I am making grief my bitch.
I’m pretty sure I could get a job as a professional mourner, which believe it or not, they do have in some cultures.
No. You guys, I wouldn’t just get the job, I would be the supervisor. It would be my job to show everyone else exactly how “it’s” done. The keening and wailing. All of it. Eventually, they would promote me and I would be the boss of the whole Agency of Grieving.
If you know me at all, and even if you don’t, you can probably (hopefully) tell I’m being facetious.
Is anyone really good at grief? What would that even mean? I have no idea.
It’s such a subjective and abstract thing. Grief is not a one size fits all garment. It looks and fits differently on everybody. And on some, I suppose, it is just not flattering. I mean, it’s not called “ugly crying” because it looks and feels amazing, right?
I’ve spilled my share of ugly tears over the past four weeks since my friend E. died. Sometimes it has felt cathartic, and other times it has been just scary. I can’t say it has ever felt particularly “good” or that I’ve felt even remotely competent while doing it.
But I’ve done it.
I’ve done it at her grave, and in my car. I’ve done it at work. I’ve done it as I fell asleep and as I woke up the next morning.
Grief has been a rather unruly house guest. It wants all of my attention. It wants to be carted about to see the sights and then complains about everything. But I’ve done my best to be hospitable because hosting this thing seems important. Necessary, even.
If I’ve been good at grief at all over the past month, it is only because I’ve made friends with it. I’ve opened my arms to all of its prickly tendencies, held it close, and wept because it is so sharp and painful.
And if I’ve been good at grief, it has been because people have given me the space, love, and support to do it. Friends and family have granted me access to sail off with grief into dark and murky waters, of which I am terribly frightened. Even though they can’t go there with me, they have assured me that they will be there when I return, standing on the shore with arms ready to collect me.
Sometimes grief comes back with me, and other times it does some island hopping alone while I tend to vacuuming, shuttling kids to birthday parties and karate, and laughing at something with my husband.
It has helped to write. It has helped to talk. It has helped to cry. It has helped to be hugged. It has helped to be left alone.
Knowing that people around the globe have held space for me while I go through this has been a priceless blessing.
And you know what? I’m feeling a bit better. Maybe I’m even feeling a lot better.
Of course this could be illusory. Remember a couple weeks ago when I felt amazing and was totally acing life and then I started to feel like crap again? Yeah.
But there has been a shift.
Even when I am off on that rickety boat with my grief, I can see the shore where once it was just a dark mess of fog. Sometimes E. is standing there on the sandy banks, and I am so happy to see her, to be reminded of all our good times, to feel her unconditional love which is so vast and strong it penetrates death and makes me feel intact.
From the great beyond, she inspires my heart.
I’m here, she says. I’m here. When you’re ready, you can come ashore, let go of the pain and I’ll still be here.
Her voice fills me with a mixture of hope and sorrow, but I hear it clearly.
I don’t think I’d have heard it had I not committed to taking this voyage to bond with grief.
So, as this self proclaimed expert who is totally winning at grief, what would I recommend to others?
I don’t know, guys.
I guess do what feels right. Let it be with you and let it go when it feels appropriate. Trust your love.
And tell yourself that you are crushing it in the biggest and best way possible. It sort of helps.
I feel like I’m existing in some parallel universe, out of sync with everyone around me.
It’s as though I’m onstage with the Rockettes. I look fabulous and I’m smiling, but I’m kicking just a bit lower and off tempo. Actually, that’s a crappy analogy. I could never be a Rockette. Modern dance is more my thing, but I digress.
It’s like I forgot how to talk to people. I worry I’m blinking too much. I worry about eye contact.
I feel simultaneously invisible and horribly exposed, like either I am completely fading away, or everyone can see every raw, messy inch of how awful I feel. Maybe they will be embarrassed for me, or they won’t know what to say. Maybe they won’t care. Either way it feels awkward and unusual.
I second guess everything I say, anxious I make people angry or confused. I’m worried that patience is running thin, that my sorrow is boring and testing those around me.
Even in my writing, I feel like I feel incapable of expressing things with the clarity I so desire. It’s frustrating and makes me tired.
It could also be lack of sleep exacerbating things. I haven’t been sleeping or eating that great since it all happened.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m keeping in motion. I’m bathing and working and functioning at a completely reasonable pace. Kick, jump, shuffle, step.
It’s just this bizarre sense that life is so different, difficult, and exhausting.
My heart aches for E.
What a stupid and trite thing to write, but I don’t know any other way to put it.
After the initial shock of her death, and the emotional roller coaster of the wake and funeral, I felt a bit numb. It wasn’t such a bad thing. It allowed me to go about my day. Feed the kids. See clients. Shop. Make jokes. Have sex. Cook some chicken in the crock pot.
