Typically narcissistic blogging.

Posts tagged “grief

Death and Social Media

Not too long ago, my Facebook feed was suddenly peppered with vague posts about the death of somebody who was part of a broader (but quite small) community of which I am a member. People refused to post the name of the person who died.

I was immediately filled with fear and anxiety that I was out of the loop on the death of somebody I might know and care about. It had happened to me with Sparkly (learned about her on Facebook, by accident), and I had been the person filling in people who were out of the loop on Donovan (learned he was in a coma when I was, without warning, added to a Facebook group to discuss it). And what I learned from both of those tragic events is that:

1. It totally sucks to learn these things via Facebook;
2. Learning these things via Facebook is inevitable;
3. Nobody, nobody should be out of the loop when somebody in a close-knit community is seriously injured, near death, or dead;
4. We need to take a serious look at how we handle tragedy on social media.

In the most recent circumstances, a small but very visible and active group within the larger grieving community seemed to think that not naming names would protect privacy, even as they posted details about his death that were far more invasive than his identity. This group was also inclined to criticize those asking for more information. When my very dear friend Rachel, who has lived through more brutal loss than the vast majority of the people I know, finally demanded that people name names, another friend commented, “If you are frustrated by not being in the in club over grieving with us, consider yourself lucky.”

Now, I understand that grief totally kills our communication skills. And this is why not a single one of us called him out on this comment. However, the essence of that comment should be addressed, because Rachel was not the only person who was essentially accused of being a vulture for asking.

I think we need to start with the assumption that nobody actually wants to be in that club. Nobody. If you really think somebody wants to be in that club, it’s time to do some unfriending and maybe look into a temporary restraining order. Okay? So let’s start with that foundational premise. Nobody wants to be in that club. If people are going to glom on for drama, that will become readily apparent, and they will not be anybody’s problem but their own.

I think we should continue with the general awareness that people die. I know, it’s something nobody really wants to think about, which makes all of these discussions about death much more difficult. Rachel’s response to the accusation of wanting to be in the mourner’s club nailed my reaction to this series of vaguebook posts: “Our community is very high risk, and I have lost more friends than I have digits to suicide, drugs, and motorcycle accidents. I found out in a million different ways. Because of this, fear strikes my heart EVERY TIME I hear ‘motorcycle casualty on the 880′ or any time [people] are posting about some unnamed tragedy.”

Marisa filled it out: “I’ve known too many quick-and-deads to ever, ever think that ‘if I knew them, I would know.’ I found out last week about a dear friend…via Facebook. But at least names were named. [...]Creating this kind of stress and anxiety in this incredibly high risk group is rude. It’s not telling anyone how to grieve; it’s asking for basic consideration.”

I’m not sure I know more than a tiny handful of people who have not been affected by tragedy and/or sudden death. Hell, just in case you think I am being insensitive, I have been struggling with depression and suicide ideation since I was a child. To top that off, I ride a motorcycle. In reality I–or any of us–could die any day. Every day. So many of my friends are similar: they suffer from extreme depression, are risk takers, get into accidents, and some of them have died. We are high-risk. With regard to the death of loved ones, I have not always been in the immediate loop. Nor would I expect even my closest friends to be in the event of my injury or death. Too many breaks in communication can happen. So assuming:

A. that everybody who should know does know is wrong.

B. that not naming names has no effect on those who didn’t know the individual is wrong.

C. that people who ask for the identity of the deceased are just social media vultures is—you guessed it—wrong.

I think we also need to think about how we handle information. Talking about a death in the community, not naming names, but offering other extremely private details is kinda like creating a really screwed up guessing game and it protects nobody’s privacy, ultimately.

For the record, when people understandably don’t want to guess, calling them vultures for asking for information is going to result in some ruffled feathers, especially when you have given just enough information to create the need to ask for more. You are hurting. I get it, and I have been there. I am so very, very sorry for your loss. But freaking out a bunch of your friends and then slapping them down when they ask for information is not the way to handle it. As my friend Normal pointed out in an analog example, “I don’t go to Lucky 13 and yell ‘one of us died and I feel sad!’ and then walk off to the bathroom without expecting a lot of follow-up upsetness.”

fat amyNorm gets a gif for that, because she nailed it.

We have all lost people. We are extremely aware of how truly fragile are the lives of our friends, family, and loved ones. And when somebody in a close-knit community feels the need to say that somebody who was a part of the community died, but not who it was, it does far more harm than good.

If you are going to withhold information out of respect to families and partners, consider withholding all of it and finding a more private forum for your initial response. In examples I have seen and heard of, some folks refused to name names publicly but explicitly offered to if contacted privately. It turns out I didn’t know the deceased, and I had the amazing and unfortunate privilege of getting to struggle with a feeling of intense relief even as I watched people I care about grieve.

