Monday, May 17, 2010

They were right: don't assume

Nice day for a meltdown. One thing we can count on, secret pockets of unexpressed grief lurk like the remains of a Fillet O' Fish sandwich that has fallen between the car seats and ripened in the warm spring sun.

Most of us probably congratulate ourselves on being able to respond to loss genuinely, openly, maturely. For our mother's memorial service, my sister and I were dry-eyed (for the most part) and took our roles as family elders seriously. Then the wise and adored family friend who drove us home said, as he dropped us off, "NOW you can fall apart." We didn't, not then, but I found that every time I saw a smallish, white-haired lady waiting for a bus I had to pull to the curb and cry.

Last week, in conversation with a woman who has been friend/spiritual guide and model of truthful answers for some 25 years, we spoke of going on in a world without our parents. So many unanswered - or unexamined - questions, the answers to which we could only guess, not only remain but seem to have greater significance, the more we explore our own motives and choices. I felt that our talk calmed the waters, not that they had been roiling before. We spoke of my cousin Sheri's recent death, which also catches me by surprise...hearing her voice on the answering machine, seeing her email address when her husband writes...yet which I would have said affects me but doesn't leave me devastated.

Move on to lunchtime. A Trader Joe's special platter with tabouli and falafel, hummus and pita, and I am carrying it with focus, though not unduly protective. A moment of inattention and tabouli flies halfway across the kitchen. It, of course, cannot be salvaged and in that instant I have become the small child whose scoop of ice cream has toppled to the sidewalk and whose world will never be right again. And for at least five minutes, I thought it was about the tabouli.

Confronting mortality - our own or that of loved ones - and accepting loss cannot, in my experience, be managed. Today I will bring out my grief and sit with it for, oh, half an hour and I should be in good shape. Do you not hear the tilt warnings and horrified angels shrieking with alarm? Complacency is one of the stealth bombers; it is unwise to assume. It is particularly unwise to assume that we have ourselves and our emotions tightened down and in perfect order.

A companion in a long-ago recovery group declared, "No matter what you do, it (pick your definition of "it") always finds a way to come squirting out." Let that fizzy sound and sticky dribbling alert you to a lid that has loosened. I don't know how we can prevent being sideswiped by the grief our minds assumed we were done with. The mind is of no aid in the process. The best we can do, our only preparation as I see it, is to maintain a flexibility and the awareness that, once we have known loss, grief will always own a part of us. The more welcoming we are, the less likely he will be to carry off the sterling napkin rings when his visit is over.


penny said...

"secret pockets of unexpressed grief" oh, yes..and it hits right when and where it's least expected. I've learned, too, that to know this will happen makes the impact less harsh.


Erin in Morro Bay said...

10 years ago, within 18 months, I lost both my parents and my adored older brother. And because it was so very much to deal with, my body and brain wisely parceled out the grief over the years. Now after a decade, this grief is lined with a sweetness of memory and past joys, but it does still emerge at unexpected times.
I hope you have a chance at more tabouli sometime this week.

Anonymous said...

I have witnessed the bewilderment of

close friends when both parents pass on.

He said he was an orphan now.

That struck me. To be alone in the world like that, as a grown up but feeling like five again...

Laoch of Chicago said...

When my last parent died I felt at sea, a boat without a sail. That feeling has lessened some over time but the aloneness of it still echoes a bit.