When my friend Erik passed away 20 years ago, I remember going to my theatre teacher and telling him that I couldn’t go to the dress rehearsal for the show we were doing at the time, because I had friends to look after, answers to get, and I was not in any real frame of mind that would allow me to go on stage and perform, with all the emotional energy that required.
In that moment, I expected him to put a sympathetic hand on my shoulder, tell me to do what I needed to, and send me on my way without another word.
He did none of that. Instead, he gave me the sternest reciting of the cliche that the show must go on I’d ever heard, and said that my problems were secondary to the needs of both he and my fellow actors.
Basically the edict was suck it up, do your job and you can cry when I say so.
I hated him for that. In some ways I still do, because it was the first time I got hit with the harsh reality that in those moments of extreme emotional duress, I’m allowed to do just about anything else, but under no circumstances was I allowed the simple and necessary act of grief.
I had my latest appointment with my therapist this morning and this was something we talked about at length, the idea of being able to grieve and why that seems to be such a taboo.
The reason why I brought it up was actually as part of calling her out with something I took issue with during our previous session, when she took a moment to lecture me on the understanding that life isn’t fair.
I get how everything we perceive about ourselves through our own respective lens is capable of being both distorted and hyperbolized, but if there is one thing I unequivocally do not need to be reminded of, by anyone, it is the reality of just how unfair life can be.
Editorial Note: In my experience, the people who find it necessary to lecture me are often the same people who’s actions, either deliberately, passive-aggressively or otherwise, reinforced the point by making me have to deal with options and alternatives I didn’t want, while they got the things they wanted at my expense, thereby proving how life seems far more fair to them, by comparison They may not like to hear that, but that is not my problem as it doesn’t change the facts, either.
Charlene asked me to document how many times I felt I’d been slighted by what I considered to be the unfairness of my existence, and I suspect she thought I would only have two or three things which would’ve been so trivial that it would’ve reinforced her position that I was riled up about inconsequential stuff.
By the time I’d covered just the past five years, I was surprised by how wide her eyes had gotten. Add on top of that all the things I had to get through as a kid, and I guess the first question she asked was the most valid.
“How are you still standing?”
I’d like to say I had a witty and appropriate response at the ready in my hip pocket. But the reality is…I don’t really know anymore.
By all rights, I should have been in drug or alcohol rehab, locked in a rubber room or taking up a slab in a morgue (or any combination of the three), at least a half dozen times already. And if I am brutally honest with myself, the only reason why that hasn’t happened yet is this.
I refuse to grieve about everything and everyone I’ve lost.
I don’t. It was a luxury when I was younger. When my grandfather died, I remember crying at his funeral for what seemed like hours. By the time Erik died, I’d begun finding ways to hide it so when I broke down, it was only in the spaces I was comfortable doing so in.
Now, I don’t let myself do it at all. When something happens to wound me enough that I know it’s going to hurt like an absolute son of a bitch, I slap the equivalent of an emotional band-aid on it and force myself to just keep moving forward in spite of it.
There’s a line from the movie, Batman Begins, that’s always resonated with me because I can empathize with the perspective of both Bruce Wayne and Ra’s Al Ghul:
But I know the rage that drive you.
The impossible anger, strangling the grief until the memory of your loved ones is just poison in your veins.
And one day you catch yourself wishing the person you loved had never existed, so you would be spared your pain.
At one point, Charlene pointed out that a lot of the things I refuse to accept are things which I do not have the power to change. They are impossibilities, she said, and to an extent, there is a very unpleasant truth in that.
I cannot bring back the people I lost who are dead, and as much as I want to, I will likely never have back the relationships I wanted most with the people who’ve chosen to move on with their lives.
And as I sit here writing that acknowledgement out, it makes my emotional core start to buckle in ways I do not like at all. I don’t say that to be sympathetic. It’s simply an observation which further illustrates the point.
It took the majority of the session for me to explain that my way of functioning and coping with that every day is to block it out as best I can and just follow the routine of sleep, eat and work and that the only things which have kept me alive this long is not some renowned reservoir of strength, but rather something which either makes me an incredibly stubborn optimist or an out and out fool.
Hope and an absolute refusal to accept the impossible.
I wish I had something less cliched than that, but as I’ve been told repeatedly, I am nothing if not predictable.
For what seems my entire life, I have been dictated to about what I am capable or incapable of doing. Over five years, I had a group of psychologists, whom I was mandated to work with, tell me that I was so incorrigible and mentally deficient that I would likely never function properly as an adult human being. That the goals I wanted for myself of going to college, having a career and a family and being as productive a member of the human race as I’m capable of being was impossible.
But somehow, I did the seemingly impossible. Even I’m not always sure how I did it, but it doesn’t change the fact that it happened nonetheless.
If my life has taught me anything, it’s that I bounce back and forth between anger, depression and reasoning when it comes to the grief I carry with me. Some days, I’ll be angry about it, on others I’ll be miserable and there are days where I tell myself that if I can accomplish Goal X today, then I’ll be one step closer to convincing Person Y that I am actually worthy of Emotion Z.
That’s also where the seemingly minuscule fragments of hope that I cling to become so vitally important. Without them, I would never give myself a reason to ever think that the scales can be tipped back in my favor and the things I want so badly are still possible.
Like I said, I could be a hopeless romantic or a complete idiot for letting myself believe such a thing, but honestly, what else am I supposed to do?
That keeps me going and I built that perpetual cycle for the basic reason that I know if I ever reach the point where I finally accept my existence for what it is, that’s the moment where I lose my primary motivation to continue living another second.
In other words, the moment I stop moving long enough to acknowledge all that pain, it’s going to completely annihilate me because it’ll be a whole lot more than either my mind or my body can tolerate…and I’ve known that for a long time.
Now I know the standard-issue, knee-jerk response to that is to just get over it, already and get on with my life, like there is some actuarial table I’m required to follow, which says the mandatory maximum time to emotionally recover from a divorce and the loss of a child is 12 months, getting over a nervous breakdown and the loss of self-identity is no more than six months, severing a toxic relationship with a parent – no more than 8.5 months, 36 months for the death of a best friend and getting my heart broken a secondary or tertiary time shouldn’t take me more than four months tops, because hey, experience is supposed to be accompanied by a certain degree of wisdom, but that all depends on if it’s In-Network or not.
The very unpleasant reality is that there are things we never truly get over and we live with the grief they cause for our entire lives. We all slap the emotional band-aids over those wounds and do our best to ignore them, even as they fester because no one wants to deal with them, I don’t care how tough you think you are.
Besides, if the philosophical edict is that we as human beings are allowed to grieve in our own way and our own time, how I am somehow in the wrong because it could take me longer than the average person?
Charlene asked me what it would take for me to be rid of the grief I carry and I wasn’t entirely prepared for what I said in response.
Let me have back what I’ve lost.
I know that’s impossible…and I don’t care. It’s not going to keep me from trying to make it happen all the same, because it’s what I want.
I know that’s also probably incredibly selfish of me, but I suppose wanting things you can’t have is a selfish act and I won’t be ashamed of that.
At least then, I’d be able to say life is actually a bit more fair to me than it has been, because then I’d be able to say I have a second chance to do things right.