Let's just eliminate all the bullshit, shall we?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Another Variety of Grief

When I was a kid, I didn't have much interaction with other people...period. But the interactions I did have were always with much older people.

My adoptive parents were on subsequent marriages, were both a good bit older, and all of their friends and coworkers were similarly older. So when their relatives, coworkers, or the rare friends were present (which wasn't often,) I learned how to communicate in Old people lingo.

I learned to think like an old person, dwell on old people concerns, and attach to old people. I had no friends my age.

So when I eventually started school and had no friends and no skills for making friends, I stood out like a fish out of water. My concerns and interests were different anyhow, but the social barrier really accentuated it.

When I was just 6, my grandfather died in the line of duty as a Hillsborough County Sheriff's officer. I didn't understand death, but it scared the hell out of me. The fact that Nana was so sad and everybody was acting so weird really freaked me bad. And the corpse at the funeral was too much; I just stared and stared and stared while the voices droned on.

I got used to death at an early age; accustomed to its regularity, seeing as I knew so many old people. I was confused in school that other people had never lost anyone and thought I was weird because I talked about it incessantly.
In 5th Grade, I think it was, a boy in our class (of 20 students) died unexpectedly in a skiing accident. That was super bizarre.

One day soon after it occurred, I had come to school late as a result of a funeral in our family, and I encountered the boy's Mom in the doorway to the offices. It was one of those strange, strained, uncomfortable dealings where there was nothing whatsoever to be said and the silence was deafening. I just recall that look of despair; how it looked like this previously vibrant and loving person had just disappeared. What on earth was she thinking? What would happen to her now? We passed, nothing spoken, and my heart ached for her. That helplessness of watching people suffer has stayed with me.

My paternal grandmother died when I was about 14 years old. I was in the midst of a meltdown, being booted from school, leaving home and other nonsense when it occurred, and I'm sorry to say that all I really remember of that time was the selfishness of feeling more abandoned and alone in the world. She had been good to me, even though she supposedly had not been around for my Dad at all. (You can imagine the resentments there.)

I lost two good souls to suicide at this time. That was devastating, especially in the midst of teen hormones and my own failed attempts. I had precious few friends to begin with, and this started the idea in my head that I was plagued by Death. That those close to me were being picked off. That death was the one thing that people who knew me had in common. It sounds absurd, but it's the thinking of a troubled mind. Especially when more than half of your world is in the ground at age 14 and most people you know still haven't lost a single person they know. (That sense of not being able to share my loss, or have other people relate to it was equally isolating.)

A brilliant young man whom I admired and had a huge crush on was responsible for a drunken driving crash that killed a little girl. The senselessness and insanity of all aspects of the tragedy shook me greatly. To know that such despair could come from a moment of stupidity was mind-boggling. I don't believe in destiny and predestined lives, so it was just a colossal damned waste of possibility.

I would later find out (12 years later) that my birth mother, Mary, was killed on Christmas Day of 1985. While I didn't know her at the time, I was staying alone at my parents' house while they vacationed across country at the time (1985/1986 school holiday season.) I was miserably depressed and bottomed out and suicidal once more, but I focused on my writing and produced a poem which still helps me to this day. I don't believe in coincidences, so I'm sure that was my mother reaching out to me) When I learned that she was dead, and how, that realization that I would never get to see her or hear her voice was devastating. I had searched for my birth family for about a decade, and to have that truth revealed was hugely painful.)

This being the mid-Eighties meant one thing for a young and sexually active homosexual male; the HIV-A.I.D.S. crisis. The only real place of belonging I had found was in my fellow outcasts, and all the people I knew were dying horrible deaths. Withering away, unrecognizable, depressed, tossed aside by family and work and church and friends. It seemed like all we could do for a while was hold hands and bury the dead. Some chose to kill themselves rather than face the unknown. Many disappeared from the 'Scene,' choosing to lose themselves in the church, marriages, or denial. I don't blame them. It was a lonely, frightening, brutal time.

Relationships became harder to establish. People were scared of any kind of intimacy. The deaths I had experienced made me retreat even further from other people, emotionally. It was just 'too much' to go through over and over again.
And it always seemed to be good people suffering. Not just dying, but suffering and dying. After being placed in an evangelical school where they regularly condemned me and harassed me verbally and physically about my sexuality, I made another suicide attempt. I crashed my car, but something prevented it from being fatal. I feel the effects of that crash every day I am still alive.

One morning I awoke around 6 a.m., having been touched by a messenger. I sat and waited. The phone rang, and I dressed and went out into the house. Mother was on the kitchen phone and started breaking down into tears. I knew I had to be the one to maintain, as the voice had guided me, so I went over and took the phone as she grieved then loss of her Mother.

My Grandmother Grace is probably the single most influential figure in my life. She was the only person who has ever shown me truly unconditional love and kindness. She was a nurturer, a role model, a friend, a comfort, a confidante, an ally and an inspiration. She cared for me and raised me and lived in the next room for many years. She alone knew what the reality of life in that house was. We were bonded forever. I helped with plans, and I gave the eulogy as she had requested. I just got through it. My aunt told my Mom at the funeral to "Stop crying..it was gonna be all right." I don't recall what I said, but I know the comment created rage within me.

People are always trying to control and suppress and invalidate our emotions. And grief is one of the most personal matters around. Possibly the deepest hurt we will ever experience. At least it has been in my experience. While driving along the highway a week later, I nearly crashed when I burst into tears without warning. It was a deep, guttural sobbing that I couldn't stop, and was so intense that I couldn't see through the waterworks. Something guided me me to the side of the road safely and I cried for the longest time before I felt spent.

Not long after I lost my best friend Todd. Shortly after having left the hospital, I called back up to check on him. The nurses would only say that "You need to get in touch with his family." During his funeral, the preacher (who didn't even know Todd) started doing Hellfire and Brimstone for the sake of his parents. They had showed up out of nowhere in Todd's last days to condemn him to Hell and 'convert' him, making his last moments on earth wretched and scary. No one spoke about Todd or his life or his spirit or loves during the entire spectacle. When it turned into a tent revival, I walked out. The preacher made the mistake of singling me out for his disapproval. I have avoided all but 3 funerals since then.

My friend John was pretty sick for a good while. He had Hospice and was pretty ready to go. I think he had time to make peace with a lot, which is good. He was a friend, as well as the brother and brother-in-law of two other close friends, so when he went at least there was some support in place. We even had a celebratory dinner for John's 'real' family after the service, which I truly enjoyed. (I sat under a tree and communed with nature and John during that service.)

more to follow.....

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