Friday, March 11, 2011

six from this mornings walk to the little bridge near the salt mine - grey & muddy


keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.

I've mentioned my Sadness many, many times in the nearly 4 years that I've been keeping this daily blog. Sadness is a part of me, like a birthmark or mole in a hidden place that few ever see.
I'm beginning to believe that what I've always thought was sadness might actually be grief.

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it

Joan Didion

I'm currently reading two books the first a thrilling non-fiction page turner called The Wave: In Pursuit of Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean a book in my I could have been pile - I could have been an oceanographer, I could have been an entomologist, I could have been a marine biologist ... the second book The Year of Magical Thinking I'm reading for the second time. Joan Didion's memoir about her life the year after her husband (partner, companion, glued at the hip, hardly ever separate, both writers, together always and for over 40 years) dropped dead one evening before dinner. A massive heart attack.

What prompted me to order The Year of Magical Thinking from my library so I could read it again was hearing that Joyce Carol Oates has just published a similar memoir A Widow: The Shock of Losing a Spouse She and her husband were also that inseparable pair, for over 47 years. Hospitalized with pneumonia but otherwise healthy he died suddenly from a secondary infection. I am completely compelled by tales of grief, by descriptions and feelings of grief, by trying to understand grief. I've ordered the Joyce Carol Oates book as well, from my library.

Ever has it been known that love knows not it's own depth until the hour of separation

Kahlil Gibran

My father died suddenly of a massive heart attack just weeks after my 16th birthday. At the time he died my parents were separated and he was living with his mother, my grandmother Flo. It was the summer, he was sad, he missed us, he was afraid he would lose our love (my sister and I) and one day July 25th, driving his car to work after lunch he died. Gone. Every thing he was seemed gone in an instant. Within 6 months my mother had remarried, we'd moved to a new house and I was in high school. I suffered panic attacks & anxiety. I began hiding food and binge eating. If I had had access to alcohol or drugs I would've relished in them but I was only 16. I was an addict in the making. My grief, my sadness became my secret friend. Tucked away tightly during the day, well hidden from everyone but at night, safe & snug in the darkness of my bedroom we would visit together. Over all these years ... it's still with me, that grief.

When my dog Jake died, a dog who became over 12 years my joy & comfort, my safety & security, my love. My one big true love. When he died three years ago all of that grief that I'd been carefully saving, carrying around with me hidden, finally unwrapped itself and it all tumbled out. I felt like I would die of sadness, imagined death felt better than that ache. I used to call that thing, that feeling, that constant ache - Sadness, my sadness, like my arm or hair or freckled face, some chronic thing I was afflicted with. I now believe that that thing I call sadness has been and continues to be grief.

I still feel past griefs. I presume, assume & imagine all kinds of future griefs, especially my own. I prepare for grief and I vicariously feel the grief of others. I grieve the parents of an 8 year old Ontario girl recently swept into a swollen icy creek and drowned - how could they possibly survive that pain ? I grieve the coyote who's leg instead of neck was caught in an irresponsible trapper's snare, who suffered days of intolerable cruelty until some kindness with a gun happened upon him. I grieve still for Lee (and his family) our village caretaker who died last week. How he can he be gone and where did he go ? Each morning Winnie and I would say hello to him as he made his way, coffee mug in hand, hand rolled smoke between his lips, to a bench in the park that wraps around our little harbour. His office, that park bench at the water's edge.

There are griefs so loud they could bring down the sky
and there are griefs so still no one knows how deep they lie

May Sarton


  1. This felt like a hard post to write but it felt like one that I needed to write ... and post. It made a lot of sense to me that "grief" would follow "shame". It's all about trying to understanding who you are and ultimately finding peace and love with that person.

  2. I certainly appreciate the honesty expressed here. I sincerly hope you find that peace within yourself, you deserve at least that and a whole lot more.

  3. thanks & a smooch to you Shammy Sham

  4. Susan, you're one of the bravest people I know. Not only to have gone on for so many years as you have - bearing all that pain and grief so silently and with such strength - but also somehow managing to create beauty and some measure of comfort in your world despite the pain.

    I'm so glad you've arrived at this point in your life at last - where you can finally even begin release this grief and pain that's had you in its grip for so long.

    As Will Hunting sez: "Let the healing begin"!


  5. Right On Norman
    xoxo Susan

    + thank you for seeing that beauty

  6. I do understand. Grief was pushed aside by fear in my world, and insecurity became my 'thing'. For months when my father was dying I expected that we would be out on the streets when he did. I was lucky in that my sister and brother, then only 16 and 19 themselves, were able to 'keep' me. My mother had died seven years previously. I was barely 12.

