Sunday, February 8, 2009

Grief Revisited

I am remembering that grief is a sticky interconnected web, the pattern stretched across the branches of a life, one string tugging on another, all the thin threads held together in tenuous contact. My father died four weeks ago and except for moments by his bed that day and again on the morning of his funeral, my grief has not taken the form of tears. I am a crier, so this surprised me. I cry at Hallmark commercials. I cry when I see other people crying. Sometimes I cry when I'm simply in the room with somebody who I sense is holding back tears.

Last night the grief came in spasmodic waves. I had a cold, so I was already feeling punky and decided not to go out to hear a friend's band I had been hoping to hear. Instead I watched a movie. I had a few borrowed from a friend sitting around so rather than go out, I picked one off the pile. The Story of Us. About divorce. Besides the fact of a predictable story, poor acting and a Hollywood ending (in the worst sense of that phrase), it was a stupid choice. But I watched it to the end, for some unknown reason. It is the story of how a marriage falls apart. It's painful to watch.

My own marriage's demise had plenty of similarities to the movie's as well as numerous differences. But it struck enough uncomfortable chords to send me into a place of deep disappointment -- over how my marriage turned out and, truth be told, how my life has turned out. Whatever happened to all the untapped potential that seemed brimming over the edges of my life when I was 24? By 34 I had chosen to stay in a difficult marriage and given up some career opportunities to make that work. By 44 I had left that marriage and the whole career path and all of the places where I had put down tentative adult roots.

Each choice I made along the way had an internal logic. It's hard to imagine that I could have or would have wanted to make any different choices at any particular point. But now the patchwork of ups and downs creates a strange and dissonant work of art. How have I gotten to this place -- broke, underemployed, alone? Me, with so much energy and intelligence and joie de vivre? Me, with all the economic and educational advantages I've been given? Is there something essentially broken in me that keeps me from quite getting my act together, not quite making it work, not quite making the best choices?

My mantra this year has been kindness. Whatever else I do in my life, let me be kind. But even at that goal, I often feel like a failure. And so, suddenly, I am thinking of my father and I am overwhelmed with grief. He, who led a life that reached so many tangible goals, as well as creating such vital though less tangible connections. The stories of his compassion and generosity have been pouring in from both expected and unexpected sources over the past few weeks. He was a great man. I want to believe that I was not a disappointment to him or that, even in the ways that I was, this was more about his misplaced expectations than about any real failing on my part.

Even as I write this, I can sense some Jimmy Stewart angels appearing to show me my life. I'm nowhere near jumping off any bridges and I have no doubt that I've had my moments, I've touched some lives, I've done some good. But in recent years I have come up against far more closed doors than open ones. I want to believe that even closed doors serve a purpose. I'd like to think that life is shutting off certain possibilities to me so that I can turn in a new direction and discover new opportunities. But then the furnace dies and I spend a weekend in a cold house with my son wondering how I'll pay the bill on Monday when I get it working again. And vague potentialities lose their appeal. I want steady work and a man around the house, if you must know the truth. I would settle for one or the other.

It occurs to me that I write more when I'm down than when I'm up ... perhaps the weeks and months of no blogging can be a reminder to me that I've been very happy for most of this past year. And even this past week. And probably will be most of next week. But today I'm grieving -- for dad, for my marriage, for my career, for my furnace, for that 24 year old and all her hopes and dreams, for that 34 year old, confused and determined, for that 44 year old, piecing life back together after the center did not hold. Today the tears flow. So be it. So be it.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

Oh, honey....I could write volumes on this subject, but will just say that I know EXACTLY what you are talking about.

Hugs and prayers coming your way.


lj said...

I know you do, Dox. Bless you.

mr jones said...

LJ, I came upon this blog today because of a google alert for Generation Jones (I guess because you blogged today, google picked up an older blog you did about GJ). Anyway, I was touched by your blog about the grief you are feeling. My father recently died and I can relate personally. I just wanted to send you warm wishes and support as you grieve.

BTW, feel free to contact me if it feels like it would be helpful, I'd be happy to be supportive by phone or email. I'm not too comfortable putting my contact info in a blog comment, though (I didn't see any email address for you on this blog). You can reach me this way if you want: I am the person who coined the term GJ, my intitials are JP, and you can easily find contact info for me with a little googling.

Again, best of luck dealing with the sadness you are feeling. It will get better over time.

Kirstin said...


Let the tears go.

Diane said...


lj said...

Thanks, all. Today is a beautiful day and while the grief is still real, the little demons of despair have been put safely back into their closet.

PJ DeGenaro said...

Is there something essentially broken in me that keeps me from quite getting my act together, not quite making it work, not quite making the best choices?

You know, I could have written that question myself, and so could many of the people that I love best. I don't think the problem is with us, actually. It's the world. The world is set up for people who just go barreling through on snap decisions. (E.g.: those who have been running the show until recently and will probably escape unscathed.)

