Saturday, May 18, 2013

Good Grief

Grief is a really funny thing. It is malleable, fleeting, steadfast and lingering. It can blindside you. It can creep into your body and soul. Even the institutional professionals cannot agree on the precise qualifications of grief. Grief is a normal emotion. Any creature that can feel love as intensely as we humans do, should be able to feel the exact opposite to an equal or even greater degree.

In this day and age- there is a pill for everything. Are you too happy? A little happy is ok, a lot of happy is ok, but too much happy- we call that manic and it's not ok and there's a pill for that. Are you sad? A little sad is Ok, alot of sad is ok but if it lingers too long we call that depression and there's lots of pills for that.

In college- I took several psychology courses- one of my favorites was Abnormal Psychology. As a Science major- I knew full well how the scientific/medical community tended to look down their noses at the Psychological professions. How can we call anything science that is so nebulously unquantifiable, vast and ever changing as the human mind?  Yet any good, experienced scientist will testify- the best scientific advances usually happen from a chance error. In our course- we studied the DSM-4- the Bible of mental disorders,  quite thoroughly.  It was entertaining to try and diagnose all my quirky friends and relatives. Sometimes it was frightening. It offered me some clarity on a lot of issues. Although I had a couple years under my belt in college- I was still battling the grief of losing my dad the week before my high school graduation. It was a mere 3 years before that I lost my brother to the same disease. There were times when the grief was suffocating.

I find it strangely ironic that the release of the DSM-5 comes at a time of year when the grief feels fresh. Today is the 19th anniversary of my father's death. Next week will be the anniversary of my brother's death. If I stop to think about it, it takes my breath away. If I lingered too long- I might suffocate. There were several changes in the DSM-5 that guides how mental health professionals quantify grief and the precise point grief becomes something more akin to depression. The debate is hearty. Many definitions of grief include depression and all definitions of depression include grief. Anyone who has experienced loss can tell you the ebb and flow is neither regular nor set to any calendar. There is no egg timer that lets you know when your grieving period has expired. Culturally- certain practices are put in place that mold this period. As someone who's experienced grief on many levels- I have a profound appreciation for the faiths and cultures that have practices in place that lovingly guide the bereaved through the process.  Multitudes of scientific and psychological studies have quantified stages, phases and even types of grievers- all with the caveat- you may fit into one or many of these stages or phases at any given time- you may regress or spend only brief periods in any given phase. I can see how the science minded heads are reeling.

From the point of experience- I can tell you grief never, ever goes away completely. I could not tell you how I manage to function despite it. I know there have been periods in my life that I have also been depressed. Sometimes these periods overlap- sometimes they were mutually exclusive. There is most definitely a process and when talking to others whose experiences are similar- the kinship is silent validation that your grief is both acceptable and real. You know it's real- but after a certain time it usually feels as if those around you need for you to move on. I think half of the process is just learning how to relate to others in their own process of relating to your grief. There were times shortly after deaths of loved ones where I felt genuinely happy. Almost immediately upon realization of happiness- the guilt sets in- as one is clearly a bad mourner to be feeling such happiness. My relatives- being of good Irish decent quickly mend any antagonistic interpretation by the good old Irish Wake. Numbed by libations- all emotions are acceptable and appreciated- greatly accelerating the fluctuating and cyclical nature of healing. Sometimes we don't speak of the loved one often- not because they are not close to our hearts- but because those memories are the glue holding the cracked pieces of our hearts in place. We all deal differently. So much discord results from people judging others feeling based on their personal scale of truism. Not everyone needs to have a shrine to their loved on in their living room to remember them, they carry their memories everywhere. Some need that constant reminder as a way of acclimating the loss. Just as you don't feel every fiber of cotton in your tshirt hitting your skin- sometimes that shrine provides the numbness to acclimate the profound grief. It's about finding the process that works for you. You will not recognize it- there is no time limit on finding it- and if you need help in doing so- you should seek it.

