***DISCLAIMER/TRIGGER WARNING*** The “Grief Sucks” series is an ongoing response to my experience of loss. As such, it may contain things that could serve as triggers for people who have also experienced loss. Finally, I respect that there are as many ways to grieve as there are people and I mean no offence to those who process grief differently than I do. Should you choose to stay and read, I ask only to be met with that same basic respect and understanding.
A friend once gave me a super helpful way to think about grief. It can most succinctly be described as an animated diagram of a single celled organism. Picture, if you will, a griefy lump of fragile, messy, and sad at the centre and a wobbly outer line with a circumference that expands and contracts around that centre.
The logic is that the grief will always be there (the messy centre) and that you will naturally ebb and flow around it (the wobbly circumference). Sometimes the diameter of the circumference is smaller and you are, by the laws of griefy physics, closer to the grief and it hurts more. Other times, the diameter of the outside circle is wide and though the loss/absence is still roiling away in the middle, there’s more space between the two parts so it just doesn’t hurt as much. At first, the ebb and flow around the griefy centre was a room with no air and only brief moments of peace. As time has passed (it’s been two years since Dad died), I have had more days where there is more space between my griefy centre and outside circle and it’s been… helpful. Restorative.
What I had forgotten is how swiftly and unexpectedly that circle can shrink and throw you up hard against that always raw griefy centre. I’m mixing the metaphor a bit here, but the force of it feels like you’re in one of those spaceship fun park rides. You’re totally enclosed and once it gets up to top speed you are plastered to the wall and hold strange, gravity-defying shapes against it with your body. You also may know it as the ride with furtive-seeming people in uniforms… off to the side… holding hoses.
Just this last week, I was doing something long-awaited and much-needed. I signed a final set of tax and other forms to be filed with a government whose citizenship I, gratefully, no longer possess. I’m going to save money and hassle and there is a power to it because the only reason I was keeping it was tied to the PhD program I left a few years ago. So, the internal monologue was laced with some sassy shades of: “BUH-bye”… It has felt like tying the last, most binding part of a knot that cannot easily be undone. There has been false bravado in that feeling. And very real freedom.
But, then there was suddenly a pandemic-mask wearing, very kind, human proffering me a tissue box from a safe distance because I started to weep after I signed all the papers. Honestly, I started to weep texting a friend while still outside in the parking lot. I thought I’d mostly gotten through the worst of it before I entered the office. But, I hadn’t. (And, don’t worry, I used all the sanitizer in all the ways so my meltdown was still hygienic!)
It hit me hard when I remembered that I’d only had that secondary citizenship because of my dad.
I got it through my mum too, but it was my dad who cared that I had it. He’d actually fought many a war-of-words with government representatives about why it had been taken away from him in the first place. And, at the very first opportunity – when the laws reverted to being lawful – he got it back for himself and my mom pretty much only so that he could retroactively give it to me. He thought about the potential opportunities that could come with it, maybe even thought of it as part of my family legacy and therefore of who I am. In principle, I suppose, he wasn’t wrong. It’s just that even in my acting days when people were all, “what the hell are you still doing here when you could move to one of the handful of major cities on the planet for acting and just do it?!” And, my answer – though complicated and aware that plenty of awesome, creative humans live in those very cities – tended to boil down to: “Health care, gun control.”
The thing that flattened me was that I suddenly felt like I was losing my dad all over again; this piece of him he’d painstakingly given to me and that I had treated all these years like “a thing,” like it didn’t really matter.
Worse, I had chosen to give it up on purpose even when the rest of my dad is just sort of gone from the world as I know it.
On the drive home, crying the whole way, I realized I wasn’t even going to get to call him and tell him the last piece of the process was done. He’d have grunted at me, said something like, “Yeah. Good. Glad you got that taken care of.” Might have made a joke about how sorry he was for all the pain and suffering. My dad was a professor so, you know, even leaving the PhD program had been surrendering a part of him that lives in me. At least I had a truly wonderful set of conversations with him about that choice, though, far better than I had even expected given he was pretty cognitively compromised by then.
I was not born in that other country. I have never lived or worked there. I hardly even visit. But, I’ve carried parts of that identity with me wherever I’ve gone because I was raised by two people who shared it as a deeply formative place of origin. I’ve noticed, over the years, that some of the people with whom I’ve found the easiest and most open connections have also had ties to that country; have also, occasionally, been marked as outsiders in the country where we met. It’s like we have a strange pheromonal undercurrent that binds us more to each other than to our immediate surroundings.
The long and the short of it is that grief walloped me hard and took me down to puddle-status for about 24 hours and then compromised the next few days. Annoyingly, my post about how grief churns up other grief still has merits, so that was part of it too. Intellectually, I know that my dad loved me no matter what. He didn’t always understand me or how I process and live in the world, but he loved me. Big and huge and all the way through. So, it doesn’t matter if it suddenly felt like I had returned his heartfelt gift of citizenship as though it were an unwieldy, high-end potato peeler… I have many other things he gave me and they matter far more to me. Most of them are inside me and cannot ever be returned or exchanged even if I wanted to.
And I don’t.
The trouble is that intellect can’t f–king touch grief most of the time so this sneaky grief attack has me rundown and slowly finding my way back to baseline as my wobbly circumference finds a wider diameter around my griefy centre again…
I’m grateful to know that the ebb and flow of my single celled organism of griefiness is real. Reliable, even. There is peace to be found in the rhythm if not always in where it takes me.
But, in case it wasn’t already clear.