It was easy to kind of start thinking that maybe she was just on one of her cruises with her wife. She was just “away”.
A part of me started to accept her “away-ness.” It didn’t feel terrible.
But then the moment came when I wanted to pick up the phone and call her and I just couldn’t.
I searched around me for some tangible reminder of my connection with her. I put on the scarf she gave me. I looked at her handwriting in the modern dance book she gave me at our last supper out together. “Forty years later, this is yours, my vivacious friend. E.”
Tears came, fresh and hot.
It’s the little things that kill me, like when I want to tell her about a really good session at work, or a particularly rewarding conversation with a coworker. It’s when I want to show her the pictures of my kids dressed up for Halloween, or tell her about something radical my daughter said.
My brain continues to share dumb jokes with her.
Partly it comforts.
But mostly it confounds in the new, one dimensional shape our relationship has taken.
I mentioned to a friend that I was struggling and they suggested I get “professional help.” While I know my friend was just trying to be loving, and I appreciate that, I got super butt hurt over it.
First of all, the last thing a therapist wants to do at the end of the day is more therapy. Believe me. Been there, done that. At this point I am fairly certain I know enough about myself to know that I don’t need therapy. Not just yet, anyway.
Second of all, therapy is not going to bring E. back.
Third, it has only been three weeks. Although cultural expectations would suggest I should be long past things by now, I know that it doesn’t work that way. Not really.
Finally, I don’t want to talk to a stranger about E. I want to talk to my friends, and her friends, and my family about her. I want to share and remember with the people who knew and loved her, or who knew how much I loved her.
I want to visit her grave and cry and read her poems. I want to write about her and feel this longing with every inch of my soul.
And oh my heavens, it aches. It throbs deep in my bones.
How could therapy help or solve that?
Grief is not linear. Rationally I know I will have to continue circling through and around the various phases. Acceptance one week. Anger and denial the next. And so forth.
I have a weird sort of faith in the process, and I do feel like I am moving forward and things will get better. Life goes on. It’s all good. And so forth.
But another part of me wonders if I will ever get back in sync. Her demise has changed me, has changed the shape of my life is ways I am not so certain will reform to what used to be.
There’s a scary thought.
Or is it?
I’m also learning about the ways in which she continues to touch my life, to work through me, even from the great beyond. I’m noticing when I channel her when I sit with clients. I am listening deep inside of me to hear her voice, the voice that I know and love and trust. The voice she shared with me so often. (She doesn’t think I need therapy either btw.)
I’m not a believer.
But E. was.
In some ways, it is like she is challenging me to reconsider that maybe there is more than meets the eye. Maybe dead is more than just dead.
She’s allowed me the gift of being truly able to look directly into my client’s eyes and say “I understand” with complete honesty when they are grappling with grief and loss. There is a beauty and connection in that authenticity that feels like something grand.
And that’s all well and good until I re-realize that I can’t share this with her. Then my stomach lurches and I want to go to bed.
I’ve often said that E. is one of the loves of my life. Not in any sort of sexual way, although there was a platonic romance about our relationship. But my love for her is just so huge. After she died, I wrote to her best friend of 54 years in an email that I “idolized” her. And that was very true.
Damn, it still is true.
But everything is just so altered. Brunch with friends or an evening out doesn’t feel right or good because there is a part of my heart that is missing. And it is so tiring to try to balance the weight of that grief with everything else I have to do with a smile.
I called her wife to check in and say hi, and the answering machine picked up. E.’s voice is still their out going message. I swallowed hard so I could leave a message and sound chipper.
Someday it will not be the grief and pain that tethers me to E., rather the wisdom and happy memories she’s left with me.
But right now, things just feel unbearably different.
And I feel a step or two out of sync with the whole rest of the universe, shuffling and time stepping until I feel like I want to give up and just sit down on stage.
Many thanks to those of you who are bearing with me during this time. . . I apologize for another wave of death and trauma posts. . . but it is what I need to do right now. xoxo.
I don’t believe you’re here,
you’re down there,
nestled like a hibernating animal
under mounds of dirt,
snug in your cavern,
fingers curled stiff in the dark.
It scares and thrills me,
at once, how we still sit together,
although our conversation
is rather one-sided these days,
so I spend most of the time
companionable, silent with you.
I don’t believe in ghosts or haunting,
although it is strange how you whispered
words long forgotten
in my ear, and how I laughed
(with you?) as the “murder” of crows
flew over my head.
Can you feel the heat of my hands
pressing down on the earth over you,
as though trying to pat you
through thin covers
of a hospital bed?
