Grief: Degrees of Grief

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Before you start reading this particular blog post, maybe you’d like to read the real time experience of my grief at: www.adeafinthefamily.com .  At that site, both Sam and I wrote blog posts.  It was OUR site.  It was about OUR life.

When he died, I started to write letters to him there, experimented with comic making to tell his story, and just tried to work my way out of the grief cocoon.  I wanted SO badly to feel like myself, but I had lost my muse.  I lost my editor.  I lost my biggest cheerleader and it crushed me.  It crushed me daily, then monthly, then yearly.

You may find those posts more interesting and more helpful to you if you are experiencing grief.  Sam passed away on his birthday in April 2014.  So I’d suggest you start there and work your way forward or backward.

Meanwhile….   This is my blog to help me work out the order that people experience grief, what it looks like in the different depths, and how people feel different degrees of pain.  It’s me trying to explain how people work themselves out or into it, etc.  Any replies would be awesome, and would help me figure all of this out, the order it needs to be discussed, and etc.  It is not in any order right now, and this is just my rough draft of an exploration of the degrees of grief.  Please feel free to contribute.

 

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The first time my heartstrings were tugged by grief was probably Disney’s Old Yeller.  I think just about every person my age, every Gen X’er, first sobbed at that movie.  I think I cried more when Old Yeller died than when my first dog died, though I didn’t see my dog die.  I did cry, but I was 8 months pregnant at the time.  I didn’t end up missing my dog, not because he wasn’t a really important part of my life to that point, but because in a few weeks after he passed, I had a brand new baby distracting me.  I do still think about him often.

Two years before my dog died, my father came to me and told me that my cat Mary-do, had been hit by a car and was outside beside the street.  I did cry then. A lot.  Mary-do was the first animal I brought home without permission.  She’d had kittens that we gave away.  She was named after my favorite teacher who gave the cat to me.  She slept in the bed with me.  My father was really good about it, dug her a grave there in the ditch by the street and even dedicated it and prayed over it.  I saw her broken little body on the road.  One of her eyes was knocked out of its socket.

Two years before even that, one of my friends died.  I had a dream that I was dancing with him and he was in a wheelchair.  My mother said I was supposed to marry him.  I thought she might have believed that (I was only 14 at the time) because there were only two young men in the ward.  He used to make fun of me when we were younger but my mother assured me all boys do that because they’re kinda stupid about how to express their affection.

I dreamed about him several times after that, even into adulthood.  It was strange.  I felt odd about it.  It was that place in between crying and not crying where any thought could direct you one way or another.

When my abuelo passed away, I was an adult with two children.  I rode on a bus to visit at his funeral with my two young kids.  My one year old threw up everything he ate for the entire trip from Texas to California.  All my Tia’s and Tio’s were very somber, but it was probably the first time all my cousins and siblings had been together in one room in close to a decade.  We, my cousins, siblings and I, sat around the table and quoted movies, laughed and joked after the graveside service at my Tia’s house in So Cal.

Some of my extended family didn’t appreciate the joy that we cousins were having in each other’s presence.  They felt we were not respectful enough.  Most of my cousins and I (I was 2nd oldest) were not close with my Abuelo.  I think what I missed most about him at that point was his VHS tapes and his prayers at Thanksgiving.  I don’t think I missed him and I don’t think I felt much empathy for the family that did and would.  So in that experience, I didn’t really learn anything about grief except Tia E. was really sad and kinda hopeless, and  I REALLY loved her.

Being an adult at that time, having two kids of my own, I thought maybe the reason I wasn’t as sad or empathetic was that I understood that there was life after death.  I really believed that.  I felt pretty close to my Abuela and my Grandmother (we called my Mexican grandma Abuela and my Norwegian Grandma by the english word so there was never any confusion about them and they were quite different) but I did not cry when either died.

Once, when I was still married to my ex husband and I had just given birth to a premature baby boy, my ex got sick enough to be admitted into ER.  I went to church one day with all my little ones, and I just started to cry and couldn’t stop.  By this point, our marriage was falling apart, and the only thing keeping me together at that time was the teeny tiny baby in my arms and the church.  I think maybe that was the closest to grief I had ever been.  It was a sense of hopelessness that I couldn’t resolve alone.  It was a situation I never did resolve.

My ex would always say he was “not a bad man.”  The problem was, he wasn’t really a good man either.  And he knew it.  I don’t know how I ended up pregnant, honestly, I wasn’t supposed to be able to conceive the last two children I had.  I think it was having a girl that made me start to look at what was going on in the marriage was not good.  Our marriage was dying as soon as he stopped going to church.  It was a long, slow, excuse filled diseased process that took us to several locations/homes and several jobs.

Two years after my youngest of 4 was born, the ex and I were divorced.

Lots of people think there is a sort of grief process to go through with divorce.

Maybe…

I was just trying to adjust to being a single mother.  I had always wanted to be a mom, even more than I wanted to be an astronaut and a writer.  Losing that ability was what I grieved.  I still mourn that loss, but it’s nothing like losing a spouse or a child and that comparison might even be offensive to the sensibilities of many who experience both divorce and losing someone very close to them.

So what can you compare the loss of a loved one to?

After Sam, my late husband died, my friends and acquaintances would approach me and ask me how I was doing and how I felt.  I would say that I felt as if I had lost a limb: an arm or even a leg and the phantom pain was indescribable.  I couldn’t explain it.  Not well, in any case.  And I understood at that moment, that until then, I never understood, or felt, grief at all.

Think of it like this: when you accidentally cut your finger to the bone, you still have a finger.  Sometimes you lose a little sensation in it, but you can still use it as you use a finger:  Even with stitches and a band aid, even with pain, that finger is there and can be both a hinderance and an asset.  When you cut OFF your finger, that is “real” loss of use of your finger.  You can’t do things you could do before.  A finger that has been cut off is not usable as a physical asset anymore.   But when you lose a limb, you don’t become something or someone different.

Experiencing that kind of grief was like being, or becoming someone completely different.  Someone I didn’t even know.  I could remember who I had been, and all the things I could do as that person, but for some reason, I could no longer draw upon those experiences to bring an equivalent action.  I couldn’t write. I couldn’t think. I made stupid decisions I should have known better than to make but for some reason I couldn’t think clearly.  It was like losing a part of my body that made decisions WITH me.

I could only compare it to trying to play baseball with one arm or one leg, knowing how well I played it with all my limbs intact.  It’s awkward, strange and alien, but it’s the new you.

Most of the time… I didn’t like the new me.