Grief: If only it could be solved with 5 easy steps

I am grieving a recent loss. It is so fresh, I don’t want to write about the actual loss. It has been less than two weeks. The particulars are still too painful, too sharp and in this case I am feeling the ripple effect of watching others I care about hurting too. In some ways it feels like it happened today, and in other ways it feels like it was 18 months ago. I can’t yet talk about it with any true wisdom or articulation. It will take some time until that happens.

But I can write about the grief. The grief feels familiar.

People often say “It’s a fog” when they grieve. I have said these exact words. But it’s not exactly accurate in my opinion.  And I realize it is different for everyone and everyone has different circumstances and processes…but here is what I think it is…

Grief is not DABDA.  The whole 5 steps of grieving…I don’t buy it.  It’s not a straight line.  It’s a scribble.

Grief is a pair of binoculars.  It is a set of high magnification binoculars that are super glued to your face and brain. I would like to take them off but I can’t. Other people would like to take them off for me, but they can’t. 50% of it is a hyper clarity for the things directly in front of me. 20/10 vision. I am laser focused on few things and I can’t stop staring at them and ruminating on them and the other half, the peripheral vision is just gone for now. Completely missing-that’s the fog half.

Grief is an emotional brainwashing. I have developed a temporary emotional superiority complex as a result of grieving. (It feels familiar from my last loss) From some people I feel very separate. The concerns and laments of others seem trivial and petty and ridiculous. I know they are trivial for a fact because I was just that trivial, petty and ridiculous person a few days ago. Shallower and lighter and happier.  To other people I feel an intense closeness. People who are missing what I am missing. People who are fixated on my fixations. People who know. These are my people right now. There is a weird, sad, inevitable kinship because they don’t expect much from me and I don’t expect much from them. The comfort of low expectations.

Grief is a sniper. Just when you think you are fine, it sneaks up on you. It has been following you, watching you all along, waiting for an inopportune moment to hit. I remember ten years ago I crumpled onto the ground at the mailbox after receiving the LL Bean catalog. I had been doing fine that day and the sight of a chamois shirt sale had catapulted me into uncontrolled hysteria because the chamois shirt lover in my life was gone. I would not ever order another chamois shirt. I shook my fist in the air that day. Damn you LL Bean and your mean spirited catalog mailing. I’m sure I looked absolutely crazy. I felt absolutely crazy.

Grief is a teacher. While I was just dumb a few days ago busying myself with the absolute MOST inane details of life, I’m slightly less dumb right now. Temporarily. I couldn’t give a crap about the school fundraiser. I won’t have lunch with anyone I don’t like. I will read the extra book at bedtime. The laundry can pile up. The errand can wait. I will forgive the minor irritations and mistakes. It’s not worth it. It never really was. I will leave nothing unsaid. I will fast track some plans.   Do you want to know the only common thread that I have seen with people who pass away? They talk about their relationships. I have heard no mention of the time they got a promotion, the dream car they bought, the work, the stuff, the accolades, the disappointments.  It’s always about the people and the time they spent with those people. The people matter.  The people they loved. The people who love them.

Grief is 8th grade.  It is long and ugly and the only way through it is through it and eventually it will get better.  Like 8th grade, everyone is filled with useless platitudes about how to endure it because they simply don’t know what else to say.  So, soon I will be dumb again. The sadness will be replaced by the gratitude, by the memories, by the gift of a wisp of enlightenment that it gives me. I will fill up on telling old stories from old experiences and work on making plans and making new memories for new stories. It won’t always feel like an open wound. Other people around me will not be limping around with their own pain. Eventually it will be more like an old sports injury. It will flare up from time to time but won’t be a bother on a constant basis. It will slowly become part of my story, part of who I am, part of the new normal.

Go easy on the people out there in the world. Go easy on your family and friends. Go easy on yourself. Enjoy the tiny micro moments of happiness when they occur in the simplest form for they will sustain you through grief.

You either know exactly what I am talking about… or

someday you will.

Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails and violent themed art projects: That is what boys are made of

Preface:  Before anyone freaks out and gets defensive or sensitive on her behalf or on behalf of girls-I have a daughter. I love my daughter and it’s an incredible privilege to have her and she is goodness and light but in my own limited experience it has been different raising a girl than raising boys. Different. I want to talk about boys because I’ve been thinking a lot about the raising of my boys. Look away if you don’t want to read it because it offends you.

Boys. I just love boys. Living with boys is like living with an overflowing bucket of puppies. Loud, fun, unpredictable. Like puppies, they require so very little to be happy. I can boil it down to one on one attention, food, decent tennis shoes and fresh air for my sons. A lot of the classic boy stereotypes that people talk about, complain about, warn about have proven true in my experience…

Like- DSC00367

There is high energy. There is bathroom humor. There is unabashed nudity. There is filth. There is the mysterious stench of the shoes/mittens/bedrooms/soccer bags/feet.

