"Grief is more complicated than I had any idea of" – My wife, Marisa.
There are so many wonderful analogies for grief; the waves, the roads with switch backs, the messiness. It is complicated. It is very human. It is as individual in it’s nature for you as you are an individual in the world. In grief we find our true humanity. The good and the bad. The layers of life, the facades we put in place to operate. The masks we wear. The roles we play. They are all brought out into the open for us as we grieve.
Sometimes to great comfort, other times to deep harrowing sadness. Who are we?
What is the meaning of life? How do I seek meaning from life?
These age old questions of humanity find themselves on the tip of our tongue, constantly. We are forced to truly realize how very temporary life is. I write this on the eve of September 11th and think of the thousands of families that shared a final night together. Of all the bags packed and trips planned that would never see journey’s end. I think of my conversation with my mum, in England, that horrible evening and I’m reminded of how fleeting this all is.
Snow flakes are born in the stormy sky, they float down to the earth, settle for a while, and melt. Some are caught in downdrafts and land on warm roofs. Hastening their departure. Others find themselves in thick piles of cool white fluff surrounded by many others for a beautifully long winter.
Then spring happens. The cycle of life, of the earth, the universe, goes on.
Stir the soup
I’ve been back at work for a few, for several (?) weeks now. Time isn’t what it used to be. It’s a blur. It’s certainly going much more slowly, as an overarching trend. I’ve been "getting on with things" I’ve been doing chores around the house. I’ve been lucky enough to connect with some wonderful friends who have reached out to me and insisted on spending time with me. I’ve nothing but thanks to you. When people ask what they can do I tell them that, time, attention, care. Talking about what happened, what I’m going through. I need that. Oh and I, we, still need people to cook for us. It’s the biggest everyday chore, and the most outsourcable.
I started to feel different. The initial shock and pain of those first weeks had changed, shifted. Had it gone?! I was terrified to move forwards, away from them. Every moment I grow older I’m further from them and their love. I know, I know, they are "with me". In my DNA, walking beside me, watching over me. Whatever gets you through the night. These are all perfectly reasonable and nice thoughts and no doubt one day I will feel good thinking about them. Yet now, now I feel like I’m in some netherworld between the initial, constant, gut wrenching pain and that future. And I have no idea how long it will take me to get there.
I found myself being "normal". Participating in meetings. Processing emails. Cooking. Cleaning the kitchen. I felt numb. Then a particularly painful poignant evening with some people who I expected more from quite frankly brought it all into stark focus.
I was living on the surface of a cooling soup. A nice thick potato leek soup. As it cooled the surface grew taught and tense. A skin formed. And it was that evening that I pushed down through the skin into the searing heat of the soup below. I stirred it up. Pushing that "odd normal" down into the hot depths where it could melt and reform with the excited atoms in the turmoil below.
The next day it happened again. The surface cooled and congealed and I operated in the "real world". Yet now I had empowered myself to stir the soup. A chat with a good friend confirmed that which I had subconsciously realized. My job was to prevent the congealing happening. I needed to keep myself and my feelings and my emotions fresh and current. I could do this by continuing to expose them to the world and over time the entire mass of the soup would cool, together, as one. And rather than the formation of a separate, alien layer on top of the turmoil that remained beneath. If I could achieve that then my soup would come to a consistent, peaceful equilibrium with the world.
We can’t get around, or over, or under grief. We have to go through it. We have to stir the soup. If we feel like we are in a "numb normal" we are not making forward progress. We need to ensure that through the process of grieving that we allow it to be fed by and interact with the world . Only then can we find a balance and peace over time.
As we stir the soup we consume vast amounts of energy. And we need to make sure that we take care of ourselves. That we sleep. Rest. Exercise. Read. Watch TV. Whatever it is that gives us a chance to invest in ourselves. You must fulfil our needs.
Everyone’s flavor of soup is different, is cooked at different temperatures and is in a unique room that imparts its own affects on the soup. But it is all soup.
The Rewriting of History Paradox
Prior to my awareness of the crazy assed soup that I was swimming in I was going through a very strange, dark, odd experience with my grief. It felt poignant, and raw and I was somewhat aware of what was happening yet I couldn’t quite place my finger on it. It was in the corner of my mental eye and for weeks I couldn’t quite bring it into focus. Then one day with loving warmth of a tight knit group of friends and my wife it crystalized for me.
Unsurprisingly I have found myself thinking about the past, a lot. Of growing up. Of my parents at different ages and the things we did together and the lessons I learned from them. As I was experiencing these memories I would encounter a dark feeling that I couldn’t define. I was thinking about the past yet the present was creeping into it like an insidious darkness, infecting loving memories with the pain of today.
I would stop myself short. Cutting off this horrible turn of thought. I realize now that by cutting myself off I was preventing my ability to understand what was going on in my mind. As I would stop thinking about it, stop trying to understand it. It needed to stir the soup. If I hadn’t allowed myself to go back into these thoughts I’d never have been able to realize what they meant. I’d not have been able to rationalize it or integrate it into who I am.
So what on earth was happening?! It was dreadfully simple actually. In my mind I was imagining Matthew at four, five, nine, twelve years old. And that Matthew was also losing his parents. As I experienced this a darkness made me feel like I had lost my parents at those ages. It hurt. A lot. Yet there was a nuance, and a complexity as to why I was feeling this was; it was the fact I am a father. The thought of losing my father was being projected into my children, I was then imagining how they felt in their loss and then I was transposing myself into the mind of my children and subsequently imagining I was their age and I was losing a parent… at that age. It started by thinking about my children as 3 and 5 year olds. Then being a human I couldn’t help but model that out to other ages. Before I knew it anytime I was thinking of a childhood memory the same affect would happen. My parents would die in the past.
It. Was. Horrible.
And then I stirred the soup.
And it stopped.
Everyone experiences, and handles, grief differently. We all have our own weirdness’s. We are all fucked up. We are all human. We all have a unique path and experience in this world and all of that affects how we see, feel and interact with our own reality. So when we are faced with the most devastating grief we have ever experienced we will all handle it differently.
And if we don’t stir the soup we will congeal with a false normality, we will get stuck in our dark thoughts and we will not integrate those thoughts into our experience and we will never truly heal.
Stir the soup.