This podcast copy from a couple of years ago remains relevant today.
From the moment Donna died my grief was a daily presence. It never haunted me. Nor did it crush me. It was there lurking. At times it would rip at me, casting my heart about like an unsecured barrel on the deck of a ship during a storm.
Recently my grief has become a part-time visitor. I guess grief is now part of the gig economy. When I feel my grief visiting I’m hyper vigilant to learn what its presence will reveal so I can apply into my day-to-day life. This knowledge become an emotional compendium post Donna’s death.
It's not as if grief speaks to me per se. It is more that in this state of grief whether roiling or calm grief heightens my awareness. I hear a phrase, read a passage, listen to a song and think about it. Just think and learn. Learning is the only thing that changes our consciousness. Even within this state of grief driven knowledge I wonder, am I missing today and tomorrow because my vision is in my rear view mirror? Can I untangle myself from looking back to construct a new environment for my emotions to reside?
Awareness of Death
Sun Magazine interviewed the poet David Mason in the April 2015. Mason is a well regarded and published poet who’s work has appeared in The New Yorker and Harper’s. I was struck by something he said “We are all transformed by grief. We change in the way a tree struck by lighting changes.” His views on life, death, grief, and loss illuminated my own avatar of grief. It made me stop and consider what I’ve written and spoken about in the past and how it affects today. I will add that was written in 2015 and remains true today.
Mason shares that death was a constant companion from early in his life including two near death moments he survived. His premiss is, these storms in ones life, these emotional and personal insults must be endured and understood in the reality of knowing you will die, we all die. And enduring these insults, living them, feeling them gives us much. It adds to our soul, even knowing we will die or a loved one has died.
His view is simple, how we attack life, even in the mundane day to day activities, our treatment of others, just the way we get through the day is all colored by the this awareness of death. He points out that the ancient Greeks understood we cannot avoid suffering and loss. Their view is that life is right now, live in the present. Americans avoid discomfort and pain through a psychoanalyst or religion. But the act of living through struggle makes us better. It adds to our souls. This is Post Traumatic Growth. I’ve written about it in relation to my experiences. But Mason gave me perspective on what I posted/podcast last week. It made me think that my post on Post Traumatic Growth (I may revisit this) was not as much a narrative examination of the changes I came to following my loss. It was rather a review of the literature. That may at the heart of this post, the inability or desire to dive into the self. It feels as if I have been taking an SAT, just checking boxes and not doing the essay portion of this life test.
Grief loss and all its encumbered pain is a journey. And I will say that the hard examination of grief can be a journey to discovery. The path may not be clear or knowing where it will take you but, if you surrender to it and travel with it you’ll find something personal and enlightening. At least that’s what I hope.
What have I found on my path? No much. So much. That’s the reality of this whole process. In the middle of it you can’t see trees, forest, or squirrels. All you do is search. And from the daily reflection you gain a sort of vantage point and see a horizon.
I remain fixated on reestablishing the meaning and purpose in my life. At one time meaning and purpose was my business. Followed by being a caregiver. Now I am just undefined and cranky. Careers drive our self-esteem and clarify us inwardly and outwardly. Add social media and the entire idea of self image, ones meaning and purpose becomes a sandwich board displayed to the world.
All of this social media is a competitive sport by design. The relation of us to them visually displayed for all to see, like, and comment. And being me I want to whip out my competitive junk when I read or hear about someones success or travels and compete. I react and think I want to ‘do that’ or look what I did. Thank God I’m self aware enough to manage my infantile reactions. I keep my social media conversations pretty much to literature searches, reposts of articles, or video’s of puppies. The hemorrhaging of emotions in social media are limited to blog posts and podcasts. Looking back they too are pretty much me standing aside and looking. They are less narrative and personal. Trying to plumb the depths of what my grief means or better said all this reflection afforded me is a much harder exercise? What have I made of it? And that is the key consideration, what have I made of it? I owe myself, Donna, and others.
Someone said to me “You will never be emotionally or physically available to anyone else.” Cuts a bit. Rings true. The defensive me says “My grief my loss my choice eff off.” I wonder if I've walled myself into my little world for some unknown reason? Or does the source of the comment not really get me?
Today at this moment I’m not sure what to think since I am still processing this. Am I shuttering myself off from others and from myself? Perhaps it comes down to simply my lack of self belief and being a geezer. Who the hell wants any of me? Or it could be my standards and needs remain insufferably rooted in the past? Maybe I just don’t want any part of that game and am seriously taking what I wrote about being solitary to heart and enjoying the time to sit, think, write, watch, etc? Or, I want to find a better place to reside where I have my own peace of mind and heart? Too many questions but that is where we start isn’t it? With questions. The entire unexamined life thing.
I have recently completed my second trip. (That was then now there are a few more.) Went to Nashville and it was okay. Food, music, Grand Old Opry, great B&B but, kind of meh. It didn’t help Delta canceled my flight back and I stayed at crap motel. I think I should have gone to visit friends in NM (which I did a year later and it was amazing) but my mind was set on the adventure and it tuned out to be more trip less adventure. It’s over, I'm home, and there’s no buyers remorse just feels like, is that all there is? No Kodak moments but moments just the same. And that is movement, baby steps.
There is the dragging of the body and spirit that dampens ones energy and desire to to kick doors open. Head banging to Metallica’s Master of Puppets is no longer an option. Is that a function of age? Depression? I still think that I'm a self starter. The reality, not so much anymore. Life has become a slow surrender to stasis. I did a presentation on medical marijuana and I was pumped. I had a slide deck and audience. So it is there, just was only a process. In the past. I would push people down steps to get to the platform first. Pushed forward to get somewhere for some goal not selfishly. Not at anyones expense. I'm just goal driven. Today there’s that nagging thought a dog has when chasing a car, WTF am I going to do if I catch it? What am I going to do if find a car to chase? Do they make an ED drug for spirit and drive? Oh wait they do, it's called Adderall.
I do not in any way shape or form regret the charging into this grief full on balls to the wall. It has given me insight that I did not have previously. I see the world differently. Better? Worse? The jury is still out and to try an even quantify it is difficult because I am in the middle of it. Yet I find something that points to an untangling. Today as I reread this I am further along to some insight.
Moving The Grief Avatar Forward
Listening to Terry Gross interview Sally Mann the photographer about her new book Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs I found another piece of the puzzle to my changing avatar of grief and some untangling. Mann speaking about her fathers' suicide said that she realized she had over romanticized him and under appreciated her mother. What I heard was that I may be over romanticizing Donna and what we had and under appreciating myself and what I have now. Have I been using this loss, this grief to mask my own self-doubts or accentuate them? Have I missed seeing what is right there in front of me? I know this much, I do not question or challenge my diving into the hard examination of the loss and it’s subsequent grief and hurt. Nor do I question the changes that have happened or I have made. I do not question the me today. I want to know more to find more in me and outside me. That is the process that has forced me to recalibrate my life. In doing that work have I may have missed some selective and important insights that I can carry forward?
There is more to do. More to learn. More to know. So today, this post becomes the next iteration of my grief avatar. It is clear that the romantic notion of the past is not a lessing of me. Since the past resides on a high vista it does not prove my present is a valley. My past, my love, my relationship with Donna, and the world could not exist unless it was a stalemate of equals. We were equals. Today it’s not I am here and the past resides there. Both are on the same continuum, the same trajectory, the same plane. To move forward means that both the past and today enables the other move forward. They are untangled from each other but walk together.