I listened to the recent npr.org interview with comedian Patton Oswalt, whose wife passed away unexpectedly on April 21, 2016. I've chosen to share a few key points about his experience that I can stand behind 100% in thinking about my own:
- "You don't know the kind of pain and loss other people may have gone through, even close friends and acquaintances ... (Losing someone) is like seeing the world for what it really is ... You can only sympathize so far until it directly happens to you."
- To completely shut down vulnerability in the face of grief is to do a disservice to the person who opened you up in the first place.
- Talking about grief is a way of moving it out of the muscles.
- "When you lose someone you tend to eat Wheat Thins for breakfast and re-watch The Princess Bride about 80 times and not sleep all that well, so... I don't know when the pushups are going to show up in my grieving process."
- "You may be through with the past, but the past is not through with you. Grief will let you know when it's done."
As for my own grief, I've found that writing and talking about it does help enormously. It's a fine line, though, between expressing grief and wallowing in it. I can tell the difference in my own body by the way it feels- though I probably can't explain it.
It's been nearly 18 years since I lost my sweet, complicated, loving, troubled, amazing mother to the disease of alcoholism at at age 50, when I was 25- and every year around springtime, the grief wells up in me again. Fortunately, my practices, creative outlets, and supportive communities make it not only manageable but provide a way of staying in touch with the tender part of myself, the heart that opens willingly in the face of grief. The Unitarian minister A. Powell Davies wrote, "An open heart never grows bitter. Or if it does, it cannot remain so."
Here's the piece I wrote about the last days with my mother and what it was like. Thank you, Valley Haggard, for publishing it on your site. (Her writing classes are life changing.)
And lastly, from Patton:
"Does this bum you out? Go walk for a half an hour... it'll flood you with endorphins."