“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness……atbother times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in.”
—- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
To try and deny your grief stricken world is anything…ANYTHING other than how Mr. Lewis so brilliantly described it is such an injustice. Why deny yourself the very normal, natural, very human process of grieving?
I’m smack dab in the beginning of my own emotional Slip-n- 0Slide, but rather than delving into the reasons why, let’s get into the way I learned to grieve and to do that properly, I must start at the start. Indulge me, please.
In my family, weakness of any kind was frowned upon. Crying? It wasn’t emoting, it was viewed as nothing more than leakage from the ocular sockets and God forbid eyes should ever leak due to heartaches and disappointments common within certain stages of development.
- Never ask for help.
- Never find yourself in need of propping oneself on anything or anyone.
- “Toddle at your own peril, you unruly two year old!!”
- “You shove that compound fracture back in place, slap some good ol’ Monkey Blood on it and quit whining. Now, get back in the chain gang!!”
It was like trying to glide down a 100 flights of stairs with a book on your head at a steady clip while not using the railing. Although, that’s why railings exist; to steady; to aid in balance.
Sometimes, a lack of balance can be used as control. It’s at the heart of gaslighting. Bad boyfriends perfected it, but parents invented it.
In my case, it was that and a severe case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. My paters ascended and descended life with ease, as if safely belted in one of those chair lift contraptions. They were given so many things. But I don’t bemoan this fact.. Maybe they knew something we didnt; maybe that’s why they were so hard on us? I’m not sure. Whatever the reasoning, it sure made sticking around after high school NOT an option.
Bu here’s the reality: my parents had me for 18 years. That’s on them; but from about 18 and a half on, that was and continues to be my cause and effect.
But I’ll admit at the time, I was pretty pissed off at reaching semi-adulthood. It felt like the rudest abandonment of all. I didn’t realize that trying to make make sense out of life without a map of any kind, was such a tremendous life lesson, but tell THAT to a wide-eyed 18-year-old who just mistakenly polished her shoes with the foulest smelling Shinola. Yes, there were many other kids in the same state of confusion, but one really only gets that concept when one has made the transition from child to adult child. Until then, there’s little comfort in the ‘you’re not alone’ speech.
On a slightly different note, an old college chum and I had an interesting email exchange today. We discussed manifesting hopes and dreams and how so easily that can go awry, but how and why things get so muddled was the interesting part. We discussed how both of us had gotten what we wanted in life, but marveled how it looked nothing like we envisioned it all those decades ago.
His dream was to be surrounded by books and spend languid days reading and editing them in a place that was warm and dry. He got that opportunity…he still has that opportunity, but it’s hardly where he thought it would be. Perhaps, he secretly saw in his mind’s eye, that he’d be doing it all as a big deal in a fancy office in a major publishing house, delightfully quashing the dreams of erstwhile authors with a pen stroke. You see, we didn’t have personal computers in 1979.
I always saw him living out his dream in a dark paneled library that had the distinctive smells of leather book with yellowing pages. I also saw him with a pipe, wearing a satin trimmed smoking jacket while being served sherry from an attentive white-gloved butler named Hobbs .
But no…….that that would be reserved for the wealthy and fortunate few, such as a man named Bruce, who called stately Wayne Manor his home. Gee, some kids orphaned by a murderer on the streets of Gotham have ALL the luck!!!
I fancied myself as a network news anchor, I got to Houston and stayed there, but at one time, I really I thought I wanted more. I actually remember the day when I pulled a Maris Crane and sat on the edge of my bed in my slip and sighed, realizing it was simply not to be. I guess I didn’t want to be a network news anchor badly enough. Perhsps, I exemplified my own Peter Principle.
And I’ll end this rambling nonsense with a completely different email conversation my friend and I had: never marginalize a death. In fact, when in the presence of someone grieving, please completely remove the word “just” from your lexicon, as in it was “just” a parakeet, it was “just” a dog. It was “just” a beloved heirloom three generations old; it was “just ” a job, “just” a house you raised your family in….he was “just” a boyfriend.
Would you say to a grieving father, “He was just a son” as if a new one could be ordered via Amazon? I don’t deny losing a child is agony with a face. I’ve witnessed this kind of grief in my own family and it was awful. It was such a distortion of life, but loss of all kinds has one common theme: a deep, relentless pain.
Schlepp around in the shoes of heartache before choosing to A) make a comment and B) choosing to ignore the bereaved. No one wants to be around a sad person, I get it, I’ve abandoned sad people too. I’ve literally run from the awkwardness, but these days, color me educated. Today, I’d never leave a grieving person completely alone, even if they demanded that I stay away. I’d honor their wishes, at least on the surface but I would still close keep tabs on them and I’d let them know it. They need to know they matter because they certainly feel like nothing does, After enduring traumatic losses of any kind, they need to know this first and foremost. They’ll put up a fuss, even start fights, but that’s the grief talking. If you don’t know what to say to them, that’s ok because trust me, they absolutely don’t know what to say to you, that isn’t saturates in sadness, but try to hear what they’re saying. Listen carefully to their silences.
Becsuse the saddest, most impossible part of all of this is that sometimes, cries for help make no sound at all.