I’ve been binge reading lately. Sometimes when I’m trying to avoid dwelling on some unfixable situation I plunge into the sea of fiction as a way to block out what can’t be managed.
This works for a while. But sooner or later the unwelcome reality I’m trying to escape rears its grim face in the very pages of whatever novel I’ve chosen as an escape mechanism.
When my mother died nearly twenty years ago I was unprepared for the crush of grief that hit me. Everyone experiences grief. But in our modern western culture we’re taught to keep our chins up, our emotions to ourselves, and to do whatever it takes to find “closure” with our sorrow. As if sorrow were some sort of limited time offer.
I was inexperienced at grief back then. So I thought time would work its magic and after a year or so I’d regain the spring in my step. But after two years went by and every day I was still feeling as if I were carrying a backpack loaded with cement, I began to wonder what was wrong with me.
At the time I was still working at a newspaper and trying to finish my college degree in my spare time. I was a crazed soccer mom, too, just to make sure there was never any free time to let my thoughts stray into the danger zone of the past. I was driven to reach closure, wherever the hell it was.
That spring, nearing the end of my marathon college education, the finish line was in sight. I needed only a few more credits. For one of them I enrolled in Comparative Religion 101. So many gods, so little time.
I was doing all right in the class, which was taught by an older man of Asian background. I didn’t totally understand the logic of the various belief systems we studied, but then logic rarely seems paramount with belief systems anyway.
Then one day the professor began talking about how different religions handle grief. And suddenly I was weeping uncontrollably in class.
I was embarrassed and apologetic. But the professor was very sympathetic. When I told him it had been two years already and I didn’t understand why I was so overcome, he told me that in his culture the standard time for grieving was three years. No one expected it to take less.
Well, that comforted me to some extent. I stopped thinking I was totally morbid and depressed and gave myself permission to feel sad. And that helped.
But in the past twenty years I’ve had a few refresher courses in grief, and I have a new relationship with it.
I don’t expect it to end. I hope I never forget the people I’ve loved. And if the price of that is some pain and sorrow now that they’re gone, then so be it. It was worth every ache to have shared time with them.
The friends and family I have lost live in my heart. As e.e. cummings so memorably wrote:
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)