Grief is never easy, no matter what your religious beliefs. The idea that your departed, your quick and your dead may wind up sitting on a cloud one day with fairy wings and a halo all sweetness and light is nice, but it isn’t really the same thing as having them here, with you now in this moment in which you can live life together and hold onto them for dear life and never again take that person for granted, because you know you did, and though you hadn’t meant to, now it’s too late.
I, for one, would give up that sweetness and light any day of the week, and in its place take all of the problems and fights I may have with friends or family or oh no, even the dreaded husband or boyfriend, depending on which time period of my life we are discussing. I am still grateful and glad and always will be that the “he” of my life is here even if he’s with someone else, just as long as he’s not dead.
Even when I have hated my husband the most, as I think most of us do at certain times hate our spouse – it is after all, the flip side of love. Non-love is indifference. Hurt love equals hatred, rage, and anger and though it is in itself a form of love, it may not feel it at the time to be clear. But even in those moments of non-love, of utter Carly-Simon- Carole-King-Alanis-Morrisette-Stevie-Nicks-Marianne-Faithful-Joanie Mitchell etc rage that if felt, I was still happy my husband or boyfriend was alive, because, in the very least, he would be around to see how quickly I’d get over him and I’d move on with my happy life. How I would not refuse to say his name – “non” with a pout – and sit and cry like some sappy, French schoolgirl. Grief has its place to be sure, but be careful where you place that grief because it is, in its way, as valuable as love and should not be wasted on anyone who would not likewise grieve your loss.
The howling pain of losing someone you truly love is almost immeasurable. It is a feeling so exquisite with so fine a point, that I doubt any words I write here will truly capture this grief in a way that one who had not themselves experienced deep grief could truly empathize with and comprehend. Yet I try anyway. It is my annual tribute to my brother. It is the nearing of the end of January when, one year, my whole life fell apart in a two week time period between January 26th and February 11th and things would never ever be the same again.
Yes, I could go and cry in the church and have a rector to speak to – someone on call for my messy, snotty grief that always emerged its ugly head at absurd hours of the morning, and warranted, I felt, those anxiety-riddled calls to the rectory because I was sure, so sure, that this had all been some awful dream. I have just lost the directions, I would tell my minister. I know Richard is alive. I just need the directions to find him and pick him up. Did he remember them?
How many times did my minister groggily tolerate this crap and tell me No, no directions had been lost or left in the church office for me. That my brother was in fact dead, that I had in fact also just left my husband and a whole life I had built, that yes, it was true: I was living in a tiny $500 a month rented studio on the first floor of Beacon Street and ate and drank from borrowed and donated kitchenware from friends. My apartment was about the size of my bedroom in our old beautiful loft that overlooked the harbor and the financial district and here I had a bathroom that was not only the hexagonal shape of a stop sign, but quite literally the size. It was a toilet/shower with no curtain. You simple did as you would in certain parts of Europe (Greece for example); the whole room is tile, you turn on the shower and take a shower with soap bubbles all over your toilet etc and then leave the room to dry off. My bed was a loft bed, hastily built by the bay window in the front (the only window), which had a ladder, also hastily made, with crooked footholds to walk up, and it was steep and had no grip to hang onto the bedside. This meant that one had to climb up the ladder and try to hold on as it began to fall backwards, as if reaching for the window. You had to lean forward with all of your weight as you climbed to ensure that you did not wind up falling sharply downward and backward, straight through the beautiful bay window and through the glass and over the hedges and the bare magnolia tree and into the oncoming traffic on Beacon Street while you ware dressed in your floral, flannel nightdress. Bovine, yet comforting.
In some ways, it was the perfect place to grieve. The tap dripped constantly so all night I heard the echoey blip blip of water as it hit the sink (a very depressing sound at 3 a.m. when you’ve lost your faith and are ready to give up on anything); because the apartment was a front view and first floor, I could not pretend I wasn’t home so all manner of unwelcome but well-meaning friends would stop by and the regret that they did because they had not fully anticipated the mess that I was (utter fools; the address spoke for itselfm, though I’ll note the zip code was Back Bay and highly desirable – how ironic, I thought).
So like our C.S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia Chronicles and of many other Christian works including A Grief Observed that I just read, I had my faith tested by fate, by God or some god if one existed. I had had my belief system thrown in my face so that the world could, one by one, watch as each awful thing befell me and then wait expectantly to see if I would still kneel and speak the words, Yes, I believe. How much would it take before even I caved? I’m no C.S. Lewis, but then, C.S. Lewis is no Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti either. What I mean is that we are all given our respective amounts of grief.
As my grandmother puts it simply, if you could walk into a room and put down the cross you had to carry and then put it down and pick up another cross and walk back out, you’d pic up your own cross again and leave in a hurry. What she means is that for all the ill and hell our demons bring us, we know them. AT least we are familiar with them, or we become, as I have, familiar with the most horrible and gruesome of things. The hardest thing about suicide survivors (those who have lost a loved one to suicide) or sudden death or even a horrible divorce is that we live. We live and somehow we get through it, when honestly, it feels that you will die. That there is no way you can make it through this grief. You spend your days and nights crying your eyes out. Your never knew one person could produce so much disgusting snot. Your eyes are always slanty and red and people start mistaking you as a professional mourner (at least they get paid, you think).
Extreme grief may even have you contemplating ending your own life, because I can tell you that six months later when you are waking up and still putting on the coffee for two even though one is gone and the other dead. You still do all these little things as if the person were still alive and even when you hear a song or wlak down a particular street, it’s almost too painful because ethe last time was with _____ and it will take you literally years of your life to exorcise those demons and do those things anew again to make them whole so that they are not simply “Last time I was here ….” laments.
