Sunday, November 3, 2013
Grief: Can It Possibly Be A Gift?
I hope this isn't confusing. I wrote it on the train last night and am posting it with some comments added. If it sounds like it is written in two different spaces and times - it is. I left it that way because isn't that how our lives are as grief warriors? They take place in two different spaces and times. I don't always sound disjointed but I always feel a little disjointed - as with my husband dead I still don't know exactly who and where I am. I do - but I don't. Maybe I should have called this post - welcome to my confusion!
I am on an Amtrak train and the internet is not working. (It never started working so this is the first blog post I ever written on a stickie note. Not a big deal for some but sometimes the littlest thing throws me back into a very dark place.) I am going home to my empty apartment and feeling very sorry for myself. (I did. I got home and felt very sorry for myself. I am better this morning - actually - afternoon.) Fell right back into the dark place in spite of all my tools and techniques for being happy. Aha. Sometimes they just don't work. Here is all the gratitude for all the wondrous things (oh - and the lights on the train keep going off as well and it is dark out so I can't read) in my life and all the lovely loving memories of my husband who loves me and would tell me to stop being so malcontented and still I am going poor me in my head. I must be the only sad person in the world right now. In my crazy head anyway. My blog and my Facebook page are Grief Speaks Out and I want to say shut up grief you are making me exhausted. You are taking my life and blah blah blah.
I went to a one man play last week. Eamon Morrissey told the story of Maeve Brennan who was an Irish short story writer in New York City and Washington D.C. in the 1900's. When the actor was young (he is 70 now) he ws reading an story in the New Yorker and all the descriptions seemed very familiar. That was because his family lived in the house that Maeve Brennan had lived in when she was still in Ireland and she used it as the locale in many of her stories. So now....doing a show about her late in his life it is as if his memory has come full circle.
As part of this story he tells another story about a story that Maeve wrote. A man and a wife have been married for many many years. They don't even sleep in the same bedroom any more. One night she is having chest pains and he asks if he should call the doctor. She says yes. She dies anyway. The next morning he is sitting in a chair crying. His sister tries to comfort him, thinking the death of his life long partner has caused him great grief. No; he is crying for his wife Rose because he has no grief at all. He thinks that she deserved better. After all those years together she should have her husband grieve for her - and he does not. He is also crying for himself that he is as empty of grief as he was empty of love. He deserved better than to spend his life with someone whose death causes him not a single tear.
As I walked home from the theater I felt something shift inside of me. What if grief was in fact a gift? What if all this pain and loneliness were the gift I was given because I was lucky to have such a great love in my life? I want so much for Artie, my husband, to be here with me. I don't think it's fair that he left me; even though he couldn't help leaving me - his body was too sick to stay. And yet, better that I should suffer life wihtout him than he life without me. Better I should suffer life without him than a life that never had him in it at all.
When Artie was dying his hospital bed was in the living room. I brought his favorite things from all over the house into the living room so everywhere his eyes looked there was something beuatiful or something to make him laugh. Jazz was always playing, and the front door was left unlocked from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.. Many people came to visit to tell him how much they loved him. We spent many loving moments together. I am proud that I was able to do that for him even though I was feeling so sad and scared inside. I am glad I was with him when he took his last breath. How can it be he exhaled and didn't inhale? We used to say staying alive is easy - just keep breathing. Then he didn't.
I know he wouldn't have been strong enough to take care of me that way. I know it because I was once in the hospital for 10 days after surgery. i was angry with Artie because even though he took great and loving care of me when I got home; when I was in the hospital he spent almost no time with me. I stopped being angry when he told me he was so afraid I was going to die he was at home by himself lying in bed crying. As much as I depended upon him - it seemed - for my very breath, as much as I leaned on him - I was still emotionally stronger than he was.
I still have to be the strong one. I am the one with the unwanted gift - but a gift just the same. The gift of grief. It is my grief that tells me how important we were - are - to each other. It is my grief that tells me of the depth of our love; the special uniqueness of our relationship. (Although I know from so many of you that you too have deep, special, unique loves.) He was a real man that I love who loves me. If grief is the price I have to pay for that than I am grateful for it. I would not give up a second of my life with him; either the wonderful moments or the hurtful horrible ones. If I gave up my grief I would be giving up my love.
I have to keep working on transforming that grief. I have to keep working on making that grief be something that makes me feel inspired - not crushed like I do this very moment. Even though I am having a not so good time right now - I had many lovely times last week and will have many more in the future (even though I have TWO dentist appointments next week.)
Maybe I can remember how light I felt walking home that evening after the play. How lucky I felt that brief moment to be a grieving person.
it was a memory circle for me too. Many years ago I went to Ireland for the first time because a friend invited me to go to Sligo for the Yeats Festival. I had never even heard of Sligo. I made many friends, I fell in love (with the wrong person) - Artie was the right person. I met my daughter's father (the right person to create my splendid daughter but also the wrong person for me). I have many glorious memories of my youthful days in Sligo. When I got to the theater there was a flyer about the Yeats Society that does the Yeats School. They have a branch in New York City now. It was a memory come full circle for me as well.
I don't know how much my past is my future. Some of it is. Some times I feel a certain warmth in the past that I don't feel in the future. Everyone around me right now seems to be partnering up. I am happy for all of them and hope it all works out. Any chance I want to be one of them? One of those widows who date and then remarry? That's still definitely in the I don't know column. After reading posts on my Facebook page from women who are quite content not looking for a new love I wonder if struggling with this issue is causing some of my pain. Perhaps it is best not to try to figure it out, but accept it and see what happens next.
Is part of the gift of grief that it tells you if you were happy in the past you can be happy in the future? Could be. So many grieving people either feel guilty about feeling joy or say they can't feel any joy at all. Sometimes when I am talking to someone who says they are sad all the time I hear them laugh. I hear them talk about good times they had. We have to do more than have joyous moments. We have to notice them and hold them in our hearts and remember them. It is not wrong that we are still alive when someone we love is not. We are meant to be here even though sometimes we don't understand why.
Joy is one of the things we are here for. I know my husband wants me to cherish my life even though he knows how hard that sometimes is for me. I keep my granddaughter's smiling face in front of me. A child's eyes filled with wonder always go back and forth between sadness and happiness more quickly than and adult's. A tear rolls down their face - they kick their feet and scream - and then suddenly they are laughing and running about with great glee. I wish for all of us grief warrors that we are surprised by joy - if not tonight - maybe tomorrow or even yesterday. xo