Not Only Sun

Kelly II

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.

It’s gone.

She’s gone.

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?”

Whoosh.

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.

This entry was posted in Grief and Mourning. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Not Only Sun

  1. Oh my dear, my heart hurts for your heart. Trite? I think not, your words touched me deeply and I know someone who might find solace in them. Thank you for sharing this experience with us.

  2. Leslie says:

    Thank you for sharing, you and everyone who loved Kelly have been in my thoughts, she was lucky to have been loved so.

  3. Mo says:

    I wish I could write like you – you say things in such a way that always touch me in some sort of way. Everyone goes through their own journey when we lose a loved one. I use to think it was strange how we rarely come out and say that someone died. We would rather say someone passed away. It seems so much nicer that way but I know when my dad died I felt like I needed to let others know in a gentle way. Why? It sucks. No matter how old someone is it is gut wrenching to know that you will never hear a persons voice, be able to share things with them, or give them a hug. The difference for me is that when my dad died he was old so while it was very sad he had a good long life and I accepted that. Your sister was far too young, her death is and was tragic. It is at times like this that I wished I knew for sure we would all meet up again in an after life but when others have said that to me ( I am not religious, spiritual yes) I thought what difference does it make? That person is gone from this life, my life. I have lost a few friends, Eric’s sister and have friends who siblings have passed away. It all sucks and is unfair. Nothing is strange in what you do to go through your grief. Don’t be hard on yourself. She will be in your heart forever. This is when the old sayings make you want to slap someone ( red rabbit? )because you feel that they don’t really understand but it all comes from a good place – at least that is what I had to remind myself of.

    Big hugs, love
    Monique

    • clubfredbaja says:

      It definitely comes from a good place, the best place, and I thank you so much for your friendship and kindness, Mo. And for your losses, I am also so very sorry. xo

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