No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear---- C.S. Lewis
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Grief is a funny thing. It's doesn't matter what you try to do, or how you try to define it--- it does its thing, its own way, in its own time.
Everybody has to endure it, in one form or another, time and time again--- it's as much a part of life as breathing.
And, while enduring grief, everybody does their own thing, their own way, in their own time.
My parents spent their entire working lives as nurses. They were LPNs at a skilled nursing home for nearly all of my childhood. It was expected that most, if not all, of their patients would spend their final days within those sterile halls. Perhaps it was less expected that my parents would feel the need to attend the memorials for their patients...baby brother and I in tow. Nevertheless, I have just as many funeral memories as I do Christmas-Morning memories.
I've heard it told that, as a result of walking past so many open caskets so young, my innocent mind somehow correlated the fact that every deceased individual had gray/white hair. Ergo, as soon as someone's hair turned gray/white, he or she was going to die.
Such was my distress, that my father (in his late 30's, maybe early 40's, and from whom I inherited the genes for premature graying) was forced to dye his hair...and keep it dyed, for years, to prevent me from panicking...
I don't remember this, but, like I said---grief's a funny thing.
Like everyone else in the world, I've had my fair share of loss-- friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, my (so far) only child, and now my mother.
I've been to more funerals than I can count. As young children, our parent's frog-marched my brother and I to every funeral event---whether a relative or not---instructing us in the expected behaviors at such events. Most of the early funerals I attended, I didn't even know the unfortunate individual, except maybe by name....
And, though I've often joked about my morbid fascination with death-- as many of my writings have some form of death at its core-- it isn't as if I went out seeking death as a means of forming my personality. Death was always there.
I've been brought to my knees twice by someone's passing. I've felt beyond repair two other times. I've refused to step near the open coffin a handful of times--knowing that my vivid, near-eidetic, memory would never allow me to forget their image in death.
Even when I was born-- an event that should keep thoughts of tragedy the farthest from someone's mind-- death was still nearby. In the same hospital, separated from me by a mere 3 floors, and an hour (perhaps less) after my appearance in this world, my father's step-father---a man more closely resembling a father than his actual father ever did--- passed away from cancer. He hung around to welcome me, but, never got to see me. Except, perhaps, in the passing of our conscious awareness in this world, as his departed and mine awoke.
One of the things that I find so gut-wrenchingly terrifying about death (other than the fact that death itself is well ... terrifying) is the unpredictability of it all. I know everyone's death is inevitable. But, I can't, with any assurance, know how I'll react. Something about my controlled, scientific nature wants, more than anything, to establish some kind of order from the chaos that death stirs. Every ounce of my being rails against the injustice of such uncertainty. I am so afraid of opening the doors because I know how all-consuming this crap can be. But, I'm just as afraid to not open those doors, lest I drown.
I've lain prostrate for a week before--no words spoken--only to wake up completely fine on day 8. I've barely batted an eye during one funeral, only to beat a hole in the wall with my fist 2 days later. I've watched someone pass their last few breaths, their unseeing eyes fixed on mine, with no comfort I could offer other than the assurance that it was okay for them to 'let go.'
It's hard NOT to be impacted by death. But, it's infinitely harder, to put yourself in a position to NEVER have the opportunity to be impacted by death.
A weakness (for those who wish to call it such) of our nature is to seek company-- partners, friends, lovers...enemies. Even the most hermitic and misanthropic often seek the calming pulse of another... perhaps a cat or a dog...something else to interact with. Barring any chemical or physiological reason for their isolation, it's perhaps their exposure to death itself that prompted them to hide away---to protect themselves---it would be something I would do, if I thought I was strong enough to do it.
But, is it any real means of protection?
At least, in the grieving, I know the person whose life I am mourning, somehow touched mine. And, in the grieving, I honor their memory by holding it tighter than I ever have.
It just seems so unfair that the price we pay for love is a bottomless well of grief. I can almost understand the determination to detach oneself from the life happening around you, out of fear of facing that same bottomless well, over and over again.
But, there is no real solace in solitude. Not when the solitude is a way of hiding from the pain of getting close to someone. The REAL solace is in facing the fear of loss by opening yourself up to lose again---by bringing others into your life. The courage it takes to hold tight to those you know you will lose and who will lose you someday doesn't protect you from grief. In fact, it opens you up to even more grief. But, in our grieving, we move forward---even if we're convinced of our inability to do so. We move forward IF we remember to define our lives by more than just our pain, if we remember to hold onto the memories, if we remember to wake up and breathe--- we'll find there's more life out there. Of course, in finding the more life out there, we'll find peace and happiness---if, just for awhile. But, isn't that worth it? I think so.