Monday, January 14, 2019

No Hard Feelings

Under the curving sky / I'm finally learning why
It matters for me and you / To say it and mean it too
For life and its loveliness / And all of its ugliness
Good as it's been to me / I have no enemies
- from The Avett Brothers' "No Hard Feelings" on True Sadness

This weekend, my friend Molly and I stood on the stairwell of the local arts council and discussed grief. We had just experienced a moving poetry reading. Local writers shared inspiring words on beauty, love, pain, loss. She and I agreed that grief was a natural part of the human experience - not something to fear but something that could be embraced.

Molly's only in her 40's, but already, she's outlived all her family members. A recent poem based on the cardinal loss of her grandmother hit me with unexpected force. Just last week, my family and I remembered what would have been my aunt's 57th birthday on the same day we commemorated the fourth anniversary of our Pop's death.

A thoughtful friend once remarked that so much of my writing seems focused on loss. We concluded these ramblings must be part of my healing process. Somehow, simply putting down a few words helps. As I attempt to make sense of the senseless, my soul lightens, even for just a moment.

My granddad, Bill Boger, passed away on the first day of December. A couple weeks later, my family and I gathered in the same room we sat in the year before as we grieved the loss of my Uncle Doug. Granddad had just turned 91. He had lived with Alzheimer's for the last few years.

At a recent art club meeting, my friend Margaret spoke on the passing of one of the oldest members who had suffered from dementia for years. Margaret lamented that with Alzheimer's, there are often two deaths - the first when the person seems to lose any discernible connection with their loved ones, and the second at the actual physical death.  

I'm grateful that on his last birthday, my granddad was freshly aware of his family who called with birthday greetings and well wishes. What a gift.

My grandmother, Sally, was married to my granddad for 67 years. They met as teenagers. It's difficult imagining spending an entire lifetime with another person. It's even harder to imagine the sense of loss that accompanies the surviving spouse after losing the one who witnessed their days, who shared special moments, who made every day meaningful.

Granddad was devoted to my grandmother. Indeed, we all believe he worshiped her. Her company was preferred in every situation. He enjoyed his grandchildren and especially his great grandchildren, but nobody compared to his Sally.

Words from John O'Donohue's For Grief come to me as I consider both my grandmother and my Aunt Binnie, living together in a house void of their husbands.

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

As the holidays came and went and as the new year began, I returned to a favorite song from The Avett Brothers. "No Hard Feelings" serves almost as a mantra. As I consider our family's most recent loss, the truths of that soulful tune help soothe the weariness.

As I sing along and try to believe that "I have no enemies," I hold on to hope. I hope my sweet mama and her siblings find comfort in memories. I hope Grandma, as she's surrounded by photographs and mementos, feels a measure of solace as she is reminded of how deeply she was loved.

I think of the ones around the world, facing uncertainties and tragedies. I cling to Elizabeth Gilbert's call: “Those of us who are warm and dry and safe and well-fed must show up for those who are cold and wet and endangered and hungry. That’s a rule of life. Every ethical and religious and spiritual tradition in the world agrees on that rule.”

It's fitting, after yet another loss, to remember other humans as they do the best they can to get by. More than that, I feel a responsibility to help. Trying to unburden those around us ends up lightening our own loads.

Sometimes, help appears out of nowhere. It can be as simple as standing on old stairs with a friend all too familiar with loss. A hug and kind words of understanding opens something, allows for a small release. We remember our humanity, our deep connection.
a portrait of my Granddad I painted for my Grandma