Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Art of Losing

I was all set to begin work on my Kimye post and wouldn't you know it?  I realized I sure don't know anything about them! (Except that baby North totes just got baptized in Jerusalem at the same legendary site as Jesus Christ.  Because, you know, of course.)  So I thought: oh bother! Might as well write about grief instead.

I know I've said this before but my feelings of blogging about this subject are so bifurcated.  One half--the bold half--cheers: this your blog, do what you want!  If you feel like writing about it, write about it! Who cares if others find it dreary and uneasy?!  It hums with the same resounding force as the last line of Elizabeth Bishop's poem "One Art." Write it! 

But the other half--the meeker half--balks and cowers at the thought of it.  No one wants to hear it, it whispers, no one wants to wallow with you in your sadness--they want to see your strength not your weakness.

I think that part of this duality is rooted in my personality: I am fiercely independent and am mortified at the thought of burdening anyone.  I gird my innate vulnerability with acerbity and aloofness, until I am fairly certain that you will not prick my heart once it is open to you.

But I think that the other part is more external--it stems from just how poorly we are taught to cope and comprehend grief as a culture.

A friend of mine recently sent me this article and while I still might be commencing the longest, hardest eye roll at the fact there is something even called the Grief Recovery Institute, overall this piece resonated with me--it articulated a lot of why I feel reticent about sharing my grief with others.

Here's the thing: grief is hard.  It's unattractive, it's inconvenient, it's bewildering, it's selfish, it's unpredictable, it's irrational, it's isolating, and it's difficult to know precisely how to deal with--it is everything that we as culture tend to shy away from discussing. It's the part of the narrative that we prefer to belie or to skirt in favor of the cheerier triumph that follows the struggle.  

As a result, unless someone has experienced a deep loss themselves, they have poor tools for interacting with someone who has.  They have nothing but banalities to grasp at--"time heals all wounds," "life's short, cherish what you have" etc.--and nothing but misconceptions to inform them--"there is nothing I can say," "they probably just want to be left alone right now." For some, the mere thought of grieving the death of a loved one makes them so uncomfortable, they  have no clue how react and say nothing.  Or worse yet, they treat you with contempt. 

It's those last two that I have the hardest time with.  Nobody wants to be viewed as strange or a Debbie Downer, even if their reasons for being so are perfectly legitimate. 

And, trust me, I've been guilty of all of those responses at one point or another.

I remember writing, rewriting, and then finally tearing up a card that I was going to send to a friend who had lost their mother.  Telling myself, there's nothing that I can say of comfort anyways

I remember seeing an acquaintance post on Facebook about the loss of their father and I drafted a message only to delete later it because, it would have been weird for that person to hear from a rando like me.

I remember reading the blog of someone who had lost a loved one and becoming frustrated when they blogged about their grief week after week: I've had a stressful day, I would think, I don't want to have to read about how much your life sucks.

It's nobody's fault, really, we just aren't trained to respond to someone's tragedy with the same grace as we are to someone's success. 

This, of course, is complicated by the fact that half the time, I don't even know how I want people to react to me.  Sometimes, I want people to feel sorry for me.  Other times, I find it infuriating.  Sometimes, I want people to reach out to me.  Other times, I want to be just left alone.  Sometimes, I wish everyone in the world knew I was grieving.  Other times, I do everything in my power to hide it.  It's an impossible situation, which I think, is the ultimate lesson.

One thing that Moses' Aunt Becky said to me, right after John died, that someone had said to her after her father died is: "well, it's a shitty deal."  That stuck with her and it sticks with me.

Really, there is nothing that anyone can do to change the situation, which is, I think, what makes some people feel so awkward and disempowered.  But just because you can't resurrect the dead, doesn't mean that you can't still help! 

I've found that the most powerful thing has really just been acknowledgement.  Even if it was someone I only met twice, or a person I hadn't spoken to since elementary school, I can't tell you how meaningful it was to have someone, anyone reach out to me and say they were sorry.  It made me feel connected to them in way that, to this day, I can't describe.  It made me feel grateful to them in a way I could never repay.  It made me wish that I had been braver to send that card or that message, when the situation had been reversed.

I'm not trying to make this into a "how to" manual or to lecture you or tell you that everything that you are doing is wrong.  Most of you reading are my dearest friends, who have been and are beyond amazing to me. All that I am really trying to do is to be open and candid about my experiences, to make this soliloquy part of what may become a dialogue about grief. 

Even if the only voice that answers back is also one of loss.

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