Grief Research

I realized today that I haven’t posted anything here for a month. It hasn’t been intentional. I’ve been conducting some research. Grief research, I suppose, but please don’t call it morbid. It’s good to think about and remember people we love.

Sunset, Lake Erie (Friday, May 14, 2021)

Last week, I inventoried the names of the old and the young and the in-betweens I’ve known who have died since 1983, the year my husband Bruce died. Feel free to skip to the next paragraph; this is for my own accounting. They are: my grandmothers (Katinka and Signe); Bruce’s father (Walt) and mother (Eileen); a sister-in-law (Gloria); another mother-in-law (Sylvia, my second ex’s mother); another father-in-law (Ed, my third ex’s father); another mother-in-law (Lilian, my fourth ex’s mother); friend Tammy (murdered); friend Brian (murdered); friend Tony (age 17, car accident); Hazel (age way older than I will probably live to be); uncles Ernie, Junior, Vic, and Al; aunts Ethel, Helen, Esther, Bertha and Louisa; great uncle Norman (died by suicide); friend Dave (accident); pets Sasha, Jake, Mathilda, Cooper, and Bungie; Dad’s brother/my uncle David; and finally, my dad.

I miss them all, and I especially miss my dad.

I thought I learned everything there was to know about grief when Bruce died, but having spent the better part of two years writing a memoir about how I learned (and am still learning) to live with grief, I can say for certain that grief isn’t exclusively linked to death.

Unshackle grief and you realize that grief is everywhere.

I grieve the loss of relationships with very much alive relatives and friends, who are better left unapproached due to politics or never-ending misunderstandings.  

I grieve that what I thought was reparable is irreparable. No fault, no blame, just things being what they are.

I grieve that I won’t be any younger than I am at this moment, that my knees and shoulders and elbows and wrists don’t serve me the way they once did.

I grieve the what-ifs. And there are so many what-ifs!

Grief is a line of dominoes. Once one is knocked over, a thousand more will fall, producing a thousand more changes, some as small as atoms. Mostly, though, grief is like the roots of an arborvitae that you yanked out years ago, and every year, when you dig a hole to plant something new, like bee balm or phlox, the arborvitae roots are tangled up in the soil, attached to nothing, but the roots remind you that you can’t rip out what is determined to be permanent.

I’m hardly a grief guru, and I wish I didn’t know so much about it, but I do, and no doubt you do, too, and I hope, like me, you’re not running away from those yucky, awful, gut-wrenching feelings that sometimes suck so bad you can’t breathe, or, at the very least, make you want to consume a handful of Hershey Kisses or a cheap-bread PB&J. (If you’re gonna do it, treat yourself to the good stuff.)

It’s OK. You’re not alone.

I read the following poem a few years ago, and I visit it every few months because it reminds me that pain in all forms is worthy of grief. It’s a terrific instruction on how not to and how to be a friend to yourself and to others who grieve whatever they’re grieving. #EllenBass

French Chocolates
by Ellen Bass

If you have your health, you have everything
is something that’s said to cheer you up
when you come home early and find your lover
arched over a stranger in a scarlet thong.

Or it could be you lose your job at Happy Nails
because you can’t stop smudging the stars
on those ten teeny American flags.

I don’t begrudge you your extravagant vitality.
May it blossom like a cherry tree. May the petals
of your cardiovascular excellence
and the accordion polka of your lungs
sweeten the mornings of your loneliness.

But for the ill, for you with nerves that fire
like a rusted-out burner on an old barbecue,
with bones brittle as spun sugar,
with a migraine hammering like a blacksmith

in the flaming forge of your skull,
may you be spared from friends who say,
God doesn’t give you more than you can handle
and ask what gifts being sick has brought you.

May they just keep their mouths shut
and give you French chocolates and daffodils
and maybe a small, original Matisse,
say, Open Window, Collioure, so you can look out
at the boats floating on the dappled pink water.

Also… Tara Brach is always a great resource for grief and healing, or if you just need a moment to breath.


2 thoughts on “Grief Research

  1. Your list is sadly lengthy, Lynn. You have my sympathy. I love your botanical analogy. Just 2 nights ago, I had a dream where my old BFF showed up. We were inseparable until she hooked up with a guy who was horrible to her and she didn’t want to hear my concerns. She was even one of my maids-of-honor before she dropped right out of my life. The few attempts at contact I’ve made have been ignored, so I tell myself that I am done trying. My subconscious obviously feels differently. It’s been 25 years, but I do still grieve the loss of that relationship. Have you read “Necessary Losses” by Judith Viorst? It was recommended by my therapist and has given me some good insight into loss and grief. Thanks for the food for thought!

  2. Thank you for the book recommendation! I will give it a look. I’m sorry about your friend. It doesn’t matter how much time goes by with some relationships; it still hurts that they’re gone. Dreams, though… People I haven’t seen in years (either by choice or death) pop up in my dreams sometimes, too, and it often throws me off for a while. I wrote somewhere in the memoir that I wish feelings had expiration dates!

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