Meditations on Grief

“Rising Cairn” is a 4,000-pound stone sculpture and the work of artist Celeste Roberge. Celeste said she actually views the figure depicted here as rising up (hence, the title) rather than being weighed down by grief, but I also like that interpretation of how weighty grief can be.

Something I’ve been thinking about since my last therapy session on Sept. 3 is grief and my misapplication of it, or rather more pointedly, my misunderstanding of its contours.

My therapy has pivoted to confronting my anxiety issues, whether that’s social anxiety or the anxiety that is sort of apiece with depression. Prior to each of my therapy sessions, I jot down a few notes in my Notepad (on the computer, not an actual notepad) I want to bring up to my therapist, whether it’s “good” things or “bad” things I want to dig into.

Well, I was thinking about my anxiety and for some reason, I brought forth to him an example of my anxiety being my inability to deal with the trunk of my vehicle. For a year after my break-up in December 2019, I kept in my trunk my ex’s daughter’s old toys. The story there is I had taken them out of her vehicle and transported them to my vehicle so she wouldn’t have to deal with them. She was going to take them to Goodwill or wherever someone would discard old toys.

But after the breakup, I couldn’t touch them. I couldn’t deal with them. And it almost felt like a masochistic thing? You will see these toys as a reminder whenever you open your trunk.

As I’m writing this, my transposing of grief with anxiety seems rather silly. Of course this is grief, not a manifestation of anxiety! But in my head, I had seen my inability to deal with that trunk as being a symptom of my social anxiety and things of that nature rather than the fact that even a year after the break-up, I’d never dealt with my grief.

I didn’t realize this until my therapist said it. Again, therapy often seems so … obvious, once you’re hearing the therapist say it, but I guess I needed him to say it! I’d never dealt with my break-up grief. After all, grief is itself a manifestation of love, wherein we are “mourning” the loss of it. I was in a state of mourning throughout 2020 over my loss, but never appreciated that or confronted it in way I ought to have or would have understood.

Over time, the pain of the loss did subside and I self-diagnosed myself as “over it,” to the extent of it not being painful anymore and feeling better, but I’m not sure pain subsiding is a proper reflection of, or reckoning with, grief. I never had that moment of grief contemplation, if you will. I suppressed. I avoided those memories and those thoughts. I drowned my grief, those memories and those thoughts in alcohol, overeating and other activities to distract my brain. Those are all coping mechanisms, some good and some bad.

And I don’t think any of this is neatly compartmentalized. To be sure, my grief fueled some of my depression and the steepness of my spirals, but I’m always cautious about that, too. Because I want to make sure that people understand my depression existed prior to that relationship, that love and that mournful loss. But I think it’s fair to say the grief exacerbated the depression.

Grief is normal. Mourning a loss, even of an intangible like love (although the intangible obviously has a plethora of evident tangibles), is normal. As long as you allow yourself to actually feel it. What’s not normal is avoiding feeling it, as I did. To where, even after the pain subsided, there’s still the grief to properly adjudicate.

For me, adjudicating that grief and that loss primarily falls into these categories:

1.) Wistfulness. I have a great deal of regret and longing for “what could have been,” which I think confronting grief can alleviate, but nonetheless, I have regret that if I had done any number of things differently, maybe the relationship doesn’t end. For instance, if I had gotten help with my depression sooner, maybe it wouldn’t have caused a fissure in the relationship. Or if I had stepped up sooner and stronger with her child, but I was scared. If I hadn’t gotten cold feet about that and scared her in that irreversible way, then maybe. But if I’m being honest with myself, I know these regrets and what ifs to not be true from a personal standpoint or from a coupling standpoint.

2.) Yearning. One of my, would you call it failings? Or is it neutral and depending on which way it goes, it’s a failing or a good quality? But, one of my things is being a people-pleaser and that often manifests in wanting to be “enough” for someone, whomever it is. And to be “enough” for someone means wanting to prove myself — to prove I’m capable of doing whatever the thing in question is. In this case, I wanted to prove I could be a family man. That I could be someone who lives on my own (with the family). And I didn’t get that chance. I was so close and it was stripped away. But again, if I’m being honest with myself, it wasn’t meant to be, to use that vague statement. That configuration just wasn’t compatible with me, apparently.

3.) Bitterness. I would be lying to you, the reader, and to myself, if I didn’t acknowledge that with any grief, there is a certain amount of bitterness. And anger. Directed at the world, at circumstances, at her and at myself. I like to think it’s a small portion of the grief and I’m good at keeping it small, but it’s still there. I think with respect to her, my bitterness usually comes down to a woe-is-me formulation, where I think, if she really was the one and really loved me unconditionally, she would have stuck with me through my depression struggles, but she didn’t. But I also know that that’s not fair. First, on its own merits (you can’t expect anyone to be a martyr for you or a relationship to be martyred for you, in my view; it’s okay for it to be too much for someone) and second, because she, like others, didn’t know the full extent of it or appreciate the full extent of it. She knew more than virtually anyone, but I masked for her, too. As for the bitterness/anger at myself, it goes back to different decisions I could have made and at a fundamental level and being angry at thinking I’m not normal. If I was normal, then I’d be a married man living with a family, kinda thing. But therapy has helped me through that sort of thinking: I am not my depression and if I’m not defined by depression, then I am not abnormal because of it; ergo, what flows from life is not purely because of my perceived abnormalities. If you think about it, that’s rather egocentric anyway and centering everything around yourself.

Anyhow, those are my musings and meditations on grief and my rather obvious-in-hindsight recognition that that is what I dealt with for most of 2020 without realizing I was dealing with, or rather not dealing with it. Therapy is paying people to tell you the obvious things that give you that, “A-ha!” moment.

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