Sunday, November 01, 2009

On Grief

It's November and I am once again recommitting to blogging every day this month. I'm actually participating "officially" this year with NaBloPlMo.

Years ago, I belonged to a cooking group and it was my job to host on Halloween. Researching ideas for a menu, I ended up studying the holiday and was amazed to learn what I thought of as a pagan holiday actually has some deep religious connotations in many cultures, especially in Spain and Mexico.

It is believed the end of harvest signals the end of one year and the beginning of the next and, as we transition from one to the other, there is an opening between heaven and earth and souls are allowed to come back to visit their loved ones.

I've written about my own experience with spirits and I must admit, I find this thought comforting.

I guess that was on my mind this week when I read about the yearly women's conference hosted by our first lady for women to come together and... It always makes the news because of the speakers that they book.

This year, there was a panel on grief. It was lead by First Lady Maria Shriver - her mother had recently passed away; Elizabeth Edwards who lost a teenaged son, Wade; Susan St. James who also lost a young son, Teddy, in a plane crash; and Lisa Niemi, wife of Patrick Swayze.

A local reporter commented that a woman, trying to comfort St. James after the loss of her son, told her that she knew how she felt because she had just lost her dog.

Immediately, my heart is aching for this woman (and St. James)... and then I heard the reporter's snarky comments. Apparently this had put St. James off too.

I understand that people say dumb things at funerals and I'm not trying to compare the life of an animal to the life of a person. BUT... come on! Grief is grief.

The longest short story I've written to date is about all the deaths that I dealt with as a child - loved ones and good friends and even a parent lost at such a young age. Just off of the top of my head, I can think of eleven deaths that impacted my childhood.

And I've lost two dogs in my adult life... one was terribly tragic, the other terribly sudden.

I tell you this so that it is clear: I know a thing or two about grief.

Grief is ugly. It races into disbelieving ears and heads straight for the gut where it sucker-punches you and takes the breath right out of you. Your face contorts into the "ugly cry" only, because you have no breath, no sound escapes. Your chest burns, searching, gasping for air until you feel as if it is you who has died and, at the last possible moment, you suck in some air and let out a wail. There are angry tears, hurt tears, sad tears, tears of disbelief, tears of consolation, tears that fall even when you think there are no more. Your body wants to run and collapse all at the same time. And that's all in the first five minutes.

The next days are full of shock, tears, hugs, loving people, stupid people, nosey people, decisions and more tears. Sleep is elusive, then deep; then you wake up crying.

Months / Years go by and you find that Grief still is not done with you. A smell, a sound, a memory can take you right back to that ugly place.

And it is absolutely no different if you are given some warning that death is dancing on the doorstep of your heart. I was given this warning with both my grandmother and my uncle (a father-figure to me). While it did give me time to say goodbye, the emptiness, the pain, the ache of grief is no less with preparation.

I live alone and share all my time with a dog. I have issues... I don't let people in. But dogs - they get me. They are what I spend my time loving. My grief when my girls passed was devastating. And I would bet that is the case for that woman who tried to comfort Ms. St. James.

Grief chases all of us. It impacts us all. No one here gets out alive. I guess I just wish we were all a bit more patient and loving with one another, no matter what we choose to spend our time loving and allowing to love us.


Linda@VS said...

Excellent post, Holly. Everything you wrote is real to me.

Anonymous said...

True! Grief can take many forms and affects different people differently. It doesn't matter if it's a person or an animal or a dog-you've lost something precious to you, and it's nobody's place to judge whether your grief is warranted or not.