We are so tired of our story, so exhausted by it. We hate going over it and over it, yet we do, obsessively (one reason we feel insane, though we are not; we’ve grieving). We have exhausted all our friends, and we try not to burden them any more; they have been so good to us, they know our story.
And yet, we still need to tell it. But to whom? And why?
Long after other people have necessarily moved on,we may be nowhere near “over” the great outrageous disaster of loss that has befallen us. We don’t know if we ever will be; we can’t imagine that “over” exists. And so, whether or not we say anything to anyone, we keep going over our story inwardly.
The story of what happened. The story of what we did, or didn’t do; what we should have done; what was supposed to happen and didn’t; what was not supposed to happen, but did.
FIGURING OUT THE IMPOSSIBLE (PROVISIONALLY)
It is impossible to believe that this repetitive storytelling is part of grief and mourning. But it is. How else do we come to grips with what has happened?
Impossible to believe it has a purpose and value. But it does. How else do we find, if not a “why”, than meaning, and direction?
Impossible to believe that it will end. But it will. And the story will shift. And, though there may always be sorrow associated with it and occasional fits of grief, joy may creep back as well, and the interval between the grief fits will lengthen. And it will no longer have that obsessive, over and over quality.
But there’s a catch. For this to happen, we have to keep telling it, to ourselves and others.
After you have worn out yourself and your friends, it may be time to find a grief counselor or therapist, and tell them.
TELLING IT AGAIN
It was just past a year after Ned’s death. I was sitting in the waiting room of Bill Symes, my therapist, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It was comfortable, almost like a living room: couches, books, Native American and Tibetan art. Traffic moved outside the window, but it was a residential area, so not much.
And it was still so shockingly unbelievable to me that I was there.
Because I never would have been there had not Ned died, and I kept running up against that, over and over again, and I still couldn’t believe it, let alone accept it.
The idea of “getting over it” or even through it, was as far as Saturn. Farther. Or maybe it was me that was out beyond Saturn, unmoored out in the cold, silent, far Milky Way, normal life unspeakably distant, another galaxy.
I sat there, on the couch, waiting for Bill Symes. I once again felt the surreal impossible: of that very moment, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in a therapist’s office, without Ned. Simultaneously, of the many years ahead, the years of a presumably long, long life. A life without Ned.
And when I realized this, again, just like every single time, it was again right-through-the-effing- windshield.
VARIETIES OF TEARS
Oh, great. Here come the automatic tears. These weren’t the sobbing kind, they were the variety that leak silently out of your eyes and run down your face, over your cheeks, past your jaw and chin, to drop onto your t-shirt. If you are sitting somewhere quiet, like a therapist’s office, you might actually hear them as they fell.
God, I hated tears, of every variety. I hated knowing there were that many varieties. And God, I was so bored with the whole thing. With tears. With pain. With grief. With not being able to just once and for all get that he was dead, and be done with it! With being punched in the stomach each time I re-realized it. With being unable to find any kind of clear-mindedness around this: he was dead, he was not coming back, there was nothing I could do about it. Get it, Crescent! Get over it!
I heard the door from Bill’s office to the hallway open, and footsteps; his previous client was leaving. I would shortly take the place of whoever that client was, in that office. It was also comfortable, and full of art. From spring through fall, there was usually a flower or two from Bill’s garden; a single iris, say, in an simple onyx vase, on the small table, along with the box of Kleenex.
Soon Bill would open the other door, from the office into the waiting room, and usher me in. Again.
Yet what was the point? What was the point of any of it? It wouldn’t bring Ned back. I couldn’t end my life, because in the paradigm I then held, killing yourself was the shittiest possible thing to do to people who loved you or looked up to you. But man oh man, I did not want to be here. “Here” meaning life. My life, especially given that I come from a line of long-lived women, felt to me like a life sentence, which I must serve, with no possibility of parole.
Bill was a big guy, was bearded, affable, fiercely intelligent and insightful, hilariously funny. All those qualities rested on a clear, cool aquifer of compassion. In most of this, he was not unlike Ned, though more mature. I never had a crush on Bill, though. I was just grateful, so grateful. I liked him, respected him, and found it comforting to be around that kind of male energy.
And in addition to the comfort, there was the insight that slowly came out of our sessions.
Bill opened the door to the waiting room and held it open, greeting me.
He regarded me, tipped his head slightly to one side, and said, “You’re crying, Crescent.” His tone was observational; sympathetic, slightly quizzical.
He said, gently, “Why are you crying?”
I said, “Oh, Bill, same old thing I’ve told you a million times before.”
He extended his arm to me, gesturing towards the office.
He said, with intensity, looking me directly in the eye, “Then tell me a million and one.”
AND I DID
As a writer, and a reader, I have long believed that narrative is how we attempt to make sense of, and give order to, life, which is so often nonsensical and disordered. But I also believe something that may be a little more wu-wu… that narrative is the universe trying to figure itself out through us.
I have my theories about why telling our story a million and one times is necessary; I’ve given them here. But the truth is, I don’t know the why for certain.
What I do know, because I have experienced it, is that it is part of grief, and part of recovery.
And that, mysteriously, unpredictably, not on any particular schedule, not that you feel like telling your story is having any effect at all while it’s taking place — it is how, gradually and partially, we return to life, and discover our next life.
Tell your story, please, dear fellow widow. To a friend, a grief group, a therapist, a stranger on a plane, over and over, for as long as it takes. Tell it here, too.
Illustration: a portrait of William F Symes, by Andrew Kilgore.