If I had superpowers at my disposal one would the uncanny ability to remove soapscum from a bathtub at will.
Being a human capable of flight sans an airplane is a superpower I’d love to have. And never finding onseself in a situation of saying or doing something that would end in regret would be another.
I’m about to quote someone who once heard Dr. Phil ( I’m not a fan) quote Will Rogers, “Never miss an opportunity to shut up”, or something like that. Knowing when to completely self-edit is something I’m keen on trying.
But apparently now isn’t the time to start self-help endeavors. Lately, I’ve been so incredibly angry. Hotel reservationsists, and several poor saps at a call center in Mumbai have experienced it firsthand.
And it’s not so much anger as it full on rage.
I’m mourning the loss of a friend and the better part of a ten year relationship that ended in his taking the perpetual dirt nap. This happened just over two months ago and I’m only now addressing the residual effects of those left behind. Ours was a complex duet that most most people didn’t understand. He was an asshole, a crook, a dick. People freely called him names without knowing him. And maybe he wasn’t a shining example of humanity. I’ve always said I can’t beatify the dead simply for dying, Still, he meant something to me. Even so, I should have defended him more. But I couldn’t. I guess after a while, I either weenied out or got tired of the fight because it was easier to allow people think as they wanted. I was outnumbered. I had to dismiss him when he was alive and remain as dismisive in his death. Now, instead of calling him names, they say nothing at all. This means I’ve been doing a lot of mourning all by myself, partly on purpose, partly because his death like his life, remains awkward for people. Hell, any grieving person is awkward for anyone to deal I don’t care how much empathy or sympathy you think you have. You can feel shock and be apologetic during the funeral and wake, but afterwards, you get to go to back home to life as you know it. You’re barely on the periphery.
That sounds like such a luxurious place to be….on the outside and only infrequently looking in.
There are supposedly five stages of grief, first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. They are the denial and isolation combo, anger, bargaining, depression and ultimately, acceptance. I understand there are caveats to all of these. Aits different across the board. One grief stricken person won’t necesssarily go through the stages precisely as Ross determined them, others will, some won’t experience any of them. Others might go through a few of them.
I understand isolation and anger, as little Habib who instists for English speakers, his name is Greg Jones, can surely attempt. But I consider myself too rational to bargain. There are no ‘what ifs’ in life, much less in death. Depression? Hardly anything new. Denial? I’m too much of a realist and acceptance was /is something I’ve always found easy. Acceptance of all things is immediate with me. Once I knew my friend was dead, I acceped it. I didn’t like it, I felt it happened too quickly, so suddenly, too out of the blue, yet I accepted it. Like Automatic reflex.
But the anger!!!
I’ve been doing dome thinking and Ive realized there are subtexts to anger and isolation Ross never considered.
1–The pajamas phase. It’s very important that we exeperience a denial in terms of personal hygiene. This means a complete lack of desire to bathe or shower and a full on need to be consistent in our filth. Such as wearing sweat pants, pajamas, the same robe or caftan for days and days and days.
Usually there’s weight loss or significant weight gain during this time. And if we eat at all, the majority of food becomes part of the daily uniform. We wear our food. And the kind of food also matters. Grocery shopping is out of the question so, we either have food delivered or if that’s not an option, the minimal amount of effort is using the drive throigh, but if that’s not possible, we eat whatever we can find in the fridge, And this can lead to some very weird combinations. For example: Peanut butter and mint jelly on stale potato chips.
2. Isolation: Mourning is personal . In the beginning, well-meaning friends and family call and try to visit and we tell them, no, no, we’re fine, all is well. We tell them not to come by and we refuse to answer the door if they stop by. Then, they eventually stop dropping by, they stop calling as much or completely, which can be a double edged sword. We want to be left alone, but we still appreciate the effort. Wether we admit or not, the concern makes us feel relevant, a little less alone. But grieving really is an extremely personal process, even with four people living in your house, it can still be a very lonely process. It makes us uncomfortable and skiddish, even for those who’ve walked in your shoes, even those who know then mourning game first-hand. The reality of loss is very inconvenient and even more inconsiderate. It plays by its own rules and often strikes at our core at 3:15 on a rainy Sunday morning, seven months after the funeral. Sometimes three years later. Sometimes longer.