I have read everything his friends have posted about him, and I have let those posts give substance to the person my friends have lost. This post is not about the fact that I don’t care; I do. This post is about the fact that people need to know, even if just to learn that their hearts won’t be breaking, this time. 


A Checkered Year

I suppose it’s time for my increasingly traditional annual retrospective. 

If 2013 were a cartoon animal, it would be the Cat in the Hat, balancing too much shit and ultimately failing. Oh, don’t get me wrong, many, many good things happened in 2013. 

  • I went to Puerto Vallarta, my first vacation in six years.
  • My friends generously helped me get Iago, my beloved motorcycle back on the road.
  • With some overlap, my friends also helped me raise significant funds for the organization for which I work.
  • I moved into a fantastic apartment in SF (with laundry AND a dishwasher AND hardwood floors AND natural light AND off-street parking).
  • I met Allie Brosh.
  • I got three raises (which add up to, in just a little over a year, a 29% raise from my first salary here).
  • Luke and Marisa got married.
  • Jay and Jenneviere got married.
  • What I am hoping is becoming a Christmas tradition of spending one of the most annoying days of the year with my friends Lisa, Matt, and Elaine.
  • I have met some new people and made some new friends, at least two of whom are definitely keepers (and one I just fucking love so much I gave her, as somebody pointed out when I mentioned the book signing, an original Allie Brosh drawing).
  • I beat my all time best bowling score. Which isn’t amazing, but I’m still pretty pleased with myself. (Current best: 157.)
  • I learned some new things about who I am and how my brain works that explains A LOT about me and is helping me to make sense of my life and who I am.

But 2013 also slipped on a gigantic pile of shit, twisted its ankle, and landed on its face in yet another gigantic pile of shit with its mouth wide fucking open, for me and for people I love.

Losing Sparkly Devil broke more hearts than mine, and I think some part of me is always going to be wondering when we are going to go get our next cocktail and talk about everything. I still make notes in my head for things I want to chat with her about. Apparently it’s going to be a while, so I should start writing them down.

  • I have watched my friends lose people, family members, partners to death, relationship failure, and drama. Broken hearts everywhere.
  • There are friends who have been too far away for me to give them the kind of support I wanted to give.
  • I am having to face the fact that my beloved constant companion, my purrbucket, my cuddly, affectionate, loving, and deeply annoying cat Thumper is officially old. He still looks great in a bowtie, though.

I don’t do the resolution thing, really. I know what I want to accomplish in the next year. I don’t know how I am going to do all of it, yet, but I’ll figure it out. 

Happy New Year.


Foster Care

I can’t tell you how old I was when I found myself in foster care. This is something to do with my incredibly stressful and relatively traumatic childhood; at some point, I subconsciously decided it would be best if I just didn’t remember when or how anything happened. So if I seem a little vague about dates, time periods, ages? It’s because I don’t really know. I get flashes, sometimes, though. Snapshots, like the ones I have of the night I was separated from my mother.

  • My mother, high on meth, taking us to the San Diego Marshal’s Office in a haze of drug-induced paranoia.
  • Sitting at a table across from a female officer who clearly did not know what to do with me, but was very kind and gave me one of her colleague’s meals.
  • Being taken out of the room too soon, and seeing my mother thrown up against the wall and handcuffed.
  • Being shown to a bed in a dark room filled with beds in the middle of the night. I would soon learn that I was in the Hillcrest Receiving Home. I didn’t know why I was there.
  • Being introduced to a woman, Mrs. White, and told that I would be going home with her.
  • Not knowing where my mother was, what had happened to her, or if she would know how to find me again.
  • Not knowing if she was gone forever.

There are, on average, between 400,000 and 500,000 kids in foster care in the United States in a given year. Some of them have even less to go on than I had, and many come from far worse situations than I ever did. It’s a very rare foster youth who isn’t suffering from trauma, and on average, foster youth are almost TWICE as likely to suffer from PTSD as US war veterans.

Children in foster care suffer from dramatically higher rates of psychiatric, behavioral, and substance use disorders resulting from the abuse and neglect they have experienced, in addition to the traumas of removal from home and the instability of the foster care system itself. However, only about 10-15% of them receive any mental healthcare at all, and virtually none of them receive long-term therapy. The majority of the therapy they receive is short-term, crisis-based care, which is ultimately more damaging than not.

I work for a nonprofit organization called A Home Within. Now, I’m glad I found this org right when I desperately needed a job, but I wish I’d known about it earlier, because after a lifetime of dealing with depression, anxiety, anger, trauma, and the fear of abandonment—much of which was aggravated or added by my time in foster care, I could have benefited from the services A Home Within provides: pro bono, open-ended therapy.

