Friday, July 1, 2011

A proper way to grieve?

With vague recollection of high school and college psychology classes in which I memorized (and promptly forgot) the stages of grief, I wonder sometimes, "am I getting this right?"

The world of loss is not mine alone. Guaranteed, someone is dying at this moment somewhere in the world. I don't mean existentially-speaking in that we are all approaching our eventual demise at an unknown rate... more as in, the final breath has escaped a person's grasp at this moment.

Navigation in this fog can be confusing. Even without a road map we have a guiding light that brings us all together to celebrate the life of the departed -- funeral, wake, visitation, etc. Ritual brings comfort, brings us together with loved ones. Then we head out into the fog again. Each of us on our own sans map and lighthouse. Left to the currents we have to find our own tools to navigate to safety or be dashed against the shore repeatedly or sucked into the crushing weight of grief's undertow.

With family losses over the last three years and Dad's recent decline* I stick with denial. To hold grief and happiness together within one life, one day, one moment is to continually shake and stir what will not mix. Like oil and water, grief and happiness separate each moment into a celebration and a loss. As the two separate, it is hard to know which part to watch. I look through the surface of one and see the other. A magical looking glass of avoidance.

Of course none of this helps defuse or unload the anger that others feel. So what is an avoider to do? Is the anger justifiable? Death is an outrage. Most of us do whatever we can to postpone it as long as we can. Then diseases and mayhem throw monkey-wrenches into those plans. Disembodied evils like disease and destruction don't respond to anger. So we take our pain and anger out on a person or people, someone who will react and provide us with a justification.

Frequently the person on the receiving end of grief-fueled anger is also someone experiencing their own loss related to the death of the same loved one. Which only disorients us further in the fog, crashing waves and turbulent currents.

We're not all in the same boat. But we are all in the same ocean, some of us navigating the same rocky shores; all of us headed for safety. I sit in my boat with my back to the shore, pretending there are no rocks. Someone else while someone else heads for the rocks, certain they can make it regardless of how many rocks stand in their path. Yet another person lies in their boat believing that it will never get to shore no matter what they do. Still another person crashes into all the other boats to ensure that no one makes it to shore undamaged. Regardless of who makes it to shore, no one wins. It's not a race, not a competition. Whether we are tugged, towed, pushed, pummeled or get their under our own steam. Avoidance from one person or anger from the next is gunpowder for a fight that proves nothing, that only illustrates the devastation caused by cancer, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune disease, fire, storm, disaster...

The energy it takes to turn our backs or to yell and insult or to wallow in our sadness or... if we took that energy and focused it somewhere else, what could we do with it? What beautiful thing could we create?
Right now I don't know. I think I'm still stuck.

*This was written in April 2011, but not posted until July 2011 -- a month and a half after my dad's death. 

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