Thursday, October 17, 2013

Grief: A Crazy Carousel

Grief doesn't seem much like stages to me.  It seems more like a crazy carousel.  Here are the lyrics to an old Jacques Brel song: 

We're on a carousel
A crazy carousel
We're on a carousel
A crazy carousel
And now we go around
Again we go around
And now we spin around
We're high above the ground
And down again around
And up again around

The singers sing each verse faster and faster until you feel like you are spinning out of control.

When i try to stay in my "what a wonderful life" space I get tired.  When I fall into my "I'm exhausted.  It's too hard"  space  i know that isn't the whole truth.  The whole isn't in the hole - it's outside it.  

I went back and looked through all the blog posts I have written. I only read a little, and looked through the titles.  It made me a little dizzy, a little bored and a little frustrated.  I seem to repeat the same topics over and over again.  I have read about people who don't feel sad very long.  I say that they aren't uncaring and I don't judge them but that's not entirely true.  There are people I have known who have died that I don't grieve for the way I grieve for my husband Artie.  I had difficult parents and I didn't grieve for them at all.  I have friends that I loved very much and I am sad that I they are dead but I don't have the kind of loneliness around them that I have with Artie.  It isn't that I don't love my friends properly; it's only that they weren't the heart and soul of my life the way Artie is.  If i loved Artie less perhaps I would grieve less.  There is a part of me that really does think that the depth of grief has to do with the depth of love.  It's difficult for me to believe that you could love someone deeply and completely and not miss them every day for the rest of your life.

It doesn't have to be a spouse.  People on this carousel about their parent's death, a child or a grandchild's death, a friend, a sibling, a pet.  It isn't about the relationship - it's about the essential nature of the relationship.  It's a very crowded carousel.  

I say the same words.  That grief can be transformative so that it inspires you to live fully instead of deadening you.  I can look into my husband Artie's eyes and listen to what he would say to me; feel his love still surrounding me.  I keep his smile going by living double for him and for me.  I plan my weeks so that I have fun things to do. I could write stories all day about my granddaughter.  Gwendy blue eye's pink fish died and was caught in a plastic plant in the tank.  She said, "Fish stucky.  Fish stucky."  When Erin got the net it was obvious as the fish floated up to the top of the tank that it iwas definitely dead.  Erin couldn't just replace it.  Gwendy was right there so Erin told her that her fish had gone to the "Great Unknown".  Gwendy said, "Okay."  Then Erin flushed it down the toilet - to help it on the way to the "Great Unknown."  Gwendy said "Bye Bye."  That night Gwendy asked about the fish and repeated "Great Unkown."  I wonder where she thinks that is.  Does she think her fish is gone to swim with Nemo and Dory?  I told Erin, laughing, "Terrific! Now if I tell her that Grandpa Artie and your best friend Jon are with pink fish in the "Great Unknown" Gwendy will think we all wind up flushed down the toilet one day.

A sense of humor.  That helps. A gratitude list.  That helps.  I am grateful for so many things.  Chocolate ice cream shouldn't help but it does.  My friends and family help.  Helping others helps.  Showing up helps.  Then it all collapses and I'm tired.  

The old disinterest comes back.  I do fun things and suffer through them.  I forget to open my eyes and see what there is to see.  It's not depression.  I hate that I can't be sad without someone saying - Oh, you're depressed.  Don't label me.  Sometimes I am depressed.  There's a difference.  Having what someone calls a grief burst isn't depression.  It's me missing my husband and not being able to stand it one more minute - knowing at the same time I will stand it - I do stand it - sometimes I ride high on it.  My husband's strong shoulders still hold me high above the crowd when I can let myself feel them.

I want to write to you say - it's over four years now.  i don't mind that Artie's birthday is Dec. 11th and the holidays are coming up.  I'm all better now.  I can't.  It would be a lie.  That's why I don't think it's stages.  I think it's roundabouts.  You do, hopefully,  play the grief at a higher skill level.  I don't have the despair I had those first few months.  When someone dies grief is like a newborn baby.  It needs tender care.  You wouldn't expect a newborn baby to get up and walk.  It does gentle down after time.  I do have more happy moments than I did in the beginning.  I do have more productive time.  But - fill in your favorite curse word here - none of that makes me stop feeling the empty space where Artie should be.  None of that makes me stop pleading, "I know you can't come back but please come back."

