On Grief

on grief (3)


Losing someone you love is one of the hardest experiences you’ll have. While all the guests at the wake say what they believe are comforting platitudes, inside, you feel numb. Maybe you cried. Maybe the decision of life or death had been in your hands.

Every grieving is different. IDGAF what the psychologists say about the stages of grief because I’ve had too many rides on this merry-go-round. I offer you my take on how to grieve.

  1. Do it your way. Grief is messy and disorderly. Cry, scream, tell morbid jokes, or laugh hysterically. You don’t have to conform to what society thinks is the “proper” way to grieve.
  2. Don’t put a time limit on your grief. Expect at least three years to grieve. At first, you’ll drown in enormous waves of sorrow. Eventually, it will become bearable and then it will become a normal part of your life. “Getting over it” is not an option.
  3. Make time for self-care. The last thing your loved one would want is for you to fall ill or abandon living. Eat well, sleep deeply, and go to the doctor when needed. Treat yourself from time to time. Imagine each triumph as a gift from the person you lost.

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Experiences to Anticipate

Things will be said or done that will cause a host of chaotic feelings. Here are the top four scenarios I’ve experienced that left me bewildered.

  1. Relationships with the living will change. If the death is traumatic, this will be especially true, but it happens after every death. Some will make the death about them or about you. Some will feel guilt and ghost. Some will hang around for the beginning and disappear. Some will stick around. Sometimes you will be left alone.
  2. You’ll forget the sound of your loved one’s voice. You’ll begin to do things that don’t include your loved one. You’ll build a new life.
  3. You will learn things about the life lived by your loved one. Some will be good, and some will be unpleasant. Each revelation gives you an opportunity to rewrite the past and find closure for yourself.
  4. When a person’s illness consumes month to years of your time in caring for him, or if you wished that she would die so that her pain would end, guilt and relief are healthy responses to the stress of prolonged illness.

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Top Four Worst Kinds of Losses

I’ve experienced all four of the losses to one degree or another so I think I can rank these deaths with some authority.

  1. Death of a child: there is no title for someone who has lost a child. Think about it: widow/er, orphan, and – there is no word to describe this kind of grief. Even miscarriages take their toll.
  2. Death of a significant other: your entire life changes. Your closest relationship, outside of the one between mother-figure and child, is gone.
  3. Death of an abusive parent/partner: the guilt of feeling relief and anger is worse than the loss itself. Coming to terms with this kind of death confuses but also frees you.
  4. Suicide, homicide, and sudden deaths: there is no rhyme or reason to these deaths. They mug you in broad daylight and tell you it’s your fault that you didn’t see the signs.

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Grief is your heart’s way of telling you that a part of how you defined yourself is absent. How you experience each loss is different each time. Whether the loss of your parent or child, or the death of a role model, grief has many faces. Each face is real and valid.

Find a way to be okay with your feelings, even the icky ones, and be kind to yourself. Be kind to others, even if one of them lands on the coffin and cries hysterically, even if it is for attention. You grieve your way and allow others to do the same.

And if you haven’t lost someone to death yet, buckle up for the ride. No one is exempt.

©2018. I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved for text. Images may be subject to copyright.

Suicide, My Sweet Suicide


Suicide my sweet suicide

I wrote this post on August 21, 2018. I do not claim to have predicted this tragedy. I.O.


I know I’m a little late on the draw, and that my carefully considered opinion may not help in the aftermath, but when Jill Janus of Huntress took her life, it left me stunned. Not because it seemed unlikely. I’m too much of a realist to be shocked by suicide, especially when committed by someone battling mental illness.

Jill was very open about her mental illness. She struggled with it every day and somehow managed to put a good face on it. I didn’t know her personally, but her bravery and honesty encouraged me to do the same. I realize now that she is my hero out of all the people I could choose.

Today, as I suffer for going to a concert on a Sunday – just going to a concert, not performing like she did – sent a shiver through me. Will I be next? Will I end it just to escape a particularly bad spell out of a handful of bad spells?

Because I have them. I will repeat myself until not only the sufferers understand, but those blessed to not have any way of relating to their suffering loved ones. On an average of every two to three weeks, I’m reminded of why I take my medication every day.

Jill was very open about her mental illness.

I have bad times, almost 26 episodes in a year that may last anywhere from 1-5 days at a time. Very few people know this about me. Even my loved ones are shocked when I tell them.

But these episodes are mild in comparison to untreated bipolar. I’m grateful this is all that is happening instead of a full blown relapse. I have a significant degree of control over my wellness now.

I am currently suffering from a migraine, a syndrome that often goes hand in hand with Bipolar. I didn’t drink or do anything weird this past Sunday, but the act of going to a concert, of enjoying myself, has a price.

I travel for work. One to two-hour drives, one-way. I love what I do. I do a job that gives my life meaning and that helps others. But I can’t work back-to-back days like that. I can’t work week-long details in the heat of August like I used to.

…the act of going to a concert, of enjoying myself, has a price.

This isn’t getting old and decrepit. I know plenty of people older than me who are tired, yes, but not debilitated by such work. I would need an entire week to recover. I would need to lie in bed most of the day.

I plan rest around what I do, rather than the other way around. I slept for most of the next day after the Grand Canyon. I took naps in between every activity on my vacation because I HAD to. When I was awake, I was full of vim and vigor. But I had to recharge because each activity exacted not only a physical toll but an emotional toll.

All those people. Fucking everywhere. Some so rude my blood simmered. I can’t imagine how it must be to have everyone in your face because you are a well-known and respected musician like Jill. As much as I’d appreciate the people supporting my work, I’d snap at some point.

I have gotten to the place where I tell my friends, “I love you. I want to see you again, but right now, I cannot people anymore.” Because I want to be able to tell them the same thing twenty-five years from now.

I can’t imagine how it must be to have everyone in your face because you are a well-known and respected musician like Jill.

My comrades in arms, boundaries are a good thing. Being actively nice or in performance mode all the time doesn’t get you anything but exhausted. There is a point where giving and giving and giving becomes a psychotic nightmare.

Take care of yourselves. Rest. Acknowledge that rest is not a weakness but a way to build your strength. If someone can’t handle your need to rest, get rid of him. If someone refuses to respect your boundaries, send her packing. Sometimes, you’ll have to be firm, and that’s a shame, but kindness can be disguised in assertiveness.

I know it’s hard. Believe me, I know. I’ve been told I’m kind to a fault. But I want to live. I want to enjoy life. I do not want to slide into the darkness that Jill fought to keep at bay.

I want her to be proud of me. I want her words and deeds to carry forward. I want her to know that wherever she is now, imperfectly perfect as she was, she had an impact. She saved lives, mine included.

I do not want to slide into the darkness that Jill fought to keep at bay….She saved lives, mine included.

To Jill’s family, I convey my deepest sympathy. You understood well enough to support her through her nightmare the way she needed. Relinquish blame. You stood by her side through all of it and you are brave and noble people. I hope others learn from your resilience and compassion.

You will not be forgotten, Jill. Even by people who have never met you. There is no shame to what you did or didn’t do. To me, you are a fallen hero and I will carry the standard, wave the flag, shout to the skies that you were never weak. You, sweet Jill, were stronger than many. Rest in peace.

© 2018. I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved for text. Image may be subject to copyright.