The Hand of Grief

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Grief is a strange thing, indeed.  It shapes our existances in so many fashions.  Grief alters, reroutes, splinters, and regroups.  It comes in many disguises.  It ebbs and fades, but is a constant partner once you’ve met it, until you draw your last breath.  Grief is there in some way or another.

One can grieve for many deaths other than that of the physical.  I have grieved for lost time, choices made or unmade; even memories and years that are spent.  Holding onto them is not the same has holding onto a grudge.  I mourn these things and move on, but they’re still apart of me; of the human existances that I encapsulate in this realm of time and space.  I’ve let go, which is the biggest difference in that of a grudge.  There’s no animosity, it just won’t leave, which is the way, I suppose, life works.

But mainly grief encompasses tragic losses of a more personal and physical nature; the death of a physical being rather than the death of time.  Oh, one can group both together, but one can never truly understand the awe inspiring and ground shaking feeling of true grief unless they have lost a someone, rather than a something.  I’m not saying it’s a sick competition it’s just the very thing to experience when someone utters the age-old line, “Once you’ve felt it, you’ll know.” simply because there are no words to accurately describe it.

I could say it’s like someone taking your action figure and smashing it in front of you… and multiply that by 50 or a thousand, or even a million; but without ever having felt that ‘times a million’ one simply can not fathom its great crushing.  And the people who have been through that ‘times a million’ need no words to express it to the others who’ve gone through it.  Simply saying ‘I’m grieving the death of a loved one’ is all the explanation needed.  It’s like being on the same wavelength as with a kindred spirit and finishing each others sentences or just one word holding all of the meaning in the world between the two of you.  There’s no need for words, even if there were words to spare.

I didn’t understand grief until I was thirteen, when my only grandfather died; whom I’ll add, I was very close to.  I’d seen people who’d lost someone, I’d heard people try to describe it, and was frustrated when they said I wouldn’t understand until I was there, since I was trying to understand it then in the moment.  But they were right.

And the line, “Everyone grieves differently” is certainly true.  My dad, uncle, aunt, cousin, sister, and grandmother were all heavily in grief over his death, but everyone showed it very differently.  There was avoidance of the death, as in ‘lets go out and eat and not discuss anything about grandpa or that he just died’.  They weren’t heartless, they just couldn’t deal with it… yet.  Others wailed and cried, while some didn’t cry at all.  Others were stoic and completely lost like a raft at sea.

I ran away and hid.  I locked myself in my grandparents bedroom (because my grandmother was sleeping on the couch in the den).  I didn’t eat.  I didn’t see people.  I cried alone.  I grieved alone.  I wasn’t suicidal, I just couldn’t be so personal in front of everyone else.  I still miss him and it’s been 23 years since he died.  Sure I don’t lock myself in a room and cry and cry and refuse food.  But out of nowhere it’ll hit me on some pleasant, random Tuesday and I mourn.

Everyone moved on, so far as life can move on when a loss has occurred.  We were finished with cemetery visits and daily bouts of crying, but everyone had changed, even if slightly.  Some withdrew into themselves, some became more open.  Some could talk about grandpa in those following years, when others could not.  My grandmother appeared to be the same; busy with housework and crafts and sewing, but she made little changes, like erasing grandpa in weird ways at first.

She had the main bathroom repainted in pinks and a different washstand and mirror put in… and moved all of my grandfathers cologne into that medicine cabinet, instead of leaving it in hers.  Odd little things like that.  Then after a few years, every visit brought about a mostly slackened grandmother.  The bed I slept in wouldn’t be made, at first.  Visits down the line saw her having to clean the room up first and then make the bed until eventually there was no room to utilize because she’d just piled things in there.  The gardening slowly waned and stopped, the house cleaning petered out until there was nothing but chaos with her sitting in a chair with everything she needed beside her.  This was how she grieved through to the end of her life.

This death of my grandfather was, of course, tragic in that his death was a direct result of hospital negelgance; however I like to look at these things as a ‘it was simply their time’ sort of way.  It makes me feel better.  Besides who’s to say that my grandfathers number wasn’t up, so to speak.  Perhaps he was supposed to go in a different manner, but perhaps it was in this way, and what if the date is always struck for a person?

