Friday, March 22, 2013

Grief: Ethel and Bobby Kennedy - A Contributory Life

When Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed his wife Ethel was pregnant with her 11th child, Rory.  Rory has made a documentary about her mother and her family, simply called Ethel.  Thinking of them more as "the Kennedys" it is interesting to hear the now grown children call people we know as historical figures Mummy and Daddy and Uncle Jack.

Ethel talks about how after President Kennedy was assassinated Bobby "dwelt in the pain" for six months.  It was as if both his arms had been cut off.  However, the day after the assassination he wrote his oldest daughter a letter telling her that she must always think of others and what she could do for them and her country.  What brought him out of total despair was a lot of reading, his children, and this idea of doing something for others.

When Rory asks Ethel about the day "we lost daddy" Ethel's eyes well up with tears and she says she doesn't want to talk about that.  It's been over 40 years since her husband died and still the tears have not dried up.  She does say that every morning when she wakes up her first thought is, "Bobby is happy.  He is with his brothers and sons and family."  She is, like many, someone who has had too much death to handle: her brother-in-law, her husband, and two of her grown sons.  Yet she lives a spirited giving life.  Her way back in was her family, her faith, and this idea of doing for others.

I don't talk too much about faith because this is a very personal blog and I am not a religious person.  I like that Elie Wiesel says that if you are cursing God that also is a prayer because you are still making a connection.  I have developed a faith in and seem to have evidence for some kind of existence after death.  If there isn't one, it doesn't matter to me because believing that Artie and I can continue our journey keeps me sane.  Faith provides comfort for many people.

I know I'm always finding people who live fully and stay married to dead people.  Although, most of them wouldn't say it that way!

Ethel and Bobby, at least in this documentary, are a true love story. A love story that didn't end with death.  Part of that love story is always what they could do in real time for not just family but for folks that suffer.  One of their grown sons called it a contributory life.

I dislike the idea of visualize it and it is yours; or you can have anything you want.  It's not true.  I can't have Artie back.  I still ask him to come back, but I know it's impossible.  However, I do have choices about what I do with my own life.  I don't always treasure it.  Sometimes I think it would have been easier if I died too.  At the beginning I felt like I had died.  I used to say, "We died" by mistake.

I've come to believe that I'm still alive because I have work to do and it is up to me to figure out what that is.  It goes back to creating meaning instead of asking why there isn't any.  If I do something for someone else - no matter how small - it takes me out of my own self pity.  I am thinking of them instead of about me.  It doesn't have to be a stranger.  It could be a family member.  It makes people a little crazy because when I'm with my granddaughter I don't answer the phone.  Giving her my time; sitting down on the floor playing with her is doing something for someone else.  It's important to do this with family members and friends.  Sometimes people who are involved in causes forget about those at home.

If you have time, there are many volunteer organizations that can help you get involved with other people, animals, the environment.  You don't have to feel like doing it - you just have to show up for a while and see what happens.

It also addresses the question of why bother.  For me, why bother is my selfish question.  It's about my unbelievably huge capacity for self pity!   I can't do it.  It's too hard.  Especially now.  How can I do anything if Artie isn't here physically to hold me and comfort me and make me laugh?  The answer is I can.  I may not want to.  I may not do it.  It might not be easy.  But - I can.

From the day Artie died until now I feel a struggle between the part of me that embraces life and the part of me that is quite comfy, thank you very much, staying in bed hiding from everything surrounded by cupcake crumbs.  Sometimes doing good things, having fun times makes me as anxious as doing nothing.

The thing is - when I look back on my day I want to see that the balance keeps changing in the direction of life.  I want to see that I am trying.  That I am taking some action.

I have no control over whether or not I will fall in love again.  I have no control over when I will die.  I do have some control over how I will live.  I look to people who live passionately.  I don't compare myself.  Well, I do sometimes.  But that's not good because I have to give what I have to give, not what someone else has.  What if I don't write that novel but I make someone laugh who is sad?

Some days I feel like I am struggling through quicksand and I stop struggling.  However, the days on which I look outside myself and do something - the days in which I take an action that makes me think about someone other than myself - those are days with happy moments.

A contributory life doesn't have to be the whole.  I do a lot for myself as well. There is time to be silly and have fun.  There is time to cry and shake your fist.  However, when that moment comes that you get to be with the one(s) you are missing so much (please, please, please!) I hope you can say that your life touched others, like a thrown stone casting ever widening ripples in a pond.  xo

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