Thought I’d try to elaborate on a comment I made about the Huffpo entry Grief in the Rearview:
I noted in reading her piece that she sort of speeded up when she got to the hard stuff. Short sentences highlighting changes in herself, impacts of bereavement.
These things are hard to talk about, or write about. I wonder if she writes as I do, wanting to connect, to impart some incommunicable “wisdom,” not being able to find the right words, or just running out of steam when it starts to get hard. I know I have something to share, but it can feel inexpressible. And I fear approaching the deepest material in writing for sounding maudlin or inviting pity.
I don’t want pity. And then I worry that if that’s the response, then I’m really not doing a good job trying to say whatever it is I’m trying to say.
What am I trying to say? Am I trying to make you feel? I guess I’m hoping my writing will encourage you to consider that, if the words themselves don’t move you, feeling is the whole point.
FEELING: a verb, not a noun.
Belanger writes eloquently when exploring the surreal experience of life going on in the face of a life abruptly ending:
After she died, I looked out the window to check and make sure that the world was still spinning. Sure enough, people were carrying on as if nothing had happened. There were even smiling families leaving the hospital with newborn babies! I found their insensitivity to my loss absolutely galling.
Over the next three years, I came to understand that those proud parents carrying their shiny new infants out of the hospital as I walked backed to the family car in a daze, wondering things like “is it insensitive to ask who’s going to drive the car home?”, were foreshadowing my experience as a grieving twenty-something.
That the world would not slow down in honor of my mourning. That I would continue to be a part of polite society, but that it would gradually become more and more foreign. That I would start to feel awkward and conspicuous, as though everyone that saw me knew. That I would feel the need to hide myself away from public view on days like Mother’s Day because I felt as though my grief was a pox on anyone unlucky enough to come into contact with me. That I would feel the deep urge to lecture the pre-teen girl in line at Starbucks protesting her mother’s public displays of parental affection.
And here she touches her anger—emotion. And just then, her prose changes entirely. Short sentences reflecting her sense of being fractured. This, but also that. This, not this. Confusion. Dissociation. That IS the feeling… and yet, somehow a little dissatisfying for the reader. It’s as if the director yelled, “CUT” and the screen goes black in the lead up to a delectable love scene. Or maybe more like missing a really great car crash.
I want to know, “How bad was it? How terrible? What drama?”
I haven’t written yet about the day my mom died, or being with her as she died. It was quite possibly the most important thing I ever did. And yet, what did I do? I was THERE. I was present. And she was there. And then she wasn’t. Anti-climax. Short sentences.
Can you feel it? Does it feel like fear? Feel that.
That’s what I want more of. That’s what I crave. That open space. That silence between the short sentences.
Approach the nothingness. We are all in that nothingness together. Go THERE in your heart when you sit with someone who is grieving. Don’t try to fill the silence or make it “better.” There is nothing to do. There is nothing to say. There is just nothingness, and the nothingness is EVERYTHING. That is the shocking realization underlying whatever comes next. There, literally, is NOTHING to elaborate.
Can you hold space for the person confronting that awareness? You can. Just be.