I was very bitter about his death though, for a long time, because while he wasn’t young, he was only  72.  I might could have had ten more years with him, and possibly more.  I was sad and angry and bitter and withdrew.  It could be said that my grief was amplified by my newly blossoming teenage angst, but I believe that those feelings would have been there regardless.

Then there was the death of my brother, only having just celebrated his 37th birthday a few weeks before.  His death was hopelessly tragic and at the same time bittersweet.  He’d been collecting information, trying to make it easier for us to come and live in the town he was currently residing in.  All of us, as a family again.

Then on the day after Christmas, while we were driving down the highway to visit my dads family in another state, we all had this urge to call him on the phone.  We would call him on holidays, but never in a collective state, nor ever while driving in a car.

There are always regrets associated with death.  “I should have known.”  “I should have done something.” A million shoulda, woulda, coulda’s encompass you after a death, which is why I suppose there is that saying of “Hind-sight is 20/20” meaning that looking back and having all of the information you can see the entirity of the situation so clearly.  However, that’s now how life works.  In a moment, you don’t have all of the facts, and you simply make judgements and execute orders based on the then and now.

In the moment, while driving 65 down that highway, we were just all suddenly in agreement to call him right then and there.  We were in a good mood and laughing.  He seemed sleepy, and we all just assumed that we’d woken him from a nap or he’d had a late night the evening before.  No one thought twice about it; about his behavior.

Did we know that he was diabetic?  Absolutely!  We’d known from the first time he was found unconcious after taking a tumble down his exterior apartment stairs about 10 years prior.  It never even crossed our minds, in the moment, that he might be sufferently from the first intimations of a diabetic coma.  Is that what was happening to him?

Yes.

He was lying there dying as we gayly spoke to him on the phone, all of us without a care in the world.  We’d find all of this out three weeks later when he was found dead in his apartment, with the coroner saying he’d slipped into a diabetic coma and died, on the sofa with the phone in his hands, sometime around the 26th.

Of course the first we heard I was alseep in bed, which was positioned exactly where this desk is now that I’m using to type this.  My mother came in wailing that her son was dead.  After I ascertained that my brother was really dead, I ran to the bathroom and vomited.  The kind of hysterical vomiting that will burst blood vessels in your face and eyes.  I ended up doing that again on the morning of his funeral too.

It wouldn’t be until a few days after I was woken by that news that we’d find out all of the hauntingly macabre particulars.

What can one do in that situation?  How can one go on in life unless they reassure themself of something?  How does one go on, knowing that they let their own brother die, and in such a morbid way?

You think about the fact that hind-sight is 20/20.  You think about perhaps that people are meant to die when it’s their time and that everything happens for a reason.  You find some sort of solace in the fact that you were there with him when he left; being the last people to speak to him as it happened.  You try to live by the mantra of ‘no regrets’.  And basically you try not to think about the particulars.

Since I’m writing about grief, I won’t leave this out.  It’s been 11 years and 5 months since my brother died, and in writing this post; of recounting the tale of his death, I had a brief moment of mourning.  It was not the same intensity, I did not feel the need to vomit.  But the same feelings of initial grief washed over me.  All of the horror and utter loss and saddness, and I cried.  And I just cried again.  And now I am flooded with a feeling of hollowness, the same as I felt initially.  It never leaves.  Ever.

People say it gets better; it gets easier, and they are right.  But you’ll never shake it.  It’s always waiting, like some weird cousin of death, just standing beside you waiting.  You’ll have loads of good days, even months, perhaps even a good year; and then all of a sudden Grief will think that you need a reminder and gently lay it’s hand of All Loss upon your heart, and everything will come rushing back and you’ll grieve all over again.

It’s better and easier because there is a bit of truth in the old adage of “time heals all wounds.”  Grief is a wound.  It’ll never completely heal, but time will help it to not be a huge gaping maw of tissue.  Like skin scabbing over a wound for lack of a more pleasant terminology.  You’ll never really get to that completed stage of epidermis that looks like nothing ever happened to it.  You’ll have all of the other stages or crusty scabs that fall away and reveal rawness beneath, or even that new pink layer with no more scab.  In rare cases, you’ll reach the completed stage, but you’ll be marred, like the person who’s got a huge grisley gash scar across their face.

