October 18, 2010
Grieving is such a difficult emotion, or response to stress, or whatever the definition is, of grief, to wrap one’s mind around.
We all experience it, if we are blessed enough to live long enough, to outlive a loved one. And we all seem to take it so remarkably differently. Some people are crushed by it. Some change their life paths in huge ways and strike off on completely different routes. Some experience it and resolve it quickly (in a manner of speaking) and some are so horribly wounded by it that their lives may be pretty much over, under the strain and load of it. Some turn to drugs, alcohol, or even faster forms of suicide to escape it.
There is no doubt that it is a very powerful feeling or emotion, rivaling all the others, yet sadly, one of the least understood by the majority of us. Most of us really don’t know quite what to do, and how to support a friend or loved one experiencing it. Oh, we try, to the best of our ability. But it seems that the only thing that does help to end grieving, if ever, is time’s passage. And even then, it may not be gone, just………. dulled to a livable degree.
My sister died 15 years ago tonight. She was 22, with a 3 year old daughter, at the time. She was killed in an accident involving a drunk driver. Oh hell, why mince words. She was killed by a drunk driver.
Horror is the only way to describe the experience. The midnight phone call from the police, asking if so and so lived there, and then them saying they’d be right over, with no explanation why. The police officer showing up, along with an older heavyset man in a black suit who is obviously not in law enforcemnt……… with an odd gait like something you’d see a mad doctor/scientist portrayed as in a cheap black and white horror film…… a person you know is a coroner before he even opens his mouth or speaks or shows you an ID or badge. A feeling of doom…………. as though the angel of death, or the grinning, maleovent reaper, was lumbering up to your door. With a very important message for You. You already know what the message is, and your blood turns to ice, your hands, clammy, before any of the scene you already see in your mind, before it happens, plays out.
“I have some bad news, and you may want to sit down for this…….” he says, as he fidgets nervously with his fingers, while looking down at the floor, rather than your eyes.
Of course he can’t look into your eyes. Though he looks like an odd and cold character, he has a heart and soul and at some level he knows your pain and cannot bring himself to hold your gaze, he’s been through this many times before, and he surely quickly learned that it’s quite painful to ruin someone’s night, day, month, year, even life with this news, and to hang onto his own happiness, he simply can’t look into your eyes when he tells you this news. It’s a survival instinct of a sort, a barrier that he unconciously puts up around his soul, that keeps him from going back to his cold morgue, placing the cold barrel of a revolver in his mouth, and spreading his brain tissue and some random bone fragments across the shiny, cold, stainless steel wall behind where he stands.
Heh. Cleanup on aisle 3, bring a mop.
And as he begins the litany of “There’s been a very, very bad accident……….”, all the time looking at his shoes, his bald spot with a bad combover and greasy hair pointed at you, his fidgeting fingers forming a tent between his hands, palms together, his upper arms tight to his body………… the numbness spreads over your whole body, and you feel as though you are viewing a bad black and white horror movie of someone else’s really, really fucking bad day. The mother of all bad days.
You hear his monotone voice describing the accident……… “She was thrown from the passenger side window, and this caused a traumatic amputation………………” all the while, those fingers fidgeting, still staring at his shoes, rocking on his heels now…………
And the numbness envelopes you. Much like shock numbs pain in an injury, the shock numbs you from the full force of the emotions. This may or may not enable you to carry on with going to the morgue to ID the body, choosing a casket, a burial site, flowers, and other such things, allow you to function to some degree to accomplish these tasks. I recall that several days after my sister died, I noticed a severe cramping in my abdomen……. I briefly wondered if I perhaps had caught a stomach virus, before realizing that I hadn’t taken a crap in a couple days. I hadn’t had the time with all the activity, planning, hustle and bustle than had been going on. Nothing like high octane stress, so high that you forget to take a crap.
Of course, you get a shot an being in the ol’ coroner’s shoes when you need to call loved ones and their friends, and take a big dump on their day………. and hear each of them scream into the phone, wail like a banshee, and so on. You soldier on, on some eerie autopilot, and in this zombie state, this cheap movie mode you get through the act of laying this once living, beautiful and precious loved one to rest. But the worst is not over, no suh’. Because you haven’t grieved yet. That comes after the shock wears off, after the excitement dies down, and the rest of the world moves onward with life, while you now have time to ponder that this loved one, will never talk to you again, hug you, hold your hand, or maybe even call you an asshole when you deserve it. At least not in this place, or in this lifetime. And you begin to wish they were back, or that you could turn back time, or you tear off on the tangent of the “what if’s”………. What if I had not watched the kid, or not loaned them money, or whatever other “what if” your spinning mind can latch onto. And you don’t have to try really hard to think up “what if’s”, your mind is very, very capable of providing ways to blame yourself, if ya give it just a wee bit of leeway. And I bet many of us do just that.
