A dear friend of mine posted a quote recently that touched my heart and mind:
It can be such a messy emotion. We may become disembodied pain-monsters. Sometimes we are stoic and silent, or cheerful with laughter that rips us until we weep. We might feel as if the world has been sliced cleanly from us…or worse – that we have been betrayed by our most precious beliefs.
I have lost more people than I have fingers and toes. Some have been lost to death, some to failed relationships, some to illness or isolation, then there are the mysterious people who slowly drift away. Grief is a constant teacher. Just when I think I have learned my lesson it sticks its finger in my ear and everything goes sideways.
The “sideways” moments are often new perspectives, offering themselves to me. There is a soreness and a weariness that settle into my heart…but there is also fresh understanding.
A few years ago, my mother had a dramatic cancer diagnosis which frightened me. She had always been the sort of person who refused to be ill – and until that moment, the universe had been happy to comply.
As the only living member of her immediate family, I was handed her life. I fielded the feelings of family, friends, acquaintances. I met with social workers, surgeons, occupational therapists. I told people the news and explained the prognosis until it felt like an exhalation.
I felt very alone and more – the oppressive loneliness of realizing that the only person who had never left me might be gone very soon.
Up to this point in my life I had been a “repress it at all cost” sort of crier – I gave up my restraint. Grief revealed my tears.
My mother had an emergency surgery. It was a Saturday. It was before the sun had risen. Family friends dropped me off at the hospital, and as I told my mom that I loved her and headed toward the waiting area, I realized that I was completely alone…literally. No voices over the intercom, no hospital employees, no other families or patients…
I stuck to the plan I had written for myself in a tidy little notebook: “Hour one – after surgical nurse gives update, make calls to list of friends and family. Repeat for each update…” In hindsight, it might have been better not to agree to updates – my heart became flooded with the worries of everyone I called. They let me know how much my mom meant to them, how shocked they were by her illness, some of them were tearful, others nervous.
By the fourth hour I was frayed and worn. When the fifth hour update came along, I dialed the phone once more. One of my mom’s work friends stopped my recitation – “You’re there alone, aren’t you.” I could not speak, I was so far beyond tears that I could not cry. “Your mom would kill us all if she knew that no one showed up for you. I’ll be right over.”
Her statement woke me up to the reality that I had not asked for support, but had felt wronged by its absence. I called one of my friends and she came too. Grief revealed that I was unwilling to ask for my needs to be met.
In the waiting room, before my support arrived, I had a brief encounter. Two people, who seemed to be active drug addicts, wandered into the waiting room. They were only there for 30 minutes. In that time, they loudly proclaimed obscenities while laughing, railed against the cops who had arrested them and taken their “goods,” and then flipped on the TV to the show COPS. As they strode briskly from the room one of them stopped, hovered in my periphery, and came closer. I thought he would ask me for money or food. Instead he smiled gently and said, “Whoever you’re waitin’ for? I hope that they’re okay.” Grief revealed my prejudice. Kindness taught me a lesson.
Ahhhh grief…it is amazing…and it sucks. It shows us what we have tried our hardest not to know. (And thank goodness for it!) We deserve to heal the “shame” and the “ugliness” that we feel.
We deserve to see what our grief reveals.