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I'm an author spreading the words. Read about my books at www.SeleneCastrovilla.com

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Grief: It's Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

             I've always been awkward with death.

            Not that anyone copes well –though maybe they do. Like Grandma Mazur in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books. A wake is a social event for Gramdma – not to be missed. Of course that’s fiction, but I wonder, does anyone handle death with ease? (Morticians do, of course. How do they feel when someone close dies? And how to they manage to confront man’s mortality every day, and "pretty up" what remains? They are either the most well-adjusted people in the world, or the most f---ed up.)

            Faced with the passing of friends’ loved ones through the years, I’d been unable to deal with wakes (are they called wakes because they’re in the wake of lives?) and Shiva calls. I just couldn’t bear the sorrow – theirs, and mine.

            I’ve always felt a universal empathy, which either helps me be a writer or is the reason I’m a writer – or both. But when it comes to living, it’s a problem, because I feel everyone’s pain. I absolutely avoid the news for this reason.

            And death has been the worst. I do believe the end of a life is not the end of a soul, but it’s the pain of those left behind I can’t take.

            My neighbor Harriet died a few years ago. They sat Shiva right across the street from me. I couldn’t go. I just couldn’t. About a year later I summoned up to write a note to her husband and leave it on his door. I apologized for not paying a call. I explained that I didn’t handle death well. I told him I loved Harriet – and I did. I closed it with this: “Harriet tried her hardest to be a good person and help people, and you can’t ask for more than that.” It was the truth.

            My friend’s husband died suddenly at work, leaving her with two young children and another on the way. She was, understandably, consumed with grief. I told her, “You have to remember the love you shared, and you have to believe that he’s in a better place.”

            She stopped weeping for a moment, looked at me and said, “I don’t care about all that. I just want my husband back.”

            And I got that. And I didn’t know what to say.

            I still don’t.

            There is nothing to say when someone dies. I mean, there are lots of things to say, but none of them will do a thing to console those left behind. It's our friendship and love that comforts them, I realize now. It's what we don’t say. That’s another reason why it’s so hard for me to deal with death. I’m a writer. I rely on words. If words can’t be counted on, what then?

            But the grief has been the heart of my problem. The grief that surged up like a tidal wave, threatening to drown me.

            The grief is what held me at bay, unable to effectively be present during those times of loss.

            It’s a relief to know that I’m better at my own grieving than at comforting others. Perhaps because I write about my life, I’ve given great thought to the day I’d lose my mother.

            Still, it was a shock. Isn’t death always the last thing expected? Even if she was eighty-one, clearly suffering from the early stages of dementia (which I knew too well from my Aunt Olga.) Despite these factors, I never thought the police would have to break down my mother’s door to find her in bed (not expecting to die anytime soon, she hadn’t given me a key, and I’d never thought to ask for one.)

            And it was a sucker punch, this loss. Coming on the heels of losing my aunt.

            But I’m okay. Handling it much better than the previous deaths I’d been exposed to. I guess death has become more familiar. Maybe that’s the morticians’ secret. Familiarity.

            I have my mom’s cat. The poor thing looks to be about twenty years old, bowlegged and all spine. She yowls incessantly and follows me everywhere. She’s hideously mean to my other felines, who take up a Halloween "black cat" defensive stance which I'd never seen in person before. 

            I have my mom’s things. Her favorite scarf. The pictures she carried of my sons. The meticulous notes she took while watching Dr. Oz. The tutu I wore when I was six, which was hanging in her bedroom. Her many, many papers I’m sorting through.

            I have to deal with the things she left behind. Everything.

            I hear her voice, asking the questions she always posed. She had so many questions. I only hope she’s got some clarity now.

            I was raised without religion, but I know this is not the end.  It’s hard not knowing just what this is, and what we are in relation to our dead. I guess that’s where the faith comes in.

            The faith that was never instilled in me.

            Death is, among other things, a lesson in faith. Death and faith are both so vague;  both so muddied by our frenzied, fruitless attempts to explain and complicate them. Untampered with, they are simple.

            They are calm.

            I’m trying to follow their lead.


  1. That was so moving.Love you.

    1. Thanks. Love you, too. Thanks for helping at the house also.

  2. i like to think that life is a path and death just a fork in the road. be nice if the fork works its way around so that you could meet up with it again but that might just be wishful thinking on my part and i wont find out til i die myself. so since i don't know i figure that the only immortality i can rely on is what happens while i'm alive. family, friends others whose lives i've affected in some way (hopefully good mostly but sometimes not)is my legacy. your mom left a legacy in you and the boys and all the other people she loved and hated and advised and taught and annoyed and basically touched in some way. i'm sorry she's not here for you to fight with and love anymore selene but i figure she helped make you who you are and you're pretty damn special. hang on to the tutu.

  3. Wow Selene. I so get that. Having words to deal with the toughest times in life. If I didn't write it down when my sister fought breast cancer, I think I would have lost my mind. Sigh. Still very difficult. Times like these. Peace and Grace to you and yours during this time. Sincerely, Raj

  4. That was beautifully put. I think you are handling everything very well, and I admire how you are doing all of this. Writing down your grief seems to be very healthy. I'm sorry for your loss -- losses, actually. You've had too much in a short time. I wish you peace.

  5. This was lovely, Selene. It's good to hear from you on your blog and to see that you are finding words for what you need to explain. I've never been sure what people mean when they say someone is handling a death well. Sometimes I think they want it to mean quietly and without bothering anyone else. Grief is grief to me. Sometimes it's small and quiet and sometimes it's loud and large. Handle it the way you need to. Thanks for putting your thoughts on this down in words. All the best to you.

    1. So true, Joe. When my aunt died, someone remarked that they didn't like all the "drama" that comes with death. I'm sure the departed don't like handling the "drama" either. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Selene, your words always move me. You have that gift of touching me in places I recognize but might not be able to articulate. I missed you lately but knew you were present with this new reality. I pray that healing and faith stay strong in you. And that you don't feel alone in your journey.

    1. Thanks, Joyce. I'm trying to embrace all the love friends like you send. Means a lot to me.

  7. Beautifully said, Selene. I am going to share a link to this with a couple of other friends who are also having to deal with the difficulties of saying goodbye to loved ones.

  8. I'm just reading these posts, one after another, with empathy and a sort of gratitude that you were willing to put some of this into words. The enormous pain, the humor, the complexity and simplicity.

    I'm offering hugs.