18 December 2010

Reality & Everything Else

One of the most difficult things for me about journeying through grief is the constant and unmitigated tension between what I know and what I feel. I can know with objective certainty that this is not hell, and be simultaneously convinced by every cell in my body that it is. But even my mind knows not to accuse my heart of being a liar.

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My mind and heart don't war with each other -- it's not as if my heart is attempting to usurp a claim on reality over my mind, or that my mind tries to subdue my heart, rationalizing with it as how to feel. They do not war with each other, but they do speak loudly in different languages. They keep each other honest, and there is always conversation between the two.

I know there are people who have ideas of what the grieving process should be like: easily divisible into stages, with the feelings of sadness waning into oblivion over time. I am no expert on grief in general, but I am an expert on mine. In my experience, I can tell you that someone else's grief will always be easier than your own. Another's grief is easy to break down into pieces, and the proper application and acceptance of the truth means the bereaved should, after an appropriate period of sadness, move on with life as normal with little to no inconvenience to those around them. Someone else's grief is always easier because it is not your loss, not your mind that is remembering and bargaining, not your heart that is collapsing, not you observing the nuances and shifts in your emotions that change unbidden, not you feeling like the world is caving in.

I wonder how many have suffered further harm because they failed to comply with the stages of grief in their proper order, because they appeared to have regressed, or because they did not follow the prescribed timeline. I wonder how many have been chastised after finding the most fitting words to express how they feel. I wonder how many have felt like they were grieving all wrong because everyone else thought they should have moved on already. Job's comforters mean well perhaps, but they did the better thing by remaining silent, offering their friend presence, tears, and a listening ear instead a litany of reasons and pretended fixes.

I know I am not the only one who experiences difficulty with what to do or what to say. And at times, I have been the one who, feeling awkward, probably said or did something stupid and unhelpful when I should have just offered a hand, a shoulder, my arms, my heart, and my tears. I hope now that I know better, I will do better.

I watched my son die. The meaning of those words is facile enough, but for the one who continues to live deeply in the reality to which they point, there is no period at the end of the sentence. I know he no longer suffers and I know many good things came about because Ewan lived and died. But don't suppose this means that my heart will not fail me, that I will not continue to weep and stop only when I am too physically exhausted to continue -- because my heart knows and in fact, has not stopped screaming: Your infant son has died! It is not supposed to be this way!