 Sometimes I feel the energy of my dad or my brother. I know there are folks who can rationalize it as some sort of synaptic glitch. Perhaps that is all consciousness is after all is one big synaptic glitch- after  all so many of the best scientific leaps happen after some inborn error. Sometimes it is out of the blue- with no stress to provoke it. There are times where I feel the grief and it is intensified by the lack of signs. My dad always swore if he could come back and give us signs, he would.  My aunt keeps track of the signs. We sometimes question the intensity and validity of certain signs- but she is always the first person we call for sign approval. There is a part of us that wants to believe, needs to believe that there is more- that we all have a connection that is not severed by death. Many times this is what pulls us from the depths of despair. There are those who can never manage to climb out. You can put a label on it- categorize it in a book- but that only quantifies it outside of the person's experience- for each person's experience is physically real to them. Not everything can be fixed. Not all grief goes away.  Sometimes a gigantic tree pops us in the middle of your yard- you can chop it down or landscape around it.  It really isn't your neighbor's business unless you are asking him to help chop it down or allow it to branch over his yard. Grief affects everyone.

This time of year, the grief hangs over me like a familiar musty blanket. The anticipation of grief this time of year is more debilitating than the grief. Sometimes I dream about dad or Bob. I like to think it's their way of saying hi. I know they are just dreams. Sometimes I hear a song that immediately transports me to a grieving state.  Moreso lately I see them in my children. Lily's bubbly personality and size are a pintsize version of my dad. Lil Phillip has hands like Bob's and has the quiet, intense personality his uncle had. The year my brother died was my parent's 20th wedding anniversary. Dad made arrangements to take mom to Hawaii. Mom's grief had consumed her in a way no one but a mother who had lost a child could ever possibly begin to understand- dad was trying to help. Well they could not leave me to my own devices- an extra ticket was bought for me- talk about 3rd wheel. Fortunately I was just slightly older than lil Phillip is now- I didn't want to be around grown ups- so I made myself scarce. I remember them having Mai Tais near the beach in Waikiki while I walked along the beach seeing if I could make it to Diamondhead. We stayed at a hotel called the Waikiki Joy hotel. I remember it being a short walk from the beach and laying on the beach while dad got in a few business calls. That was dad- always finding creative ways to manage finances and his family. Years later when we moved here- I looked up the Waikiki Joy hotel. I knew it still existed- but it's not the kinda place you hear about. Heck after 15 years- it could have been the kind of establishment that rented rooms by the hour for all I knew.  I never did find it driving around.

Last week was a tough week with May Day drama and practices, combined with normal activity and then on top of it throw in talent show try outs. All 3 girls wanted to try out. Lily and Bella chose songs and spent evenings and shower time belting out tunes in various keys. I started stressing about the potential public reception of their unique talents and what it would mean for their egos. I tried to hold fast to my dad's advice to me when I was young- do it now while you can- you won't have the courage to when you get older- I hoped it would be the same for them. I made peace with it.

  Kiera and I woke up really early to glue back every short strand of hair and get ready for May Day- we hopped in the car and I was finally calm. Everything was going to be fine- and if it wasn't- it would be one helluva funny story later. We are halfway there when an ad comes on the radio. I never have to hear ads- I have trained the kids to find a song when they come on. Yet Kiera sat pensively next to  me. The announcer is inviting folks down to the Waikiki Joy hotel for Karaoke tonight. Like that, the musty blanket of saddness decended. I asked Kiera if she had ever heard of that hotel. She said no and looked at me with concern. I didn't want her to go into May Day thinking I was sad about her- so I explained what was going through my mind and ultimately told her I thought it was dad's way of patting me on the back and going with the fake it til you make it attitude. In 8 years- I've never heard anything of the Waikiki Joy here. Later I asked Phil if he'd ever heard of it and 2 moms at May Day- no one heard of it. SO whether it was a crazy coincidence or a sign- it was the emotional release I needed to face these anniversaries head on. It's not always easy- sometimes grief is hugely inconvenient. Sometimes it is a reminder of all we've lost but also how far we've come. It becomes a part of us and is a part of what we become- so to it I do owe a certain amount of gratitude. And to that part of it I say, Good Grief.

1 comment:

  1. The tree metaphor is powerful and so true. I know posts like this come from places of great pain, but I appreciate these glimpses into your beautiful heart.


Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)