That’s right. We offer free long-term mental health care to current and former foster youth: One child, one therapist, for as long as it takes.

But finding therapists and reaching foster youth takes time, and it takes funds. We have chapters all over the country with kids waiting for services that we are doing our best to provide, and areas where foster carers and youth have no idea we are here for them. We are going to change that. I’m part of a team trying to raise $2500 for A Home Within. I’m working with Faith Grant, one of our most recent additions to the A Home Within Board of Directors. So I am asking you to help us out by donating today, and to help me and Faith out by choosing either her name or mine (if you already know it) from the drop down menu when you do.

Please, help us make a difference in the lives of foster youth.


Freedom from/of Religion

whiskeypants:

This is something that happened. And it’s not cool. Please, if you are in the Bay Area, consider taking voice lessons from my amazing friend. And/or pass this along to your friends.

Originally posted on No Inside Voice:

As my heart is reeling from news of being laid off from my regular church today, I go back to a story. These all start with a story, all rife with feeling and promise. This one’s about a church.

In August 1999 I returned from New York. My mother had been dead a year, I was recovering in turmoil from a recently broken relationship that I had thought would last forever (I was 23. Of course I thought that.), I had been put through the wringer. It was January of 2000 before I licked my wounds enough to get back in the game. I needed more money than my DayJob provided, and I wanted to earn it by singing. But where to start? Where any tenacious, operatically-trained career rebel starts – the yellow pages. (For the younger folks in the audience, this was a book of businesses listed by type…

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Sparkly Devil

I’ve been staring at the title of this post for about 20 minutes, now, and it’s not working. It’s not writing this post for me. It’s not finding any words. It’s not bringing my much-loved, talented, brilliant, and complicated friend back to life. I would prefer, out of the listed options, the last one.

So I guess I’ll just start writing.

Sunday afternoon I returned home from the movie theater to see that a friend had posted to Facebook: “FUCK THAT.” Being generally in favor of such sentiments, I commented, “WORD.” But then I checked in privately, and was informed that Sparkly Devil, internationally renowned burlesque performer, journalist, and all-around fantastic person, was killed in an auto accident on Highway 101 Saturday night.

My righteous indignation about the Star Trek sequel disappeared.

sparkly5

When I first met Sparkly, I was appalled. She was loud, brash, fierce, socially intimidating to my not-so-inner introvert, who wanted to flee. But my friends adored her, and she kept coming to various social gatherings and I very quickly figured out why.

When people say somebody is “larger than life”, what they really mean is, “almost like Sparkly”. Her creativity was big. Her ability to enjoy herself in any given situation was big. Her love for her friends was gigantic. Her hugs were epic. Her ass apparently problematic. She could bruise you with the enthusiasm of a kiss, blow you away with her insight, make you fall over laughing with her sense of humor.

And that was sometimes before you even got in the door.

But it wasn’t until her wedding, to which I somehow got invited despite the fact that we were not yet close, that I realized what a caring, considerate, deeply emotional and thoughtful person she really was. And it was sitting in the audience for that wedding, watching her make her vows to Bones, that made me realize how fortunate I was to know this woman.

sparkly1Patrick McCracken

Photo courtesy of Patrick McCracken.

Some of it was just little things. The fact that I was invited in the first place. The fact that, because I had recently injured my knee, and despite the fact that we barely knew each other, she reserved a chair for me in the very limited seating available. The fact that she was patently thrilled that I was there.

Some of it was just her. Sparkly being Sparkly. Effusive, so in love with Bones, so in love with her friends and family, so in love with life. And that’s what it comes down to, with Sparkly. That’s a huge part of why her friends and family are and will remain in denial about the fact that she is no longer with us. She was in love with life.

It’s difficult not to love people like Sparkly. I think that we, as a species, tend to fall in love with people who are in love with life. Those people who seem bigger in some way (no, Sparkly, I’m not talking about your ass).

But when somebody is larger than life, it’s easy to forget how relentlessly human they are.

And Sparkly was human. So very human. She experienced pain and disappointment like the rest of us. She made mistakes. She cried very human tears. She had very human needs. Sparkly wasn’t just larger than life. She lived her life, and experienced life, and was derailed by it just like the rest of us.

The difference for me was, when I grew bitter about life and wanted to tell life to fuck right off, Sparkly would publicly join me in my bitterfest and privately remind me that living life was worth the cost of…well, of living life.