You must accept that there are things in life that are irreconcilable. That people die. People also fall out of love and they leave you. People leave and cheat on you for their own fucked up reasons that have nothing to do with you. People die and they hurt you and one day or even now, you have done some of these same things and one day, you too will die and no question, it will hurt those you leave behind. The best we can hope for and ensure our lovers and our family is that our death will not be willful – will not be brought about by our own hand; a suicide.
January 26th my brother took a gun to his head sometime in the afternoon while I was ending up the work day and preparing to go to the church to read the evening vespers as the Officiant. Around the time I was reaching for my cassock, he was walking with someone else to a church because this person felt a church would help his depression. Half way there, Richard says he forgot something and would meet this friend in the church later and he turned and headed home where he made one phone call to his ex girlfriend and after that, wrote a few things down, and then took his life. He did not ring me to talk. He did not stop and think about anyone other than himself. And for as much as I have had and still have empathy for him, it is time that he knew that I do, at last, forgive him. That finally, I have reached a place where I can have more empathy and less anger and hurt and say okay, all right and let him rest in peace.
This turn of events may not have happened had it not been for the positive interference of an Abenaki Nation medicine man whom I met several weeks back who was able to “see” my life, he said, when he closed his eyes. Based on what he said, I believed him and I have not looked back since. There are some things that cannot be faked and what he knew and how he knew, told me this was someone truly special, gifted, the shaman I had spent my whole life studying and chasing through undergrad and graduate school. I had written my final thesis on mysticism and shamanism, complete with illustration and tipped in plates. Here he was, an ordinary looking though clearly Native American, citizen, dressed normally but with long, dark hair that shone and he was telling me to let go of my brother. To let it go and let him rest.
It all sounds so strange, even as I write it. It sounds hard to believe, yet it happened. It sounds like the kind of thing you’d doubt even if it had happened to you as it did to me, but what is it we doubt? That there are people among us who are more sensitive? People capable of seeing what we are not? Or maybe it was pure chance. I can’t say. But what I can say with absolute conviction is that everything he told me was the truth, which is why now, I learning how to let go of my brother and let him truly pass to wherever it is we go to rest after we die. I am learning to forgive myself for the past as well – for divorce and relationships that didn’t work out or family squabbles and the like. To forgive my own wrong-doings, and more, learning to forgive those who have wronged me as well. Learning that there comes a day when in order to forgive that person, you may need to leave them because even the most foolish of us would not stay with someone who made the same “mistake” over and over again for we know at that point that this is not a mistake, but clearly a violation of a sacred trust made long ago. It is a childish thumbing of the nose and flipping-off of the other person to simply defy an agreed upon set of behaviors simply because you have confused them with your Mommy or Daddy and didn’t get what you want when you were little blah blah blah and God, can I tell you how freaking bored I am by all of this…. In brief, one last time, the thing that makes marriage or any relationship “work” or last is an agreed upon set of rules or behaviors or ways of being – call it what you will – so that you know how to act in ways that will not bring hurt or suffering to the other person but instead, will help them thrive and feel loved. One fosters love, the other strangles. You figure out which.
Not so long ago, it seemed to me inconceivable that my brother would be dead and that I would come to hate January, especially around this time, because it is the day my brother died and I hate that. I hate that I see now that love is not forever, not usually anyway, and then I wonder why we even make that part of our vows or why we demand it over and over again, like gluttons for punishment because most people get hurt or leave a relationship because of infidelity – cheating. More, a great many suicides and suicide attempts relate back to cheating as well.
So what do do? I can’t change the cheater because I’m told it’s in our “nature” which is, uh, crap because there are monogamous animals so they do exist and I see no reason why we couldn’t e one of them, though perhaps we aren’t. Perhaps we’re more like cows or dogs or cats or bunny rabbits and we like to screw a lot of different people and that would be fine if we didn’t have this big build up in our head of just the two of us alone in our fantasy with no intrusions from the outside world, no one else who would steal our lover’s affections and the like because they just wouldn’t be interested. Why do we keep setting ourselves up for this kind of hurt over and over again? Why do we keep insisting in real, life-long monogamous love and getting knocked down repeatedly like some bad slapstick routine that has long ceased to be funny.
Maybe because sometimes it works. Sometimes you get the big prize. Sometimes you get the million-dollar love reward and you wind up with the person who truly wants you and only you – the Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronin’s of the world, and Lo, if you think they are boring then shit, let me be bored. I find that a lot more interesting than Hollywood Swapping Couples, in which “til death do us part” is about as long as Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston could last, which is considered a long time when it was really only a few years. It’s absurd and it’s sad.
We make promises. The last promise I made to my brother I did not keep, and that is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life. It was nonething malicious, but he had asked me not to trust someone who to me, seemed trustworthy at the time. He had warned me, she would hurt him if she knew about X. So, several weeks later when she asks about X. I tell her, “I can’t tell you.” and I tell her about the promise I made and so on. That was my biggest mistake, for what I did by doing that was give her a way to attack my reasoning and reassure me that she would, in fact, not do exactly as my brother had feared. Sad to say, he was right and when he died, we were in a fight.
If you make a promise, then mean it, because you just cannot know how much it means to the other person, even if it means little to you. The simple fact of their asking for a “promise”, a thing so almost childlike in its innocence and naiveté, should tell us that they are vulnerable and hurting. If we cannot take the heat, then get out. Then go. But otherwise, keep your word, because one day, I promise you, you will learn that your word is all you have in this life and without that, you are done for.