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Friday, April 18, 2008

EXCERPT: Shadow Living…Paintings of Grief

Shadow Living…Paintings of Grief
by Deborah Slappey Pitts

Edifying the World Thru Words

Shadow Living…Paintings of Grief is the enthralling sequel to I Feel Okay, Deborah Slappey Pitts’ debut bestseller. In Shadow Living…Paintings of Grief, the author shares her intimate story of grief and survival after her husband's death to a silent killer disease, primary amyloidosis.

Drawing from personal experiences of pain, depression, and unnerving despair, Pitts identifies the perplexing stages of grieving and shares her tale of faith and healing. Readers will discover the many stages of the grieving process and how to embrace the light of hope. It’s a must read—an unforgettable story; written with soul, candor, and love.

Website address: http://www.dslappeypitts.com/

Chapter Six…Retreat into the Shadows

I was overwhelmingly lonely and I missed Clyde so much. I missed holding hands with him and sitting down on the sofa discussing current events. I missed sitting with him at the kitchen table, laughing and having fun together. I would see couples walking and holding hands together. I wanted to walk with my husband again, too. It reminded me of my loss as I had to relive the day Clyde died a thousand times.

T wo weeks had passed since we buried Clyde and I still couldn’t sleep well at night. I tried my best to fall asleep around 11:00 p.m., sometimes 11:30 p.m., but my body wouldn’t have it. My eyes would routinely pop open early in the morning, sometimes 3:00 a.m. and on a bad night even 2:00 a.m. I would stay awake the rest of the early morning.

I wanted to be strong. I tried so very hard, but the pain was relentless, razor sharp as if someone was deliberately pulling back my skin, slicing my insides without mercy; exposing the delicate layers of my anatomy. The weight of the despair throughout my body was dreadful, especially at night. I began to despise nighttime. I dreaded seeing the sunshine leave the sky. I wanted daylight to last forever. If I could manipulate the night into day, I would have.

What do you do at 2:00 a.m., other than stare at a man pointing at a map of the United States with potbellied grey clouds, seemingly pregnant, waiting for the birth of rain. It was all too unreal as I watched the man wave his hand from one side of the U.S. map—from east to west, from north to south, and back to east and west again. The meteorologist kept reiterating the same thing as my body starved for sleep. But my mind couldn’t rest; it was constantly moving from one thought to the next.

I pulled the composition book from my bottom bedside table and began to write these words…

I feel so alone, nothing is the same. I don’t have much to give. I try hard, but I don’t have much left in me. I am trying to keep my health intact. But it’s not working. As the days pass by, the reality seems to set in more and more…

“If only I could have gotten Clyde to the Mayo Clinic one month earlier,” I said, “he would be alive today, Lord. I would nestle close to him and we would be all right together. I would take care of him. I would make sure he took his medicines. Oh Lord, I would take care of him forever. I would. If only I’d known about the Mayo Clinic earlier in December. Everything would be different. Clyde would be here. He wouldn’t be lying in a cemetery. He would be smiling and laughing because he knew he had escaped the jaws of death. Lord, how can anyone make it through this?” I asked. “How can I make it through this agony? How will my family make it through this?”

During the first few weeks, I would cry myself to sleep in hope that for just a few hours I would escape the reality of death. But as always, I kept praying. I couldn’t read because I couldn’t concentrate. But I could pray, and I did. God always comforted me in my tears and He took care of me in my sorrow.

The next morning, I decided to go in and check on Alex Keith, hoping he would be sound asleep. To my relief, he was asleep. I was simply amazed at the way he had pushed Clyde’s death far from him so he wouldn’t have to deal with it. I knew it wasn’t good. He appeared to be acting as though nothing had happened. Clyde was more than a daddy to Alex Keith. Clyde was Alex Keith’s hero. I gently stroked his forehead back and forth and whispered softly to God:

“Lord, please protect him. Please watch over him. I know he’s in a lot of pain, losing his father at such a young age. I know he’s hurting, but please comfort him in his sorrow. Please help him deal with it. Help Clyde Daryl to deal with Clyde not being here, and please help me. We don’t have anywhere else to go. We only have you. Please help us now Lord. Help us. We miss Clyde terribly.”

I shut my eyes tightly and stood motionless for a few seconds. I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t move as I stood in Alex Keith’s room. Finally, I mustered the strength to place one foot in front of the other and walked out of his room into mine. I slumped my body on the bed, closed my eyes, and wept silently in the darkness of the night. I felt so bad for Alex Keith, Clyde Daryl, and myself. I didn’t know how we would ever make it through without Clyde or even if we could. Sleep was a welcome relief. There were rare moments when I felt we would be okay. Clyde would want us to keep going, I would say, even though he wasn’t with us physically. I knew that fact with all of my heart, but most of the time, it wasn’t enough. All I knew was that God was with me and my family. I knew this fact without a shadow of a doubt, but still the pain was unbearable.

