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Posts Tagged ‘death’

Grief

I’ve debated writing this post for the last few days.  I’ve always been a believer in weathering stormy times with the help of just a few friends or family members, rather than waving the flag of grief and sorrow for everyone to see.  Whether this is a healthy belief or not, I can’t say.

But today, I ask not for your sympathy, but for your ear.  I write this post, not as much for myself, as for all of us who grieve and have grieved.  It was too important not to write.

My step-grandfather passed away over the weekend, after a long and painful decline in his health.  But today is not to eulogize him.  Today is to feel the pain before putting it aside.  Today is allowing the grief of his death to wash over me, wallowing in the sorrow of his absence, before rising tomorrow and moving forward.

As I said, his health had been in decline for some time, and theoretically I was prepared for his eminent passing.    Yet, as I heard the words, telling me what I had anticipated for so long, a wave of pain crashed over me.

The reality of his absence in my life yawned into a void within my chest.  Tears sprang to my eyes, choking my voice, shaking my hands as they clutched the phone.

For some minutes, I didn’t move, I couldn’t move.  The pain rolled in me, like a ball bouncing, bruising each place it landed on.  I tried to shake it off, offering myself the words of consolation I’ve said so many times to others: He’s in a better place. He’s with God now.  His suffering his finally over. And though those words bring me consolation now, for those first few hours they did nothing to ease the pain.  I simply had to ride it out.

But as you no doubt know, the pain slowly eases, as a breeze slowly takes the edge off a sweltering day, not all at once, not even enough to remove all traces of heat, but just enough to let you sleep.

Now though, days later, with his death rationalized and my faithful consolations repeated, my grief occasionally catches me off guard.  It will sneak up on me as I try to get through my mundane day.

Suddenly it will be there, springing upon me, with tears and breath catching in my chest.

As I wash the conditioner from my hair.

As I change the sheets on the bed.

As I fold my son’s socks.

As I shelve books.

As I say his name.

As I breath in and as I breath out.

I know from past grief, the pain will dissipate from every minute, to every hour, to every day, to every so often, eventually to almost never.

I also know that though time erases pain, it does nothing to erase love.

And for that, at least, I am thankful.

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Yesterday was a more difficult day than I had anticipated. Today reopened wounds that had been long healed, long closed. Today was another goodbye.

I woke up early on a Saturday which is unusual, so as soon as I opened my eyes I was faced with the fact that today was Anita’s funeral. Now in and of itself, I should have been able to handle the day, but I wasn’t. Instead I awoke with the memories of a goodbye I said so long ago. Instead of Anita, I thought of Philip.

It was difficult not to make comparisons as the service was held in the same chapel. As the chill of the room seeped under my coat and into my skin I was transported to a day over 10 years ago. Instead of the bright blue sky of a brisk December morning, the lights around me dimmed and the windows darkened leaving me in a chilly March evening. The mostly middle-aged mourners and their adult children that filled the pews transformed into grieving young families with stunned and stricken teens and children. I, myself, went from a young bride of 27 to a scared and unsure teenager. The empty seats around me filled with tear stained faces as bodies lined the walls and filled the foyer.

I saw, as clearly as if it had been in that room yesterday morning, Phillip’s open casket. I heard the wails of his so called “friends,” the goths, the druggies, the general freaks Phillip had orbited around. I sat there silently reliving the moments, watching, horrified, as these “friends” paraded down the aisle, making a show of the grief, sobbing on the shoulders of the other freaks with their heavily blackened eyes and black lace gloves, their dramatically dyed hair and black leather jackets. I say paraded because these mourners “paid their respects to the body”, two or three times, circling around the chapel to come down the aisle again, and again, and again, weeping louder each time, wailing their grief to the heavens. So respectful were they that many placed beer cans and cigarettes in the hands of my dead friend. They strewed his body with notes, joints, and dead roses. They smeared his blue tinted cheeks with stains from their black lipstick.

I could see this all before my eyes, despite it being ten years in the past. I felt the same panic rise in my chest as pastor invited us to pay our respects to Anita’s family as we exited the chapel and to glance upon her portrait as we passed. There was no body this time, but I saw Phillip lying before me. And I heard Anita’s words in my ear.

It was finally time for my family to rise and pay our respects. The freaks had made their way outside and those of us with actual ties to the family remained behind. I sat near Phillip’s parents, with the rest of my neighbors, comprised mostly of “good” kids from upper-middle class families. We had all grown up together in this small, tight knit neighborhood, made up of maybe 60 houses. Most of kids had been friends in elementary school, some of us beyond, when friendship could be defined with bike rides on the levy or wiffle ball games in the street. It was in this way that Phillip had been my first best friend.

We had lived across from each other from birth, born just months apart, falling into the easy friendship of convenience. My house or his, we found adventures in swing sets and sailing boats made of leaves down the gutters. We attended our first day kindergarten together, standing side by side for that ubiquitous first day of school picture, our names and class numbers pinned to our chest. You could see a little of our future in that picture; I, dressed in the perfect little girl outfit my mom had picked out, smiled brightly and warmly at the camera, while Phillip looking a little out of sorts in his striped shirt and matching courdory shorts, smiled with an awkwardness that would come to define him as he grew towards his teenage years.

With these images in my mind, I heard Anita ask me to say goodbye to Phillip. She looked straight into my eyes and asked me to say goodbye, as if it would some how make this more bearable if I could just make it clear he was gone. But I couldn’t do it. I shook like a leaf, from head to toe, panic strangling me, nasuea rising to take the place of breath. I looked to my mom, but she was gone or preoccupied with my sisters, leaving me to handle this on my own. I shook my head in assent and made my way towards the front. I knew if I went to the casket and looked down I would faint or vomit, or both. It was by the grace of God that someone appeared at my elbow and steered me outside. I don’t remember who it was, but I am thankful for them to this day.

I couldn’t say goodbye that day, not to my first friend, not to the brave boy who had protected me from the meanest dog in our neighborhood, not to the boy who awkwardly smiled when I passed him in our middle school hallways, now operating in different social circles. I couldn’t say goodbye to the young man I talked and flirted with as we leaned against my mailbox, despite my Catholic school uniform and his recently blue dyed hair. It was only later that I realized that I didn’t want to say goodbye to the last of my childhood, which was buried alongside Phillip later that evening.

Sitting at Anita’s service I was overcome with these memories and filled with guilt. I had spent most of the last ten years avoiding her. At first I had avoided her because the weight of Phillip’s death was often enough to cripple me for days, even years afterwards. I also knew how she must suffer to see the milestones I hit as time went by. I was afraid that I would remind her, if I stood on my front lawn with date in my prom dress, that Phillip would never go to prom. I was afraid she’d see my cap and gown and remember that Phillip would never graduate, never leave for college, never find his first job. With my wedding last year, I grew afraid that she would see snippets of wedding paraphernalia go into and out of my mom’s house and remember that Phillip would never get married, that she, Anita, would never again dance with her son. So I spent 10 years rushing into and out of that house across the street from Anita. I spent 10 years trying to hide the fact that I was growing up.

So yesterday I cried for her, I cried for me, I cried for Phillip. I said another goodbye in that chapel. And though I mourn for Anita, I know she would rather be with Phillip than suffering here with us. And instead I mourn for Phillip all over again, trying to close the old wound that had not only closed, but I thought it had healed. I was wrong.

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