    In those days no one spoke about grief and fears to a child. They didn't know how such things eat into you until they become part of the fabric of your body. We learn to cover up to face the world, only it's just a front. But don't feel shame. No. Something happened to you. You could not help it. No one helped you deal with it. Grief and sadness, yes. Insecurity, yes. But shame? No.

  7. Hi Veg Artist. Thank you for your comment. "insecurity became my thing" Oh my, I know that feeling. Insecurity becomes almost a comfort, as strange as that sounds.

    When I say shame I'm talking about yesterday's topic of shame. The Bréne Brown take on the word shame which resonates with me completely, shame - feeling imperfect, unloved & vulnerable.

    Her PBS special "The Gifts of Imperfection: Living with Courage, Compassion and Connection" will air again March 22 at 2pm Eastern - think I'll get the Prince to tape it for me.

  8. Oh Susan... no words just lots of hugs and thoughts... and agreeing with Shamy that you definitely deserve inner peace, something you give so freely to others...

  9. How I understand this post, Susan! And how old griefs may not have spent themselves, although you may have thought so, and flare into raw life again when another, possibly lesser, loss comes along. It took years for me to experience the true depth of grief felt for the loss of my grandmother, triggered by a relatively minor relationship breakdown; I had carried her loss hidden within me for so long that it knocked me off my feet when it finally broke through.

    It amazes me what humans can and do survive.....

  10. Your image of Lee is the same one I have of him, and although I never got to know him well I was deeply moved to know I will no longer get to say good morning to him as he sat in in his big wide open office. But, somehow I think he'll be right there with his coffee cup and smoke.

  11. beautiful and melancholy. the sorrows are always with us, but it is as it should be - without them, the moments of brilliant life lose their poignancy.

    i grieve every loss of life i encounter. I keep some of the birds in the freezer...i get them out and look at them. I took photographs of them. I honored them as best i could in art and burial.

    we still have a shrine to Eva up at our house.

    peace be with you.


  12. TLJ - the village can't be the same without him, Winnie and I were walking along the salt mine road early this morning and we saw someone across the harbour heading into the village on a bicycle. I stood to argued with myself for awhile "that must be Lee" "No Susan, it can't be Lee"

    Hurry home from your sun & warmth the snow has melted and the "new & fancy" boardwalk poop gardens are a bloomin'. Missy D and I need you & Toby on our team ;-) who am I to bitch to ?? (I mean vent) of course ??

    & dear Chickory peace to you and all of yours also my friend. Sometimes I think I wish that I didn't feel quite so much. xo Susan

  13. ...
    My throat has constricted because I know what you mean...and I wish I didn't...
    I wish I could drop by with a batch of very addictive white chocolate/apricot scones and tea to sit and chat with you...I think you could help me and in doing help you too...Presumptuous of me?

    Have you read about post traumatic stress disorder?

    I could go on but I won't. Just know Susan that these words have touched me.

  14. Powerful stuff here Susan.
    I found it all incredibly helpful and appreciate both your openess and the link to Joan Didion that resulted from this.
    I have always admired your ability to try and understand the experience of grief.
    Didion notes that a friend and priest wrote to her,"We might,in that indeterminate period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean's bed, aware of the depth charge, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections."
    "For a while" she notes "I would need to watch for land mines".
    Oh man. Those land mines!
    Also the phenomenon of "waves" of grief.
    It is only now, in my late fifties that I am actually understanding the difference,in my personal and working life (severely disabled children and their families) between sadness and grief, so much of it around medical conditions, separation,death and acceptance on all fronts.
    So very grateful to you, your dear animals, and your beautiful bright paints!

  15. Thank you so much for allowing me to enter into your life and read what saddness you have had! I just lost my husband of 35 years four months ago and I am so lost in this world! He was my everything and I have shown my grief to the world. My parents don't even understand and tell me to quit crying! They have never lost each other, so they don't know the depths of my sorrow and how I miss the love of my life so very much! If you hide your grief, it will haunt you and come out sooner or later. My grief has not stopped since I have lost my sweet Rusty, which was a wonderful man and will continue the rest of my life. I know in time it will not be as intense, but will be there all the same. When you love, that is what you have to bear. It is a dark, lonely journey and no one can walk it for you! Thank you for allowing me to share also... Cindy Kendrick


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