In the after years, grief messes with you.  You might not even completely fathom what is happening for awhile, you’ll just go through the motions.  There’s no telling what else grief has led me to, but only recently am I realizing just some big things it has done.

A lot of death has occured in this very room where I now sit.  It was my bedroom from 1993 – 2008.  Learning about the death of my grandfather, one of my aunts, my maternal grandmother, and my brother.  A significant loss as well as the loss of my beloved cat, plus numerous cats that met horrible ends all in the span of a month (& I couldn’t handle it and withdrew from University over that).  And all of the grieving that ensued from all of these losses.  In 2008, I simply decided to move rooms.  I just needed to be back in my old childhood room (1980-1993), so I tackled that huge undertaking, singlehandedly, and seemingly in a zombie-like state.

Only now am I beginning to see the signifigance.  My childhood room isn’t tainted by death.  It never was.  It was like my very soul couldn’t handle all of the ghosts of loss still lingering in here.  I had a lot of grief and mourning wrapped up inside of these walls.  At the time I only felt the strong need to move rooms.  Now I’m looking on it with a new type of wonder.

As far as my childhood bedroom goes, there’s a bit more to it than a clean slate.  There is a regret I have never gotten over regarding my grandfather.  When they’d come to visit, he’d ask if my room was clean.  It never was and we’d spend silent moments straightening it up and folding my clothes.  I always hated myself for that.  Why couldn’t I have cleaned it just once for him?  The other item is that the room was used as an extra bedroom and later office for me.  The very last time that my brother was here, he stayed in that room.

I’ve also realized that I have transfered and stored my grief into containment units.  Boba Fett action figures to be exact.  I always liked Boba Fett, but it was my brother who was obsessed with him basically.  In life Boba Fett was synonimous with my brother.  If we watched Star Wars, he’d route for Fett; if we played Star Wars Monopoly, it was an automatic given that he’d be using the Fett playing token.  You simply didn’t dispute it.

A few months following his death I obtained the DS game, Lego Star Wars.  All I could think about while playing it was that my brother would have played with me, since it was only the two of us who were ever really into arcade/video games, plus he’d absolutely have been Lego Boba Fett in the game.  But he was gone, so it was up to me to take up the reigns and be Boba Fett when playing Star Wars Monopoly or Lego Star Wars, and that if I didn’t choose to be that character, then it wouldn’t play.  Period.

And then I suddenly became Boba Fett crazy.  I like action figures, but I only want particular ones; and I never search far and wide to obtain them, not do I spend a lot for them when I do find them.  Like I wanted Hoth Leia and Han eight or ten years ago, and happended upon then on sale in a store, so yay.

The same was not true for my Boba Fetts.  The first I obtained was Lego Boba Fett.  There was this need to have it.  My brother had never even played the Lego Star Wars games, but I’d made a connection to it regardless.  I searched everywhere and all I could find was one that was kitted out to be a necklace charm online for $15.  I purchased it.

The next two were purchased at about the same time, but did not have the same duration of search.  I wanted the actual Kenner action figure of Boba Fett.  The re-issue because who can afford the original, right?  It took me years to obtain it and I paid about $15 for him.  The last was when they came out with miniature Star Wars people that were in a semi-squated stance, I suppose for younger kids to be able to play with them?  I had some people like Admiral Ackbar and an Ewok because I like those characters and they were inexpesive.  But, I ended up buying Boba Fett for a third time, this time complete with his ship The Slave II, for about $25.

And it was over.  Perhaps the third one was on a whim, and really all I had needed was the Kenner action figure.  But then 3 is a magical number supposedly, so maybe I needed that many.

It was only the other day that I actually looked.  I participate in some photo-a-days, and I was looking around my room for something that fit with that days prompts, like I do… however, this time I really looked at what I had instead of merely scanning.

“I have three Boba Fetts.  Who needs three?  But they took me so long to obtain, I should keep them…  oh my god… this is my grief.”

