The thing with grief, if I may whine for a bit, is that it splits you into different people and all those different people are doing different things.

Practical shows up first (at least in me, and thank god for it) and says “Yes, I WILL have hysterics, but in a minute—first we have to deal with all the horribly banal details.” It would be easier if we all just fell apart into rose petals or motes of light when we died, but we live in an unpleasantly biological universe. Fortunately Kevin was here and handled most of that.

Practical holds together pretty much long enough to pour the first shot.

Then the bit that I think of as me wanders around feeling like I’ve been hit by a board—what just happened? Is this really happening? Is this allowed to happen? Does the universe really get to do things like that without the possibility of a do-over? Can’t we fix this somehow? Isn’t there someone we can call?

Then my body starts crying. I can’t really explain it better than that—I suppose Hyperbole & A Half nailed it, because it feels like an emotion called crying, not like me being sad. Me still isn’t quite sure that this is irrevocable, that I don’t have a save point somewhere, that I can’t just go back in time three hours and maybe get a re-roll. My body, somewhat wiser, knows that bodies are mortal, that whether or not me is a soul and gets to go on to other lives, bodies get a finite run. It takes orders somewhere below the conscious level. It starts crying.

Crying, however, is exhausting and you can’t do it for long. Well, I can’t. Other people maybe have toned those muscles more. I get about thirty seconds to a minute of intensive weeping and then I’m drained. And then life is almost sort of normal for a few minutes, and I can find things funny and even laugh (although laughing is perilous and may set off crying again) and then the reserve of energy builds up again, as if I’m climbing some sort of switchback of grief, and then I get another minute of weeping again and then my eyelids are raw and my sinuses are plugged up and I have to stop crying to find a Kleenex. It’s like an allergic reaction caused by fate—No, I don’t accept this, my body is rejecting all these individual particles of what just happened, and so your nose swells up and your eyes get red and you croak like a frog out for a walk.

Incidentally, there’s a mockingbird on my block who can do frog calls. Also the two-note “boop-boop!” sound of a car being unlocked remotely. I discovered this this morning while sitting on the front deck, crying into gardening gloves. Don’t do this. Take your gloves off. No matter how miserable you are, life will not be made better if you wipe your eyes with a coarse polymer fabric impregnated with dirt. It took me about ten minutes to learn this basic truth and I pass it on to you free of charge.

Also, I have poison ivy in both armpits. Just there, nowhere else. I must have been doing a tick check or tightening a bra strap or something. I’ve had it for over a week now, I just haven’t had an opportunity to work it into conversation yet. Applying camphor to your armpits is really quite unfortunate. For skin that gets stropped with a razor every day, it is wretchedly delicate.

Anyway.

Eventually Practical comes out again—we have to stop this, we have to write something, writing fixes things, writing makes you believe what you just said, writing nails down reality to the page and we can work from there—and slowly things start to unify together. And Kevin moves the chair that Ben died in up to the attic, so that I’m not staring at it whenever I walk in the door and seeing the indentation (useless chair anyway, only good as a cat bed, no one uses it, just takes up space, also blocking the beer fridge, so to hell with the chair.)

The part that’s me starts to kick off the crying. I can finally put my finger on an emotion and say There, right there, that’s sorrow, instead of being made of equal parts bewilderment and cryingThis is the point where I move into Advanced Coping Mechanism, where I deal with it as long as I can stand and then I call time out and go play video games. Jade Empire and Oddworld and Knights of the Old Republic got me through my divorce. I would literally talk about my relationship until I couldn’t handle it any more and then say “Okay, I need to stop this for a bit.” (Possibly my marriage would have lasted longer if we had separate consoles.) I am hoping to conquer this one with a few long Civ campaigns, although I have Bioshock Infinite ready to crack in case of spiraling despair.

(Give it credit, my grief is well-trained. When I say time out, it really truly steps back. We have made a bargain that I will only call on this power when I have a game queued up, and it allows itself to be switched off for an hour or so at a time, as long as there is no sneaky trying-to-think-around-the-edges. We both adhere to our sides of the bargain.)

And I mostly stop hoping for a do-over, except for the occasional Really? Are we sure? fading off into the distance, like the call of a kildeer somewhere over the moor, except that I don’t have a moor. I should probably get one. They seem like useful things, moors.

And I can’t eat and food is nauseating and then finally my body says To hell with this, I’m taking command here and I eat an entire pizza by myself, and think Good thing I’m emotionally healthy! This sort of thing could really fuck a person up.

Kevin’s been awesome. If there was a medal for Doing Everything Right, he would get it with all the extra stars and bobs and gizmos and clusters. I hope when his turn comes to be miserable, I’ll do even half so good a job. (Well, of course, I find myself thinking, Ben wouldn’t have left you if he didn’t know there was someone there to take up his duties. Kevin was the only adversary in the house he respected. Heh.)

And I climb the switchbacks and wish it could be over faster, knowing that I’ll get to the top, knowing that this is not the worst thing I have lived through, nor the last thing I will live through, but still wishing there was a pass time button or a make camp button or take an extended rest button, just so I could be there now instead of staring up to the top of the hill.

  • reply tanita ,

    Yes. Exactly THIS. You eloquently laid out the random, shambling, messy wrangle that is …grief.

    Writing does nail down reality, for a minute, anyway. Thank you for sharing this.

    • reply Galatae ,

      I have found that my prescription steroids for psoriasis are miracle cures for poison ivy (though they do nothing for what they are prescribed for). If you are getting desperate, give your doc a call and see what your options are.

      Grief, though, is something you just give yourself permission to do. I’m glad you are a writer, though, because you really do it well. Thank you for sharing it with us.

      • reply Hawk ,

        It’s no help to say it, maybe, but I’m gonna say it because if I were in your shoes I would feel a tiny bit better for someone saying it to me…

        We love you Ursula.

        Just a human-to-human, dammit you’re a good person kind of love.

        Grief sucks, and it’s messy and confusing and generally just yuck. Writing does make it better sometimes. I guess you could be glad that you write prose. I sink into badly scanned iambic pentameter. That’s much harder for my friends to bear with.

        But we love you. That’s important. Maybe it won’t make the hill any smaller, but maybe it will make the climb a little easier.

        • reply Alex R. ,

          It sucks when a good cat dies. We love you.

          • reply dester'edra ,

            *sighs* Poor sweetie, that’s some serious awful. Losing a cat is a special kind of grief, and Ben sounds like a very special Person of Fur. Bastet and Freyja watch over you, and i’m glad Kevin is there to help hold everything together, but i’ll think good thoughts for you as well (coincidentally, just as i started to type this, my own cat came over and started singing to you, so i guess the feeling is shared).

            On a practical note, however–i agree with galatae, if you have topical psoriasis meds handy (or even a simple extra strength hydrocortisone), i would absolutely try that on the poison ivy. The poison ivy rash is an allergic reaction, and steroids are very good at shutting down allergic reactions. I know it’s not the big issue, but even one less thing making our Ursula unhappy is at least *something*.

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