Tug of War

I’ve been thinking a lot about “letting go” in the context of loss. Specifically, the loss of my father and both brothers; all the male members of my family, within eleven months. The deaths happened in such quick succession. My oldest brother died suddenly last April. I brushed it off. I knew it was coming. Some day. I’d been waiting most of my life for that one.

My father died in October, six months after his oldest son. I had a little more time to prepare for his death. I spent five nights with him, just the two of us, in hospice. But even so, when my remaining brother died suddenly a month ago, on March 25, I was still trying to grieve the loss of my father. Only five months had passed. And I hadn’t even begun grieving the loss of my oldest brother last April. That death was complicated.

imageWhen I think about grieving, about letting go, I feel my heels planting more firmly into the dirt, my body leaning back against the rope I’m gripping. But it’s beginning to slip, sliding through my hands, in my own private tug of war.

I don’t want to let go. I don’t have time to feel the losses. To feel their impact. How can I let go of that rope?

Why am I not grieving? Why do I fear feeling it? Am I afraid it will take me through to “the other side”? To a place where I’m “done” with the loss? To a place where it doesn’t matter any more? To a place where they don’t matter any more? Back to my meaningless “before” life?

And so I lean back harder against the rope and hold on tight, even though my hands are torn and bloody.

I went from one death to the next to the next, with no time to grieve. My focus has been to push it away. Get back to work. Back to billing hours. Back to being productive. Back to fitting in at the mega-firm we merged with two years ago. Back to attempting to fit in at that firm even though I don’t share their ambitions and goals, let alone their pedigrees. I didn’t feel their level of ambition before the losses. I feel it even less, now. It all seems so trivial. Moving money from one deep pocket to another.

I need to let go of the rope. To be left alone to grieve. To let go of the rope and just fall apart. Why are we not given time in this culture to grieve? When did that stop? Why can’t I wear black for a year and have people leave me the fuck alone?

Since my brother died, I’ve had very few weekends to myself. Two were spent with family. Last weekend was spent out of town with my firm. And today I have to travel to a client event in a town about an hour and a half away. It’s a fundraiser for a good cause, and it’s being held by my favorite client. But I’m so tired. I just want to be alone. I want to write. Pet the cats. Sleep.

Nothing matters much right now. All the things people worry about at the office seem ridiculous. I want to slap them and tell them to stop fretting over stupid, tiny, small things. But nice things don’t seem to matter either. My jasmine is in full bloom. It smells lovely. And I don’t feel like sitting outside enjoying it and watching the birds. I want to be inside, in my bed, with a cat on my lap.

Last weekend, when I returned from Chicago, I got sick. Just a little cold. Maybe allergies. I wished I was sicker. Even so, I worked from home for a couple of days. In my bed. Papers strewn about, a cat in my lap (Sally), the drapes closed against the world. Just me, in my space, eliminating as many of the things that irritate me as possible. Next week, I may do the same. The boss will be traveling, so it won’t matter whether I work from home or not. He won’t need to walk down to my office every ten minutes to interrupt me with some idiotic, inconsequential tidbit. I like the man. But he’s annoying the crap out of me these days.

I know the irritation is part of the grieving process. But I want to drop the rope and move on to the harder pieces. I want to fall apart. I sometimes fantasize about being locked up in a loony bin for a month or two so I can just be alone and fall apart without all the meaningless bullshit distractions.

I’ve fallen apart exactly once since Steve died on March 25. Last weekend in my hotel room in Chicago. After the after-dinner drinks, of which I had too many, I crawled into the hotel bed. Maybe it was the unfamiliar surroundings. Maybe it was the lack of kitty sleeping companions. Maybe it was too much wine. But the next thing I knew, the dam broke. I sobbed into my pillow for over an hour. I was in such deep despair, I couldn’t prise myself off the bed for a tissue. But I was in a hotel, so I didn’t much care about the snot-covered pillow case. I just kept crying. Ugly crying. Body-wracking-sobs crying. I don’t recall ever crying so hard for so long. I was weak and hollowed out when it subsided.

That’s the kind of grief I want to feel. Over and over again. I know it’s there lurking, beneath the irritation. If only I could drop the rope again and fall flat on my ass in the mud. I don’t know how. I don’t know how I did it last weekend. It just happened. I think I just need to be alone. I need to stop with the tv-watching with my neighbor every night, which generally has included wine and a nice dinner. She’s my distraction. She’s been my distraction since the night I got the news Steve was dying. I haven’t spent a single night after work or on the weekend alone. Not one. Before Steve died, I was alone most nights. My neighbor was in Hong Kong and I spent my evenings in solitude. She is my defense against the grief. She’s supposed to leave this week, but is still waiting for word from her husband. I want her to go.

But I fear being alone with my grief. What if I fall into a pit of despair and am unable to climb out? What if the depression returns? I am depressed. Death does that to a person. But what if the regular non-situational depression returns? What if I can’t keep myself from being sucked under by the quicksand?

Depression is a part of grief. I know that. But what makes that depression different from clinical depression? Why is depression caused by death okay, but depression caused by life is not? How would I feel off the pharmaceuticals? Would I find grieving easier? Would I grieve too much? How can you grieve too much?

Maybe that’s why I’m having trouble grieving. Maybe I need to get off these meds.

