I DON’T UNDERSTAND
This dreaded mystery which unfolds on its own hidden schedule. So much is not visible, graspable, explainable. When it doesn’t seem to be affecting your life every moment, you are lulled into thinking that it’s not there, though you know it will return, jumping out at you when you least expect it.
But you discover, at some point, that it is there, a part of you now, your confederate, even though you never signed on. In that one horrible moment of loss you were drafted. Lifelong commitment. But no appeal, no recourse. At that moment there were so many other chaotic thoughts and fiery emotions, you likely never would think of that twist.
This may sound suspicious, but I feel I’ve done relatively well so far. Meaning, I haven’t been sobbing constantly, balled up in the corner in a fetal position for a year, unable to function. I didn’t want to be around people for a few months, but then I forced myself to get out and participate in life and talk and even laugh. You can’t go very long without laughing, you know.
Oh dear, he’s suppressing, you think, avoiding, putting off the inevitable, it will just hit harder. But no. I have some ways of confronting loss, with a loving and knowing heart, gifts given to me by others (thank you, dear Thellers), and my own experiences, that have helped me tremendously. But what they say is true, there is nothing worse for a parent than the loss of a child, even an adult child. It is an entirely different ball game.
I’VE READ A LOT
And I can’t deny the experiences of so many others who have marched before me. Grief, the profound grief of losing someone very close to you, is not an event, it is a process, that only ends when your life ends. It doesn’t have a plot, there is no beginning, middle and end.
I’ve always had a pretty good attitude about death. I believe we all have our unknown, allotted time, and no more. I just don’t think it serves any purpose to rail against the inevitable, or worry about it. Rail against a bad president, against war and poverty even, but you know what else they say. Death and taxes. (The wealthy can beat taxes but none of us can beat death.)
I’m ready to go any time, have been for years. Maybe it was my close shave as a teenager with the worst kind of job description you could have if you went to Nam, that I avoided through pure luck. I don’t know.
But you’re never ready for the phone call, from the Albuquerque police, that says, we regret to inform you…
THAT WAS A YEAR AGO
Almost. Sept. 20 was the date they found Christopher, in his home, murdered (I say that only because it does make a difference), his cute little adobe-style home with a big backyard on a cul-de-sac in a charming northwest neighborhood, that he shared with such contentment with his two cats, that he made the mortgage payments on religiously. A perhaps unexpected accomplishment for such an anti-establishment guy, and we were so proud of him for that. On his small income. Every one of his bills were current or paid in advance.
Anniversaries and birthdays and Christmas are difficult, they tell you. Sometimes, really, really hard. Sept. 20 is coming up, but Sept. 12 was his birthday, another landmined day. That’s today. As I write this I haven’t hit that date yet, but it’s in my face, in my psyche. I can’t really tell you how I expect to feel on Sept. 12, but it’s raw right now, and tears are on short notice. Last night my daughter and I had a bigger disagreement than it probably needed to be, and that undercurrent probably had a lot to do with it.
Grief, I have learned in the last year, is an incredibly complex beast. It is a presence that plays hide and seek, a shapeshifter. You can never be prepared. I have a friend from high school, Rick, who lost one of his sons 16 years ago, and we talk sometimes about this. He told me recently that he felt this deep disturbance that he couldn’t explain, really shook him up. What in the world is going on? Then he realized it was the day before the anniversary of his son’s death. His mind didn’t know it, his calendar didn’t note it, but his soul was in tune. His soul of a father.
WHY DID I WRITE THIS?
For some of the same reasons I wrote a column a year ago, upon Chris’s passing. I mostly wrote that one to memorialize him, to share with people who he was. But I was stunned to find how many people took great comfort from what I wrote. I heard from hundreds of people, and that means there were so many more who felt the same but didn’t write. So I hope this will touch those who are going through grief, let them know they are not alone in grappling with this awful, unpredictable beast. Bless you all. Not a club we wanted to be in, but such is life.
I was going to make most of this column a series of quotes I found about grief, so many really good ones, but I decided to use more of my own words instead. Here’s what’s left, that spoke to me —
QUOTES OF THE WEEK: “When a child dies, you bury the child in your heart.” — Korean proverb
“Grief is the price we pay for love.” — Queen Elizabeth II
“Grief can’t be shared. Everyone carries it alone. His own burden in his own way.” — Anne Morrow Lindbergh
“Grief changes shape, but it never ends.” — Keanu Reeves
“Tearless grief bleeds inwardly.” — Christian Nestell Bovee
“In our culture I think most people think of grief as sadness, and that’s certainly part of it, a large part of it, but there’s also this thorniness, these edges that come out.” — Anthony Rapp
“In my hometown of New Orleans, grief is a public spectacle that, somewhat paradoxically, necessitates celebration. The dead are not mourned so much as they are posthumously venerated with music and dance.” — Clint Smith
“I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places, that this heart of mine embraces” — Billie Holiday
“It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, they’re putting up reindeer, and singing songs of joy and peace, oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.” — Joni Mitchell
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 32 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com