Saturday, November 25, 2017

Grief and gratitude

"The demons and devils, the saints and the angels
Had gathered to show me the view
And all of the tears that had come when I met you
Were shining and bright as the dew."

Just when you think that you're over the hump, that you've accepted the changes in your life, that you've absorbed the loss and made peace with the present - it all crashes down again.

I think I went more than a week without tears. And ironically, right smack in the heart of this season of counting blessings and being grateful, on this very day of thanks-giving*, the heart heaviness is happening again.

In her blog, A Bead for my Heart, child-loss survivor and grief advocate Angela Miller writes about the "heartbreaking juxtaposition of contradictions" that is the nature of being simultaneously both deeply sad for loss and deeply thankful for blessings.
As bereaved parents we are forced to learn the art of holding infinite space for both .... Our hearts hold both the blessings and the trials, the joy and the pain ....

We are grateful and we are grieving.

The former can’t cure the latter, and the latter doesn’t negate the former.
So there it is in a nutshell. You can grieve and at the same time, be grateful.

Of course I acknowledge the profound divide between grieving the loss of a child and grieving some abstract, nebulous loss, like the loss of a house and a familiar way of life. Therein lies the guilt and shame.

Grief, guilt and shame. And gratitude. I am home to all these four things today.

The worm turned yesterday, sometime in the middle of the day. I'd been organizing my office. With new storage pieces from Ikea and plastic bins from Target, I made a certain amount of order out of chaos. I'm still waiting for a tall chest we bought to arrive, and to buy a desk with some drawer space. I still have many bins of tissue wrapped beads and supplies to be dealt with, I'm still missing some particular items that I'd like to find and work with sooner than later, but I was making progress.



It was a mild day and I took a cup of coffee out to the screened porch to sit in one of the comfy chairs in the sun, and I fell asleep. I woke up feeling loggy. Neil and I were talking about going to look at desks at a furniture warehouse two towns away and he thought we might go that day. He had the idea that we could combine the outing with dinner at a nearby pizza place. He had some things to do and I wanted to walk on the treadmill, so he suggested I walk first while he did his things and then took a shower.

It was 4 pm when I got off the treadmill and it struck me that our plan was flawed. By the time we drove to the place, if it was even still open on the afternoon before Thanksgiving Day, it would be getting dark. One of the changes I'm trying to adjust to is the half hour less of daylight here. And really, who wants to shop late in the afternoon on the day before Thanksgiving? The staff would be wanting to close up. We'd be feeling rushed. So I suggested we defer the trip.

I think Neil was annoyed because he'd showered and put on jeans to go out. I hate it when he's disappointed, so I suggested he call and see if the furniture place would be open. He didn't want to do that. I felt responsible for agreeing to a plan, then later realizing it was a bad plan. Neil said he was going for a walk. I'd just gotten off the treadmill and didn't really want to walk, but offered to go because I know he prefers that.

The first thing we did was argue. We argued about Christmas decorations. We've never put them up before. Our old neighborhood was very ethnically diverse and decorations were more the exception than the rule. Now suddenly, seeing people starting to string Christmas lights, Neil wanted to display a large Christmas bauble his daughter had sent him so that, in her words, we'd "fit in" to the neighborhood. You have to display it, she'd said.

I have no idea why I felt so resistant. I have no idea why Neil felt so insistent.

We've always been on pretty much the same page when it comes to holiday decorations. But this time we bickered about it for most of the walk.

The undercurrent of tension persisted through dinner and the long evening. At some point I came to my senses and said, OK, put out your Christmas decoration, I really don't care.

I couldn't win for losing. Nothing I said or did was right. Neil was frustrated with me for still being sad about being here and also, he said, because I always have to have things my way, i.e., I'm "always right." The first might be fair but I don't think the latter is. We both like to have things our own way, to be right, but I give in to him as often as he does to me. He doesn't always know that, because I simply agree or go along without making a big deal about it.

He wasn't happy to have the talk we had about it all either, but I said it was important and productive. He chalked that up to me always having to be right, to me having to get my way again.

Still, it cleared the air a little, and I was able to stop crying and go to bed resolving to make today 100 percent pleasant and zero percent confrontational.

So far so good. We had a buffet turkey day dinner at the North Harbor Club. I made an effort to put on a dress and jewelry and even some makeup and I styled my hair a little bit more than my usual pony tail. I spritzed on some scent to make up for not washing it.

Neil said I looked nice. He even took my picture on his phone. When I showed it to me, I immediately said, I look like my grandma. That's not a crime, my grandma happened to be a very elegant lady, very trim and coiffed, and it's my impression, based on memory, that she carried herself gracefully, if not regally. I could learn a few things from her.

I don't usually look at people, I'm not usually observant or interested, but I did look around and there were quite a few couples having the dinner buffet, it wasn't all happy families and large groups of friends.

And now Neil is watching football, or possibly Star Trek reruns. He said he wants to go for a bicycle ride and I said, I hope you do. Because I want to walk on the treadmill. And pretty soon we'll read and watch something on TV and we will have survived this holiday and tomorrow life will go on.

After much confusion, contradictory advice, and rending of hypothetical garments, I've ordered the last parts I need to hook up my torch. I'm waiting to find out the lead time, keeping my fingers crossed that they will all be in stock. I'm hoping that when I am creating again I will find more emotional equilibrium.

I'm sure I'll have funnier stories to tell too, especially if I go back to selling online, which still is a big question mark in my mind.

First things first though, and that means getting my torch running and seeing how much of a learning curve I'll have using natural gas, whether making beads is like riding a bicycle or if I'll be working on basic skills again.

And most of all, if this long break has given my muse a kick in the pants, or if she just spent the time eating bon bons and getting fat.


I dreamed that I saw you once down in Morocco
Your clothes were so old they were new
You spoke to the Bedouins in their own language
Of silver and crimson and blue
They said that your singing had altered their vision
And yet nothing really had changed
The dust from the desert rose up from your eyelids
You said you had conquered the chains

The white wind around us, as we stood there talking
Was blowing the stars from the sky
I said, make all the beauty you made long ago
And the dervishes whirled while you cried
You said, hold me against you, the weather is calling
My mind is the color of stone
And I wrapped the green silk around your thin body
And knew you would never come home

The wind and the sun and the sky in your eyes
Were driving you mad I could see
And in any language I knew they were saying
The future is cutting us free

We walked in the desert, your hands were like velvet
You told me the reason you’d stayed
All of the women whose hearts had been broken
Stood naked and cool in the shade
The men in the village were called to their worship
Their colors had started to fade
The shelter of heaven had lifted forever
Their eyes were the color of jade

The wind and the sky and the sun in your eyes
Were driving you mad I could see
And in any language I knew they were saying
The future was cutting us free

I left to fly back to the place I was sleeping
Where all of my dreams had been lost
I wrote your name down on the back of a postcard
And finally I counted the cost
The demons and devils, the saints and the angels
Had gathered to show me the view
And all of the tears that had come when I met you
Were shining and bright as the dew

The wind and the moon and the sun in my eyes
Were driving me mad I could see
And in any language I knew they were saying
The future was cutting us free.
Free.


(Judy Collins, Morocco)

*written November 23, Thanksgiving Day 2017.

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz