Tag Archives: bereavement

Grief calls

Grief sucks.

I’ve thought that since the first time I encountered it and I am going to go right on thinking that.

Grief makes the world over in shades of grey, all the color drains out. Oh, in reality the color is still there, being seen by others, and waiting for you, I get that. It’s a perspective thing. It still sucks.

I wouldn’t say I’m an “old hand” at grief, but we have met several times. I know the drill. Or my drill anyway; I know how I respond. I don’t resist grief. For whatever reason, from the first time I went through it, I took that approach. I’m going to feel this, I’m going to go wherever it takes me. Like it or not.

I don’t apologize when I’m grieving. Generally people don’t want me to be down – I’ve gotten that reaction since I was a teenager – but who is happy and jolly all the time? I mean sincerely happy and jolly. In life, I laugh and smile a lot. I make a lot of smart remarks and quips. I look for the humor. Not forcing it, but like Dudley Moore said in Arthur, “sometimes I just think funny thoughts.” But when I grieve, things just aren’t all that funny. And I accept that.

Processing a death takes time, so that ultimately when it’s done, the loss is woven into who I am. I have to absorb it, so it becomes part of my essence. The losses I’ve had are not all lumped together. I see them individually and each finds a place to take up residence permanently.

I’ve never met anyone who resisted grief and didn’t pay for it in some (other) fashion. Grief always wants the check paid. It doesn’t really care how. Grief essentially says you can choose to deal with this directly OR indirectly, but you will deal with it; I’m not going anywhere, friend.

Some people start or ramp up drinking or drugging. Others leap into emotional or sexual entanglements to provide distraction and distance. Some double down in “keeping busy.” Some simply try to convince themselves the loss just isn’t that great and life can go on as before more or less. [I do know people attribute having a job to go to daily or a pet or children that need to be taken care of, as what saved them in grief and kept them going. The distinction I see here is that those are positive, life-affirming responses or at least neutral ones, not self-destructive by design.]

I can think of two times in my life I consciously “postponed” grief because I simply couldn’t handle it at the time. In one instance, I was already grieving a monumental loss and had no room in my psyche to take on a secondary loss. I knew later I would. Another time I was dealing with a big problem that left me drained and stressed out and I resisted truly knowing about the death. I gave myself permission to not know, and to not wholly feel it then. I have to admit those two particular losses don’t feel as “clean”, like a surgery that wasn’t performed correctly the first time.

There’s something else I want to say about this. If bereaved people enjoy a moment or laugh at something, they can feel it’s a betrayal or an indication that they really don’t feel all that badly about the death, and maybe others will think they are “over it.” I so disagree. What I’m describing is different from wholesale attempts at escaping, bypassing, or otherwise tricking grief. Having little moments is a coping mechanism and it provides hope. Grieving people need hope so that they can regain traction and move on with their life, which is not over. Life takes the living with it: “You’re coming with me.” And anyway, in bereavement, happy moments are just that – moments – and grief will be there waiting, ever so patiently. I always say you don’t have to force yourself to feel bad; you will soon enough.

Not long ago I read somewhere that grief might even be considered a form of mental illness. I can sort of see that. I’ve always been obsessive in grief, but that’s the way I’m wired up. I THINK my way through things as I’m feeling them. Obsessing over an issue helps me process. I have to look at it from every conceivable angle. In the case of loss, obsessing helps me believe it’s true. In the end that’s what I think the goal is after a death, to believe it really happened and to live with it.

Commemorating fatal accidents = bad idea

In my community and elsewhere, plaques, paid for by family or friends, are sometimes permanently set up in public places where individuals have died, typically in accidents. There’s something about these markers that is bothersome to me. I can totally see commemorating locations where many people have died, such as battle fields, prison camps, or the grounds of the twin towers in NYC, for examples. I can also see the significance, perhaps, of marking the spot where a famous or historical person died. “Here is the house where such-and-so died.”

It’s not that I don’t understand the impetus behind family and friends wanting to commemorate the loss itself. They want their person to be remembered, and I imagine they think they’re honoring the dead person. The trouble is, when I come upon a plaque at the site of a death, instead of thinking kind thoughts about the diseased (who I almost certainly did not know), I begin thinking about the possible gruesome circumstances by which the person died. I don’t think that’s what anyone intends, but I can’t imagine what else might be intended; i.e. a sign at the site of a fatal crash or accident doesn’t make me think about improved safety regulations or driving more cautiously, or anything along those lines. I’m not really sure what’s accomplished by permanently noting the place of an accidental death. Does dwelling on the exact location even help the family and friends of the person?

Also — why should only certain people’s death sites be noted? I mean far and away most people’s are not and I’d have to think money would be a factor in at least some cases. In my own neighborhood, a man died on the street of a heart attack some years back. It was never marked in any way. (I temporarily marked it with a flower that was gone in a week.) For some time after, I’d look at the spot and think about the man, who I did not know, and think also of how that location must feel to his family, who lived in the immediate area.

I feel similarly about “Ghost Bike” installations. These are bicycles which have been painted white and are permanently installed at the site of a bicyclist’s death. I didn’t know quite what to make of these when I first became aware of them, but now, several years later, I think they simply make me uneasy. Again, because all they do is elicit unpleasant thoughts of the nature of the death. They don’t make me rally for improved bike safety or write my congressman to press for legislation that’ll make drivers and bicyclists coexist more peaceably. They’re creepy – maybe that’s the point? And I say this as a bicyclist myself. I’ve recently seen one set up in front of a residence, that is, not near traffic or roads, and I really don’t know what to think about that one.

In my community, to memorialize a death of any sort, people can “purchase” a tree, or even a park bench that’s installed in a public spot with a small plaque listing the diseased’s name and birth/death dates. Sometimes, it’ll also include a more personal touch like, “beloved father and husband” or “she loved gardening and walking.” A sweet one I saw included what must’ve been a common refrain by the diseased, something along the lines of, “Oh, how glorious!” I like these memorials – they contribute something to the community and make me stop and think, and not only about how someone died.