Another rambling post. Forgive me.


  • I found my way here because you “liked” a post of mine – let me say I’m grateful. And I didn’t expect to read about you grieving – since I’m new here, I don’t yet know what you post about (but I do know you’re very funny, and I could sure use funny ;o). Anyway – I agree about our culture having no patience for grief. When my son died, I was fortunate that I was able to stop working. I didn’t go out much for a long time because I couldn’t let anything separate me from grieving. In time, it works itself out. Not like, oh, gee, I’m so over that; but you just know when you can start moving and where you want to move to. Also, if it helps, “acceptance” wasn’t anything I ever really understood. What I found helped, though, was thinking in terms of “no resistance.” Take a deep breath, stop fighting what I’m feeling, let it be. And I aim those thoughts right to my chest and belly, which is the epicenter of rage/grief/despair and all of it.

    My thoughts are with you.


    • Yes, acceptance pisses me off. Acceptance? Really? Clueless dolts. But “no resistance” makes sense. A lot of sense. I think that might be where I was heading with dropping the rope. Let the waves take me under. Stop struggling. I’ll surface eventually. Or so I’m told.

      Thank you.


  • You have earned the right to ramble. No forgiveness is necessary. I wouldn’t look at the meds as a necessarily “bad” thing though. They may help to shorten the duration of your grief, by not letting you sink as far into depression as you might without them (and therefore having a farther climb back out of it). You’re right in saying that the general culture these days doesn’t allow for much grieving. Though the morale-boosting posters “keep calm and carry on” were developed by the British, it seems to be the status quo these days, even here in America. You’re not supposed to feel anything “bad” for any length of time. You’re just supposed to “get over it” and move on. To that I would just say that our lives are our own. We are born, we live, and we die as individuals. You have an inalienable right to live your life as YOU choose to do so. If you feel like grieving for a while then grieve… to hell with what others may think. It sounds like you may have started that process already with your sobfest in the hotel room. It’s been said that laughter is the best medicine, but when it comes to grieving, crying seems to work wonders sometimes. What is life without experiencing the emotions and feelings that come naturally when things happen, both pleasant and unpleasant? I would say mechanical and senseless. Allow yourself to FEEL what your body and mind are telling you to feel. Let those tears out if it helps, without shame!

    Now who’s rambling? Forgive me…


    • You’re forgiven. 🙂 I cried last night at the client dinner. The video about all the people the charity is helping got me. Tears streaming down my face and I didn’t care. But then I of course thought, wait three months, people. Just when you’ve gotten your life back together, you’ll die of leukemia.

      I can go from touched to sad to angry in seconds flat. Perhaps I’m an excellent griever, after all.


  • There is no easy answer to the question why this society has no time left for grief.
    I think it has a couple of reasons.
    It makes people feel uneasy to witness it. Nobody learns anymore how to cope with people in mourning. Maybe it is, because nobody learns anymore how to deal with death. Death is something that occurs far from our everyday lives. Till it strikes.

    Second – oh the “evil, evil capitalism” … Humans are not allowed to be human beings with FEELINGS which take time off your productivity. We have to be the most flexible machine instead – the one that controls every other machine or process. No time for something like personal problems, which reduce our functionality. The only feelings we are encouraged to have are GREED (that keeps business going) and LUST (that too).
    Enjoying something like Jasmin blooming? Hey, who makes money from that? Noone – unless you bought your jasmin of course.
    (No, I am NOT a communist. I LOVE my things being MINE – I just love being a human too and want some space in my life for being one).

    Third – we are all afraid of negativity. We do anger management, instead of yelling, we smile instead of answering an insult with an insult, we do not bother others with our negative emotions. So we grieve alone. In private. When there is less and less private left, as our work-life-balance tilts to work more and more, we don’t have time for grieving.

    But that is just my explanation.


    • Your explanation rings true and this culture just pisses me off. But I didn’t get it, either, didn’t know how to deal with the grieving among us, until it happened to me. Now I know what it’s like. I don’t feel uncomfortable around grief. And I feel less uncomfortable grieving. I cried on the way home from the function last night, with my boss driving us back. I didn’t try to hide the tears. I talked about it and what triggered them last night. He can deal with it or not. I think he did okay.


  • This morning I heard a tid-bit on the car radio, when I went to get the paper, about David Thoreau…being alone, getting away from ‘culture’ and other stuff. how when we observe nature, we observe death. Death is part of nature, humans are part of nature, it is hard for humans to understand death because we think and have emotions and we cling to life; that is our ‘nature’. If we saw ourselves as those lovely blossoms or the birds or the grass it their prime and glory or their decline and when we marvel at the changes in their colors as they fade, or turn to fruit or whatever ‘stage’ nature is at…we may come to an understanding…that we are just like that blossom, that bird, that grass.

    individually some of us can ‘get it’ but culturally no, our post-modern world sees us as machines…that’s certainly not comforting but it is reality….
    you are doing just fine, you are experiencing the changes of life that is yours, not anyone else’s. you don’t have to fit in an expected mode of whatever…
    go with what comes to you and experience it.


    • Beautiful, Gert. I’m beginning to see us as the bird or the blossom or the grass. Hospice helped a lot with that. But it’s still painful to watch the beauty fade and die.


      • yes, it is painful! and we keep on watching the beauty change…even as we change


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