“Grief is a wild card.” from Laura Gardner, on her blog, Isolated Thunder
If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble.
If you’re on Facebook at all, you’ve probably experienced that at first, odd, then painful moment of a friend announcing the death of a parent, a sibling, a nephew — someone in their orbit of people I call my dear ones. Sometimes the announcement is stark and stabbing in its clarity, something like: “I can’t believe this. Just got a call that my mom died. Don’t know how long I’ll be offline. Need to fly home.” Sometimes, the death was expected and since there had been a leading up to the announcement, it was not so shocking. If the friend happens to be a writer, the announcement might be a beautiful, tiny eulogy.
To say the internet has made everything available, or everything fair game, feels so trite, but it’s true. And, I am in awe of those who take their agony and their grief and share them with the world. Beginning sometime in late 2011, I started following a facebook page called My Wife’s Fight With Breast Cancer. It wasn’t easy for me, or anyone – and it shouldn’t be. Watching a beautiful woman and her loving photographer husband deal with the ups and downs of cancer care, and finally, death, was horrible. But, I learned things, or maybe I should say I was reminded of things that we can too often forget in our busy lives — the value of true love, about attending to life and not squandering moments, about courage, bravery and pain. Pain that scares the hell out of me.
Perhaps you too have followed the heartbreaking story of writer Emily Rapp‘s young son, Ronan, and his journey to death from Tay-Sachs. Ronan died recently. Emily’s friend, Laura Gardner, has a thought-provoking post up called “That Which Knows No Boundaries.” As she spoke of Emily’s blog, Little Seal, Laura wrote:
And if you’ve read her blog, you’ve also seen that not everyone is going to understand her grief, or agree with this particular way of managing it. Some have criticized, some have judged. This makes even less sense to me than criticizing another’s level of empathy: how you could criticize anyone wading through the current of grief is something I will never understand.
As if grief could be measured, weighed.
As if it should.
Grief is a wild card. There is no way to predict how it will hit you and no right or wrong way to deal with it. We will all know it at some point, and can only get through it however we may need to at that point in our lives. Some will find support with family, friends, or groups, some turn to religion, others will drown it out in a bottle, and writers will write through it.
So, so right. Grief is a wild card. And, it’s not only death that causes us to grieve. I grieved when I was diagnosed with breast cancer almost five years ago. I grieved my “care-free” life before joining the cancer club. When I had a hysterectomy scheduled last December, I wondered if I would grieve that loss, but realized, I had long before mourned the passage from being a young woman to a middle-aged one. And, being nearly officially menopausal at the time of my surgery, I had already adjusted to the loss of periods as a way of marking time, which had been a part of my life for so long.
I understand there are people who are uncomfortable, and may completely disapprove, of the brave souls who share their grief. But, I marvel at their strength and courage. The most difficult grief I’ve yet to experience — and I’ve lived long enough to know there will be many more — occurred when I was 18 years old and my dear dad died. I look at Laura’s comment, “Some will find support with family, friends, or groups, some turn to religion, others will drown it out in a bottle, and writers will write through it,” and realize that at that point in my life, when writing might have helped save me, I tried to shut the pain away and put my pen down. Then I dove into a period of heavy drinking, inhaling things I shouldn’t and ultimately gave some serious thought to suicide as my life became something I found no purpose or pride in. The one thing that made me realize I couldn’t do it was that on some level, despite my attempts at shoving pain away, I realized that my pain had to do with Dad’s death. And, all I could think, was that if I died –maybe– even though I thought I was pretty worthless, maybe my dying would hurt my mother and sister and brother enough to really mess them up, maybe even as badly as I was. I couldn’t be responsible – even if there was the slightest chance – of making them feel as awful as I did.
Fortunately, I’ve managed other deaths, of other dear ones, without again hiding from my pain by turning to alcohol. Hopefully, I’ll continue to be able to be more open about the hurt, the anger, the heartache, all the phases of grief when they hit me. Hopefully, I’ll remember Moliere’s words because I learned the hard way that he was right: “If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble.”
But, who knows? Grief doesn’t play by anyone’s rules or expectations. Because, grief really is a wild card. I hurt for Emily Rapp, and I hurt for Jennifer’s husband, but I believe they’ve done themselves a service in managing their own grief — and, both of them, very likely, have educated and informed countless others and created a support system for many. They are brave, courageous and hopefully, free to weep whenever they want or need to without anyone judging them.