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This Week in Grief and Donuts

November 19, 2010

It seems maudlin to post about grief and yet ridiculous to post about tiny milkshakes (which will likely be next) so I am going to do a combo. This one is about grief. If you missed last week’s backstory, you can find it here.

This week I can hardly get my eyes above half mast, which I suppose is fitting, since I don’t own a flag.

This week I am tired on a whole new level. Well, not entirely new: it’s sort of on the level of “I have a four month old who hasn’t slept through the night since I met it,” but it’s from adjusting to the death of my sister.

I’ve known that I had a big loss coming for a little more than 3 years. I wondered about it all the time.

I’d sit around and think, is it better to lose someone in a sudden sort of way where you don’t see it coming, ie, train wreck, or is it better to know and be able to tell the person you love them, but have to watch them be physically destroyed?

It has been pointed out that wondering about this might be an unproductive way to spend time, and I didn’t come to any enlightened conclusions, but I could not help it.

I’ve also spent a lot of time wondering, perhaps selfishly, if I could get some of my grieving out of the way if I pre-grieved, since, shouldn’t a person only have to be sad a certain amount?

I guess that in addition to being afraid of loss, I am also afraid of grief, since everyone knows that grief is scary and bad no matter who you are, and because I’ve been told by someone who commands a high hourly fee that as a sensitive person, I “tend to experience things fully.” That, at least, was my therapist’s excuse for why I was such a hobbled and barfamatronic mess when I was pregnant. I was experiencing it fully!

Now I’m sad and really tired but I’m sort of okay, on the other hand. I feel scandalous admitting that one of the many emotions I’ve had over the last few weeks is relief. (And here is a tangent: I don’t say that to provoke the response that “things are better now,” or statements like that. If anyone feels an urge to tell me that, please shout it into your own armpit when you are alone. I wonder: do they seem better to you because you don’t have to ask me how my sister is anymore, or feel guilty for not doing so? That is what I am shouting into my own armpit. On my blog.

Ah, ok, apparently I am angry, too. If anyone is curious what to say to someone who has lost someone far too young, first and foremost you say you’re sorry and that it’s great that I got to be with her and that she must’ve known much I loved her and how are the other folks in your family holding up and what flavor quiche do you like and / or can I help with Henry for an afternoon. That concludes today’s Church Avenue Chomp mini-lecture on supporting someone who is grieving, sponsored by [why won’t someone sponsor my angry blog?].)

Back to the relief: I realize now what an unwieldy load of anxiety I’ve been carrying around regarding the details of my sister’s death would be. We saw it coming, but we didn’t have all of the information.

I worried about how it would happen, when it would happen, if her little kids would be witness to some scary choking incident, if she got sick if I’d be able to get there in time, how I would find out, how her children would react, if they would be able to attend the services, who would take care of them if they couldn’t, etc. There was no shortage of stuff I was actively worried about surrounding those specific details, and those things are no longer unknowns that I can’t control.

It’s not like I’m done being anxious about the things that I need to be anxious about. I’m far from it, and there are a number of other things that really get me that I am not mentioning here, and those are larger, more long term things. However, certain things have resolved and now I can see that I might have been being squished a little bit by the anxiety. I’m sad now,  but I do feel less squished, and like I have a slightly different perspective.

Another squisher is guilt. I had a big load of guilt when I wasn’t actively in Connecticut.

A few months ago, as Matthew and Henry and I were driving to Connecticut on a Saturday morning, we had just stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts in the Bronx. Stopping at the drive-through Dunkin’ Donuts in the Bronx is the fun part of our long, trafficky drive.

With my chocolate glazed in hand as I looked for the exit to the Hutch, and listened to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me on the radio, and talked with my husband as our baby slept in the back seat, and slugged down my coffee in between bites and steering, a wave came over me. It was an actual surge. It was happiness.

In that moment I felt happier and lighter than I had in, oh, I don’t know, years? And I realized that it was the perfect combination of the coziness of public radio and an interesting conversation during a ride in the car, which can be one of my favorite places if the variables are right. Those details were almost certainly catalyzed by caffeine and sugar, but above all? Why did I feel so good? I had a temporary remission of guilt, since I was actually on the way to Connecticut.

I felt delight in the moment, and delight at being alive, and I remembered that I used to feel that way a good measure of the time, and almost never did anymore, though I’d recently gotten married, and recently had a baby, and aren’t those the main big warm glowy things people refer to when they refer to big, warm, glowy, things? But there was a lot of me feeling like I was supposed to be doing things that I couldn’t reasonably do, and I was wishing to control things I couldn’t control, and feeling stricken at the idea of planning any sort of trip, or a get-together on a weekend, because how could I plan something in the midst of this. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that stinks.

