Grief brings a bittersweet birthday this year.

My birthday is coming up at the end of this month. Although I’m very excited about it, I’m also dealing with some feelings of sadness and grief. Josh’s birthday was only a few days before mine, so we always used to celebrate it together on a day in the middle. It was our tradition for all the years we were together.

He would have turned 30 this year, and he always dreaded turning 30. Last year he forgot how old he was and started musing about how awful it was to be turning 30; he forgot he had one more year to go. 😛 Part of me smiles knowing that he didn’t have to leave the 20’s that he wanted to stay in, but the other part of me grieves deeply because I know he would have grown so much and enjoyed life immensely in his 30’s. He had finally found happiness and a new life to explore, and then it was cruelly snatched away.

Christmas is going to be hard too. Christmas day was the last day that I saw him conscious and got to talk to him; the next day he went into the coma and he passed away a week later.

Grief is hard. Even when everything is generally going well, it can pop up at a moment’s notice and hit like a brick in the face until the newly uncovered emotional layer is effectively processed. It’s often confusing because there are lots of happy memories mixed in too, so I can feel both happiness and sadness simultaneously. I’m doing much better with coping with it, though. And the medication has made a massive difference. But sometimes I still cry because I miss him. He was my best friend for almost a decade, and it still feels strange not being able to message him on Facebook to tell him about the funny things the cats are doing, especially since Facebook occasionally makes it feel like he’s still around by recommending pages that he’d liked when he was alive, or reminding me of past photo memories. Pinterest still suggests him every time I try to send a pin because we used to share pins to each other all the time. Even though we weren’t a couple anymore, he was still my dear friend and we’d been through a lot together. Losing him has been like losing a piece of myself.

I suppose all death is like that, at least when we lose people who are a significant part of our lives. They’re gone, and we have to adjust to living without them. I’m glad he’s not suffering anymore, he’d had long drawn out battles with cancer before and had dreaded that more than anything, but it’s still hard to get used to this new reality.

This year is going to have some very difficult “firsts”. First birthday without him, first Christmas since he died, first anniversary of his death… I still find it hard to browse the comic section at Chapters because he loved comic books and that’s where he always was when we shopped there. It’s like he’s still there just around the corner, looking for more Spiderman comics. He gave me several Batgirl comic books as a parting gift when we separated, and I can’t open them without getting very emotional. He’d written a letter in the front of the first one, and I forgot about it one day and I was looking for something easy to read. Instant waterworks. We may not have been very compatible romantically, but we were best friends and we’d always supported each other through our changes and even through our separation. This is what he wrote:

Laura, I know you’re not a big comic reader, but I thought Batgirl might be a literary character that could provide you some inspiration.

See in this new series, Barbara has recovered from a life altering difficulty and feels she is ready to take things on her own again. She has to convince family, mentors, friends, and at times that she is able to take care of herself, help others and face challenges on her own.

As you enjoy and discover your independence, I hope Batgirl’s journey will aid your own as you show yourself and others that you’re ready to do awesome stuff on your own.

Barbara was wheelchair bound for many years and literally had to trust herself to stand on her own two feet. Gaining independence is like finally getting out of the wheelchair. Trust yourself and you’ll do great.

This is a character who is funny, witty, intelligent, kind, honest, authentic, sexy, and badass. She’s good willed and the kind of friend you want to have, but she’s not a pushover. A female character who is strong and soft at the same time. You have a lot in common with her.”

You can probably see why the waterworks start whenever I open that book. I’ve managed to read part of the first book, but I’ve never been able to get very far without feeling too emotional. So, they sit on my shelf waiting for the day that the pain has healed enough for me to read it all. It’ll happen when I’m ready.

But I’m far stronger than I was before he died, so although I know there will be more emotional moments like this, I also know that I’ll be ok. I may need to momentarily hide myself away on some of these occasions to grieve, but it’s something I’ve been preparing myself for and I know it’s just part of the process.

There’s a time to laugh, and a time to be sad. A time to smile, and a time to cry. A big part of emotional maturity is learning to accept this and not beat ourselves up for experiencing difficult or uncomfortable emotions. Stifling emotions hinders growth and healing. Acknowledging them, and expressing and managing them in healthy ways, is essential for getting through grief. So today I’ll let myself cry and watch sappy sad movies and look at old pictures of happy memories, and then tomorrow I’ll get up again and face the world a little bit stronger.

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The Five Love Languages (Without the Religious Stuff)

heart-700141_1920One of the hardest parts of any relationship, platonic or romantic, is communication. Part of that involves making sure we are speaking the same language in regards to showing each other love. (And yes, there are more kinds of love than just romantic love. But that’s another note for another time.) If I do something to show them love, but they don’t understand me, they may not feel loved at all.

For example, my cat Muffin likes to nip my hand sometimes. I used to get really annoyed by this and I’d try to make her stop it. But then I read an article explaining how cats often do this to show love. They bite each other playfully all the time to show affection and to get attention, and she would often follow or precede the biting with head butting or purring. Now that I understand her love language better, our interactions have improved. I’m less irritated with her because I know she’s just showing love the best way she knows how, and she feels loved in return because her affection isn’t being rejected anymore (which must have been rather confusing and hurtful for her). People aren’t much different.

