Sunday, January 07, 2007


There's been some talk on Scout's post about grief with some very good insights. I thought I'd share my thoughts about how I've come to understand my grief.

I had a dog-trainer friend suicide a few months ago, high, alone and terrified, I'm sure. I could never carry the message to him despite him watching me walk through recovery and having a male friend 12-step him. Although we had not been close for a few years, when I was told of his death, I was struck with grief. It was instantaneous and lasted, intermittently, for several weeks.

My friend had caused so much wreckage in his life that no one, not the few friends he still had, not his mother or his fiance, would claim his body. Over the weeks after his death, all I could think of was his body, alone and unclaimed in some county morgue. It really caused me pain. It still hurts, perhaps because there was no funeral where I could grieve and grieve with others and say "Goodbye. You may not have known it, but you were loved, if only by me and your dogs." Funerals usually provide closure, at least for me.

One of my friends was puzzled that the death of someone I was no longer in touch with would upset me so much. As a result, I didn't talk to anyone about how I felt about his death. It's easiest to talk to others when we feel safe exposing our feelings.

As He often does, God sent me an Eskimo.
Right after his death I was on a plane trip to Seattle to visit my brother Fast Eddie. The lady who sat next to me was a Christian. We began to talk about her church in Chicago and as often happens with women, the talk quickly turned personal. I found myself pouring out my feelings about Mike's death, my hurt that his body lay unclaimed and my worry that he was not any more at peace in death than he had been in his 40-plus years on earth.

She spoke about God's immense love and our inability as humans to know what takes place at the moment any person passes into God's arms. As a result of being able to talk through my fears and my feelings with her, a loving stranger with her calm and comforting words, I was able to have some closure over his death.

I still think about Mike from time to time. He was a classic example of someone who, no matter what others said to him, could not love himself. In that case, we often can't help, no matter how hard we try. As my sponsor used to remind me regularly, "It's an inside job."

A lot of people don't "get" grief and are uncomfortable watching us grieve. If they don't know how to help us, they may try to "cajole" us out of it with platitudes or tell us when it's time to stop grieving. In those cases, it's best to walk away. I try to recognize that they are doing the best they can. In their clumsy way, they may be trying to comfort us.

Over the years, like anyone who takes life on life's terms, I've suffered many losses. When my marriage dissolved many years ago, some days I would stumble home from work and sit in a bathtub, aching all over. I talked to Vida, a wise recovering L.A. addict about it, telling her my body hurt from the pain. "Sure your body hurts," she said. "Why do you think they call it 'heart broken'?"

After a failed three-year engagement at 10 years, I literally could not get out of bed for a week. All this over a heartbreak? I wondered. I eventually understood that the grief that overwhelmed me was not just about that particular loss. It was all the losses of my life: the broken hearts, my father's death, the loss of many friends along the way, career losses, watching my brilliant mother lose her mind, all the losses of my messy life.

If I don't feel the feelings when things happen, perhaps because I'm numbed by pain or feel I have to "stay strong," I will still feel them eventually. Sometimes the grief I feel is a combination of griefs and losses. Often none around us will understand except those who have experienced it.

As I heard a woman say in a meeting in LA after she lost her fiance, she "put on the blues and leaned into the pain." There is no way around grief but through it. Some people are equipped to help us with our pain, some not. With or without support, I've found grief vital to my recovery. I don't need permission to grieve.


Pam said...

hmmm your last line "I don't need permission to grieve"....I wonder why I need to "hear" that or "read" understand it's true? I wonder why I did not just "know it".
My 1st husband has been dead for 29 years (died at 21), and sometimes I just feel very what might have been. On the few occasions that I've said that out loud...I've heard "good's been over 25 years!!".......SO?
Thanks for pointing out...that I don't need permission.

vicariousrising said...

I really like what you wrote. I've been feeling angry about a lot of things lately, and I know I need to feel the anger because I wasn't feeling it for a long time and it was destroying me inside out, but I am having trouble diffusing it once I take note of it. Your words have been helping me set it free. Thank you so much for that.


Anonymous said...

"It was all the losses of my life..."
How very true.
Thank you so very much,

Anonymous said...

When my most loved old english sheepdog, Taffy died a week ago the pain was so great I thought I would explode. The only escape was sleep. My heart ached and I couldn't stop the pain. I depended on that dog because I had no family and an alcoholic husband and he got me through. Without him I am all alone. After one week of pain I realize that he won't come back to me but I can go to him someday and I hope that someday is sooner rather than later. I know he is in heaven where all Gods creatures go but I am left here to face another day alone. Patty