I’d feel guilty while in Connecticut, too. I’d feel guilt if, during a visit, my nephew asked me to play a video game, and I put him off and off and off, because I was always needing to be upstairs with his mom. I felt guilty not taking him out to do more stuff, but also, felt guilty if I did take him swimming or to dinner, because it made my sister feel left out. And feeling left out makes people feel furious, of course.

Guilt, fear, fury, inability to communicate . . . these are not the building blocks of awesome visits. Sometimes I would arrive after hours in the car and she would want or need something so badly when I arrived that she wouldn’t even indicate “hello,” she’d just start in on her needs, which made me feel unappreciated. And when your sister is sick but she does something that annoys you, you don’t get to waive all of the prior experiences and dynamics to only be in the soft light of love together. If your sister does something that bugs you — and this went either way, because I did plenty to hurt her feelings and bug her — we’d end up annoyed. And the thing about a sibling relationship, moreso than a friendship or even a spouseship, is that it’s not that the gloves are off, it’s that there are no gloves. We had a mostly loving relationship but we’d cut our teeth on fighting together during the Love Boat and let’s just say that no one was exactly at their best because we were experiencing denial and anger and loss and all of that stuff in real time. It just wasn’t excellent every single moment, and how could it have been?

Lots of it was good: really good, because we knew that our time together was ultimately limited, and it was a really special thing to me and I hope, to us, to see how well we could communicate without the normal tools.

But what did she need from me? I wanted to deliver what she needed. I spent a lot of energy trying to convince her of my dedication to her (and I am aware of the selfishness of that act), and trying to let her know that I was devastated — because that is one thing I would need to know from my sister or my friends if I were in her shoes, how much they would miss me — but also that I was totally fine and she shouldn’t spend her energy worrying about me. And we didn’t even want to talk about what would be happening, because it wasn’t clear what she could handle. I wanted to take her cues but come on, she couldn’t talk. Great! Here I am, devastated and yet totally fine and also insouciantly entertaining, because let’s have a fun and cheerful visit. Wheee!

How the #@$* can you reliably strike a chord like that?

And needless to say, I felt guilty anytime I left.

With my brain whirring around like that, I don’t think I need to be embarrassed about feeling some relief.

I am processing a lot of things. Some of it is good, and some of it is bad, and man oh man, am I tired. I’m just lucky that people have dropped off lots of pie-shaped things for us to eat this week.

Mostly everyone has been amazing and supportive and we feel very loved. It is like we are the munchkins, and you are the donuts. If it seemed like I was angling for more pies in one or more of the paragraphs above, or perhaps donuts in this one, subliminally, I am not. I’m just saying that some people have a knack for this and we could all take a lesson from them, myself included.

Did I mention that some of my oldest friends ever traveled on things like airplanes or drove in things like cars for hours to come to the services? And waited in a long and winding line to just give me a hug and tell me they would see me later? Holy moly, that meant a lot to me. And to my parents. I’m not just angry, or sad, or relieved. I know how good I have got it in so many ways and I would be a fool not to acknowledge that.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Dad and Mom permalink
    November 20, 2010 10:50 am

    God bless you Meredith for being such a good and loving sister to Beth.

  2. November 20, 2010 12:33 pm

    This is a beautiful post, Meredith. I’m so glad you wrote it.

    I am also looking forward to hearing about tiny milkshakes.

  3. marie permalink
    November 20, 2010 4:27 pm

    Mere, what a brave post. We have spoken about your questions about grief for sometime~ whether it is “easier” one way or the other…a sudden death, where you do not get to prepare or say goodbye, or a prolonged one, like Beth’s. I don’t know the answer exactly, but I do know that one person’s loss, and grief, need not be compared to another, as I think you, too understand….losing a loved one is horrible, and the void that exists once the ceremonies are over, and the people go home, and belongings are dispersed,well… the void that exists after this can be numbing. Guilt, anger, fear, sadness,’s all in the bag, that you carry with you. One day I was carrying around this bag and had a dream that night, that my mother was sitting at the end of my bed, telling me to stop worrying and that she was ok. I woke up so refreshed, lighter, even if it was just for that day. Keep an eye out for Beth in your heart and dreams, in her children~ she’ll be there for you. She’ll be there.

  4. chris permalink
    November 27, 2010 5:27 pm

    Thinking for even a second how you might feel has me in tears. Thank you for sharing with us. I’m sending even more hugs.

  5. Kayte VS permalink
    January 13, 2011 11:07 pm

    So very sorry to hear this news, Meredith.

    • January 15, 2011 10:10 am

      Wow, hi Kayte! Thank you for your condolences. It is bad news, indeed. It’s nice to hear from you and I hope you are well.

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