Monday, April 03, 2006


A Woman whom I work with lost her husband suddenly while on vacation last month, and today was her first day back to work. She was in line in front of another coworker and myself at the coffee shop this morning. The barista at the coffee shop recognized her, and asked how her trip was, saying that she sure had been gone a long time. There was a terrible pause, and a silence descended to create a vacuum. The grief which seeped into that void was palpable. The Woman had her back to me, but I knew what was happening to her. I knew how she felt inside at that moment, as anybody who's experienced grief would know: like a wrecking ball had just taken aim at your stomach and has squarely met its mark and found the part of you which has just experienced the deepest, most painful type of loss. That in itself is bad enough, but now all of that effort and energy exerted to get herself to work, to try and do something normal like get some coffee when something terribly abnormal has just happened; that tenuous sense of normalcy has now just been ripped to shreds by a single, simple question from a well-meaning, sweet girl just trying to be friendly.

The requirement now? To speak those unthinkable words: the Terrible, Shocking Truth that you have lost a loved one. Saying it out loud can be the hardest thing you will ever be faced with, the shock of the words bringing new waves of grief when you are trying valiantly not to let it overtake you from one moment to the next, and especially while out in public.

I didn't hear what she actually said, but after she said it the barista came around the counter and hugged her. For a long time. After she'd gotten her coffee, the Woman turned around and hugged us, too.

The freshly grieving have such tenuous moments of security. Most of the time, you feel as though your insides just received electric shock therapy. Your mind certainly feels that way.

And then she said something very interesting. While I can't remember her exact wording, it was something like, "It will be interesting to see how this process unfolds." It was an analytical statement, and sounded detached from the grief. Although, she really wasn't. It's just something that pops out of our mouths when other people are trying to be nice and say things like, "I'm sorry" and the like. It's something to fill the space, to give your mind something to think about, other than the Truth. Because when it comes to grief, there's only so much Truth that we can take in a day.

I found a tape I have with my dad's voice on it and listened to it this weekend. I wasn't sure where the tape had ended up since the move to OH's house. It was a short radio interview from five years ago when I nominated him to be recognized for what he did during his two tours of duty in Vietnam for Veteran's Day. He was characteristically humble while telling the story of a terrifying day where he participated in a rescue mission, but I was happy to hear again how he got to receive praise and thanks for what he did which was amazing and noteworthy and he needed to know that.

I listened to it while OH and OC hugged me, while the tears poured out of my eyes even though I was thrilled just to hear his voice again. Lately I've been thinking about how much I miss him. I even thought about what life would be like if he was still alive and my parents still lived nearby, and what he would've thought of my new husband, and how the granddaughters would be able to see him and how great that would be....

I started to think how it's futile and self-defeating to think this way. It did make me sad because it's never going to be that way. He is not alive, and never will be again, and I really hate that.

Then I thought that maybe it's okay to go ahead and admit that I think these things sometimes. I have accepted reality, but the truth is that I miss him a lot, that I do wish he were still here, and I do wish my daughter could have known him longer. That's all true, too; it's okay because I'm not stuck being angry. It doesn't fill my thoughts (anymore). It makes me remember him and makes me think about how I want to live my life. I'm not wallowing in wishes, I'm acknowledging how I feel and letting go. That is the kind of transformation I am experiencing now.

Life is all about transformation. It is the only thing that we can be sure will happen in life. But it is so very hard for the people left behind.

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