Maybe that's part of it.  When I get to the place where the disinterest creeps back in, where I am all sorrow and black quicksand I am more impatient with myself than I used to be.  I am buying into the false idea that I am supposed to be better.   I alway write about light and dark.  That we each have a light that we need to let shine.  We can rest in the love of our beloved dead and they will show us what that light is when we cannot find it ourselves.  I wish people courage and love and tell them to forgive themselves.  I say that sometimes just breathing is enough.  When I get into the dark place I told someone - if someone said to me what I say to other people I'd tell them to shut the f up.  Part of grief's seductive dark side is to make being stuck in pain seem the only way.  But the light of grief can lift us out of that stuck in pain place.  Maybe I should tell the dark side of grief to shut the f up.  That doesn't work for me though.  I have to set the alarm and give it a half hour or 10 minutes or however much time it needs that day.  If I feed it a little, pet it a little - it will go away for a while.

One thing I know for sure is that we all have to find our own path.  Grief is a normal process; not a mental disorder.  Get help, use the resources out in the world and in your own heart and consciousness.  If your path has let you off the carousel and you are on a gentle swing - I am glad for you.  When I get off, it only seems to be for a while.  Then the ride pulls me back on.  There's a Tennesse Williams line, "I tried so hard to leave you behind me but I am more faithful than I intended to be."  I have never really tried to leave Artie behind but I think somehow that I have been more faithful than I intended to be.  People keep asking me about dating.  I say I would if something happened - but nothing does, probably because I don't do anything to make it happen.  I didn't know how married I would feel for probably the rest of my life.  I didn't know that I would be so faithful to my one true love.  Yes I did.  Artie did.  

It's a strange thing death.  For some of us our dead remain so alive.  For others dead just seems to be dead.  What I wish you for all of you is what I guess I wish for myself.  Not necessarily to get off the carousel permanently but for it to slow down enough more often that I don't get sick of the world spinning by.  To have more ups than downs.  To go back for the ride when I need to but not to be forced back on by this emotional rip tide.  

I don't want to let go.  That is my truth.  And if I don't want to let go I am tethered to a dream of past and present love.  Can I remain tethered and still feel free and alive and full of joy?  Sometimes.   Maybe even a lot of the time.  All the time?  What kind of a person am I, that when someone tells  me they are happy all the time I don't believe them.  A few people I have met seem to rest easy on the earth but most people have some kind of struggle.  Let's at least turn the struggle into a series of triumphs.  Le's not forget to look at what it still quite lovely and hold it in our hearts as strongly as we hold our sorrows.  With love.  xo 


  1. oh Jan...I just "love you"....You 'explain" it just the way it is. So many of us can relate. Your doing this makes me realize that I am not crazy.


    1. My feelings exactly!

    2. This is just as I feel, thanks fot sharing. I rail at thr idea of til death us do part. our love story has no end and I just want him back Been 3 months noe and utterly unbearable, such exhaustion.

  2. 11 months & 14 days...I have been on my rollercoaster ride...actually it started the day Emmett was diagnosed...Stage 4 lung cancer...please put your safety bar down...this ride is about to begin...That was in Dec. of 2010...I just want to smile again...a real honest to goodness smile...not that phony thing I've been sticking on my face for the past...forever ago...time is passing quickly...days come and go...but the sadness lingers...the emptiness is all consuming...sometimes it's just to much...

  3. I was writing a blog post about the comparison between grief and carousels, when I wondered if anyone else ever felt the same way. A quick search returned your post. You expressed the connection between the two so well. I hope you don't mind, but I quoted something from your blog and linked the post to mine. I just thought so many people could relate to what you had said. I hope that the carousel ride has slowed down for you some.