I wrote about grief back in November as the winter holidays loomed large because I know holidays can be hard for anyone who has suffered loss. If a particular holiday is associated with that loss, that holiday will always be hard.
So, I had intended to post again about grief as Christmas got closer, sharing more links and quotes, hoping it might prove helpful to myself and others. I even decided to time that to coincide with December 17, my brother’s birthday. Scott would have — should have — turned 70 that day had he not died last summer. I knew that day would hit me hard.
Sure enough, I awoke that morning with my brother on my mind and tears in my eyes. I got up, meaning to make it a day of memories of Scott, capped by publishing a thoughtful blog post about dealing with grief. I knew it would be a long day, but I truly believed I could steer my thoughts and emotions to a day-long remembrance of Scott’s life and our time together, rather than dwelling on his absence.
Ah, if only.
Feelings are fickle things, though, and emotions assert themselves even when uninvited. I felt fully prepared that day to deal with grief in the form of pain. I cleared my calendar (except one morning errand) and was ready to weep again, maybe all day long. I hoped my tears would help soothe the pain, allowing me to enjoy my memories of Scott, even as I mourned him.
Instead, I found myself angry. Incredibly angry. To the point of hair-trigger rage all day. I could feel that starting to simmer early that morning. How I wanted to call him with one of my well-known, silly Bill-Murray-lounge-lizard-style renditions of “Happy Birthday,” always good for a laugh. Never again can I make that call to him.
I had that one errand to run early, so when Sara started to go use the car, I blew up at her. I wanted to run my errand but I wasn’t ready just yet. She offered to take care of my errand and my response was still more snarling, bitter anger. The kind where you know you’re in the wrong but you don’t care and you can’t stop. She took my verbal onslaught quietly, and left me seething. Later, she asked if my outburst was really about Scott. Of course she asked. She knew. Sara knew Scott longer than she knew me. Certainly, she knew how close he & I were and how much pain I was in. I agreed that my pain made me lash out in anger.
Of course it did. Anger is a natural part of grief, an understandable reaction to loss. One of the hardest parts to accept, though, as the anger you feel may be generalized, yes, but it tends to point at a typical target: the lost loved one. And that was it. I was so angry with Scott.
How dare he die? How could he do this to us? To me?
A second wave of anger swept me along as I realized I couldn’t even call the one person I really wanted to talk through these feelings with. See, that would have been my brother. Now, I’m getting mad at him all over again, not just for being dead and leaving me here without him, but also for not being there for me to talk with about my day-longe rage while grieving him.
I gave up on writing any blog post that day. I had my own inner demons to deal with, and I had to do that on my own. Sara gave me a wide berth the rest of the day. I avoided all other human contact all day, only going out in the afternoon to walk the dog. I could almost feel the rage subside slowly as we walked. Almost. I didn’t want to come home, hoping the longer we walked, the closer to calming down I might get. That anger stayed with me all day long, ebbing but also flowing. I stopped struggling against it. The only way out is through. As uncomfortable as I was, I had to ride this out.
It’s been nearly a month now since that happened. It has taken me that long to make myself write this. That day knocked the stuffing out of me and I found it difficult to face my own grief and surging anger. That made it difficult to want to write about it. But I know the pain will always be there with me. Scott’s birthday may always haunt me like this one did. I don’t know. Rose Kennedy, no stranger to loss, once said:
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
Just this past week, another old friend died unexpectedly. Actually, I suppose I’m at the age where a contemporary dying is never fully “unexpected” any more. Anyway, my buddy Bob had a great smile, a great laugh, and was just generally a great guy. I’m glad I got to see him and his wife again just a few months ago. That recent memory takes away a tiny fraction of the sting of his death, but we did have a good visit that afternoon, sharing stories and smiles. As I heard his brother talk about him him on the livestreamed funeral service, one thing he said really grabbed me. After making everyone laugh with some of his stories about Bob, he said;
“Every tear I see is just a smile my brother put on your face.”
There’s a hole in the middle of the prettiest life, as Bob Franke has sung, and mine has one, too. It will never go away, as Rose Kennedy told us. Sometimes I wander close to the edge of the hole, sometimes I slide straight down into it, plummeting into the deep darkness. Sometimes my grief comes in waves of pain and uncontrollable sobbing. Sometimes my grief comes as anger and rage. Knowing this almost helps when it happens. Almost.
Remembering that the loss hurts because I loved the one who died helps. The tears wash the wounds clean for a moment and I can see the smiles again. The grief still hurts — but the smiles always return eventually.