Pictured below: My son washing his feet to gain couch access. IMG_9033

They break my things.  Things that previously survived three generations in my family-undone in five seconds by one of my sons.  Below: Christmas ornament from 1970’s. Now garbage. IMG_4057

One uses a general clumsiness method to destroy family heirlooms, the other uses brute force and a penchant for flinging things through the air to destroy things. Equally effective. There is the requisite arguing with me about how they should be able to wear the  “nice warm up pants” to a wedding or to church or to a nice dinner. They leave wet towels on the bathroom floor and step over messes never considering the damage to the floor or the bacteria that might be multiplying. They bring me art projects that I do not understand.  My daughter brought me drawings of rainbows and butterflies.

Yesterday I got this: IMG_4062

I did the ‘good mom’ thing and said, “Tell me what is happening in this picture?”  (instead of what the hell is this?)  My son says, “Oh…See there are these guys in a garden with flowers and the guy on the ground got shot with a tranquilizer gun.”    Nice. Falling off of their chairs when someone else uses the word “balls” in a sentence happens a lot lately. Any sentence. Any context.  It is beyond the giggles…it’s downright mirth. Also on the “cannot be uttered list”: Nuts.   I’m serious. We can’t say balls or nuts anywhere close to bedtime right now. It can derail this entire household for over an hour. But I think a lot of the best in them; the very best things about raising boys have been things that nobody told me. It is their sweetness, their charm, and their easy humor. Their levity and how it brings out levity in others. My boys have very different personalities (what children don’t?) but they share those things I mentioned and it makes me better for having them. They are a pure and simple fun and they draw it out in me-they loosen the reins of control.  Oh…they probably stole the reins, tied them into an Albright Knot, lit it on fire and buried in the backyard. They get me to do things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. Below: Ran a 5k in sub-zero temps.

Why? Why would anyone want to do this? IMG_2232

There is the old (and albeit archaic) saying, “A son is a son until he takes himself a wife but a daughter is a daughter for the rest of your life”. Okay, horribly outdated but the sentiment here seems to be that if you have girls they’ll visit you in the nursing home but if you have a son…he’ll be with the in-laws at that nursing home. So I guess if that holds true to any degree I’ll put in the time with the boys right now. I play the video games (and I really suck at it and they let me know). I play basketball in the driveway. I wrestle with them.

There is a LOT of wrestling.  Some of it is super hero wrestling. IMG_3061 IMG_9875 IMG_8045IMG_4060

I fish. I read to them. I play tic tac toe. I light things on fire with them. I listen to them recount their day at school.

The recollection of their school day is straightforward with little nuance. Bliss. We snuggle. IMG_3763

And I feel the urge to hug them and bite their faces out of pure love and awe for what God has made and let me borrow for a short while. And even in the happy I feel a tiny bit melancholy sometimes-they are just 6 and 11 and they have already been told to “walk it off”, “quit their crying”, “toughen up” “act like a man”.   Girls of this age are not told this. Society saves their “Get over yourself” messages for girls for adolescence…but with boys…it starts so early. Way too early and from too many different sources. When little girls do things that fall outside of traditional girlness (like prefer baseball to ballet) they just have girl power or are modern, independent, full of personality. When little boys do things that fall outside of traditional boyness (like prefer ballet to baseball) the world can be cruel. I have one son that just doesn’t get the intensity of sports. He can’t understand the competitive fire playing sports or the hype of watching them. It’s not his thing. He was on a 40-degree football field at practice one time (his rookie and retirement year all at once) and the coach told the boys to “dig deep.” I was watching from the warmth of my car and I had to laugh. Dig deep. He was 8 years old. Where was he going to dig? The worst things that had happened to him up until that point were either circumcision or eczema and I’m fairly sure he doesn’t remember the circumcision. It wasn’t much to draw on. I guess now that he is older I can tell him to ‘dig deep’ and he can recall the adversity he felt on the chilly football field.

In general, adults aren’t yelling at 8-year-old girls to tough it out and build some character. IMG_4058

I hope that I can cultivate their unabashed zest for life before the world beats it out of them. Before they walk it off. I can’t lie, I would love it if they were polite and used table manners and I toil toward that end (it is NOT going well-we just had to review the merits of wearing shirts to the dinner table) but I would love most if they just held fast onto their love of life. The way they are drawn to joy and relish fun with no concern with what happened before or what will happen after. Their days are full now with the richness of being present minded. It’s hard but wonderful and important to remember that our fathers, uncles, husbands, stepfathers, grandfathers, brothers, step brothers, half-brothers, neighbors, co-workers and male friends were boys. Boys.  They are all still boys with the spirit of a boy in varying degrees in each of them. So mothers of boys are a little nuts (see what I did there) because they see the spirit in their boy, no matter the age and they don’t want that spark to ever go out. And now I’m one of them. The crazies. Keep your sparks protected my beautiful sons. And forgive me world when I forgive them everything…because I will always be able to see the wild spirit of the boy because I was there when it all began. IMG_0945