Now life is apparently supposed to be lived without her. And I want her to publicly rage with me at the unfairness of this, and privately tell me that my friends and I are awesome and will totally get through this. I want her to be waiting with all of us for Bones to recover from the accident, I want to be able to hug her close. I want her to be there when he fully regains consciousness, because I can only imagine and dread the despair he will feel when he knows that she is gone.

The last time I saw her, we’d met for dinner. I got sick, and had to cut the dinner short. We were in the process of rescheduling, so we could hang out again, and she could give me advice on where to go in Puerto Vallarta later this year. I owed her either a drink or a bowl of mashed potatoes (look, what you do with your friends is none of my business). She told me she had faith in my ability to have fun regardless. I am going to try to live up to that. Sparkly knew fun.

Her husband, Raul “Bones” Padilla, is still in the ICU. We are all hoping and/or praying that he will come out of this okay, but even if he does, he won’t be okay. He and Sparkly were very much in love with each other, partners. And there will be a plethora of expenses for him and his and Sparkly’s families. Please consider donating to the fund we set up for medical, legal, and burial costs. It would mean a lot to me, to the community Sparkly and Bones created and gathered around them, and to their families.

RIP Sarah “Sparkly Devil” Klein. I love you.

sparkly6Brian Sørensen


In Memoriam

A year ago, I was in the middle of a fantastic evening. I’d gone to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with C and some of my favorite people. C & I had parted for the evening, she to Muni and I to BART and I was turning on my phone and trying to decide if I had enough power to listen to music the entire ride home. I was high on my friends and C’s company, and a relentlessly silly movie.

So I had to read the words on my screen several times before I could make sense out of them.

A year ago began a time of waiting—less than a week. It was a time of hugs, and of stress, and of quietly and desperately wishing to be able to do something, or help, or find magical healing powers. It was a time of rediscovering an intense dislike of Oakland’s Highland Hospital, of sitting in painfully stark waiting rooms with friends and family while waiting to spend 15 minutes talking to a man being kept alive by machines. It was a time of everyone remembering to express love and appreciation for everybody else, before our oh so powerful minds stepped in once more to protect us from the constant awareness of the fragility and impermanence of life. It was a time of trying to believe in miracles.

The call was made. The machines were turned off. The time of waiting ended.

I wrote this post about Donovan when I was finally able to put something of how I was feeling into words. I wrote this post as I realized I was feeling, but not dealing with, my feels. I wrote this post as I flirted with coming to terms once again with the fact that I cannot protect everybody I love.

And this post? I guess it’s just to say…fucking hell, Donovan. I miss you.

donovan

Hat: Totally goth. Art: Sid Nicholson


A New Year

I had high hopes for 2012. 2011 was such an unbearable year, I thought that it could only get better. Briefly, it did. And then it all went to hell, for me and mine.

The death toll of 2012 rivaled the first five minutes of a Michael Bay movie. Loved ones and loved ones of loved ones were lost to accident, suicide, illness, and just shitty, shitty luck. When I wasn’t powerless with regard to my grief, I was powerless in the face of grief suffered by people I love deeply and dearly.

My attempts at finding love or even a halfway interested lover failed repeatedly, and early 2012 brought me a very badly broken heart and an utter loss of hope, not to mention a great deal of frustration and confusion. Many of my friends were unlucky in love and went through relationship strife as well.

There were a number of friendship upheavals about which I remain unsure, and I believe 2013 will involve some restructuring. 

Things began to turn around for me toward the end of the year. Slowly, like the Titanic attempting to avoid the iceberg. 

  • I finally got a full time job at an amazing organization, working with phenomenal people and the best office dog in the world. I love my job. And it almost pays me enough to live on.
  • As part of a last-ditch attempt to find somebody I might want to date, I showed up to a bar one evening with a book and a thirst for Scotch, and hoped that the woman I’d messaged on OKC wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time. Since I was pretty much over dating by this point, I wore the same unwashed jeans I’d been wearing for the past several days and a shirt I never checked for stains, and I didn’t bother to wait to start in on the whisky. I’ll go ahead and skip to the end of this one: She’s wonderful, hysterical, loving, caring, and has the prettiest, smiliest eyes. We just finished moving the rest of my possessions to her apartment in SF. She likes my cooking. (ETA: She has corrected this statement to make sure I know to call it OUR apartment.)
  • My cat Thumper is in good health and happy in our new apartment, which is much smaller than our house in Oakland, but cozier and has many soft and warm things for him to sleep on. He even has his own chair, from which he can observe his neighbor cat girlfriend, Foxy. He and my lady absolutely adore each other.
  • I opened up about a very serious topic in a very public forum and was rewarded by a show of love, support, and trust from individuals known and unknown to me.

2012 still sank, but I and many of my friends ended up on life rafts, paddling toward 2013.