Can you hear my voice tremble
with grief and embarassment as I
tell you about my day, about
squirrels chattering in the tree
that shades you, about
your neighbor’s wind chimes, about
the bizarre parade and
all the shades of grief and loss?
What a conversation we would have had,
thee and me, about all this.
There was a poem I meant to share,
a missed chance almost too great to bear.
The breeze stirs up in the trees,
I kneel with my hands on the ground,
and even though you cannot feel or hear
me, I do it anyway.
Written for my dear E., who I continue to love and miss with every breath. . .
Part of the WordPress daily prompt challenge. https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/eerie/
holding hands, we rock
and murmur, i’m here, i’m here,
as the earth plays with her jewel,
rolls it in fingers of cloud
until it is on the other side
of where we are.
i close my eyes and see your face,
in the dark we hold hands
were you scared
to lose me too?
day breaks over us
like an egg,
slippery and sticky.
make of this what you will.
you extract glass
from painful places,
then shove them back in
It looks a little different on everyone.
I don’t wear it well.
I don’t know that any of us find it particularly flattering. I mean, they don’t call it “ugly crying” because it looks incredible.
For me, grief looks edgy, quiet, irritated, isolated, obsessive, and exhausted. It finds me drifting from room to room without a purpose, craving my bed and greasy meat, and playing too much Candy Crush. Grief makes my back and head hurt.
Think PMS with more dysregulated moods and crying.
I feel flattened. I feel like I’m dragging myself around, just trying not to lose my shit, then losing it anyway.
It’s hard to tend to my kids, but I do. It’s hard to brush my hair, but I do. It’s hard not to eat only gummy bears and wine, but I don’t. I manage to sneak some pizza and sweet and sour chicken in. It’s too hard to get my shit together and cook, so I’ve ordered out and I’m going to be cool with that.
People used to wear specific clothes, usually black, for a year- or longer!- after the death of a loved one, or black arm bands, to signal that they were in mourning.
Let that sink in- a year or longer.
And these clothes allowed others to recognize the vulnerable phase of grief, and cued them to empathize with the bereaved.
I don’t think my leopard-print leggings and dog-hair-covered hoodie are imparting the same message.
Now we get a weekend of services, maybe five days of bereavement leave from work if it was immediate family, and are expected to get on with our lives.
If you grieve for longer than that there is an unspoken theory that there is something wrong with you. Quick! Get back to posting pictures on Facebook that make life look perfect! Nothing to see here. Move along. Nothing to see. . .
People also love the notion that there are stages of grief and we march through them in a linear fashion. Let’s keep it rhythmic, tidy.
This is not to say there is no regard for dying, death and grief these days. Hospice and other support groups and counselors certainly offer empathy and understanding.
I read something the other day that compared grief to an inner wound in which we must sit, and feel it, experience the pain completely. The writer suggested that we must tend to this psychic wound as we would to an external injury.
It is the creating of this space and time in which to sit in my wound that I am finding so tricky.
I’m not quite sure what to make of my grief about Patty’s death.
Or of my grief regarding it.
When I learned she died it was shocking. Initially, it seemed that the fact I hadn’t seen her in person in years would soften the blow.
But it didn’t.
It really made it worse.
For weeks I’d been thinking about calling her. When I switched jobs, I worked in a new part of the city that took me past her office on my commute every day. I’d drive past and think, hey remember that time we went out to lunch a few years back? Has it really been that long? Gosh, I have to call Patty!
But I never did.
I missed my chance.
That’s the resounding thought, pealing like chapel bells in my head; that I missed my chance to reconnect with this person who was so special to me, a person who took one of my secrets to her grave.
That’s the wound in which I am trying to sit, in leopard-print leggings, in between making mac n cheese and going to work and walking the dog and doling out napkins and squashing sibling skirmishes.
My missed chance is my wound.
Funny thing is, I know Patty would not want me to sit in this wound. She would hate to think people were having protracted grief and missing out on the budding lilac bushes and sparkling spring mornings filled with bird song.
I can hear her voice. I can hear her voice! She says, Hey beautiful doll. It’s okay. She says it in that matter-of-fact way, her voice calm and even, tinged with a smile.
At the funereal I offered my tearful condolences to her beloved husband. He remembered being at my wedding with Patty nearly a decade ago, which might have been the last time I saw him. I let him know that Patty helped me celebrate a lot of joy in my life. “She loved you, Charlotte,” he said and wrapped his big arms around me.
I felt unworthy of that gift. There I was, crying on someone who needed my comfort and support, and he was offering me that precious gift of Patty’s love.
Fucking love, man.
It doesn’t die.
When my wound heals, I’d like to be able to accept that gift of love that connects us all regardless of distance, time, and even death.