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(She’s so much happier now that she can bite me without being smacked away. lol)

 

There are many ways to analyze how humans show love to each other, and many methods for improving communication. This is just one of many, but it’s a really good one that has improved many of my relationships in the past and it helps me a lot to remember it in my current interactions. Like many things in my life it’s a concept that I learned when I was religious, but the basic principles apply very well outside of religion. (Just a heads up in case you go to their website and there’s a lot of extra religious stuff there; you gotta eat the meat and spit out the bones with this one. If anyone finds a similar thing that’s not religious please let me know.)

The Five Love Languages (Without the religious stuff)

Quality Time

This is one of my top love languages. I need to spend time with the people I care about in order for me to feel loved, and I show love by trying to spend time with them. Quality time will mean different things to different people, and it will also depend on what kind of relationship you have with them. For me, it means not having to compete with other people (or their phones) for their attention and emotional energy while they’re with me. Quality time and group social time can often overlap, but not always. If it’s family or platonic friends, group stuff is great. But even then, sometimes you need alone time with them to really connect in a deeper way.

If I’m dating someone, I generally prefer to be alone with them in order to have real quality time, partly because physical touch is very important to me (see next love language). It’s hard to do that if I’m mostly seeing a partner in group settings. I also like being alone with them because I can relax more around the few people I trust the most; I’m always a bit more guarded in groups, especially larger ones. Ideally, the bulk of my time with a romantic intimate partner would be one on one, and group setting stuff would be extra. That’s not always possible logistically, but that’s my ideal scenario.

Physical Touch

This is my other top love language. I show love by cuddling, hugging, sex (if it’s that kind of relationship), holding hands, kissing- and I receive love this way too. If someone regularly shows me physical affection and then stops or greatly reduces it without warning, it can feel very hurtful and scary for me because it feels like their affection for me has disappeared too.

Acts of Service

This one isn’t a huge deal for me, but it is for a lot of people. And this is where conflict can easily come in. One of my ex-husband’s love languages was acts of service. He wanted me to clean and take initiative with stuff as acts of love, and when I failed at those things (thanks to untreated ADD and depression) he felt unloved and unappreciated. I, on the other hand, was trying to show him love through my own love languages, physical touch and quality time. I didn’t understand why he felt unloved, because I thought I was showing it to him constantly. And he didn’t understand why I felt unloved because he was doing acts of service for me when what I really wanted was more cuddling and hand holding. I wasn’t interpreting his acts of service as love, he wasn’t interpreting my physical affection and time as love, and neither of us were getting our needs met. (Eventually we did work this out, though there were other issues that were unresolvable in the end unfortunately.)

Words of Affirmation

Words of affirmation will differ from person to person. It can be saying that we appreciate them, we love them, we want them in our life, they make us happy, they’re a good person, they’re sexy and smart, they’re doing the right thing, etc. This one is important to me too, largely because of anxiety and trust issues stemming from many hurts inflicted on me by others. It takes a lot for me to trust and open up to people now, and even when I do trust them I sometimes need to hear them reaffirm how much I mean to them, or that they want me in their life. And change is often hard for me (anxiety really sucks), so if there are changes happening I often need a little extra verbal affirmation in order to feel safe and loved. If I’m dealing with anxiety or depression flareups, words of affirmation can help a lot because I’m not always open to hugs or being around people in those moments unless I’m extremely comfortable and trusting with them, and even with those people I occasionally need space.

Gifts

This one isn’t a big deal for me either. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when someone takes the time to pick out a thoughtful gift and I would absolutely feel loved and appreciated, but I don’t need gifts in order to feel loved. Some people do, though. If they don’t get flowers or chocolates regularly, or if they get the wrong gift on a special occasion, it can make them feel unloved because they feel that their loved one has not been paying attention to what they really want or need. And if they take a lot of time to pick out an amazing gift and their partner just blows it off, it can be devastating because that was a deep expression of love for them.

When I was still religious, I remember hearing about the pastor’s wife and her attitude towards her husband’s gifts. He got her a set of dishes for Christmas, and she got very upset and put it out on the porch because it wasn’t what she wanted. His gift was unacceptable to her, so she rejected it. I don’t understand that. Even if I didn’t particularly like a gift, the fact that someone took the time to get it for me means a lot. Material things just aren’t that important to me.

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It’s pretty much impossible to go through life without needing to speak other “love languages”. Whether it’s family or friends or a partner, people all show and receive love in different ways. Some people really screw with your head and show love differently than they receive it. But none of them are wrong, it’s just a matter of learning how we each communicate and show affection and appreciation.

We not only need to learn to show love in ways that they can understand and accept, but we also have to learn to accept love as they show it. Like with Muffin. I can’t make her change how she shows love, but I can accept her love as she offers it. Now when she nips my hand I feel warm fuzzy feelings instead of irritation. Our relationship has improved not because either of us had been doing something wrong, but because we just weren’t understanding each other.