I don’t think anybody expects 2013 to be amazing. But I am hoping that we all have the space to recover from losses, strengthen new and old foundations, and remind each other that we love and care for each other, that we are there for each other, and that we may occasionally want to give up on everything, but that we won’t give up on each other.

I can’t help but be a little optimistic; I’m in the best place I’ve been since maybe 2008. I’ve found love and employment, I have a roof over my head, and my cat has the most adorable mitteny paws in the world. Things are not easy; I don’t know if they ever will be. But it isn’t all difficult, and for the first time in a long time I really feel like it’s worth it to keep working, keep fighting, and keep pushing through. I am not in a place where I can say, “Bring it, 2013, I can take whatever you have to throw at me.” I am, however, in a place to say, let’s do this. 

So. 2013. Let’s do this.


Suicide

Last night I was talking to a friend of mine who is going through a really tough time, and she mentioned something that I related to entirely: the active and conscious effort she is having to put in to not jump in front of a bus. Now, before you all start screaming about intervention and 5150, let me explain something, first.

Because I think, given some of the ridiculously stupid shit people say about suicide to me and to others, it’s time to come out of the closet: almost every day for the past couple years (and actually, for much of my life) has included the conscious decision to survive the day. Some days, that’s easy. Some days I have to actively remind myself of why I should choose to live. Some days I just make myself numb with weed, watch tv and let the hours slide by, because that’s all I trust myself to do. But I choose to live, every day, whether it is a good day, or a bad day, or a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

People talk about suicide in terms of weakness and strength, selfishness, rudeness. All of those things are factors. But there’s also the issue of perspective. Which is to say, what might seem like piddlyshit to one person might be devastating to the next. I have yet to meet the circumstance that would be sufficiently devastating to send me over the edge, but that doesn’t mean I won’t (doesn’t mean I will, either).

2010 and 2011 were brutal, and 2012 has brought blow after blow after blow and let me tell you, I am fucking tired of wishing that my heart had an “Eject” button. I am tired of living with everything I’ve had to live with (here is where I will get the “Buck up! That’s just life!” comment from some jackass who has never experienced the desire to just fucking end it. Save it. I know life is hard. But when every day in a given week—or every other day, or even a single day—feels like being thigh-deep in the Swamps of Sadness after watching Artax die, it becomes a little overwhelming).

Thus far there is nothing I haven’t been able to weather. People call this strength. But strength is a trap. When people expect you to be strong all the fucking time, showing weakness is nigh on impossible, which is why for the vast majority of my friends, this post is going to be news. There is no real break from being strong. There’s (prescription) drugs, but in the rare event that they work—my body laughs at most drugs and tells them to come back with something stronger, next time—while they mute the depression they also mute everything the fuck else, and I would rather feel everything I am feeling than feel nothing. I will resort to them when I know it is impossible to drag myself out of some pit without them, but not before.

And it’s really difficult some days when somebody says, “You’re strong, you can do this” to respond with, “I know,” and not with, “Fuck you. I want to be weak, this time. I want to give up.”

I don’t call it “strength”. I call it “determination”.

People talk about how selfish people have to be to commit suicide. Yes. Ultimately it is a selfish act. It is an act done for that person and that person, alone. They may have convinced themselves that people would be better off without them; obviously most of the time they are utterly incorrect. But that justification at its foundation remains a selfish one.

The experience will be different for everybody, but part of my conscious decision to live involves remembering all the people who would be hurt and confused by my death. But, as I said, I have yet to experience something devastating enough to make me lose sight of them, and I remain fully aware that this is a possibility. So I never judge people who have genuinely attempted or committed suicide—not for their selfishness. I just assume that the decision was made at a point where the people they loved stopped being real to them in the face of whatever anguish drove them to the act.

I find that the people who don’t understand this have little-to-no experience with that level of depression and pain, and are assuming that whatever depths of sadness they have experienced are the most extreme anybody else might suffer as well. I have begun calling it “emotional privilege” in my head. I’ll never forget the day I was watching The Wall with a woman I was seeing and she turned to me halfway through the movie and said, “But why doesn’t he just get over it?”

(Click to see entire picture @ the source)

Now, let me make something clear: I am not defending suicide as an option. If I thought it was viable, I might not be sitting here in my messy room writing this post while I have Top Gun on in the background to unheavy this shit a little bit. I have lost people to suicide. Both friends and family. I have experienced that particular hurt and confusion, the search for answers, the need to find meaning in an act that causes such extraordinary pain to those who have been left behind, the endless questioning—what if I had been there, called more, texted back, remembered to say “I love you”? Oh, God, what did they need? What could I have done?

