Nov 9, 2014

The Grief? It Never Truly Goes Away

"Waltz of Lost Dreams" by S. Karavouzis

Nov. 9, 2014

Years ago, when I was working as a reporter, I interviewed a minister who had lost his children in a house fire.

I can’t recall his name or the number of children he lost (I’m thinking three), and his grief was incomprehensible to me at the time. How the man continued to function, I can only guess. And yet he shared something that has stayed with me and comes to mind each time someone I love dies. I’ve reworked it over the years, changing it a bit after experiencing each of my losses.

Grief, he said, is like a walk on the beach. As you walk along the sand, sometimes your feet stay dry. At other times, the water gently laps up over the tops of your feet and recedes back, leaving just a trace of the ocean.

Then there are those times when you purposely walk along the water’s edge with the water reaching the bottom of your knees.

And at other times, there are those walks where a wave comes out of nowhere and knocks you flat, sometimes pulling you under with an undertow that you don’t think you’ll survive, but you do.

The other day, I was reading a column written by Martin Rogers, a sportswriter for USA Today. Here’s his opening paragraph:

“The National Football League is the last place
I would ever have expected to find a shred
of comfort on the most difficult anniversary of all.”

 Rogers went on to explain:

            “Yet there it was on Thursday night, as in a
            heavenly frozen moment, we saw the angelic
            face of 4-year-old Leah Still ...

            “Leah’s chance to watch her father Devon Still
            play for the Cincinnati Bengals for the first time,
            as she battles cancer ... coincided with the most
            wrenching turn of the calendar for myself and
            my wife Carol.”

The previous year, the Rogers’s daughter Sophia was born at 25 weeks, weighing less than 2 pounds. She lived for only 33 hours. Nov. 6, the same day Leah was able to watch, for the first time, as her her dad played professional football, marked what would have been Sophia’s first birthday.

Rogers wrote that the year that followed her death was filled with “utter emptiness.”
            “Sometimes you cry, sometimes you hold back
            the wish to scream and spout anger at the world.
            Sometimes you just sit, hollow.”

He also wrote:
            “... the grief is always there, like a heavy and
            and uncomfortable shadow, and one that can turn around
and strike you in the gut at any time.”

That strike he writes about is like one of those waves.

I’m drawn to articles like Rogers’s because, even though his loss is different, he has experienced grief, too. He gets it. I can relate. I also can learn.

I’m drawn, also, to books about grief. For weeks, I’ve been putting off compiling a reading list I’d promised to give one of the daughters of my late friend, Lori, which addresses grief and grieving.

Some touch on the subject only briefly while grief is the primary topic of others. There are novels lumped in with how-to get throughs and memoirs and non-fiction, a book of daily reflections and another filled with poetry.

Three and a half years before Mom died, the book, “the gift of grief: finding peace, transformation, and renewed life after great sorrow,” written by Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz, was one of my Christmas presents.

It was inscribed: To Deb, From Her Mom, Christmas 2009.

Although we never talked directly about the fact that she and I knew that it was never a question of if the cancer would kill her but a question of when, she was preparing me for a life without her.

And the primary way she did that was by giving me books to read. She knew that I stood firmly beside her in knowing that books can teach us how to do anything, including how to survive a devastating loss. Or specifically, the words of others can help us feel less alone and help us move forward after someone we have cherished dies.

That’s why I’m drawn to articles like the one written by Rogers as well as that of one of his co-workers whose mother recently had died. The headline for that article written by Douglas Robson, reads, “Loss has writer cheering from press box at U.S. Open.” “For once,” he said, “I’m rooting at the U.S. Open.”

As a reporter, Robson knows that part of his job requires him to remain objective. But in September of this year, he threw that objectivity out the window to root for Roger Federer “... not for all the obvious reasons — the class, the flowing game, the agelessness, the authentic joie de vivre for everything tennis. I’m backing the 33-year-old Swiss because my mother, Margaret, adored him.”

