28 February 2011

Why We Write About Grief, By JOYCE CAROL OATES and MEGHAN O’ROURKE, Published: February 26, 2011 (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/weekinreview/27grief.html?scp=1&sq=grief%20&st=cse)

I read "Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion, a few years and opened it again when a friend sent it to me months ago. What I got from that short look and re-reading a few chapters was how miserable Didion was for the entire year after her husband's death. Although she certainly seemed to grow during her year, she was still pretty miserable at the end of it. When I read that, it gave me pause. I was still pretty miserable and I wanted to get out of it. I wanted to pick the wild card and go directly to home, bypassing all the muck that I saw ahead of me. I really didn't want to be miserable for a year, but as my own year mark gets closer, I see no alternative. I figure I will be miserable in July, but I will not be paralyzed. Didion wrote a book. Miserable or not. I

I have not sought out other grief books and reading the Times article I was surprised to see that there are more. Right now, I’d say I am not going to check any of them out but I liked what O’Rourke and Oates had to say in the article that I’ve posted above.

And so a few things from that article: Oates says: “The diarist doesn’t know how a scene will end, when it begins; she doesn’t know what the next hour will bring, let alone the next day or the next week; she is wholly unprepared for the most profound experience of her life — that her husband will die.” The morning that David died, I was sitting by his bed and tapping away on my key board. I was composing an email to my circle of friends, bringing people up to date, saying that David would probably be transferred to the rehab unit very soon. I remember the shock of going back and reading that hours later. When I wrote it, life was still as I had known it. On my first re-reading, I desperately wanted that time, that me back. I had no idea that David was breathing last breaths, that the infection was mounting a final attack. I was guardian of a scene that I could not fathom.

Oates says: “Later, I thought of composing “A Widow’s Handbook” — to offer advice to others who, like me, had been totally unprepared and naïve. But all that remains of this is a final, brief chapter of a single sentence — the essence of widowhood is to find a way, however desperate, to keep yourself alive.” Unprepared and naive. Oh, yes. Unprepared for the kind of tears, the time of shock and disbelief, the days of alone, the unwanted decisions of tomorrow. Unprepared to find that way of keeping myself alive. And naive to imagine that this was like some other experience. This was like losing something, someone else. Naive until some form of truth descends.

This morning I was in a nurses office answering questions so that I can buy some life insurance. She asked the cause of my mother’s death, and I hesitated. Of course, my mother did not find that way to keep herself alive. When no illness would take her, she allowed herself to die. Although I did not really understand her decision at the time, and still ponder a soul making such a decision, I have so much less judgment. She did what she did. Her church would call it a sin, and her church was useless to her in making her decision.

I cannot help to reflect back to the discussion of change and decisions that I had with various friends and relatives a few months ago. The overarching advice to wait to decide anything. Wait to heal. Wait to find yourself again. Wait before making major changes, before making any changes at all. I did some scoffing at that advice then, was chided, and retreated with my tail firmly between my legs. Maybe they were all right and I needed to wait until . . .

In truth, they were all wrong. Oates and O’Rourke talk about feeling that they could not conform to the “normal” conventions of mourning. They were embarrassed how their private and public lives collided. They found their own rhythm though the heat of grief. I see that now.

Around Christmas time, more than one person suggested that I appeared to be “over” David’s death. That my process certainly had seemed to move along quicker than the norm. That bothered me on a bunch of levels. I let myself believe that maybe I did not feel correctly or deeply enough, or worse, maybe I really did not know myself. Maybe I was in some deep valley of despair that I could not even recognize. To the extent that I listened to any of that criticism, I was very foolish. I knew myself. I knew what I wanted almost immediately after David died. I knew myself through that white hot pain. I have not changed in the least.

In a few days it will be the anniversary of David’s transplant. I remember a day after the operation when we talked about what we would do for this anniversary. I will do none of those things.

1 comment:

Carol said...

Follow your own instincts...this will guide you better than most people's advice on whether to move forward, stay in place or take a few steps back. And to the person in the last post who chastised you, forget it. She does not really know you. She was simply wrong to make a critique.

By the way, we hope to be in town in mid-May, 15-16 I think. If you are around, let us know. We'd love to connect. 773.960.8078 (cell phone).

Carol Brumer

Carol Brumer Gliksman