But what I am saying is that this has been my experience. And I am not the only one who feels that way. And talking to my friend yesterday was helpful to me, and hopefully to her, because when it becomes a shared experience, when you can remember that one other person has some understanding of it, then it becomes more difficult to forget that there are other people in your life, in general, and more difficult to lose sight of them.

Most days I’m fine. I’m not always walking around in a lightless slimy pit of despair, and I don’t want to give the impression that I am. 

And I have never seen this guy anywhere.

This post isn’t a ploy for attention. It is not a plea for help. I am not writing this for your advice (in fact, unless you have something in mind that is mind-blowingly new and possibly alien, don’t fucking bother. I’ve been dealing with my own issues far longer than you have and I have made my decisions for how to manage my situation consciously and with pretty comprehensive knowledge of what is available to me). Actually, it was really difficult to make the decision to write it, because I don’t want my friends to change the way they act around me or talk to me. I don’t want people to freak out, or worry. I am hoping that everybody realizes that this is not new and that I am still exactly the same person they knew before they read this. I want the opposite of attention.

This post is partly an attempt to educate, but mostly putting myself out there in the hopes that the people who need to find this post, do. And when they do, I hope they reach out. I’ll be waiting right here.


Death Makes Us Selfish

Most humans are no strangers to pain, and the older we get the more loved ones we have lost or nearly lost to accident, illness, self-inflicted injuries, and even (if we are very lucky) old age. Death has been a guarantee through the ages, and yet we still have no words, no language set aside for the devastation we feel when we have lost somebody we love. To accompany that lack, we have yet to manage to find or create words or language for when we are faced with somebody else’s devastation. It’s this second failure I would like to discuss here.

Death makes us selfish. Other people’s pain makes us selfish.

“Oh, no,” You are saying, right now. “No, I’m not selfish. I just wish there were something I could say or do to make it better.” Of course you do. You know why? Because it will make you feel better. If you knew what to say or do, it would ease the pain your loved ones are feeling, and thus ease your own pain. And no, I’m not calling you out, Gentle Reader, and I am not saying it is a conscious thing you are doing. I’m not saying it’s your primary goal, even. I’m just saying that it’s there.

Honestly, why do you think I’m writing this post right now? Tragedy struck the life of somebody I love and care about very much, and I would climb mountains, fight dragons, and raze cities to make her hurt a little bit less—but of course, I can’t make her feel better. So to make myself feel better, I’m gonna focus on something else for a minute: blogging.

Death and tragedy turn us into comfort-seeking missiles, and it can be incredibly difficult to change course. We want the comfort to be easily found, too—in answers to questions we should not be asking the recently bereaved, for example, and the search for some kind of explanation for the loss, something that will help us sleep at night. We want to feel in that moment that whatever happened could not possibly happen to us.

But while we are asking our questions, and trying to make sense of what happened (as if there is sense to be made), and trying to be comforting and aggressively supportive, and trying to direct the emotions of the bereaved in a direction that makes more sense to us, and wondering what flowers to get and what kind of casserole to make and what kind of whiskey to bring to the memorial service…? While we are doing that, the people we are asking and “comforting” are trying to fathom their loss, to understand how it is that there is somebody in their lives they can never call again, or see again, or be able to run to for love or comfort or silliness.

2012 has brought a soul-numbing amount of death, loss, and injury to my immediate and extended families. This is not my first experience with death and loss by any means. And I may not be an expert, but I’ve had a lot of practice this year. And this is what I have learned:

  • There is NOTHING, NOTHING you can say that will lessen the grief in order to make the recently bereaved feel better. There is nothing you can say that can possibly mitigate the loss, nothing you can say that will bring them peace, soothe the wound, or fill the sudden gaping hole in their life, heart, family. Nothing. [ETA: Since people feel the need to tell me what people said to make them feel better: obviously mileage may vary. I mainly make this point in order to manage expectations: don't think your words have more power than they do.]
  • “I love you” and “I’m here for you” might not help, but they don’t hurt, either. Especially if you mean it.
  • Asking the bereaved what happened, or why it happened, is criminally insensitive. You are basically requiring them to make sense out of something that may not yet make sense to them, and it’s not their responsibility to do that for you. If you fear being considered uncaring and genuinely want to know, try something along the lines of, “If you want to talk about it or tell me what happened, I am here for you, but I understand if you don’t.”
  • It is unlikely that you are the bereaved’s first priority in the wake of recent loss. Come to terms with the fact that you may not always get a response to questions or expressions of love and support. Assume that your love and support is appreciated and be patient. It feels good to be wanted and needed, but what the bereaved is experiencing is not in any way about you, so don’t feel bad if you aren’t.
  • You are not the only person offering comfort, hugs, love, time, talk, or a safe place to grieve. Related: it’s okay to hang back and let people who are closer to the bereaved do what they do. I have done that a lot this year, and it’s not because I don’t love the people who have lost. It’s because I do.
  • The first weeks or months after loss are the most painful, but that doesn’t mean everything is suddenly better, or that the bereaved has stopped grieving just because the wound isn’t quite as raw after that. You may not have to face their grief, but it’s still there. They are still missing the person they lost, still reaching for their phone to text that person, still wanting to share whatever it is they shared with that person. Don’t stop showing them that you love them and that you are there for them. It doesn’t have to be specific to their loss. It just has to be real.

