “ability” in there. where did that ‘h’ come from? Maybe it should be re-abilitate. (Perhaps I missed my calling of naming pharmaceuticals --”Just one Abilitate a day, and you’ll feel like new. Side effects may include: nausea, dry mouth, not drve a Segway while taking Abilitate”). Seems that the early parts of our lives and all that we try to instill in our children is an act of habilitation. So it’s only when something goes wrong that we must re- habilitate. Makes sense. I suppose it also makes sense that doing it again is harder than doing it the first time around. though it stinks that I can’t fully rely on  my experience as a habilitator. I’ve been asked a number of times since my stroke what the hardest part is or what I miss most. I wish my answer were something easy and tangible, like pizza. but I haven’t been deprived of pizza. In fact, one of my fond memories of being in the rehab was the night some good friends from work brought pizza in for dinner in my room. The stroke has also indirectly been the instigator of a nice family tradition in our house – every Friday is “pizza and documentary” night. It’s just what it sounds like – we order pizza and watch a documentary – anything from wildlife, to the geologic history of the earth, to how the universe formed, to origami.

What I miss most is much more intangible –freedom. What I mean by that is mostly freedom of movement, but also freedom from scrutiny for relatively basic things like walking and standing up straight. While I enjoy going back to the rehab for visits from time to time, I can’t help but feel like all therapeutic eyes are upon me, analyzing my gate and evaluating my progress. What I also miss is freedom of ease. While I’ve already established that I was never a model of physical prowess, (no triathlete here; barely monathlete), I always thought of myself as fairly “game” and up for just about anything. I was talking recently to a friend about “King of the raft” competitions we used to have at our friends’ lake house. I was a person who would get up on that raft for a brief wrestling match if only for the fun of it and the satisfaction of throwing Tess in the water. Prior to my surgery, I think I mentioned how my photo album screensaver felt like my life passing before my eyes; it has now become an homage to who I once was; and leaves me nostalgic for myself -- oh, to be up for anything without fear of repercussions.

I’ve spoken to my psychologist quite a bit lately about mourning loss. I think we usually think of grieving as something left for the loss of a life, but there are certainly stages of grief which I’ve experienced through the loss of ease. We’ve had some loss of life around here as well – mostly in the form of goldfish: Soon after my original diagnosis, one of our fish – the ironically-named Peter Pan – leaped to his death. Wyatt and I found him lying on a mat next to the tank on July 5th, 2010. (Not to worry -- soon after, we did get a cover for the tank, in case any of the other fish developed similar ambitions. My suggestion at the time was that perhaps Peter had jumped up in an attempt to catch the previous night’s fireworks (and if you can name that extremely vague and obscure movie reference, I’ll send you a prize). When I have gone through the “guilt” stage of grieving, it’s generally for my children’s loss of innocence over what’s happened to me – they have certainly been exposed to more disappointment and unexpected challenges than I would’ve ever wanted for them, especially so early in their lives. I think I’m now in Stage 5 (“Acceptance”), but that can also look and feel a lot like denial or complacency. Starting when Wyatt turned breech in the last couple of days of Jamie’s first pregnancy (forcing a C-section), an expression started floating around our house and has grown from there – “mourn the perfect pregnancy”. That’s now pretty much been extended to “mourn the perfect…” Yes, that is a pretty depressing outlook on life, but we’ve found that planning for perfection only has led to disappointment. Life is like a Persian rug that way. But on the upside, and as I’ve probably already pontificated too much, I’m trying to make lemonade here – as difficult as that can be sometimes. On my motivational speaking tour, I hope to refer to this phase as my “near-life experience”. What I’m lacking, despite my best hopes and efforts, is any real and meaningful wisdom derived from my losses. At times I think I probably put too much pressure on myself and my circumstances to wring out some kind of real and permanent good (also the slogan of the Carnegie Corporation.– as if that’s the least I deserve. But nobody deserves anything – when you feel “entitled”, you make en tit out of led. I’ve regained much of the independence I lost – I can dress, feed, and bathe myself. I’m working fulltime and supporting my family. I’m actually now starting the process of renewing my driver’s license, which will hopefully bring with it a sense of independence and mobility I’ve definitely been missing, since I am most reliant on others when I need to go an extended distance. So far, I’ve passed the basic evaluation at the rehab and will next attempt driving a modified car (which has the turn signals moved to the right side of the steering wheel), before taking my road test later in the spring. This weekend has also been a good test of independence – Jamie took the boys up north to visit friends and her father, leaving me to fend for myself. I appreciate that as a sign of confidence Jamie has in my improvements (maybe that puts her closer to Acceptance as well). However, being on my own for a weekend is also a reminder of loss to a certain extent, because I feel behooved to make the most of my “bachelor weekend” (as Jamie calls it). I suppose, somewhat sadly, I have been doing what I would have done during my single years – I watched Star Wars Episodes II and III (which I actually had only seen once), I paid bills, I stayed up somewhat late (though changing the clocks for Daylight Savings Time contributed to that).and I’ve actually been doing some reading! That is somewhat shocking for me, though I recently got a Kindle and have been reading the apropos Last Bookstore in America -- a free offering from the Kindle store.For the sake of self-promotion but without actually suggesting anyone pay for what you can get for free, Semicolon is also now available at the Kindle Store.So posting this entry will wrap up my wild and crazy weekend.


  1. As usual your post had me making the noises it usually does: involuntary laugh exhalation, sad sighs and the occasional punch to the stomach sound of wishing so many things for you and not being able to do anything about it.

  2. Hey Ken,

    I think you're still altogether too much "in" the thing to wring out any deep and abiding wisdom. Not that that should stop you from trying if you really want to be wringing, I suppose, but in addition to everything else, for heaven's sake don't beat yourself up for not being able to see the "up side" yet! Just sayin' . . .

    --Amy of the raft