3. We become mini-hoarders. We endure this isolation and anger sub-phase by becoming quite messy. There is no order in grief– why should there have any in the life of a gerievinf person. Our environmental hygiene suffers, too. Dishes are piled high in the sink. Bottles, cans everywhere. Empty food bags and wrappers. Junk mail is everywhere, mixed in with bills that have gone unpaid. Days old pizza still in the box on the couch. Shoes everywhere. The ever-growing pile of Mt. Laundry is in the corner of the room with new foothills that can be found throughout the house.
These brief dalliances with hoarding behavior comes as no surprise. Hoarding is a direct response to loss. I don’t necessarily get how or why one feels compelled to cling to an outdated page of Burger King coupons, but I understand that’s part of the hoarding process. And hoarding is the result of how a mentally ill person deals with loss.
3. Emergence. The darkness in grief can be stunning. It can take a month or three, but newfound singles who earned that title through the death of a mate or divorce (loss is loss, my friends) will eventually come around. Most of us have to. We have to work. You have to be wealthy to be have degenerative grief, the all consuming kind that seemingly lasts forever. When opportunistic mental illness comes to visit and stays resulting in the way you can only traverse your home through the tunnels of junk you’ve created then yes, you’re smack dab in the middle of a crisis. You might not realize there’s problem until a few TLC producers, a camera crew and a HAZMAT team knocks on your door. While those sad cases we see on the TV show, Hoarders: Buried Alive are the exception rather than the rule, most of us (if we even get to the messy phase) rarely stay there. We arrive at a point where our reactions to death start to wear thin. Basically, boredom can set in. Monotony. This is healthy forward progression. It doesn’t mean we no longer love our dearly departed, or that their death has become any less significant. It simply becomes a matter of moving on.
It pains me to quote Dr. Phil a second time (I’ve actually gotten more psychological assistance from watching reruns of Frasier) but he often asks people, “What are you getting out of this?” Or worse, “How’s that working out for you?”
Shudder, but there is truth in the queries.
Living life in a perpetual state of mourning means you’re not living. Change is tough, You can’t eat your way through this….or sleep through it. Stockpiling garbage isn’t a healthy response. There’s not enough Scotch or Vodka in the world, not a Xanax big enough. There aren’t enough carbs to eat your feelings and by contrast, refusing to eat won’t work either. When your life stops working for you for whatever reason, it’s time to make a change. Yes, you’re heartbroken. The death of a mate or spouse or a relationship of any kind, even the loss of a job, means the end of an ideal. It means the death of plans, hopes and dreams and these things are horrendously painful. So yes, Loss hurts. Break ups, divorce…terminations of all kinds. The death after a loved who one lingered with an illness, a suicide, a sudden massive coronary or aneurism, are all very painful. After a point, the process by which one arrives at death doesn’t matter; the end result is the same. So called prep time doesn’t matter.
But if the sadness is overwhelming and not subsiding, if guilt has beome an unwelcome roommate who won’t leave, if your grief has literally taken over your life, then please seek help. And if you keep glancing over at that bottle of pills and that quart of whiskey, please, PLEASE seek help. Death + death only = more heartache. It’s the simplest example of negative math. And if by some chance you are thinking of taking your own life, well depending on your faith, you won’t end up in the same place as your dead wife, so why bother?
So, rid yourself of ‘end it all thoughts’. Embrace your curiosity about life and maintain your healthy fear of death. Be brave enough to dare yourself to wake up tomorrow just to see what the day brings. Until then, go with your pain….cry, or not, get angry, feel free to wear sweats containing a poly blend AND the four basic food groups for a week. There’s no rule book. No game plan. Just understand that you have ultimate control over all of your feelings. Please look for that eventual break in the clouds. Even tarnished silver linings are better than none at all.
So, wail, cry, shriek. Punch a wall….I won’t judge. Just do your best, even in the midst of it all, to understand why your heart aches. Be very clear and honest within your pain. Death is the ultimate ending. It’s life’s final play of the game and when it happens to someone you know and love, it becomes your new reality. This death is now a part of your life, a fact that mercifully becomes something you’re just going to have to live with.