On Grief

April 17, 2009

I’ve always looked my demons straight in the eye. Stared them down. Beat the holy crap out of them until they gave up their hold on me.

In a therapist’s office. Talking it over with girlfriends. Alone in the early hours of the morning. It never matters. I just know that the only way past something is straight through it.

No one likes to grieve, but it simply must be done. Most of us want to skip that step. But it’s a bad idea. There’s a certain amount of wallowing in it that’s necessary.

And if you don’t let yourself feel grief, it sneaks up on you, the way monsters jump out from under your bed.

Such was the case the other day at the gym.

I was early. I’d wrapped my hands (yes, I can now do that myself) and sat outside the far corner of the boxing ring, waiting the 15 minutes for class to begin. I could hear the dull echo of weight machines, their heavy blocks rising and falling in the dim, humid cavern of the boxing gym. I sat quietly.

And suddenly, I was overcome with a wave of grief so powerful that my eyes welled up.

With the significant and wonderfully joyful things that are now going on in my life, it’s been easy to ignore how much loss I’ve experienced in the past year. Loss that I hadn’t taken time to feel.

Grief that I’d ignored. Pain I’d avoided.

It started early, too. In March of last year, when I packed up most of my beloved condo in Pacific Grove to prepare it for sale, I was in the throes of my next-to-last breakup with the DH2B, before he became DH2B.

Many people love the Monterey peninsula but to me, it was not only beautiful but it resonated with peace and creativity. I always longed for and loved the fog, the ocean, the ice plant in the spring. It is probably the most significantly soulful place on earth for me. Even DEX3 still lived there, across the street from me, with his new wife, in a strange twist of fate that was both aggravating and comforting.

DH2B and I spent many wonderful days together in the condo; I’d bought it the week I met him and the place reeked of him.

His parents’ second home was up the street. They were avid walkers, as were we, and we’d often run into them. Riley loved his puppy walks down Lighthouse Avenue and loved it when his “Grammy” would walk down to meet us. He recognized her blocks away and got so excited it seemed like his little tail would wag right off.

At the condo, each box was agony to pack, like ripping a limb off or a stab in the heart.The thought that I wouldn’t live there again—I couldn’t wrap my head around it. And Big Sur—my heart ached already with missing it: Nepenthe, Big Sur Bakery, the Henry Miller Library, all of it.

As I filled boxes, I could almost see DH2B lumbering down the walkway in his windbreaker, that damn burgundy shirt and those gay-boy boots they made him wear for a while at work.

Ghosts. The place was full of them.

I sat at lunch that winter week with DH2B’s mother and out of nowhere, burst into tears. She’d have wrung her hands, if she’d been a handwringing type,

DH2B and I made up then, but it didn’t last the year. That final time, I couldn’t cry.

Until the day on the dirty blue steps to the boxing ring.

If it wasn’t enough to mourn his loss, there were his parents. Both are writers, interesting people more like peers than parents almost 80, loving, welcoming; they made me feel like family and they felt like mine.

He was a package deal and there were many good things about it. A good chunk of what I loved about my life went with him. Another goodbye in what seemed like a lifetime of them.

Then, my father died, just a couple months later.

I can still his eyes the week before he died, mutely pleading…what? I didn’t know. He held my hand with the same tight grip that held chin-up bar every day at the YMCA. For decades.

Taken by dementia, he’d been largely gone for years. And yet, no matter how many times he wasn’t sure who we were, there was still that spark of life, that thing that made
him “Dad”.

Until he died just short of his 89th birthday.

So much I wish I could’ve told him, that last decade, but the concepts couldn’t get past the tangled wires in his brain. Time rushes by, at this age, but that last decade seemed to last forever.

When you are finally orphaned, your own age and mortality are unavoidable and, whether you know it or not, you grieve your loss of youth almost as much as you grieve your parent.

When I returned to Tampa, still grieving, there was trouble at work. Painful, inhuman, stupid trouble that sent me silently over the edge the very next morning. No time to grieve; survival was at stake. I knew it was time to make my plan to leave. I just had to cowgirl up and get on with it.

I needed to plan my “out” –who had time to be sad?

Then, one of my closest friends dumped me. It was more about her than it was me, but her leaving left a huge void, no matter how I justified it.

And I got to do March all over again the following February, when I returned to move the final few things out of the condo to prepare it for rental. And on the same trip, San Jose, to move out of the apartment that DH2B and I had rented before the final break in December.

So much loss un-mourned for so long. Until tears finally came, one spring night in the boxing gym.

Things die for a reason. Relationships, people, friendships, living situations—they sicken and die because something’s wrong. Not right, Dysfunctional. Or they outlive their useful ife.

You can’t really go back to it, once it’s sickened, either. Or once it’s worn out.

And you wouldn’t want it in that form, anyway.

My father was old. It was his time.
My relationship was flawed, it was time.
My friendship had evolved beyond its useful life for us both.
My job was dysfunctional, it was past its time.
My life had moved away from the Monterey peninsula. I couldn’t remain bicoastal.

That’s just how it is.

There are incredible, wonderful new things in my life now. Things that are getting figurative standing ovations. Things and people that I love.

I’m happy.

And yet, loss still must be grieved.

My grief takes nothing away from my happiness and excitement.

It is, in the best sense of the word, a testament to the significance of the people and things that made up my past.

With my grief, I honor it all and bid it farewell.

It’s time.

Just because they die, she said, doesn’t mean they go away.–Storypeople

(all drawings from Storypeople)

2 comments on “On Grief
  1. TJ says:

    I can feel your pain. I’ve always hated it when someone would tell me “it will get better in time”. Seems shallow when said, but true. A good cry like you had is a needed therapy.

  2. Diana Strinati Baur says:

    It’s an important post. I understand what you are saying, and you are right. Thank you for putting this out there. Cowgirl up.

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