Friday, January 28, 2005

The Gift of Grief

God knows I'm not the first writer to write about the profound gift that grief brings into our lives. I can name writers who've all addressed this issue--dozens in fact, so why do I need to write about it? Christopher Tilghman once said in a writing seminar I attended that all stories were either about leaving home or coming home, or, as I chipped in, The Illiad or The Odyssey. So the fact that I am writing about a topic that has been written about before doesn't make my own experience of it any less profound. And if the prospect of reading something like what's about to follow makes you uncomfortable, there's always your back button to take you elsewhere.

Wow. That was an amazingly defensive way to begin this post, but having been bitten by readers who have criticized me for being spoiled or whiny when I post personal things, I guess I'm just clearing a space for me to make myself comfortable.

The past 48 hours of my life have been profoundly unsettling, exhausting, and have involved crying tears to the point of leaving my face chapped. (Do you know how much it stings to have salt water on chapped skin? Ouch.) I don't want to talk about the specific incident(s) that led to the grief; grief is ultimately about letting go of something, even something dark and evil, and thus to talk about the specifics would remove me from the thing I'm trying to articulate.

The thing about the grief was that I didn't want to feel it. It began to cast its shadow earlier in the week, this awareness that something was crawling out of the primeval depths and that I could no longer run from it. Over the years, I've developed an entire kitchen cupboard's worth of ways of avoiding grief, and as the chill moved up through me, I was digging through the damn cupboard as fast as I could looking for something to distract myself with. The distractions are all my various addictions--and they all had their moment in my line of sight as I turned the Lazy Susan. I was so aware of what was happening, this impending sense of disaster and this watching myself try to cope in all my usual ways. The power of being centered enough to observe it all and not react was magic--like watching your toddler take their first steps without your help or someone reading for the first time--suddenly cracking a code that had baffled you for years and realizing that now that you knew how to do it, you weren't going to forget what you needed to do.

And so I sat and waited. And the monster came. It wasn't the monster I was expecting, actually, it turned out that the monster that was before me had eaten the other monster, the one I thought I was afraid of, and now the biggest monster of them all was in the room. And I saw it for what it was--all of it--every wart and hairy eyeball and talon, and I cried and cried and cried. And as I cried, the monster got smaller and smaller and smaller.

I've been so afraid of that monster for so long that I've done everything in my power to avoid it. And everything I've done to avoid it has taken me farther and farther from myself. It took me years to get back to me. And it was that me that faced down my grief, allowed it to move through me, tear me in two, and squeeze every last drop of tears out of me, that me finally shrank that grief down to a bit puddle. Eventually, I expect, that puddle will dry up.

I feel so grateful for the experience I've been through. It sucked while I was going through it. Really sucked. But do you know how much it sucked for so long trying to hide from it? I don't have to hide anymore. The monster's been reduced to a toothless little bug, and I can choose to step on it and kill it, or I can let it go and hope that having been reduced to its proper size, the bug can morph into something useful and lovely.


FunkyB said...

I've noticed that I tend to chase my monsters into a corner, and then for whatever reason, I avoid them entirely. The inner conversation sounds something like this:
Me: You can run, but you can't hide
Monster: Eek, you have me cornered here by the closet. It's dark and I'm scared.
Me: Hey... what happened to my other black boot? I've lost my boot!
And then I mentally go about finding my boot whilst said monster giggles and slithers away.
Good for you for squashing him out.

J.R. Boyd said...

Thank you for the great post. I hope you continue to gain strength from your loss...