Over the weekend, I found myself bouncing between joy and sorrow. Friday night, after learning about David Koff’s passing, I was glued to my computer, tears dripping out of my eyes, while behind me, vegetables waited patiently to be turned into company-worthy soup. I had friends coming over in an hour, and I just couldn’t pull myself together enough to focus on all that I needed to get done. So I sat, reading and weeping, heavy-hearted, until I felt moved to start cooking. Just because. Not because the clock told me to but perhaps because washing potatoes and chopping onions is still, after all these years, a comforting connection to earth and people and the love we put into the food we make for the ones we hold dear.
Paul came over that night, and we turned into co-hosts when our friends Dana and Jason arrived. (As fate would have it, they were late, so there really wasn’t a rush.) We ate soup and drank wine and played Settlers of Catan, and we stayed up reaaaalllly late. And it was all so much fun.
I find it bewildering that joy can co-exist with such sadness. Even when I am grieving for a lost loved one, it’s possible to smile and laugh, to feel a happy feeling. And I can easily flip from sad to happy and back again. On Saturday night, after Paul and I had finished making love, I burst into tears. The grief I felt for Crescent’s loss had been with me all day, and there was something about the intensity of sex that brought it all to the surface, and I couldn’t hold back my tears. I wanted to—oh, I really wanted to—but I was a dam that had burst. So I cried, and Paul held me, and I cried some more. And I felt guilty for all the fun and laughter I was enjoying that weekend, along with the tears. Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? That feeling anything but sadness during a time of grieving is inappropriate? And yet, there is no karmic balance sheet that says if you feel happy, someone else must feel sad. Your sadness doesn’t magically make someone else feel better. There’s no earthly limit on our happiness, only an unknown expiration date to each of our lives.
Grieving is a strange process. Each time I experience it, I think I get a little closer to understanding the mystery of it. But the mystery is too deep for me to ever come close to clarity. All I know is that we each grieve in our own ways, and not all grieving is about crying. Sometimes it’s about remembering, and loving, and helping, and doing whatever feels like the right thing to do.
I still catch myself feeling guilty that I am alive and my brother is not. There’s nothing I can do to change that basic fact, and the guilt gives way to gratitude that I am alive. I don’t know what else to do other than to acknowledge that I don’t deserve to be alive any more than he deserved to be burdened with a crippling mental illness. But gratitude is all I really know how to do in those moments. Maybe gratitude is a milestone of grieving, and I just keep circling around it, laps of guilt and gratitude, over and over again.