Pool of Grief

Pool of Grief

pond2

I’ve always thought of grief as a pool. Not a swimming pool, but a large body of water, dark and cold and full things mysterious, lake-like. Each of us will someday drink from the pool that is grief— interact with this mysterious, uncomfortable, yet inevitable entity that laps at our heels our whole life long.

When you think about it, you can observe the different ways that people do this, and the circumstances unique to each individual that make their time at the pool their own. Some people stand in the shallows for a while, confusedly, finding their way out with little struggle. Some people wade into deep water, tragically, and begin to drown. Some people sit on the shore, sipping grief as from a chalice, little bits, its bitterness measured carefully by a benevolent hand. Some wade into the pool of grief and never come out.

When she died, a very specific image came into my mind in my most emotionally exhausted moments that I yearned for, almost physically. I imagined, as I lay in the stillness that came after hours of tears, my face red and swollen, refusing to believe that my waking reality was indeed real…I reflected that I wanted to fall into a deep pool of cold water and sink to the bottom.

This image came to me many times. Enough that I shared it with a supportive friend. To be specific, I didn’t want to die— it wasn’t manifested thoughts of suicide. It was, strangely enough, an image that described what I already felt was happening to me interiorly. I already felt that I was in this deep, still, cold pool, sinking with closed eyes to rest on the bottom for a while. Perhaps for a hibernation? I’m still not sure. I always knew I would come up for air eventually…but not right away. The image appeared again and again, as I lay motionless, tear-tracks streaked from eyes to ears, staring at my popcorn ceiling.

I imagined my time at the pool would be so different before her death. It’s so easy to try to prepare oneself, to develop expectations for one’s experience. None of the things I believed I would feel, things I expected and even took for granted, came to be. I wrestled with the shock of that dissonance for months— the grating of expectations on reality. Eventually I realized I was less in control of my experience at the pool than I planned, and I learned to accept it.

I had planed something beautiful. Sad, yes. But not so sad as to lack faith, to lack all the things I knew and believed to be true about the afterlife. My pool originally contained floatation devices. It wasn’t deep, it was shallow. Something I would wade into and splash around in, in safety, until it was time to get out.

This linear concept of the grief experience influenced my shock, when my time at the pool actually came. There’s so much more dipping in and out than I thought there would be— wonderful moments all the time where the ache doesn’t find me, then at the recollection of just one memory, one song, one idiom, one image, I am pushed roughly as from a great hight into deep water to wrestle my way out, gasping from the pain and shock that the pool is even still there! Still so cold, and still so huge, and still present in my life. The time will come, I know, when I will have wandered away from it…far enough away that maybe only intentional journeys through memories will find me standing at its shore. In the meantime, I am learning to swim. I am learning to navigate its waves. I am becoming comfortable that I am not alone in this place, but that every one of us turns up here eventually, and I’m blessed with many lifelines to pull me back if I forget.

Roses

Roses

She sang. She was always singing. When he was alive, my Poppie (her husband) didn’t like it, apparently because he thought she didn’t have a good voice. She said she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. They were both wrong. She sang lots of songs, the same ones over and over. It was so characteristic of her to sing while making breakfast, sing while ironing my white uniforms for school, sing while sitting at the dining room table, working on a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle…another characteristic trait, “playing puzzle.”

She sang so many kinds of songs. Old songs from the ‘30s and ‘40s, Western ballads, songs from musicals, children’s ditties she had learned in school, folksongs. Patsy Cline, and Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter, and the occasional Sinatra. “What’ll I Do?,” “The Story of Two Cigarettes,” “You Are my Sunshine,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Down in the Valley,” “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons,” and so many others. I learned these songs by hearing her sing them, and to this day there are few I have heard in their original form. I remember her singing them as they were meant to be sung, and I remember all the funny little ways she would sing them when she felt silly and happy, replacing words and adding in her own tempos. She was rarely unhappy, at least when I was around.

“Room Full of Roses,” was one of the songs she sang the most. A country song, it was recorded by George Morgan in 1949 and hit number four on the Billboard charts that year, which must be when she first heard it. I had never asked her, and I doubt she would have remembered such trivia. It was covered by Mickey Gilley in 1974, and was a major hit for him.  As I write this, I have never heard either version, but I know the lyrics by heart.

