On pain and loss and power

On pain and loss and power

There was a memorial yesterday, honoring the life of a woman whose time on this planet was cut short. An accident, at 40, and four young adult children now live without their mother. I wasn’t there. I didn’t bring a cobbler or a pasta salad or a 2-liter of Sprite and my condolences. Why? It doesn’t matter. No reason would be enough, it seems, to take away the pain that has been expressed at my absence from this event, pain that I don’t thoroughly understand, except as a function of grief.

Some people are close to their cousins as they grow up, living like siblings or best friends. I didn’t have that privilege. The last time we were all together – the seven older than me, the two younger than me, my brother and I – was in 1993, when we took our grandfather’s ashes to the beach. I have a group photo of that day, somewhere in a box of pictures I inherited when my mother died. The two youngest cousins and my little brother don’t even remember that day. I was ten, nearly 11. Krissy was 21 and already had three of her four children, the oldest and the twins. Her sister, whose pain was so clearly expressed today, had one, a boy the same age as the twins. None of those babies, now all adults, remember that day, either.

My parents divorced not long after my grandfather died, and from then on contact with my dad’s family was sparse. I stopped talking to him completely when I was 16 and it was years until I had contact with any of them. Krissy made it to my wedding, and my baby shower for my older son, and we kept in touch, a little, through Facebook. But we weren’t close, for so many reasons, and I have to admit that I don’t know much about her. So being blamed, today, for so much pain, being told I “don’t have the right to think about” her, simply because I didn’t attend her memorial, guts me.

Millions of people died today. Millions of people mourn those losses. Ashes will be spread, and hymns sung, and casseroles brought, and bagpipes blown, and drams of whiskey taken down in honor of the dead. And every single one of those who survive to remember will wish, at least once, that the universe could just stop, just for one moment, to acknowledge their pain and sadness and the hollow in their heart. But that is not the way of the universe.

If I could take away the pain of every single person in the world who is grieving a sister, a daughter, a mother, a best friend, a wife, I would. I would rise into the sky and pull it out, spin it into the clouds so it could rain down and fill the ocean and bring life to deserts.

But I can’t.

If I could stop that pain, that raw emotion that came through the screen, in caps, screaming FUCK YOU at me for my absence, I would.

But I can’t.

Even if I had been there, even if I had shown up with a cobbler and a 2-liter and my kids in tow, it wouldn’t stop anyone’s grief. It wouldn’t stop the desire to call at 2 a.m. when you can’t sleep and can’t think of the name of that one guy who did that thing that time. It won’t stop her favorite song (what was her favorite song?) coming on the radio, making you sob on the highway and need to pull over for a few minutes until you can see again. It wouldn’t stop every birthday, mother’s day, Christmas, Easter, anniversary from now until your own death from being so very bittersweet. It wouldn’t stop you from saying, “oh, I should get two of these, she’d love one!” before you remembered. She’s gone.

And I can’t change that.

Death is shitty. Death is shitty and it sucks and nothing, no platitude, no pastel card, not a million images of gold foil doves with Psalms printed on them will make it less shitty. It is raw and it is dirty and it. fucking. sucks.

And I can’t change that.

So I’m sorry if I added to anyone’s pain by not going to a memorial for a woman I barely knew. A woman of whom my memories are those of a child. Coloring together, sharing cookie dough, laughing that her second daughter, as an infant, looked so much like me. I’m sorry that all the photos I have are old and yellowed and none of them show the woman we lost.

But I can’t change that.

I could ask where were you all when my mother died, but that wouldn’t change anything, either. People have their own lives, their own shit, their own grief, their own memorials. Another person, or ten, or 50, or 100 on the beach where we spread her ashes or in the bar where we had a pseudo-Irish wake wouldn’t have changed my grief. It wouldn’t have made it any easier when my birthday came and she wasn’t there to make me a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. It wouldn’t have made it any easier when my grandmother died and no one knew she had been in the hospital, for two days. It won’t make my 30th birthday any easier, it won’t make Christmas easier, with the Grinch (her favorite) everywhere. It won’t make it easier when yet another of my friends loses her mother to cancer (FUCK CANCER) and I have to hug her and tell her that she can call me any time, I fucking mean it because I know what it’s like.

No, being on that beach or at that bar wouldn’t change any of that.

Because, when it comes down to it, we all have our own memorials, in our own ways, and we all grieve alone. In the wee quiet hours, when it’s too hot to sleep, we grieve alone. When we’re in a pub, surrounded by our friends and family, joking and drinking and sharing memories, we grieve alone.

And I’m very, very, truly and honestly sorry, but I can’t change that.

2 Responses »

  1. Very powerful. A true reminder that grief is never really public. My heart goes out to you and to everyone for all the losses we face in this world.

  2. As usual, you are eloquent and wise. However, I have to disagree with parts of this. Focusing on the inability to “stop” or “take away” someone’s pain and grief misses the point, IMHO. Sharing our sorrows *does* (or at least *can*) lessen them, and grieving with others, in my experience, makes grieving alone more bearable.

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