Consider these things before you approach somebody who has just lost somebody they love. You don’t have to have the right thing to do or say. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to feel bad because you also want comfort and because there might be a selfish streak to how you want to handle things—hurting because somebody you love is hurting is not a bad thing. What you do have to be is loving, patient, available and always aware that it’s not about you.


Grief, and the Process of Totally Not Dealing With It

According to Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, there are five stages of grief, which may happen in any order:

  1. Denial: I’m fine. Whatever. This isn’t even happening.
  2. Anger: This is bullshit, I want to blame somebody or something and rage against it.
  3. Bargaining: pretty self-explanatory.
  4. Depression: Fuck it, I give up.
  5. Acceptance: Okay, fine, I’m mortal and so are my friends. I get it.

Currently, my five stages of grief seem to be:

  1. Acceptance: This is going to happen, and it hurts.
  2. Stowing: This isn’t about me. Time to man up, pack it up and deal with it until I know my friends and family have everything they need from me. Totally not an excuse for not dealing. Really. Stop looking at me like that.
  3. Drinking: Is that an open wound? Let’s treat it with alcohol. Shut up, it’s helping.
  4. Picking Fights: What do you mean I didn’t stow that grief deep enough?
  5. Going Fetal: This is potentially a lengthy process that may or may not involve steps 3&4.

Last night, after spending time with some of the family I shared with Donovan, I managed to dive head first into a series of miscommunications, pick a fight with and thoroughly upset the woman I’ve been seeing (Henceforth known as “C.”, because that shit’s too long to type every time), and to start crying in a moderately busy bar. Then, feeling absolutely awful about picking the fight and feeling absolutely awful about crying in public, I spent the rest of the night berating myself for letting my grief and anger bubble over onto these two women (her friend from work was also there, so I am sure I made the best first impression, EVAR) while trying desperately not to start crying again (floodgates were showing signs of opening at any moment) and wanting a do-over on everything.

The cab ride home was a somber affair, as I could not seem to stop the tears from falling but was still trying desperately to maintain some semblance of control (LOLZ). When we finally got home and went to bed, C. fell asleep instantly (she does this—to a ridiculous insomniac like me, this is nothing short of a superpower and I am phenomenally jealous), and the floodgates opened. I don’t remember stopping crying before I passed out, so I think it’s fair to say I actually cried myself to sleep, which I haven’t done since I was a kid.

I woke up this morning feeling entirely wrung out, still kicking myself over last night’s critical fumbles, not entirely understanding why C. even wanted to come home with me after my utterly dickish behavior and trying to sort out everything I was feeling. When one of her alarms went off and it was Mumford & Sons, “Little Lion Man” (a song that I associate almost entirely with Donovan), I discovered that I really was wrung out: I couldn’t cry any more. I did let out a rather pathetic whimper, though.

I have been trying to figure out what last night accomplished, apart from instilling in me the need for Gatorade and the desire to apologize to C. and her friend profusely and repeatedly. Perhaps the realization that my stages of grief, as they currently are, are not working for me or for the people around me. Perhaps the realization that dealing with my shit is better for me, which is better for everybody. Perhaps it was a giant slap upside the head alerting me that maybe, just maybe, I need to be more aware of what is going on internally. Perhaps it was all those things.

Oh, and a blog post that is way too long.


Donovan

I have been waffling about writing this post, because I haven’t the faintest idea of how to describe where my mind and heart have been over the past few days.

Sunday night I learned that Donovan Pugh, a friend and member of my essential chosen family, was in the ICU at Highland. He was comatose after a severe head injury.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I lost my shit. I lost my shit, and then prepared to visit Donovan, to see him in his bed in the ICU, to tell him I love him, to hope he could hear me. Monday afternoon I told him everything I could in the twenty minutes I had with him. Monday night I went to work and tried not to let everything I was feeling, all the anguish and the fear that I was losing my friend, show. I failed, of course.

