Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Duck and the Elephant

In one of the "Peanuts" comic strips, Lucy is in her "The Doctor is IN" booth and Charlie Brown says "Some days I'm up, and the next days I'm down."  Lucy replies, "Like an emotional roller coaster, huh?  Do you ever feel like you're on a roller coaster, Charlie Brown?" to which he responds, "How about bumper cars?"

I was recently talking to someone else who is grieving after the death of someone she loved, and the topic of support systems came up.  We discussed how we aren't sure how respond to questions like "How are you?" when we feel like we are expected to say "Fine."  She said on days when she is really not doing well that when she is asked that question she really, really just wants to say "Shitty - but thanks for asking."  

So often, especially here in the South, we tend to throw out questions or comments in a casual, just-in-passing way, oftentimes not even pausing to hear the other person's response.  It's a greeting, really, not a check-up on someone's physical or emotional health.  I used to think it was catchy and clever the way financial guru Dave Ramsey always responded "Better than I deserve" when a caller on his radio talk show asked him how he was, but now I think it's disingenuous and superficial.  Most of the time I don't even like to be asked that question because I feel like I am forced to be at least somewhat deceitful, pushed into discussing the weather or vacation plans when there is a giant elephant in the room.  So here it is:  I am like a duck, calm on the surface and paddling like hell underneath.  

I have learned that everyone experiences and copes with grief differently but that, even as different as situations causing the grief can be, we all need support as we are dealing with one of the most (or maybe THE most) difficult things we have ever faced.  It's hard to know what to say, I know, but actually it's not a situation that calls for advice or answers.  There are lots of resources out there about what to do to help support someone who has suffered a loss, like this info on the American Cancer Society's website:

Mostly, though, from my perspective, it's good for others to just check in, to let me talk about my dad, and to sometimes help me to think about something other than that elephant.  I've seen a picture of a "Support Wheel" with each spoke of the wheel representing one of the roles that a person can play in helping someone who is grieving, including serving as "Someone I can always count on," "Someone who makes me laugh," "Someone I can talk about my feelings with," and "Someone who will just listen."  All are very valuable and appreciated.  I am so very grateful for the people in my life right now who are helping me as I try to find my way.  They let me talk, vent, and cry, or sit on the periphery if that's all I can do at the time.  They seem to know that I need to know that people care, that those who knew my dad remember him, that I am not totally crazy even though I feel that way at times.  They let me put away the broom I sometimes use to sweep away the pain so I don't have to always hide what I am feeling.  Even if they aren't in the bumper car with me, they let me know that it's ok that I'm not "fine."

He manages like somebody carrying a box
that is too heavy, first with his arms
underneath.  When their strength gives out,
he moves the hands forward, hooking them
on the corners, pulling the weight against 
his chest.  He moves his thumbs slightly
when the fingers begin to tire, and it makes
different muscles take over.  Afterward,
he carries it on his shoulder, until the blood
drains out of the arm that is stretched up
to steady the box and the arm goes numb.  But now
the man can hold underneath again, so that
he can go on without ever putting the box down.
~from the poem "Michiko Dead" in the book The Great Fires, by Jack Gilbert

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