Mourning my better half was worse pain than having a baby. It was worse than having a toothache or any physical abnormality or condition on this earth. Grieving someone in death takes on a life of its own. It takes over physically, mentally, and even spiritually. It’s a mind-absorbing pain that penetrates the essence of one’s mental abilities to discern reality from dreamland. I was a walking zombie—living in the shadows of death while fighting desperately to remain with the living. For the first few years of living as a widow, I walked through the motions of living day by day, but deep within I wasn’t doing much living at all. I was existing—simply existing in the wind. I felt part of me had been cut off; my best half had been torn, ripped from the rest of my body.

That’s the kind of pain I experienced throughout the days, the weeks, even the years. There was no one prescription to ease the pain. My mind dripped with sorrow. I tried to read, but I couldn’t decipher the words. But I could listen. Anything would trigger my pain. I would experience fond family memories. Sometimes I would be watching TV, listening to the radio, or just cooking in the kitchen. I remember on one occasion when I was watching a movie and someone died. Had I known the person was going to die, I wouldn’t have watched the show. The experience of seeing someone die on television was devastating to me. I would be “out of things” for days—crying, hoping the sorrow would leave me. Many times I thought I was losing my mind. As years passed, I learned more about grief and the stages of grief and began to protect myself from situations that would trigger episodes of anguish and pain. I learned that grief is a journey to the other side. It takes hard work to work through the stages of grief, because you naturally don’t want to work through your pain and sorrow.

Three weeks had passed since Clyde’s burial. I didn’t plan to go back to work so soon, but Mattie, Clyde’s oldest sister, talked with me and told me that I needed to keep busy. I did appreciate her wisdom.

“Debbie,” she said, “you need to go back to work. It’s not good for you to be in the house alone. It’s just not good. You need to go back and keep yourself busy.”

I heeded her advice and went back to work three weeks after the funeral. Even though I hadn’t been able to sleep much most nights, I knew I needed to go back anyway. Maybe work, I thought to myself, will help me sleep better at night.

I had already spoken to my manager earlier in the day to let her know that I would be returning to work on the following Monday. I knew Clyde wanted me to take care of everything—the children, the house, and I knew that he wanted me to keep things together. I wanted to respect his wishes. I wanted to do all the things he would have wanted me to do.

I was trying to rely on God, but the pain still remained. I didn’t understand it. There were so many questions and thoughts, and I had very few answers. The pain was insistent and at times I felt there was nothing I could do. I felt helpless, but not hopeless.

The grief was feverishly painful as if it was determined to drive me out of my mind. Sleep, when it welcomed me, was a sigh of relief for my soul, and a quiet moment was an escape from my dismal reality of living without my better half. And Clyde was the better half of me. The pain would be unbearable and there was nothing that I could do about it.

No matter how much I screamed at the top of my voice or threw furniture from one wall to the other, the reality was Clyde had gone away and left me to suffer a miserable existence. So, I began to feel sorry for myself. I didn’t know at the time that I was progressing into another phase of grief—leaving the shock of seeing Clyde die before my eyes and now facing true reality that Clyde would no longer walk into the door saying, “Hi honey, I’m home.”

I couldn’t bear this thought. Not yet. I just wasn’t able. How would I ever survive the next stage—anger? The first stage of grief, shock, had nearly killed me.

Darkness overwhelmed the daylight once again as I found myself surrounded with sadness, watching the darkness engulf the daylight whole. I felt choked with pain and agony as I tossed and turned each night. I tried desperately to go to sleep. I would have given anything to simply close my eyes and drift into a deep sleep, but I couldn’t.

“Oh Lord,” I spoke very loudly this time. “Help me,” I said as I stared at the ceiling, hoping that God would answer me quickly as he’d done numerous times.

“Clyde, where are you, sweetheart? You need to be here with me; with Alex Keith and Daryl, with the whole family, sweetheart. It’s lonely without you being close to us. It’s so lonely. Please come to me. Please let me see your face. I need to be with you. I need to touch your handsome face.”

I kept looking at the ceiling and rubbing my forehead. I became very aggravated, even agitated.

“It’s lonely without you, sweetheart. I’m so lonely. I need for you to come home to me. Please come home now. Please!”

I clenched my fist and began to beat against my face furiously and yelled at the ceiling.