But this was true of all of us, to some extent or other. For some reason, as my friend Marisa observed, time and the world didn’t stop and wait for us to catch up with them. And the people around us—at work, on BART, in the corner store—somehow didn’t know that one of the most magnificent people in the world was fighting for his life in a tiny, ugly room in Oakland. I almost got into a fight with a guy who was self-righteously butt-hurt that I didn’t take the time to sign his petition when I was on my way to visit the ICU.

So all of the people who love Donovan had to somehow keep moving and keep functioning as if we weren’t terrified that an integral part of our world might be ending.

Thursday evening Donovan moved on to the next party, and we were all left behind to keep this one going.

*** 

I have been wrestling with grief, and the forms it can take. I’ve been fundamentally relieved and confused by the way in which my grief over the loss of Donovan is so intertwined with the joy I have been finding with this woman for whom I have fallen so very, very hard. I’ve been comforted by the fact that he would be the last person in the world to begrudge me my happiness despite this loss, and he would have loved her for, if nothing else, the fact that she’s been so wonderfully supportive and kind throughout.

I have been reading people’s stories and memories of Donovan, and looking at the pictures they have been posting, and it’s been truly amazing. He managed to touch so many people (some of them appropriately) and it shows. People have displayed a fantastic combination of love, exasperation, and humor in their efforts to remember Donovan at his best and at his most improper. It has made me think about this post, which I wrote after attending the most depressing wake in the history of wakes, and realizing how true it remains.

I have been avoiding imagining a world without Donovan, and his soundtracking tweets, and his Ren Faire shenanigans. I have not been allowing myself to fathom family events without his hugs and his ability to throw dignity and decorum to the wind (if he even arrived with them in the first place, which was unlikely). I have not been allowing myself to see the ways in which the world has grown visibly darker without him. And when I do, I know my heart will continue to break.

If there is a party in the sky, I hope they have plenty of pickle juice. If there is another destination, I hope they appreciate the occasional reacharound. If there is an afterlife, it just got a hell of a lot more fun. RIP, Donovan Pugh. I love you.

Wherein the P stands for…Party? Pickle? Prank? It’s unclear.


Grief

In the last week, I received news of the deaths of no fewer than three people I know. One of those was somebody with whom I went to high school. Two of them were friends. Two of the three were suicides.

I have been flailing emotionally. I didn’t realize it until today. In the process of this flailing I managed to be extra irritable, totally failed to communicate properly, and I appear to have alienated somebody I really like. This was a major failure on my part—normally I am much more in touch with how I am feeling, and why. Additionally, some of this might have been avoided had I managed to mention any of this to anybody.

I. Death death death—afternoon tea…

I think this is first due to the magnitude of the news: the untimely death of one friend has enough of an effect on a person. The untimely death of three in rapid succession is just overwhelming, like a personal version of Eddie Izzard’s murder standards: Well done! Three of your friends died recently, two by their own hand? They must get up very early in the morning.

II. Family Traditions

Then there’s the suicide bit. The people in my family tend to kill themselves, either quickly or slowly (or in the case of my grandmother, both). Suicide and attempted suicide run rampant in my family. So there’s that. Additionally, I haven’t figured out where I come down on the issue, myself. I have heard suicide characterized as rude, selfish, tragic. I believe strongly in the idea that we should have complete power over our own lives—not just how we live and die, but whether we live and die (to the extent that we have that choice to make).

I also believe strongly that the day I give up and take my own life, I have failed, utterly. But that’s not to say I don’t believe that despair cannot be so all encompassing that death seems like the better option, and that’s not to say I haven’t experienced that level of despair.

III. Grief

Grief is probably the biggest emotion I just swallow and deal with. When I have multiple levels of headfuckery going on around the grief, I choke on it—without, apparently, realizing that I am choking.

But then there’s the standard issues—the questions, the guilt, the realization that now I get to miss these people forever, that there will never be another chat conversation, another movie, another night of Jameson shots and bad bar food. There’s wondering about who they left behind: their families, their lovers, their pets. There’s the inevitable: would my being there more have changed anything at all?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t talk about any of this stuff because I don’t even know where to begin. I prefer not to waste words, and to avoid statements of the obvious like, “This makes me feel sad.” I tend to only say such things to people who are grieving with me over the same people—as more of an acknowledgement of what they are feeling than anything else.

While avoiding statements of the obvious, and chewing on the complicated, I fail to communicate anything at all.

Obviously that has to change. I just haven’t the faintest idea of how to change it.

In the mean time, I am going to watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in honor of one of them. I am going to raise a glass of Jameson to all three of them. And if I have enough Jameson, I will likely pull out my guitar to sing a song I learned for yet another dead friend.

Three people I know are dead. This makes me sad.


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