A friend called me the other day. Told me he was going through a tough time; he had two deaths in his family and his marriage just split up. He couldn't understand why he wasn't handling it better. He couldn't understand why this had knocked him down so hard, because, he said, he is the kind of person who uses stuff like this to get stronger.
It's an interesting thing, when someone calls you out of the blue and tells you the story of your past, from the beginning of theirs. I shared with him that I had gone through the same thing in about 2007, and I had given up, resigned myself to living in a lifeless apartment at a job I hated with two cats that were, frankly, dumped on me by a dude who bought them for me in an effort to convince me that I actually liked cats. Which did not really work.
But I told him that he was exactly where he was supposed to be. Even though it sucks, and even though it feels empty. It is in a way, a beginning, if you allow it.
In my beginning, I was so sad I was numb. I didn't care if I ate, or what I ate, which isn't like me at all, and I figured I could just wait on death to come. I was there for a while, maybe weeks. Then, one day, in my gloom, I picked up and read The Secret Life of Bees, a book my mother had given to me before she died, and as I reached the end of the book, I knew. It was a message from her to me. It was a message to use my grief. Even beyond death, my mom was kicking my ass in to life.
I cleared out my dining room and created a wailing wall. I used all the old pictures, love letters, death certificates, marriage certificates, all the stuff my parents left behind when they died; pictures of my family before my parents divorced, and pictures of my parents and me throughout my adult life. It took two days to build it. The whole time, I cried. I played good bye songs on my computer, songs like "I'll be seeing you" as sung by Billie Holiday because really who else would you want to sing you the saddest song ever written?
After the wall was completed, I felt better. So much better that I went out and bought myself a strip steak and vegetables. I ate better than I had in months that night. I even had pudding for dessert. I bought two kinds, banana and chocolate, and mixed them together. Because that is my favorite.
I kept that wall up for about six months and would add things to it on occasion, stare at it now and then, and every once in a while, cry my fucking eyes out at how much I had lost and how much I missed it all. But I stayed with my grief, my sadness, and the possibility that I might indeed be completely empty.
I stayed with it until slowly, I felt a bit more like myself; I felt like quitting my job. I felt like having sex. I felt like painting. Everything I loved to do came back to me, and this time, it felt a little like an acid trip. Everything was so visceral. I couldn't believe I had gone without these things for so long.
This was of course, not the end of my grief. Even now, ten years later, it will pop up on me. Always a surprise, but always at a logical time of the year, like Valentines Day. For many years before his death, my Dad had sent me red pistachios on Valentines day in cool boxes. It was the only thing about the holiday that I liked. And he died on Valentines day. Which was too bad. Because really, I can take or leave the holiday itself, but the pain of losing him seemed to be emphasized, like a period at the end of a very long sentence, because he left on that day.
When I took down the wall, I put all the stuff into a one gallon glass jar. I still have it to remind me that everything is useful, even the people you lose. Even the emptiness at the end of a life. Even the memory of how great you had always wanted things to be, but never quite got there.
There is nothing wrong with feeling your pain for a while, nothing wrong with rolling around in it and letting it cover you like a heavy blanket that will never warm you. There is a beauty in pain that cannot be duplicated by any other emotion, and we have the right to it. Some things are meant to break us open. Allow this. Live in it.
And then, and only when you are ready, move on. You will be better for knowing your pain, and you will be more comfortable with who you are for having felt it.
When I die, I hope people are sad. I hope they allow themselves to feel the loss of me. Of course I do. . I hope that in the end, when I am gone, the people who know me allow themselves to feel that loss.
But I also hope that this leads to joy, inspiration, and growth. I hope my death leads to revolution.
The thing is, in order to get there, we have to be willing to work through the darkness.
Happy Valentines Day a couple weeks early. I am making hearts and stuff and working on my harassment training book. I have decided to call it #Timesup Training for Everyone. Like It? Well, I am gonna give ya all a sneak peek. Soon. MAYBE even next week. I will letcha know.
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