It has been over eight months since Austen died. I find myself finally regaining some of my endurance for physical exercise like hiking, biking, doing 70 minutes of hot yoga in 105 degree heat. I have steadily progressed through various phases of grief, trying to find my way through emotions and memories that turn up whenever they like, when I’m not particularly in the mood for them, when I’d rather just take a nap. But sleep doesn’t always come easy, only when I am completely exhausted and spent.
Still, I have worked hard to maintain a positive outlook, thinking of myself as a bodhisattva warrior, charging into sadness and suffering rather than running away from them. Now I strive more for loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity and wish that for others, and I try to avoid being exposed to commotion, discordance, mean-spiritedness, demeaning remarks, judgmental behavior. Over the years, I have been described as “irrationally optimistic” and “refreshingly irreverent [this by a more senior lawyer at my law firm when I was an associate],” which qualities may be helping me now.
The thing about grief is that it is constantly changing, day-to-day, sometimes moment-to-moment, so that one moment you may be feeling completely overwhelmed by your thoughts and emotions, but then you snap out of it. And you don’t need to dwell on it, you move on. This is the thing that is hardest to try and explain to others who haven’t experienced catastrophic grief. They may still be caught up in the unreasonableness of anyone, including themselves, ever losing a child, so when you run into them and you are eight months out and flourishing at that moment, they are months behind you and show visible emotion at seeing you. You then find yourself in the position of trying to soothe and comfort. Or worse, trying to explain to sorrowful eyes where you are at and what you are doing.
Yes, early on I did think that my situation ‘sucked’ and in private I yelled things like, “I hate this,” “I don’t want to go through this,” “I don’t have the strength to deal with this.” But, when I’m out in public, I usually feel pretty good (otherwise I wouldn’t be out), and am unlikely to say gloomy remarks about my situation. And, really, it would be better if the well-meaning people I run into refrained from those remarks as well. It doesn’t help.
Grief is a very individual process. I have my moments to be sure, but they are private and are necessary to my well-being. I don’t need to explain myself to anyone. In fact, when I have tried to do so, I have found that I instantly regret saying anything because my ideas from yesterday have already run their course and I am on to something else. And, if I say I’m doing well (at that moment) be supportive and happy for me. It doesn’t mean I’m finished grieving, it just means I’m moving forward, still continuing to appreciate the daily miracles of life, keeping the spirit of Austen alive, trying to live up to my full potential during this lifetime.
I return often to these words from a poem by Emily Dickinson:
Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
“Hummingbird Perching,” Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ, October 2009. © 2015 Suzanne Sahakian.