I want to talk about my grief.
I don’t want to talk about my grief.
I don’t want pity for the sake of pity. I don’t want to be handled or coddled or treated as frail. I don’t want people to avoid me the way people sometimes do when a subject makes them uncomfortable. I don’t want to be seen as different or as anything less than me.
But I want people to know that I am grieving. Because when I don’t laugh as loud or as long as I used to, or when I want to be alone for no good reason, or when my eyes become glossy and unfocused and I seem like I’m suddenly a thousand miles away, I want you to know it’s okay. I’m okay.
Everyone I know has been wonderful and supportive and I feel lucky beyond words for this. Even so, there is a sense I have that in the wider world there is no room for my grief. Our culture no longer creates a space and time for mourning. We are expected to jump in right away and get back to the business of being a functional member of society. To do otherwise is indulgent and weak.
I used to see mourning clothes as ancient and old fashioned. Wearing black was an artificial symbol of grief forced upon society. I think differently now. I wish I had a symbol, some kind of non-verbal shorthand that would let everyone around me know I’m in that strange place just outside of normal. A signal that would tell people to set an extra place at the table for my quiet sadness.
It is a strange place. That’s what I really want to tell you, especially if you have not been here. Though there are similarities, the details are unique for every person and for each loss. I did not grieve for my mother the same way I now grieve for my sister and I would not grieve the same way for my father or my husband or my friends.
With my mother, I had years to get used to the idea that she might die. By the time she was transferred to palliative care, there was a note of relief that, at the very least, her years of pain and suffering were over. Not so with my sister. The first hint of a problem came at the beginning of March, 2015. By June 8, 2015, she was gone. The last texts we exchanged we were laughing about Prez and his affection for our foster kittens. I never guessed that would be our last coherent conversation.
When I flew to the Nanaimo hospital to spend what I knew were likely going to be our last few days together, I brought my laptop to show her photos of the kittens to cheer her up. She was on some serious pain medication by then and thought the photo was real. She raised her hands to show me how weak and thin her arms had become. “I can’t hold them,” she said.
I know how she feels now.
A fellow writer described this grief as the feeling of a violently amputated limb. I have thought of many metaphors but this is the one that keeps coming back.
I can feel my sister but I can’t touch her. I can’t see her. I can’t hear her voice. I know she is gone but my brain keeps insisting she is not.
And with her goes all the shared history. It’s mine alone to keep now and that hollows me.
But I wake up every morning and go through my day and do the things I need to do. I can make it through most days this way. You will see me and talk to me and everything looks just fine. And mostly it is. Mostly.
It’s only those moments, those fleeting seconds when I drop my guard and let it all in, that nearly undo me. I never know when they’re going to hit. Perhaps my brain gets tired of pretending. I don’t know. You look down expecting to see your arm and there’s no arm. Your brain has been lying to you.
I can’t hold you.
And then there’s the guilt. You never know when that’s coming either. You’re laughing, you’re joyful, and then some little voice whispers in your ear, “How dare you?”
Joy is gone.
Sound is muted and the world’s colours are turned down. Death takes and takes.
I know there are wonderful things waiting on the other side of this grief but I’m not ready for them yet. I need to feel this pain. Not because I think I deserve to be in pain or because I don’t deserve happiness but for the simple reason that it hurts like fucking hell to know my sister no longer exists. If grief is the price of love, let me pay.
I took a photo of my sister near the end. I’m not sure why. That’s not how I want to remember her and not something I will share with anyone, but I did it anyway.
Grief is not rational.
Maybe it’s the same reason soldiers bring home souvenirs from their fallen enemies? Maybe that photo was my way of stealing something back from the illness that was stealing from me?
What I hate most right now is that I can’t capture the breadth and depth of it all. I make words for a living, damn it, I should be able to make you see and feel and understand this but I read over what I’ve just written and it’s trite and superficial.
What I can do—one small act of public service—is tell you that your words and deeds help. Nothing but time can soften grief but words of condolence, even a single “sorry”, combine and weave into a warm blanket. If you think because you don’t know me well, because you didn’t know Kelly, because you don’t have anything tangible with which to ease my suffering, that your words don’t make a difference, you are wrong. It’s not the size of the kindness that matters.
So I thank you for your thoughts and words and hugs. And I thank you for letting me create a space to share my grief here. I debated posting this but a flood of social media friends convinced me otherwise. To quote my online friend Kiley Turner, “Facebook/blogs should not just be about the sunniest sides. There is not only sun, and it’s dangerous I think to pretend there is.”
And if you’re grieving and struggling to find a space of your own, you are welcome to share this one here, where there is not only sun.