“Clyde, why did you leave me here? I can’t do this without you. I can’t keep going without you. Please come back. Don’t leave me here alone. It’s just too painful. Why didn’t you stay with me?”

Tears streamed down from my eyes as I lay against the blanket that night to remember our beautiful family.

“I miss you being here. I miss you Clyde,” I said as I wrapped myself into one of his crisp white cotton shirts. “I’ve cried for you, but God won’t bring you back to me. He won’t.”

I buried my face into my hands and pulled Clyde’s pillow close to my face. Finally around 12:30 that night, I drifted into sleep. Sadly, I would have many nights of pain-wrenching hours of agony and despair of trying to come to grips with the reality that Clyde was gone and wasn’t coming back. I couldn’t feel his presence against his pillow anymore. His scent was fading and even though I wanted desperately to hold on to his scent. It was fading away.

The Telephone Call to the Mayo Clinic

For some reason, I was drawn to call the Mayo Clinic just to see how everyone was doing. I felt a connection to the hospital and staff and I still do to this day. I knew they had done everything possible to save Clyde, and I would always appreciate their service, their generosity, and their very special compassion for our family. I decided to call the transplant unit. The nurse told me that every patient had received a heart transplant, and was doing well. She asked me how I was doing and I told her we were taking it one day at a time. I also told her to tell everyone that I was very happy for all of them. Now everyone would be able to go on with their lives with new hearts.

After a few minutes, I hung up the telephone and closed my eyes in devastating pain. My face displayed the sheer horror and anguish as I replayed her words in my mind: Everyone received a heart transplant. Everyone…Everyone…Everyone... Everyone except Clyde got a heart! He was the only one who didn’t.

I was totally devastated by the news. I was very happy for the patients who had waited for months on end to receive heart transplants, but I was stricken in throbbing horror that Clyde was the only one who didn’t get a chance to receive a life-saving heart. Instead Clyde, the youngest of all of them, had died a few weeks earlier.

“If only, Lord, he could have lasted a few more weeks! Clyde would be smiling with everyone else in the transplant unit. If only, Lord, you could have allowed him to receive his heart. He would be here with us. He would be here. Lord, he was only 43 years old.”

I cried and cried, and before I knew what was happening, I lifted the lamp from the nightstand and threw it violently against the wall.

“It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” I said screaming. “Why Lord, why did You let him die? What are we going to do?”

I was alone and Alex Keith was at school. Thank God he didn’t see me this way. I was devastated. My beautiful love story, my Innisfree for life, had left me here.

“Tell everyone I’m happy for all of them,” I said as I said my goodbyes to her.

After that day I didn’t speak to them again until nine years later.

I was never the same after that day. Older patients had waited for a heart and received it. Clyde was the youngest patient in the transplant unit, and he didn’t get a new heart. His body was riddled with the amyloid tissue. I was deeply disturbed that my husband wasn’t one of them. It just wasn’t God’s will that Clyde would have another heart. It wasn’t God’s will for Clyde to live. As the afternoon turned into evening, darkness covered my heart in despair.

I became angry with Clyde because I felt he should have been able to hold on, even by a thread, so he could be with his family. He was a strong man. I remember him being so strong…so why didn’t he hang on? My anger dissipated because I knew deep down that Clyde held on as long as he could. And if it was God’s will for Clyde to recover from the debilitating effects of amyloidosis, he would have done so. I believed that without a shadow of a doubt.

But still my anguish kept returning, and it hovered over me as a dark, rain-soaked cloud. I began to retreat into the shadows of my pain. “Oh Lord, I failed him! I failed Clyde and it’s my fault. All my fault! Clyde, please forgive me!” I yelled out in pain.

I paused for a moment and longed to hear Clyde’s voice in my ears. I yanked myself from the bed and walked over to the other side of the bed to reach the telephone answering machine. Clyde’s voice was still on the answering machine, so I pressed the recording to hear his voice:

“Hello, this is the Slappey residence. We’re not at home right now. Please leave a message and we’ll get back with you. Have a nice day.”

His voice was very comforting. I pressed the answering machine again and again that afternoon:

“Hello, this is the Slappey residence. We’re not at home right now. Please leave a message and we’ll get back with you. Have a nice day.”

Calm descended upon my face as I listened to his voice. I began to feel a sense of peace as I felt his presence near. His voice calmed my soul. I felt at ease and began to smile. I started to remember our good times together. Clyde always had a tremble in his voice. I played the recording over and over, and after awhile I laid down across my bed, sensing his warmness close to me. I turned over, lay on my back, and drifted quietly off to sleep.

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