It’s the same, yet so oddly individual for us all. I’m sure some folks enjoy (for the lack of a better word) fairly quicker recoveries, some horribly long ones, and some never recover. Hell, it changes us. Ages us. Matures us. Causes some to go ride a bull or climb a mountain or do things they always thought about doing someday……… because they now realize that someday may never come, shit, tomorrow may not come. “There’s no time ta kill, from tha’ cradle ta tha’ grave” as the country song says, they now realize.
Hell yeah, if you can’t already tell, the whole effen’ shebang really changed me, man. There ain’t no denyin’ that little tidbit. But in the last year or two, I’d noticed that I’d perhaps, finished the process of grieving finally. I can’t put an exact date on it, not even a year. But I’m over it, past it. At some point between when my darling daughter was born in October of 2002, and today, I finished it up, wrapped it up, and moved on, and never really noticed it happening. I stopped “what if”ing, stopped wishing, and gained some acceptance in what is, is, and that only the unknown and unsure future and present could be changed. Even though there is no guarantee I’ll see the future.
About a week after my sister died I went to a race, and some friends loaned me their car to drive, as, needless to say, I had not had time in the last week to prepare my own car. And I noticed a very peculiar phenomenon. In my mind, before the light went green, the thoughts “she’s dead, she’s gone, you’ll never see her again” and so on repeated like an endless loop. I could not shake them out of my head. The light went yellow, and I instinctively brought the revs of the engine up, up to around 4000 rpm, the clutch down to the floor, the shifter in first gear, and my concentration began to cancel out the dark, brooding thoughts. The light went green. And instantly I was in the zen like state of the right here, right now. Like a switch had been thrown, the thoughts were gone, replaced by the mechanics of just driving a car at it’s limit……… turn in, upshift, downshift, brake hard early, turn into the slalom, and so on, right up until I crossed the finish line, with the winning time. The car came to a stop, with the smell of race fuel, burning rubber, and motor oils so right there in my senses. I blinked, heard my time announced over the PA system, the fastest time in class, and instantly the dark thoughts began right where they left off. “She’s dead, she’s……..”
I raced pretty heavily, immersed myself in the cars and working on them, needless to say, for some time. It was my release, my tonic. My medication. I don’t think that’s what truly snapped me out of my funk, though, and not specifically my daughter’s birth, either.
At some point, my around 2 year old tot and I were playing in a park, and she picked up an acorn, handed it to me, and inquired, “What is this, daddy?”…….. I looked at it, and replied “an acorn”, turning it slowly in my fingers, looking at it. She asked what it was for, what it did, why, and so on, and as I answered the questions, and looked at this tiny, insiqnificant thing, I realized that I would have just stepped on this little marvel and kept going, without a thought, had this little girl not pointed it out. And that I had not pondered an acorn since I was a child, decades before. I had not paid attention as my life flew by, allways rushing, planning, doing,……….. but never seeing the wonder of the world, of nature, the beauty around me. This little 2 year old child hadn’t yet learned the advanced adult skill of being blind to all the beauty and joy that surrounded us, surrounds us all, day in and day out. As time went on, I took her out in nature as often as I could, and she taught me to learn again the joys of the world, the acorns, insects, the plants, the reflections on water, the glorious sunrises and sunsets, wildlife, and all sorts of things that were new to her, were new to me as well.
I’m not sure who taught who more. I do know that my sister is still dead, though I no longer am. I live more fully today, than I ever have in my life, I am sure my grieving is over, and I fully enjoy my life, my time, and my loved ones once again. Exactly when and how this came about, I cannot say. Though I’m pretty sure that that tiny tinkling voice asking about the acorn, as i looked down at the insignificant (or so I thought) thing in my fingers, had one hell of a lot to do with it.
Wish I’d have kept the damn thing, but hell, it had done the job that it needed to do.