It is a bit ironic that I chose this song for the title of my blog. It isn’t a tribute to either George Morgan or Mickey Gilley, and the irony lies in the lyrics— it’s about someone breaking someone else’s heart, certainly not something Grandma ever did to me! It is so iconic of her, though, and in spite of the story the song tells, I like to think that my Grandma gave me many, many figurative “rooms full of roses”— gifts, lessons, memories to cherish, and love to remember and hold onto. I love the idea that we each do essentially the opposite of what the song says for each other— that every time we make our loved ones happy, cheer them when they are sad, care for them when they are sick, play and laugh with them, we bless them with roses of our hearts. She filled rooms, and rooms, and endless rooms of those kinds of roses for me…

So here it is, the original version shared with you on the four-month anniversary of her passing. I think of her, and hope that somewhere she is singing with me a sad song, but a song that only ever brought us happiness:

Teeth and the Journey of Grief

Teeth and the Journey of Grief

“Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” C.S. Lewis

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Through good genes, much fastidious parenting, and a healthy dose of good luck, I managed to carry out the first 24 years of my life without a single cavity. I was told that my great-great-grandmother, Nonnie, (who had immigrated from Tuscany in the early 20th century) lived her entire life without a single cavity, though this claim is impossible to substantiate. Nevertheless, knowing this tidbit of my dental genealogical history always made me feel smug. So smug that I actually stopped going to the dentist. While I continued to brush and floss (often carelessly, as I had always done with no apparent consequence), I simply felt that visiting the dentist was both a waste of time and energy for someone who clearly had genes that would enable her to live a lifetime without cavities. Six years later, sitting in my sympathetic dentist’s chair and experiencing for the first time the exquisitely distressing experience of having six teeth drilled and filled, I concluded that forgoing the dentist for so long wasn’t the most prudent thing I had ever done.

My teeth ached for months afterwards. My dentist, a profoundly gentle and supremely over-qualified woman of national dental renown (that is a thing, really!), regrettably informed me that some people’s teeth just hurt for a really, really long time after fillings. Even after the edges of the fillings are smoothed, and carefully reshaped again and again to perfect the bite. Even after desensitizing varnish is applied, and Sensodyne toothpaste employed. While all of my co-workers remarked that they never felt a bit of pain after a tooth was properly filled, I ached. For weeks I couldn’t bite down on anything more solid than cooked pasta, and it took months to crunch a firm vegetable. Eventually the nerves in my teeth settled down some from their trauma and I’ve been able to eat more normally, favoring my right side that has fewer molars filled, and always feeling twinges of discomfort with my meals.

The most surprising realization during this strange and new experience, was the realization that I had known my teeth for 30 years. For 30 years, I had run my tongue over their grooves, their ridges. I knew what they felt like, I knew who they were, and what they were capable of. But now, after their time under the drill, I realized that these old friends will never be the same teeth again. I can never get the old ones back. Now they are covered in strange, smooth porcelain that interferes with my ability to really chew (too smooth in some places), and they shock me with their on-again-off-again fussiness— sensitive today, perfectly unbothered by anything the next. My teeth are healed, mind you, but my life with them is different. It’s uncomfortable, and it will always be lesser than when I had my original, uncavitied pearly whites.

About a month after I sat in my dentist’s chair and received six unwelcome, surprise fillings, my grandmother died. She was ninety-four years old. It’s no tragedy when a woman of ninety-four dies in God’s time, and without undue or prolonged suffering. But she and I shared what can only be described as a very special bond. She was perhaps my dearest friend, certainly my greatest champion in all things whether I deserved it or not, and perhaps a true soulmate.

garden path

It has been almost four months to the day since she passed. I had experienced death before, with acquaintances, friends, and family. I believed I was as prepared for this grief as I could be— indeed, I was as prepared as I ever could have been. But entering into my grief for her was a totally and completely unexpected journey that I could never have anticipated. It has challenged everything I thought I knew and expected about death, about my faith, and about God. Many aspects of this experience have been profoundly painful, and some have been beset with graces I can hardly deserve.

I quickly realized, though, that I’m on a journey of healing, this road called grief, and that when I emerge on the other side I’ll probably feel a lot like my teeth did. New and unfamiliar, never again to be as I was, perhaps even (morbidly) still in pain, never functioning as well as I did before her death. It is too soon to tell. I hope to be able to share some of my thoughts about grief, healing, and my life with this blog as a way of helping myself move forward. I don’t intend this blog to be morbid, depressing, or solely focused on the death of my grandma, but to be a place where I can share thoughts, memories, and many other tidbits from my life, with the understanding that this profound experience will inform much of what I share. I appreciate your reading any of what I have to say, and all of the thoughts you care to share.

Incidentally, my next dentist appointment is penciled in for next month. A cleaning. Every six months feels too soon, but I know everyone will agree it’s a vast improvement to every six years. It’ll be better this time, I know it. Despite all the twinges, they really do feel so much better these days.