It’s funny how these posts tend to pour out of me in bursts. Once I give myself permission to write, the floodgates open. This part of me is like a faucet I keep clamped tightly shut, knowing the water will consume me. Once I start, it’s hard to focus on anything else – to participate in the stream of life in a way the capitalist machine would deem “productive”. I struggle with that concept even when the faucet is secured in place.
I told myself I wasn’t ready to write about my grandmother. “It’s too new,” I cautioned, like a helicopter parent aloft in her own spinning anxiety. I haven’t had a chance to organize my thoughts and feelings in the orderly fashion with which I typically approach life. Truth be told, I don’t know what I feel. I thought I knew what grief was supposed to look like and I was wrong.
The first night without her was gut wrenching. I had the first legitimate craving for a drink I’d had in years. I begged my wife, the dog, the darkness – whomever or whatever was listening – to knock me out. When her house hit the real estate market, I felt an almost-equal sense of devastation. I do not consider the town where I attended high school “home”. It’s a place that will always be synonymous with suffering. My grandmother’s, on the other hand, was a place where I felt grounded. The tidal mud pulled me out of suffering and into the stream of life. It bubbles, quite literally, with activity. When I was almost three years sober, I stood in that tidal mud and sent a plea out to the Universe: “I need something now or I’m done. I’m going to drink, I’m going to use, and I’m going to do whatever feels good. This isn’t worth it”. Not thirty seconds later, my new sponsor called my phone and told me there was another way to live.
Sadly, my grandmother’s became a place synonymous with a different kind of suffering: her own. Now that she’s gone, I feel relieved. For several months before she died, I experienced terror inducing heart palpitations. Sometimes hundreds a day. My empathic heart was literally broken. When she passed, the palpitations slowed and ceased.
If I am honest, most of the death I have experienced has been accompanied by a sense of relief. When my biological father died by suicide, I was relieved. He suffered more than I have ever seen a human suffer – at least in the mental sense. I still have not, as yet, met anyone as lost and sick. And once he was no longer hurting, he could no longer hurt me. Today I understand that hurt people hurt people. I think, wherever he is now, he understands that, too. He may not have found the answers he was searching for when he was alive, but his death validated my choice to continue pursuing recovery.
I know for a fact that there are people reading this and wondering, “why the hell does she reveal all this?” Humans are inclined toward judgment. I don’t let it stop me. Also, if you think this is too much, you should hear the things I don’t say. Friends, my boundaries are FIRE. (I love throwing in lingo I learn from barely twenty-somethings.) That being said, the reason I am so forthright is because I meet people on a weekly basis who wonder, “Am I supposed to feel like this?” And what I’ve learned is there is no guidebook for this shit. Believe me – and this is something I say a lot – I spent the better part of my life searching for the instruction manual to human existence. I loved my philosophy courses. And I’m still prone to search for an adultier adult. Most of the time, I have no idea what I’m doing, and my poor inner child screams, “No! This is chaos! This is scary! I need order! I need predictability!” And my stomach aches and my heart pounds, and the Universe laughs and laughs at my incorrigibility.
So, my grandmother died – my beautiful, beautiful grandmother – and, as it turns out, there is no “right” way to be. Most of the time, I’m okay. But then there are moments when I find myself crying at dinner and not really understanding why. And if you asked me to go to certain parts of Maine, I would vehemently decline. Photos of the coast make me sick, nevermind the rocky landscape itself. That is pain I am not ready to touch. I am not ready to fully immerse myself in that feeling of rootless-ness. At first I berated myself for being avoidant – like an active addict without drugs – but, with a little help, I’ve come to understand that this a gradual process: Our brains have built-in mechanisms to keep us safe. I am not selfish for honoring my process.
There was a period when I worried that my grandmother was out in the ether feeling hurt that I’m not “sad enough” or not “grieving right”. After I spoke those words out loud to another person – who assured me I was being absurd – I turned on my car and it was 11:11. I’ve seen 11:11 multiple times a week since my grandmother died. Sometimes twice a day. I see it on the Roku screen when I shut down Netflix. I see it when I walk by the stove. I see it when I open my phone. I’ve seen it in the company of witnesses who can attest that I’m not sitting by the clock, watching the minute hand creep forward. It startles me. And it might seem silly to some, but to me it seems like a sign.
At the exact moment my grandmother died, a beautiful red bird burst in front of our windshield. “My angels are with me today,” I remarked to my wife. Five minutes later, my mother called with the news.
If that image doesn’t sum up life, I don’t know what does.
A violent pop of color. A brief rustle of wings on the currents of time. There and gone.