And grief is a thing that affects everyone differently. I cry about a hundred times a day, but when my father died I didn't cry at all. It was too big a thing, and besides, I knew it was coming, so I had sort of steeled myself beforehand. Whereas my sibs were all keening, practically. I just couldn't do that.

Glad you're feeling better now, anyway. Hugz.

lj said...

Thanks, Peej. For me another side to the question you quote is "What qualifies as having one's act together? How do we know which choices are right until we've lived through them?"

I mean, I've got a graduate degree, I'm a homeowner, I had 17 years in a successful career (whatever success is by church standards ... ), as broke as I feel, there is still money in the bank and other than my mortgage, I'm debt-free. And more to the point, I have loving relationships with my child, my parents, my friends, my ex.

And yet ... I expected to be a little more comfortable by now. Emotionally, financially, in terms of career. Not starting over at mid-life. But who set those expectations? And what would the cost have been to me to make different choices?

Don't listen to me today. I have the stomach flu and that's coloring my mood ... blech.

PJ DeGenaro said...

Oh sheesh. Never think about anything when you have tummy trouble. Even the things you love best look awful when you're nauseous or "on the run."

Feel better!!!!!!!

johnieb said...

I have never written it down, PJ and LJ, because I hear it in my head a dozen times or more most days.

Is it better, or worse, when you're socialized male who must never say it hurts, or least let the pain stop you? Saying it, FEELING it, becomes another task you shoulda done to make things better, but just don't have the energy.

Not listening to your grief is the last thing I want to do. I'll say that, when my Mama died a year and a half ago, the grief seemed to collect other griefs and,in my case, a forced retirement brought a number of such questions; why couldn't I ever make my life work, damnit? My therapist reminded me this week that I made it work far more than I commonly allow myself to admit.

When my marriage and my career ended at the same time, I was walking on Mr. Capra's bridge at least; I went through seven years of fear that I would end up on the streets for lack of income. I thought about suicide.

That part is over--thank Godde--and this part has begun; it has its own challenges, which I share from time to time with my friends here. And that helps. And it helps me when I know that I'm not the only one of us who has struggled, or is struggling, with these issues.

I not only want to hear your story, and to offer comfort and peace, I must do so, or I will surely perish, even if I keep on going to and fro upon this earth.

lj said...

JB, Thanks for coming over and sharing your pain and sharing in mine. I don't hang out on the blogs enough any more to know your story -- but marriage and career ending simultaneously -- that's a story I know all too well.

Yes, offering comfort to each other ... that's it, really, isn't it?

Paul said...

Offering comfort to each other. Indeed. Sometimes just by being there in silence. Sometimes dancing together and sometimes weeping and railing.

I cried when my father died and then not for another month. Suddenly the tears gushed forth again, and it was release and relief to be able to cry again. It is all so unpredictable and uncontrollable. I am glad you could weep again; it is a gift.

((( LJ )))

lj said...

The wave of grief one month after the death seems to be a fairly common experience, from what I'm hearing.

I had dinner with my mom last night and asked if she were lonely in the house. She paused and then said, "I'm really not. I sort of feel guilty about it."

But she had been lonely with my dad for years, as his capacities declined and conversations of significance disappeared.

I'm so glad she's not lonely. She's planning a road trip with a friend to New Orleans next month. Go Mom!

sharecropper said...

Sigh. Piecing life together is what we do every day. The quiet times of grieving make us more aware of that aspect of living - of the journey. and, the center does hold; sometimes I don't recognize it; sometimes the quietness of grieving makes me more and more aware of the real center of me, of the world, of God.

Now, several weeks after your post, I am holding you to the light and praying that you will look in your mirror and see a woman you love so that you may continue to love others.


Grandmère Mimi said...

LJ, what beautiful writing. Even those of us whose lives have moved on a more predictable trajectory have our moments wondering what the hell we've been about for many years of our lives. I know that I do.

I still grieve for my sister who died close to three years ago. Sometimes a few tears come, but not often now. I just want to see her, talk to her, read an email from her. It's better than it was, but I have the sense that I will never stop grieving for her.

As if you needed to hear that. Anyway, I will pray for you that you will find your way in this upside-down world of ours and that you will find heartsease about your father.

lj said...

Thanks, Mimi. You know, I'd never hear my own mother say these words: Even those of us whose lives have moved on a more predictable trajectory have our moments wondering what the hell we've been about for many years of our lives. So it's helpful to hear them from you.

I don't mind that grief will return. It's a good grief of missing someone I love, not a grief of regrets. In fact, I may post a little more about that later today.

Grandmère Mimi said...

LJ, only very small regrets with my sister, such as would be present in any relationship. She was my best friend. It's, as you say, a good grief. I'm glad yours is, too.