Four years ago Monday my father died. I didn't actually think about it until late in the day. Such anniversaries are like that. The first few years you anticipate such dates, but slowly they begin to sneak up on you. This is the first year that the anniversary of my father's death snuck up on me. I miss him.
I've lost several friends and family to death over the years. Perhaps, the most painful was my son. I don't talk much about losing the baby anymore. But I always remember things about that. Like I note all the 14 year olds of the world. He would have been 14 if he had gone full term and had been a part of this world. I was always his mother and never a mother. It is hard to think about even still. But I don't always remember him on the specific days of his passing or his might-have-been birthday.
It's funny but I often find myself more on edge -- angrier, less tolerant, more easily hurt -- and then, my mind fills in the blank -- "oh yeah, no wonder I'm hurting, it's that day or this week. Of course, holidays get to me as well. Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Holidays that I don't really celebrate anymore, but still think about and feel about the friends and family I've lost.
Grieving is like that. It is never quite done with you. It resides in your shoulders and lower back and in the tension you feel between yourself and the world. It resides in the new hurts. It makes your skin thinner at times, unable to protect you from the world that is always at your door. It makes your skin thicker at times, reminding you of how much you are able to take from that world and still survive.
I live in a place where few people know my history. They don't know about the son who died in my womb, or my 14-year-old cat I could no longer allow to suffer cancer, or my beautiful, brave Pekingneese who died in a freak accident, or my father whose suffering I watched helplessly. You see the nature of grief is that you don't remember the one thing, you remember it all. You remember being raped at the age of 5, being robbed several times, including once with a gun pointed in your direction, being afraid of the cop who questions you because your car is an old enough model that it scares the rich people who live near the park or the business man doesn't want to deal with your anger at his practices so he's called the police to settle the dispute with the threat of violent enforcement. You remember watching your husband being assaulted right in front of you on your own front porch, and not being able to stop the attack or find justice for the attack from the local corrupt cops. You remember being laid off because someone 2,000 miles away wants to make one more billion dollars for the stockholders no matter how well you do your job. You remember making less money that your male counterparts and being told that is because the less-qualified man deserves it more because he is a man. You remember divorce, broken relationships, broken promises. You remember being teased, being called "Fatty Pattie" because you aren't the right kind of body.
The nature of grief is that all of it lives together and any of it can flood your memory, your tear ducts, your pain.
When I watch what they are doing to Baghdad, I can only conclude that these people don't know grief, haven't allowed themselves to experience what I have experienced. There are consequences to the history, these memories, that are being created this week. There are debates and rationales for the actions of people, but in the end a whole bunch of people are going to die and whole bunch of people are going to survive. Those who survive will remember. If they don't grieve, then we are destined to repeat this over and over again -- war comes from the denial of grief. At least, that is the only way it can make sense to me. If people truly grieved, then they would stop this nonesense, they would make an effort towards peace, towards tolerance. I remember thinking after 9/11, maybe this will be the event that pushes America towards that grieving, towards the cleansing that grief can offer and the resolve to find a peace in the midst of such violence and violation. But unexamined grief and pain simply leads to more. Lashing out doesn't resolve anything, it only postpones the pain and suffering and escalates it.
Writing about this has given me some relief. I know this is a bit raw today, but sometimes I just need to be that raw. There was no ceremony for my son. I was one or two weeks shy of his being declared a "stillborn" instead of a "miscarriage." One week more and he would have been a "real" person in the eyes of the law. No funeral happened. A few people grieved with me, but none as hard as me and no where in public. Then about this time of the year -- a friend from high school was killed. Her father, an ex-cop, had not been able to deal with the fact that his daughter had become legally blind. One night, he took a gun and shot his wife, his daughter (my friend) and himself. The triple funeral was an incredibly shocking event, attended by a large number of people who needed to be with each other to understand how something like this could happen. I took the morning off and went to the funeral. Not because I had been particularly close to this family. I, in fact, had not seen my friend from high school for several years. I went because I needed to be around people who were thinking and talking about death. I needed to be at a grieving place. I didn't talk about my personal grief, but just being there helped me have some closure.
There are several lamenting rituals practiced around the world. I read about them as part of my dissertation research because I wondered about the different ways people confess their thoughts and feelings to each other. I'll end this lament with a description from my dissertation that I drew from Deborah Tannen's work about how men and women talk:
"Karen blended her career stories with stories of her family, especially her father's illness and death, and stories of her own body, which experienced physical symptoms as she coped with the balance between caretaking as a daughter and mother with caretaking as a nurse. This refusal to divide her world into compartments could be read several ways . I again turned to Deborah Tannen's work.
"Tannen identified the differences between men's and women's talking styles. In her discussion of gossip, she touched upon the purpose of lamenting in talk between women. She discussed the work of folklorist Anna Caraveli, who recorded a Greek ritual in which women share laments over losses through ritualized poetry, and the work of Joel Kuipers, who studied a women's lamenting ritual in Bali. This ritual required both the lamenter, a woman who recited the ritual and the audience, women who listened and shared in the grief offered in the ritual:
"When the Greek women gather to share laments, each one's expression of grief reminds the others of their own suffering, and they intensify each other's feelings. Indeed both Caraveli and anthropologist Joel Kuipers, who has studied a similar lament tradition in Bali, note that women judge each other's skill in this folk art by their ability to move others, to involve them in the experience of grieving. Expressing the pain they feel is losing loved ones bonds the women to each other, and their bonding is a salve against the wound of loss (Tannen 1990, p. 100)."
I know this was raw today. Thanks for listening.