Okay is the New Great; What to Say to Grieving People

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Sorella di Ira How Are You? – the king of all dreaded questions for greiving people. .

You ask how I am and I say Okay and you furrow your brow and ask, What's wrong? And I know you don't really want to know that I have struggled for six years to get to this honest Okay and for me,  Okay is fucking fantastic.

One of my co-workers lost her husband this week after 38 years together. I cannot begin to fathom the monumental loss she's experiencing right now. The condolence cards make the rounds, finally landing on my desk this morning. Both cards are chock full of stock sympathies because nobody knows what to say to grieving people.

Even other bereaved people.

Some of the well-wishers have mentioned her husband by name. That's always nice. There's a lot of sorry for your loss and in my prayers. One truly thoughtful bit comes from an unexpected source, reminding me that we only ever see the surface of nearly everyone we meet.

I stare at one of the few blank spaces for a long while before I write the following:

It's okay to not be okay for as long as you need to.

What I want to write is that I know it feels like you can't survive this separation. You can. You are going to carry the grief with you wherever you go for the rest of your life, but it will feel lighter as you get stronger. After a profound loss, we don't have to strive for Great.

Some of us are just working to be Okay. 

Please Accept My Eternal Damnation

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Please Accept My Eternal DamnationAn Open Letter to an Evangelical Christian Friend,

Thank you for sharing your life with me. I enjoy the time we spend together and value your friendship. I sense your disappointment each time that I decline an invitation to visit your church. I have tried to explain briefly that my relationship to religious things in complicated. I am open to a deeper conversation about these things, but it has not transpired.

Thus far you have merely insisted that your church is not like those churches.

It is a lovely thing that you have found a church where you feel welcomed and supported. I am truly happy that you have you have a faith which comforts you and I understand the instinct to want to share your joy. I remember it, even. But from time to time, I am concerned that our relationship is predicated on you trying to save my soul.

Which is not going to happen.

It seems like you think that if I just heard the Good News, I’d be in.

I won’t.

I believe in neither Hell nor Heaven. I accept the possibility that they may exist despite my disbelief. But I am done living my life in fear of the one and pursuit of the other.

I can still recite the names of all the books of the bible and there are hymns that will always have the power to make me weep. I appreciate prayer in its many forms, and am fascinated by theology and religious expression. Losing my faith was one of the greatest losses I have ever experienced.  I can no longer believe in some great plan, or a benevolent benefactor in the sky, and if my eternal damnation is a result of that loss, so be it.

I describe myself as an engaged agnostic because it’s easier to explain than a mystical atheist.We could talk about that more, if you'd like, but just to be clear, I have no interest in trying to convert you to my view. I think faith is a lovely thing for those who can afford it. I no longer can.

And so, my friend, I need you to accept my eternal damnation and decide whether or not you’re interested in being my friend in the here and now with no agenda – no expectation.

I really hope you are.

[cross-posted at DailyKos.com]

Flying Lessons

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flying lessonsWhen Arthur Cave (son of Nick Cave and Susie Bickfell from a cliff in East Sussex and died, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop feeling about it. Clearly this was none of my business. It felt ghoulish to read about it or look at pictures of their family. For days, it was a cloud over me, the thought of him lying there, waiting to be found, the thought of what his parents were going to go through.

Being intimate with the shattering grief of losing a child, you shudder at the thought of others having to face it.

More than a week later, at the gym, with trance music pouring through my headphones, the part of my mind that had been preoccupied with Arthur Cave shoved its way to the front, demanding to be examined. I was tired of avoiding this dangerous train of thought, but still needed to keep it from opening up my own well of grief right there in a noisy gym.

And with no explanation beyond the need to maintain some kind of calm, I began to visualize Ashlie there with Arthur, arriving just after he fell, holding out a hand and helping his spirit to its feet. I imagined her working to distract him from the broken body on the ground, refusing to let him stop and think long enough to be afraid.

On the elliptical, with my eyes closed, I worked to see Ashlie and Arthur running back up to the cliffs hand in hand and jumping off, but this time flying. Laughing. Fearless. And it begins to block out the horror of his death. It begins to lift the cloud.

I cannot change what happened to my child or theirs, but I can change how the bereavement of others affects me – able now to imagine (when I need to, because public grief is forbidden) my own dead child leading a merry band of spirit children on grand adventures around the world.

Take care of Arthur, I tell her, and I can breathe again.

Cubicle Life

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cubicleThis is my cubicle. These are my mandala tapestries and that is my standing desk, which I will not be trading for a sitting desk any time soon ever.

Those are pictures of J. and Mouse and Ashlie, the dogs, the grandson, the glorious godchildren and my friend Tad. Inside the cabinet is a picture of Jill and one of The Mr. and I with Jay & Silent Bob.

This is a safe space away from home. I have few. (my dad’s place in the middle of Nowhere Nevada, a little pub down the street and my friend Susanne’s house in Monterey, ) Six years out of the workforce, shattered by grief, I did not know if I could, if I would make it back.

Next to my monitor is a happy picture of Ashlie and all that pink, scattered around – that’s her too. Like talismans, they protect and ground me. It is okay. You can do this. She is right here. My grief is every shade of pink, woven into ordinary objects and scattered about every space I inhabit. That’s how I get by.

This is not my first cubicle but it is my favorite and I’ve no interest in abandoning it any time soon.