Monday, October 17, 2011

Grief


No one teaches you how to grieve. But we learn anyway. We learn what to do by watching, what to do to help things heal faster or better.

No one learns grief very well.

 ***

My friend Kelly lost her horse last Friday. It was injured and had to be put down. She came over to my house on Sunday. She was cried out, dry-eyed. I gave her potted flowers and a tuna fish sandwich for lunch. She said, "It's funny how I don't really feel like eating anymore but I still feel better after I eat. I didn't know I needed to." She did cry when she told me the story. I cried too.

See, the horse was not just a horse. It was her best friend. This occupation and interest and friendship started when she was 12 and saw her through the worst of her parent's divorce. When she lost Oakie, it was like that pain was somehow no longer bearable anymore. It could possibly even be like loosing parents again.

She's a teacher and felt like she couldn't call off work. "No one would understand me calling off for a horse."


We have too small an understanding of grief. We don't have a way to allow it in each other if it seems absurd to call off work for something like this. Instead, life is forced to mush on. Divorce, break ups, stage of life changes, friendships ending: they don't count as family emergencies. How does one explain to a professor that a paper was late because you spent the week in turmoil over your significant other and broke up with him at midnight that night before? Is that an excuse? Can that be accepted? Is that someone trying to get out of necessary work?

***

Loss comes in many forms, not only death. The process of grieving those things makes no sense to me.

People seem really unstable in grief. It comes in circles like getting stuck in a long wave heading towards shore. You feel fine when things are at their worst. You feel like hell in your whole body and scream and weep when the most insignificant and unrelated thing goes wrong. You feel fine when you should be upset and you are upset when you should be fine. No one can see it coming and neither can you. It comes and goes. You think you are done and then you aren't.

Some things, I would imagine, are never quite done being grieved.

How is it supposed to be done, the loss of the intangibles, the things for which no one gets a day off? May I wear black for 40 days in memory of my parent's marriage? But no one even wears black anymore after someone's death. May I wear sackcloth and ashes? Someone would call me depressed. But would it have been better for me to tear my hair out and wail over this loss than to hold it tightly as if holding vinegar and baking soda with my hands in a fragile porcelain vase?

Marriages don't get funerals. I almost wish they did.

***

But then, there is an upside to this. Life keeps going. Perhaps this is a grace. There are things like horses still to be tended, stalls to be mucked, jobs to do. It can't end yet. For me, I still need to show up to dance class and work out my helplessness by controlling my body to music. It keeps going and carries us with it.

 I wish life would give more space to the weary and broken hearted. I wish we were better at saying something, at bringing food, at carrying each other through grief and not assuming that somehow, someway, that person who is grieving the death of something that never died will somehow make it alone.

But I wish there was something, sackcloth and ashes, Job scrapping pottery over his broken skin, anything to physically mark the change, to enact the death.

How else am I supposed to find life on the other side?

3 comments:

just another day... said...

I was going to write a blog along the similar lines. You write so beautifully Dana. I'm glad you were there for Kelly, it killed me to be so far away.

Dana Ray said...

Thanks Cait. I've been working on this post for a long time. Kelly gave me words to finally articulate these thoughts.

Annie said...

Dana, this is a beautifully poignant, artistic piece. I am so sorry for Kelly. And it sounds as though some of your own loss is in this post, so for that, too, I am sorry.