Mon 26 Sep 2011
sometimes i miss grief.
(a ridiculous thing to say, really. it is the speech act equivalent of wrapping oneself in tinfoil and swinging from a rooftop TV antennae in a lightning storm. HIT ME AGAIN, it dares.
it lies. or if you understand it as a wish for things to be anything but otherwise, it lies. it is one of the unspeakables, damned to misunderstanding because we are taught to receive messages as if they were swaggering suitors with one thing on their minds.
i do not want to be misunderstood. because it is not true: i would hunker down in the sewer to avoid the lightning bolt. we all would, if we ever saw it coming. keep all our precious ones safe, keep our own heads above the mire of rawness and panicky incomprehensibility and the Somebody-sized hole that sucks our breath and pulls us under.)
if you know someone grappling with grief, know this. the cruellest trick is that to heal, one must become doubly bereft.
when somebody dies, you lose them. same when something precious, like a relationship or a dream or goal, comes crashing to the ground. but in the place of that which was loved, you make a trade.
you get grief. it’s the shittiest deal in the world, but it’s something. grief sits in the hole left behind, a living thing, a conduit for some of the love and pain and anger that come with loss.
then time does its thing. pain starts to look a little more like resilience. and if you are actually healing, the grief grows thinner at its centre, stretching out like taffy until it is no longer a thing unto itself, but an absence. what is left is mostly just the damage of the accommodations of having carried pain for so long, the twists and scars that pucker around the hole, the way you’ve grown used to holding yourself off-kilter.
one day you catch sight of your hunchback in a passing storefront window and you stare.
you are looking for the touchstone at the core of it all, because the grief and the lost thing have long since become one.
but that one day, it is gone. the last touchstone, the sharp corner of longing. you are still scarred, hunched, puckered. but there is no grief to touch. the wind blows through the hole.
eventually you come face to face with the fact that this is what “gone” means: all death leaves behind, in the end, is the living.
my children know they had a brother, born before them. they know his name. Oscar understands that Finn died. Posey is still working from the operational assumption that death is a very special thing that happened to Grandpa Cliff last spring, and that somehow Finn – who may possibly also be a star in the sky – is trying to elbow in on Cliff’s territory. this makes me laugh, in the very best way.
we don’t talk about Finn a lot. Oscar asked to see his memory box a few weeks back, the small green ribbon-tied memento collection from the hospital, with its footprints and its hair clipping and the impossibly tiny hat that once smelled like his newborn head. i had not dug it out in well more than a year, not in Posey’s memory. she chortled over the diaper, too small for most of her dolls. i traced my fingers over the small gilt imprints of my son’s feet.
for years, the sensory assault of the NICU lurked, in Technicolour and Surround-Sound, in the lizard core of my amygdala. i would be walking down the street, and a jackhammer a block away would jar me into a cascade of unprocessed memory, the bang bang bang of the ventilator and it would hit me that that was the sound he heard most and was he frightened and did it drown out my voice and did he hurt and i was not even there when they punched the tube through his chest and my gut would wrench and my mind careen until i would find myself stockstill on the sidewalk with tears streaming down my face. three, four years later.
this is how trauma works.
but when i touched the place where his feet once were, a few weeks back, in the green box, i found no lurking tide of memory. i touched the imprints of his feet and my brain went looking for the corresponding memory of those small toes on my skin. and yes, i recalled the toes, and i smiled wryly, the wonder of him and the chasm both acknowledged, but i did not feel it. my fingers did not tingle. i was not transported six years back. it was only memory.
those moments of being transported grow thin, rare. maybe they will come no more. i have other toes here to touch and tend to; my life is crowded and busy and good. i do not want to grieve. oh god, no.
but i want to feel.
i miss the grieving for its vividness, its, its trompe l’oeil effect of making present what is irretrievably gone. i look for Finn, now, and find…only me.
in the healing, the last of what’s been lost slips away.
i found something the other day. our washer broke and for the second time in less than three years, we bought a new one, to the tune of much embittered cursing (mine). the delivery men came. and when they hauled away the offending appliance and i confronted the sludge beneath, i found it.
i bought it for him for his 31st birthday. the year Finn died. it was seven months later. i was already pregnant with Oscar.
we do not have wedding rings, he and i. i wear my grandmother’s tiny 1938 Art Deco diamond, and her bands.
he lost it more than a year ago, at the gym, we thought. Dave has a history of precious things littered out behind him, lost. this was not grave. i was sad, but without recrimination. i have lost rings, too, and things far more important.
but when i found it, Friday, wedged between pine boards and tarnished, i felt.
six years washed away and i remembered my own shyness, handing it to Dave in its blue velvet box; how i stumbled over the words of hope and endurance that i meant for the ring to carry until i finally shoved the card at him with my eyes wide and blinking back tears.
it had only one name engraved inside it, then. it now has three.
time is a shit. it’s a shit for physicists, refusing to go both ways even when it ought to, and it’s a shit for philosophers and it’s a particular shit for those who mourn. there’s no getting around it. you cannot go back, to undo the sorrow time brings. you cannot go forward – into the proverbial healing of all wounds – without bearing the day-to-day grinding work of living with pain and through pain. and when you finally get through, to that place of acceptance or resilience or whatever your personal post-traumatic Nirvana might be, you cannot go back even to visit the intensity of loss, and so you are carried ever away on the tide of time from that which you loved and grieved.
but. as you are carried forward, scarred and puckered but still breathing, time keeps on changing the game. when i bought that ring, six years ago, resilience and acceptance and healing were words i barely dared hope about, dangling way out at the edge of our horizons. fake it til you make it, i figured. the ring was a promise to try.
we made it, i think, by any standards that i understand. there’s been more letting go in the journey than i’d have comprehended, six years back. sometimes the numbness of that hole where the wind blows throw, it saddens me.
if i could play with time, i would hold in one hand the intensity of presence that grief once gave me with the intense, resilient present in the other. each would find the other accessible.
i never had that, not really.
but when i held Dave’s ring again, the other day, and saw Finn’s name, and Oscar’s and Posey’s, all together, for a second i did.