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.