I transfered my grief into objects that are my brother.  Obviously I know that my brother is not, nor ever was Boba Fett, but I used his connection of liking Boba Fett to  tell my brain that he is Boba Fett, and since I’d lost my brother I needed to get him back, apparently triple time.  And I just used them to funnel my grief over him, into them.  I think subcontiously, that’s why I will only ever glance over them and not really see them, because my mind knows what we did, even if it took me years to work it out.

So, I moved rooms and purchased action figures in triplicate to transfer and deal with my grief.  Honestly, I had a ‘what in the hell!?’ moment this week over that realization dawning.  As I said, grief does weird things and manifests in strange ways.  Sometimes benign, as I think mine are (I mean I didn’t pay $200 for a Fett action figure, or collect a million of them… and I don’t talk to them or anything) to the more detrimental, like the people you see on the telly show Hoarders, where they can’t let go of anything because they can’t deal with loss (because a person died) and then BAM! they end up living in deplorable conditions.

Sure I had a difficult time letting actual things go, at first.  I wanted to keep everything of my grandmothers or of my brothers.  I had a Star Wars lunchbox that I’d purchased before his death and kept all sorts of weird and random trinkets that had belonged to him within it.  After a few years of sneaking peaks at their hidden contents, I no longer needed them.  I dispersed photographs into other people’s photo albums or framed one or two really good ones to hang on the wall.  I kept the book that was returned to us, which was the last gift we ever gave him.  I kept the four postcards that he sent me when he was in the Navy.  And I chucked the rest because it held no special meaning for me, except for the fact that my brother once made it , or owned it.

There were ever only a few things that made their way back from my brothers death, so it was not too difficult to part with the bulk of it after a few years.  However, my maternal grandmother, well, we got half the estate.  Obviously it went to my mother, but going through the house I could have what her and my aunt didn’t want.  And some of it was merely me grasping at staws; some last semblance of her.  I have wittled it away over the past twelve years, keeping only what really brings me joy in thinking of her.  The few things that really do contain sentimental value and knowing that the rest means nothing and should no longer be kept.

Really this post all started with my aunts letter stating her intention for a short visit. It had my brain whirring with all sorts of memories.  And on seeing her again, the loss of times past flooded to the foreground of my mind, along with her mention of that house as a feature in a magazine.

It’s a complicated tale, which I won’t go into today, but my brother is heavily connected to that aunt and to my maternal grandmother and one memory leads to another and they all lead to him, as well as to her, but I’ve skipped her death (& my grief over it) from this post.

And it’s the little things that keep me marching forward.  That I did add his four postcards to my postcard wall, even though up high so I wouldn’t have to see them if I didn’t want to; but that I still have them and can read them should I wish (which is important because my brother never wrote.  He could, he was educated, but what boy likes to write letters?  So, they are all that I have of him in writing and they brought such joy in the moments in which they were received.), or that I can remember his humour and his laugh, or that we called him that one time to tell me we were at a haunted house (which he thought was awesome), or that one time we surprised him with a visit while we were on holiday to Colonial Williamsburg, or that he wanted us to live with him, wanted us close, and that we were with him at the very end of it all.

And there’s little, everyday things that keep me going; help me to get out of bed in the morning and to face a new day.  The Sisters’ aromatherapy classes, special events and exhibits at the local libraries, or that tomorrow we can make hamburgers.

Small things are weird, but I can’t look at the bigger pictures of the past or what the distant future may hold, because then I’d only be crippled with meloncholy.  I can’t dwell on who might die next or if I’ll end up alone.  The local library had The Golden Girls and I get to rewatch a show that makes me happy.  I’ll get to see my most favourite film of all time in the movie theatre.  There are cat family members to cuddle.  I might get something fun and happy in the post today.  Today my parents and sister are alive, and today might be a fun day where dad comes up with one of his random great ideas or where The Sister acts goofy.

That is what I focus on; putting one foot in front of the other towards unknown destinations, still trying to see the good in everything like Pollyanna, which is a movie I’ve always loved.  Trying not to get mired down in unhappy nonsense or thoughts of despair.  Knowing that grief will lay it’s hand on me again through new deaths and old alike and I’ll simply need to face them head-on when they appear.

 

 

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