grief collective

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Facebook does not often give me reason to feel grateful. Today I feel grateful because I was able to reach out, with the platform’s immediacy, to an old (but not graduated-high-school-in-1977-old) and dear friend to express my condolences after a death in her immediate family, share in her angry grief and add to the vast chorus of voices chiming in with love and respect about my own memories of the loved one my friend lost.

Though vague and hazy childhood memories, the woman my friend and her family lost is branded in my brain as a strong, hard-working, straight-talking, no-nonsense woman. I didn’t know her well, but as a part of my friend’s family, I met her many times 30 or so years ago. For me to have retained clear memories of these personality traits in her, after three decades, she must have fully and indelibly embodied these attributes and, more than that, been able to make lasting impressions on all those she met in life. Seeing all the beautiful pictures my friend posted of this woman, her family and herself, all together, I felt such sadness for them, as you do for people who have disappeared too soon, but also the bittersweet feeling of joy you feel in observing a life well and fully lived.

These things also render one a bit helpless but wanting to help, reaching out in a flailing and fumbling way but reaching out nevertheless.

Grief, perhaps unlike death, and all its forms, is tough and unpredictable. As I have written before, it is those who remain on earth and in life who struggle:

“It’s this aftermath that’s hardest to know what to do with. The people who remain: how should they move on? Should they? I mean, do you ever really move on? Are you the same person after you experience a major loss and the kind of grief it visits upon you? Of course it – death and grieving – is a part of life; do you come out the “other side” dramatically changed because, in fact, your world is changed so significantly (because of these absences/losses)? Or is grief the engine of being exactly the same person you were in a changed world (and you start to “let go” or “stop grieving” only once you start to change in facing the new reality)?”

“’Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.’” -from Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Max Porter

My friend and her family have the strength of their faith to help and guide them through and to offer some kind of reason for what they are going through. But more than that, more broadly, the more we can form a loving and supportive collective, no matter how long ago our friendships flourished or how distant we are – literally or figuratively – the more we can at least be witness to the human experience in all its nuance. I won’t say it will make things easier for those left in the wake of loss, but it never hurts to reach out and offer compassion and reassurance.

Past is past

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In 1987 I met a girl who would be, for many years, my best friend. Like all teen relationships, it could be emotional and rocky. Eventually we grew apart, as people do. Back then, though, even after graduation, I still subscribed to the idea that friends are always friends – not in the sense that you remain active in each other’s lives. No, I felt that the love and care that one felt for one’s friends in youth was particularly important – the intensity of the way we feel about everything when we are young almost demands that the love is residual. Again, it need not be active. This friend and I fell out of touch, even though I did try to stay in contact foolishly. All I wanted all along was to let her know that I loved her unconditionally. I learned after silence set in, after I’d heard some unpleasant tales about things happening in her life, after she had changed her address and my letters were returned to me unopened that she had some fear or perception that I judged her, that I thought she was a “fuck up”.

I have written about all of this before – extensively. For ten years after the silence started, I tried to let go but never really had closure, so she haunted my dreams for years. I occasionally attempted to find out only that she was okay (by writing to her parents, who never replied).

In the last ten years or so, she and it faded away. Life marches on, and I did finally let go. She has no digital or online presence, which does not much matter to me except that virtually all the people with whom we went to school have come online, found me and want to know how she is doing. They assume because we were so close in youth that I might be the only person to know how she is. Little do they know, they have a better chance of running into her and finding out something about her than I do.

All of this is immaterial because it has nothing to do with my current life. Except for whatever reason, I happened to look at her mother’s Facebook page recently – which did not exist many years ago when I last thought of her. I had a look at her page and the pictures there (one of which is a two-year-old picture of my friend; seeing the picture nearly took my breath away somehow – to see this person who had been so central to my existence 20+ years ago but who simply does not exist to me for all intents and purposes. It affected me in ways that no other “absence” of that kind has).

I never assumed that there was any negativity or bad blood between her family and me. I took a chance and sent her mother a Facebook friend request. She apparently rejected it in less than 24 hours. Even though it has been nearly 20 years since I saw or talked to her family or her, I suppose the passive rejection still hurt the 13-year-old me but also definitively shut the door on the idea of resolution or closure… or most importantly, just knowing that my former friend is okay (I suppose the picture her mother posted is the closest I will get). It could be selfish that I am so concerned about knowing. I am sure my friend has her own personal and perfectly legitimate reasons for leaving the past completely behind, and I respect that – now more than ever. At the same time, I wish I could tell her – or that she just knew – how dear she was to me, how much I loved her, how much potential and intelligence and “vision” I saw in her. Hopefully the life she leads is guided by love, potential, intelligence and vision that are inherently hers.

Dreams, Divorce and Geography

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I dreamt the other night that I was spending a lot of time with actor Kevin Bacon. Probably this infected my brain because I am still, somehow, inexplicably, watching the dismal, horrible, stupid, frustrating and badly written tv show The Following, of which Bacon is one of the stars. I have never been much of a Bacon fan at all – and shows like The Following don’t change that. In my dream, Bacon and I had a number of conversations, but where my brain finally let go of the thread was when I told him that I did not want to offend him but that my mom had only recently seen the film that launched his career, Footloose, and she complained that it was so stupid, she regretted that she could not get that two hours back.

Sudden Marriage – Sudden Divorce

I have observed from afar the strange tendency of people I am vaguely acquainted with people who meet up with someone and very suddenly get married. Because I know these people only in the sense that I went to the same high school – and did not really know them then either – and now know them only via Facebook posts – I don’t know what leads them to these impetuous marriages. Likewise I don’t know what leads them as impetuously out of these marriages. It would be one thing if I saw it happen once, like something anomalous, but it seems to happen often.

Geography Woes

I don’t really understand the tendency to marry and divorce quickly and frequently, as though it is as casual and easy as brushing one’s teeth. It seems awfully complicated when a couple could just… I don’t know – move in together? But it does seem Americans of all ages are more interested in marrying (and divorcing) than learning anything about the world.

I know and knew this. I recall the year I was graduating from high school and we had to try out to be graduation speakers. My speech had a lot to do with framing our little place within a global framework – that is, look at all the things that had happened in the world since we started school. But how would that context make sense or mean anything if people did not even know where to locate the Soviet Union on a map?

Americans really don’t know, understand or care about geography. I knew this, but Stephen Colbert provided a good reminder on his Monday, April 8 show. Ukraine, according to Americans, is pretty much everywhere. (Oh, Stephen Colbert, you are loved and will be missed on The Colbert Report when you take over the Late Show from David Letterman.)

Ukraine is wherever America says it is!