Tuesday, August 9, 2016

#SOL16: Regression

from art journal (M.A. Reilly, 2016)

With grief, regression occurs. No matter what direction forward seems to be there is no straight line to follow in order to wind your way out of grief.

Grief is uncharted.

C.S. Lewis writes that sorrow "needs not a map but a history" (p. 46, A Grief Observed) and I think he's correct. These posts the last several months have been an attempt at crafting a history, to chronicle what I most needed to say and in turn to learn and unlearn what moves me, what frightens me, and what loss feels like. I wanted to know the stink of it. Enduring is cheap and yet tonight enduring is all I can muster. That's the way it is. I know these feelings won't kill me, but the discomfort is significant. I'm reminded how Rob's death has tainted Devon and me, enlightened us, shifted what we think about at home. Earlier tonight while driving with Devon he told me that I study grief.
You study grief and yet no amount of studying will help you overcome it. You have to go through it, my son tells me. 
Is that how you see grief? I ask. 
Yeah. You want to place it under a microscope and find what it is made of.     
I do, I say laughing. If only it could be that easy. I found that book about the stages of  grief to be less than true.   
Stages make no sense, Devon adds. That's far too linear. 
The stages were ones I watched your dad move through during the last three weeks of his life.  But I agree that they make little sense for those surviving the death. 
It's a process we go through.
The one thing I try to remember is that my grief, my sense of loss, is not yours. It's just not the same. I'm not saying that my grief is more profound or more difficult. There's no contest when it comes to sorrow. We each hurt. What I am saying is that the loss is different and trying to understand this immense sorrow helps me to place it in perspective. I write and make art out of necessity. Making things seems to be healing me.   Does that make sense?   
Yeah, it does. Like I said it's a process. After dad's death I realized that I don't fear death. I don't at all. 
How come? I asked, truly interested. 
Death is the one thing we can know with certainty. There's no doubt how we will end. 
Hmm, I hadn't thought of it as that.
You will die. I will die, too, adds Devon. There's nothing to fear given the certainty. It is the one thing we can know for  sure.    
That's true, I tell him thinking how this last year has given rise to a more reflective young man. And I wonder as we drive if the weight of such knowledge at 17 is a weight too heavy to bear.
The one certainty in life is death, my son tells me. And certainty is a comfort. There's no confusion. We can live bolder, make our lives matter more.
Take chances and know risks?
Do what you love. 


For the last several days I have drifted in and out of thoughts about Rob. I can't seem to shake loose this melancholy that dogs my steps as we approach August 20th. That was the day we learned Rob had cancer last year. Unlike so many cases of cancer, the patient goes on to live relatively normal fro several months,my ears. For Rob, he had just 6 days. By that next week, he was undertaking the first of five surgeries. This one would take 7 hours and land him in Intensive Care. He would come home for. The hospital, five days later and require oxygen for the next two weeks.  Our lives began to unravel faster and faster and we were never able to gain a foot hold.

I dread the 20th. I'm not sure why. It's not like something worse is going to happen, but perhaps I fear that as well.

Now, I stumble through life wearing a tattered quilt made from ill-sewn pieces of cloth. I gather it about me,  to keep the coolness of evening from my shoulders now that you are gone and can no longer warm me.


Naomi Shihab Nye opens the poem, Kindness, by writing:

Before you know what kindness really is 
you must lose things, 
feel the future dissolve in a moment 
like salt in a weakened broth.

And I think she is right. It is sorrow that allows kindness to be noticed, wanted, desired beyond the mere benefits that accompany such acts. I know this now in ways a year ago I simply could not recognize.


by Naomi Shihab Nye


  1. There is so much to agree with in your post this morning Mary Ann. I don't know if you can feel me shaking my head as I read your words but yes... I am in this too... right with you trying to put grief under a microscope, but it doesn't help enough. But what a wonderful son you have there to help you in this journey without Rob. What a son you two shared.
    And what a great ending... Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things,feel the future dissolve in a momentlike salt in a weakened broth.
    I'm off today to Amsterdam, a trip I was supposed to make with Tuvia last September. A riverboat trip to Basel, Switzerland. Let's hope it's good because on August 21, I will be at the cemetery, marking the day that Tuvia was taken and I watched the attack on his being. I wonder what I'll be feeling on the 22nd. I'm off...

    1. I will think of you both days. For me the 20th of August looms. I have softened it by leaving that day for holiday. We do what we must, what we can.

  2. "There's no contest when it comes to sorrow." Reading your post is a gift. A kindness you are passing on allowing all to walk alongside you as you process what we all will.

    1. Thank you Julianne. I write in part out of necessity.

  3. I have always seen sorrow, my sorrow that is, as a wellspring of a bitter sweet wisdom. I believe that Nye's poem gets at this, too. I can see how August 20 marks a demarcation for you - you crossed over to the other side of sorrow and have come to know that weakened broth.

    1. Yes. I hadn't thought of it that way, but I think you're right. And yes wisdom, bittersweet at that, can accompany lost and sorrow.