All those years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately. But what I’ve discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it. – Anne Lamott
I’ve been thinking about grief the last several days. There’s a lot of grieving I never did very well. I don’t want to write this post. Grief is like that. Denial. And then I saw this post and knew I had to go on and write what I need to write. I’ve grown to love what I read over there on The Pickled Pastor. Go read her. Unfortunately I can’t match that plucky humor myself tonight.
Thinking about grief. And loss.
I’ve lost a lot of people. A lot of relationships. A lot of years. Underneath my faith and hope and love I grieve. Grief might be the most feared emotion in the entire history of human-kind. We fear it so much we avoid love and even abandon the grieving rather than face the reality that it could be us.
It’s messy. It’s real. It’s hard. It’s rage and sadness, guilt and denial, It’s shock and pain, loneliness and rebuilding.
The only way to avoid grief is to avoid love. And, despite it all, I do still believe that “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
Sometimes I want to pull everyone I love close, close and never let go. I want to keep my kids safe in a tiny bubble-world. I want to confine my cats to the house. I want to hold tight, tighter, to my loved ones.
It’s hard to let go. I’ve walked that fine line of wondering if my baby would still breathe tomorrow. But not letting go won’t change anything. Ultimately life is fragile and miraculous and beautiful. Trying to avoid grief by exerting control is only controlling. Life cannot be caged or confined for my pleasure. The only way to combat that fear is with faith. What will be will be.
I’m thinking about grief.
I called a widowed friend today. I try to call her regularly. She’s a dear friend. And her grief scares me. I know why it happens that after a death people are forgotten at their most vulnerable. We are too much reminded it could be us. And grieving people can be like crazy people. Weepy and happy, angry and accepting. It scares me but I call anyways. Not as often as I should. But I do. I called regularly week after week while she cared for her ailing husband and held him up through years of treatments and hospitalizations hundreds of miles from home. Because it could be me. Because I know how much it hurts to lose. And how much more it hurts to lose and then be shunned because of having lost.
Trying to fix him, or distract him, or jolly him out of his depression would actually be a disservice.
I don’t like listening to my friend say for the umpteenth time how she was sure he was on the mend and would be home soon. She just needs an ear. A sympathetic caring ear. And I remember that love is only 10% emotion and 90% action. Feeling it and doing it don’t have to have any connection. Sometimes it matters more to make that intentional call than to feel like listening. But most of the time she doesn’t want to talk about him at all. She wants to talk about life and living, wants a friend who doesn’t see her defined by grief. She’s a widow. She’s a friend. She’s a woman. She’s a human being. She wants to know if anyone needs any kids’ clothes. She talks about her grandson’s soccer match.
Isn’t that what we all want? A friend who will hold us through grief? Someone who will let us rage and sob, listen to our stories and keep bring tissues long after the funeral casseroles have been finished? Someone who remembers better days have been and will be again?
A few of my closest friends are decades older than I am. I can do the math. There will be years of funerals in my life. My parents. My dearest friends. I know what waits. And I still choose to love while I can. What matters is that these are friends now. Tomorrow is unpredictable. Love now. Today. So I make the phone call. I visit a lonely cat twenty miles out of my way. I read four chapters out loud. I bring two bags of kids’ clothes. I write. With all the time I spend on the road it’s entirely possible (if still unlikely) I will get hit by a drunk driver and never have needed to fear.
There’s something sick in showing up with food for two days and then disappearing.
We need to reconnect with death and loss. I hate the cold stoicism of modern life. It’s sick. It’s inhuman. It denies the basic reality of life and love. I hate living in a world where any emotion is too much emotion. Emotions aren’t to be trusted, true. They shift and pass, change and grow, ebb and flow. And grief, grief is especially maddening. It follows no set time frame. It’s often quantified into stages but most of us know that they aren’t usually a perfect, neat progression but rather a huge, messy game of twister. Two hands on rage, left foot on guilt, right foot on sadness. Left hand on relief, right hand on denial, right foot on rage, left hand on loneliness.
Grief only looks like insanity. The true insanity is avoiding grief.
I’ve been on my own emotional roller coaster the last while. Grief does not only come through death.
I felt I was losing my mind. This huge mess of love and loss, loneliness and longing, rage and rebellion, sadness and shock. It’s where I am. No, I am more sane than ever before. Denying this reality would be insane.
I’m thinking about grief. Because I am afraid if I give way and feel it I will be washed away by it. Because I am weak. Because God feels far away and I need to be held and comforted. Because I am afraid once I let go I will forget to return and there is no one to remind me. Because sometimes faith is hard to find. Because I am afraid that the very real mess of emotional me will driving my friends away.
I know this cannot go on too much longer. Denied grief was the biggest factor in my turning to drugs and drinking. I needed to grieve but had no “legitimate” claim to my loss. I was young and confused and foolish. I could not explain why I cared and felt abandoned. I understood in my head but not in my heart. My mind told my emotions to go away, that I had no right to grieve for what I never had and what could never be. So I started smoking cigarettes. And then drinking vodka. And within a year smoking dope everyday.
It’s not true that drugs numb everything. They never did for me. And I know that picking up again now will not help me feel better. No, it will only make it worse. But I have got to find a safe place to feel through this. I don’t want to be jollied out of it or called irrational. I don’t want to have to suck it up because my feelings make other people uncomfortable. I need that freedom just to be me, right here, right where I am, right now. There is no way through grief other than through it. I can’t heal until I can feel.
You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination.