Hands down, grief is generally my least favorite emotion. It’s so big and inescapable and words never express it correctly. What I didn’t know prior to two weeks ago is that it also protects you. It’s an anesthetic veil wrapped around your eyes (and your mouth and ears too for good measure) that prevents you from being bothered by anything that is anything less than urgent matters. Your grief, your pain is so overwhelming that you are required to be cared for by others because you cannot care for yourself. You need to be fed, you need to be focused, you need to be loved, you need to be hugged–
You need to be treated like an actual human being.
And you deserve that treatment. You deserve it because you’ve done the bravest thing a human could do. You loved someone so much that it hurt when they left. It cracked your heart open and you loved them anyway and you kept loving them even though you knew that might be the outcome of that bravery. You loved them so hard that it brought you to your knees until you crumpled onto the kitchen floor, the loss of them. You cried so hard that there was a chance that soul would slip out with your sobs. You lost the ability to cry, to eat, to do anything but mechanically put yourself through the steps that were required of you. The loss of them was so great that all you can do is talk about them. All you can do is never speak their name. All you could do was turn on your heel and leave the room when you were confronted with the permanence of your loss, to ball up somewhere you could be kept safe from predators until you could figure out what to do next.
You deserved to be treated with kind, gentle but firm hands from the others that love you, your chosen family, your tribe. Because they understand what this is doing to you in a way that a stranger would not in that moment. They see the pieces of your heart being rearranged in front of them. You deserve to be someone else’s charge for a while, now that you are worn from your labor, your spirit bent, your body uncaring for anything but sleep, anything that will make this stop.
I have dealt with death more than many Sister Queens in my age group, but yet not nearly as much as others. But I have never been this close when someone was unconscious and dying without an extremely close relationship to that person myself. Adult life does this to us sometimes, through family that was not ours but became ours through our love of one of their people. Maybe, like me, we weren’t given much of a chance to get close. Not due to them, but us. Careers, school, books have a way of eating through so much time that the weekends only given us barely enough time to cook and clean and then start again. You mean to of course. But no one’s schedules can quite match and that becomes exhausting too. Your good intentions pile up like gift cards in a drawer.
I was at work when I received the text that Jow’s stepfather had a heart attack. He’s young enough, a couple years younger than my mom. Worked. In good health. I wasn’t too concerned until Jow and I got there and we learned that he’s been unconscious and had not woken up. He wouldn’t again. Jow’s mother was pale with strain, having already buried her first husband due to cancer a couple years after my father was put in the ground for the same reason. Jow and I hadn’t known each other yet, but we would eventually. It had never occurred to me until this time that one could be widowed twice in this day and age. It seemed unnecessarily cruel in my suddenly childish brain. Wouldn’t you take turns? Wouldn’t everyone’s hearts know to do that? But of course, it doesn’t work that way at all and we started the grim ten day vigil that night that would end in his funeral yesterday.
Sometimes, we had amazing conversations about history and books and we would laugh while he slept, music usually playing. The Beatles.
Sometimes, we would clutch paper coffee cups and whisper about the location of this paper or that paper.
Sometimes, we sat silently in the family waiting room and I spun yarn, transfixing the other families who were there in a daze.
Sometimes, we talked to doctors.
Sometimes, we tried to piece together plans for what Jow’s mother would do.
Sometimes, we gossiped ceaselessly at a restaurant with nothing else to do but wait, spin our wheels and eat something.
Through this, I had to keep as much of my life going as I could. My job. My house. Jow. HIs mother. Mostly, whenever I had a free moment, I slept for hours and hours. I got sick of sleeping, sick of the internet, sick of television, sick of take out, sick of Jow, sick of myself, sick of my house, sick of my phone, sick.
I had never been removed enough from the person who was dying and old enough and local enough all at the same time to offer genuine support past a casserole, an ear and showing up where needed. I contacted lawyers, accountants, made tinctures, brought essential oils, showed up the hospital during key points when called, helped corral paperwork, help plan parts of needed events, listened, showed up, made plans, organized finances.
I want to tell you that this feels like the Lordess’ work and that I feel blessed to do it. I want to tell you that I never felt cranky or anything less than St. Teresa of the Little Flowers. That you could probably have put a halo of stars that lit up with tiny Christmas lights around my head for all my good works.
It was hard, Sister Queens. I would do it again in a heartbeat for whomever I loved who needed it. But it was often not terribly glamorous or interesting. It was exhausting, it was necessary. But any time I get to be another pair of gentle hands for someone who was brave and loved someone so much the pieces in their heart fit together differently now because of it, I would do it. But mostly it was long, tiring hours. I didn’t feel a lot of personal self aggrandizing feelings.
Mostly I didn’t feel anything. To be honest.
But that’s okay, it wasn’t my job to feel grief this time. It was my job to care for a beloved human who was brave.
Because her heart was broken too in that hospital.