My approach to grief has always been total immersion. Memories of the 6 months following my father’s death are murky. Initially: excessive drinking, going out, and stuff I consider myself “never” doing. Within ten days I made out with a stranger at a bar (like literally, sitting at the bar in front of the bartender, which is what was so gross about it). Within six weeks I was fixating on a much younger man who provided a couple carefree nights. There was a lot of weed, like, nightly weed. But, it was my Dad’s weed. There was crying in the bathroom at work (and at home at night, and over weekends) and the frequent, awkward moment when I’d encounter someone who didn’t know yet. And have to tell them.
All this drinking and socializing… it would keep me afloat and then these moments I would just drop under. It was the only way I could cope – to distract myself aggressively because I knew the grief always caught up when I was alone, and then I’d just sit with it and be distraught with it and give it everything it demanded. I don’t remember what my repeating thoughts were at the time, I imagine I was replaying the last moments I had with him. And I can still remember those, but I don’t struggle with trying to relive them anymore. I just remember. My quest for answers ended long ago.
In my broken state, I saw my therapist monthly, started a war with my loud neighbors, got an Ambien prescription, ceremoniously gifted people my inherited Oregon weed, fought with friends and aired long held grievances, made new friends and had new experiences – because as people do, when they have compassion, I was invited many places for comfort. I was never hard on myself about my smoking and drinking. It just went with everything else.
Eventually, the last in my string of mini-affairs very quickly trampled me in bait and switch fashion, and I was forced to be sad and get comfortable with myself for a while. My heart was so raw and open, it was poised for falling for someone too quickly as well as heartbreak. I never wanted to waste time again, to my detriment sometimes.
The couple months just prior to my Dad’s memorial service (and that’s a loose term) are a blur save that crash and burn fling, some summer solo trips that felt so lonely, trying to contact my Dad’s few friends for testimonials and my Uncle finishing the job for me as it was too painful. I did write a beautiful letter to them all. Finally, it was August, we were in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, and we were spreading his ashes. My Dad died in January. It was the longest break up ever.
My thought is always, if I feel this shitty, I may as well deal with every shitty feeling while I’m here and then close the door on them all. This is why I waited to go to therapy until I was 35. Because dealing with shit sucks and feels horrible. My Dad – who’d been a shadow for most of my life – was gone. I was forced to confront all my issues, they had nothing to hide behind anymore. And the artifice I’d protected myself with for years crumbled in the face of real pain.
Death is one of those situations when you can’t really be heard. I don’t remember, now, having a ton of regrets when my Dad was gone, except for wondering if I should have been there. In the end I didn’t think about it that much. Were there things I hadn’t said? There was time I hadn’t spent, mostly. But that was his fault too.
I’ve thought about this recently – the need to be heard. When you’re bubbling over with anger, you grasp any opportunity to shout it out. Take every prisoner of your immediate wrath because there is no way things can get worse. They are worst. If you can’t reach the object of your current pain, find one from years past who is willing to listen. Dig through your address book and ask all the questions, solicit all the responses. Some of it may actually be satisfying. And move on. It’s like pulling the trigger and vomiting – you can control this hangover, can’t you?
Life is full of little deaths. People you love will disappear. They become strangers to you in an instant after practically living wrapped around you. The space they leave feels alive and taunts you in their wake. You never see them again. Or you do and wish you hadn’t.
Because you can’t reach this, you can’t answer it, with time it disappears, slowly and painfully. Because my pretty head protects me after a while, and kills off what’s making me feel bad, I start to forget. In the end you’re only left with a memory of the pain. The reality stops hurting. Ghosts stop haunting. And forgetting is sad. Like anything, we forget joy and love too.
You’ll be taken by surprise, occasionally. You remember, and cry. Because – you’re alive, you’re alive, you’re alive.