Sunday, December 12, 2010

What My Grief & Benjamin Button Have in Common

I was talking to a friend who is going through a very painful time…her whole life is seemingly turning upside down…and inside out. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I listened to her heart breaking.

I’ve been thinking about where my tears came from. I don’t always cry when others share their pain, even when I am close to them. I realized that as she described the dreams that are lying in shards around her feet, she was speaking words that have come out of my mouth, too. And some that haven’t.

After listening to her talk about the depth of her pain, I began thinking about how much I hope she can accept whatever the shape her pain takes and not to worry if she is "grieving right."

The image that came into my mind was of a newborn baby, all swaddled up. The shape of her pain. No matter how ugly, deformed, loud, demanding, fussy or weak a baby is, there is something in us that rushes forth, without our even having to tell ourselves to do so, and cradles a baby. Babies are innocent, helpless and simply NEED. They don’t have anything to give back. And yet, we would protect and comfort a baby, whether it was our baby or someone else's, whether it had years of life ahead or mere moments.

As I imagined my friend’s grief as a little life, in need of love and nurturance, I had to ask myself why I didn’t feel a similar compassion for the shape my own grief has taken. In my own life, even when I’m in the darkest of places, I tend to care far more about what I'm "supposed to" do, how it's "supposed to" be, instead of simply “tending to” myself with the compassion I feel toward my friend today. Why is that?

Months ago I saw “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and I remember when they showed the baby’s face I felt simultaneous disgust and compassion, right along with the woman in the film who would later become his “mother.” She couldn’t help herself.

When I approach my own grief and pull the blanket back from around its face, I see a monster that I’d rather drop off on a doorstep the way Benjamin’s father did in the movie. My grief shouldn’t be here, my mind tells me. My grief has no place here. It’s my fault that I feel the loss that I feel. If I hadn’t made the choices I made I wouldn’t have the burden of this ugly, misshapen grief to carry around my life.

After all, my grief is illegitimate. It shames me every time it fills my heart and mind. Every time the feelings of loss, sadness or pain come, there is the inevitable shame right behind them. If I show this grief to someone else, to try and receive some empathy or comfort, I am met with more judgment, more rejection and more shame. So I hide it.

This ugly child that is my grief was one born out of sin, I’m told. I fucked up and this is the illegitimate result of my mistakes. Basically I’m told, I deserve this pain. I deserve this grief. This grief is what I GET for sinning. It doesn’t matter why I sinned. It doesn’t matter how bad the pain was or what had been done to me. It doesn’t matter. The point is, I sinned. That’s what matters, everyone seems to think.

It seems that if my grief had been born out of something besides my sin, I’d have the right to the comfort, empathy and compassion of others I long for. I’d be held. I’d be patted. I’d be hugged. I’d be kissed. I’d be fawned over. I’d be loved. “I’m so sorry you are going through this pain,” they’d say, softly, concerned that even the tone of their voice would go even a little way to ease my pain.

But this…this ugly grief…this grief that is my own fault…it is my just punishment. I must endure it, and how dare I complain.

Not only that, this grief is the kind I should learn to keep to myself. No one wants to hear about it. In fact, I should pretend not to feel it. When it threatens to swallow me up, I should choke it down. I should eat it until I am sick, and only spit out the bones when no one is watching. How dare I offend the sensibilities of others by allowing them to see this hideous spawn of my sinful acts?

No, I do not love or accept the shape of my grief. How can I, when no one else does? There is no lap for me to sob on. There are no arms to hold me up when the grief knocks me to the floor. There are no ears to hear the ragged sobs.

So I pick up my ugly, squalling, illegitimate grief and cover it. I want to smother it, but then I know it would live on inside of me. So I wrap it up, put a finger in its mouth to soothe its screams, hold it close and sneak quickly and silently into the night.

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