Robson played tennis in his youth and his mom — a former player herself — was his biggest cheerleader and chauffeur. After playing Division I college tennis, the writer began covering tennis for a living

Throughout the article, Robson shares memories about his mom, their relationship and the role tennis played in their relationship. He recalls attending the U.S. Open with his parents and friends from college in 1984.

In the few years leading up to this year’s tournament, Margaret would “return to the Open for a day or two when I was working ... We rode the #7 subway out together. I would pop out for a quick lunch, and she would head back to the stands.”

His mom was 82 when she died Aug. 24, the day before the 2014 U.S. Open began. “I felt her presence everywhere these past few days,” Robson said.

The topic of grief and grief itself have been on the forefront of my mind since I lost, as Cheryl Strayed has said about the death of her mom, the love of my life in June of 2012. That was the most devastating loss of my life.

Unfortunately, I also lost two dear friends — one 13 months after Mom passed and the second in February of this year. And now, I’ve lost someone else who played a significant role in my life.

But unlike many of  my younger loved ones who have preceded the precious soul that was Claridean Hunt, she was 92, the same age as my great aunt, Evie, who died in January 2010.  Both had lived long, fulfilling lives.

I have found that my grief for Claridean is different than that for Mom and many of my other dear friends. Maybe it’s because I know she did live a long, fulfilling and happy life in spite of some personal tragedies.

The tears I’ve cried for Claridean have been mostly tears of joy because of the joy she brought to my life. She called me her “day camp kid,” because that’s where our paths first crossed those many decades ago.

I regret that the last time I saw her, spoke to her and laughed with her, Claridean was celebrating her 90th birthday. However, I find comfort in knowing that she knew how much I loved her. She knew how special she was to me. Her milestone was observed almost one month after Mom’s death, and I was consumed by my grief from that significant loss.

So, two more Christmases passed as well as two more of her birthdays, and she didn’t hear from me. Hardly anybody did. After I learned of her death, I felt bad. I also felt guilty. But I’ve had a couple of days to work through those feelings, which is why those tears I’m crying now are happy tears.

I am a better person for having known and been loved by Claridean Meadows Hunt. And I will try to be a kinder person like she was in honor of her memory. But she loved me for the person I am, which means I'm certain to lapse every now and again.

With her passing, I realize I know that while grief never truly goes anywhere, it does take on many different forms as expressed by the minister and those two sportswriters.

My reading list, in no particular order, in regard to loss and grief:
“The Year of Magical Thinking,” Joan Didion; “Making Toast: A Family Story” and “Kayak Mornings: Reflections on Love, Grief and Small Boats,” Roger Rosenblatt; “The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing,” edited by Kevin Young; “A Time to Grieve,” Carol Staudacher; “Patrimony,” Philip Roth; “The End of Your Life Book Club,” Will Schwalbe; “If I Stay,” Gayle Forman; “Mom & Me & Mom,” Maya Angelou; “Four Funerals and a Wedding,” Jill Smolowe; “The Death of the Great Santini,” Pat Conroy; “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed; “Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog,” Delia Ephron; “About Alice,” Calvin Trillix; “Wave,” Sonali Deraniyagala; “The Walk” series by Paul Evans; “Carrie & Me,” Carol Burnett; “The Meryl Streep Movie Club,” Mia March; “When Bad Things Happen To Good People,” Harold Kushner; “The Beginner’s Good-Bye,” Anne Tyler; “Gabriel: A Poem,” Edward Hirsch; and “the gift of grief: finding peace, transformation and renewed life after great sorrow,” Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz.


In loving memory of so many who live exclusively in my heart and in my memories: ramona a. kuhn (saine) summers; evie stelts; lori marsh; claridean hunt; dixie larson; jeanie johnson; nancy johnson blackburn; mike buffington; maxine hoffman; addie kessler; beth wooten wilson; jeff poff; patty means clark; joan brugh; shirley kerr; mary waite; pat saine; jake and agnes hulsizer; doug filbey; william k. vernon; che che hines; nancy newman; and mary jo anderson ... and now, claridean hunt.