Sunday, February 19, 2017

Understanding grief


Every day of this process has made me realize how removed I am from death. When I was eleven years old and my grandfather passed away, I did not want to see his body. We got the news as we were driving up to Maine on Christmas morning, my dad pulling over in a parking lot to take the call on one of the family's first cellphones. We went straight to the hospital from there and I would not go in to his room. At the funeral, I would not go into the visitation room until the casket was closed. I remember seeing the top of his head just peeking over the edge of the casket as I glanced from the hallway. It was unnerving. That head, which had been his, but wasn't anymore.

My mom has likened a dead body to that of a glove, after the hand has been removed (I always internally added to that, "but retains its shape"). We come up with all kinds of analogies to explain death because it's not something we are exposed to often, and then when we are, we are not ready for it. We use analogies to explain all kinds of things about the human body. We explain things in terms of machinery and computers, when the reality is, our bodies are the inspiration and source for all of those patterns and mechanisms.

I polled a few people in the days preceding the funeral. Have you been to many funerals, especially as an adult? Did you view the body? Was it weird? I did not want to tarnish my memories of my grandmother with the image of her vacated body. I was afraid it would look like her, but somehow wrong. Ultimately, I realized that as much as she meant and still means to me, this made her body the best and not worst for me to view as exposure to death.


I was actually impressed at the care taken with her body when I finally stepped up to see it. She looked like herself on a good day, still old, but maybe less tired. Some of the wrinkles were smoothed out, but in a relaxed way. It was like a very accurate wax figure, where it really looks like the person, there are just a few things that simply cannot be recreated. The one thing I did expect turned out to be true: it is eerie to see a body that does not breath and where you cannot see a pulse. Something in my brain kept telling me that it should move, like the moment you watch a sleeping pet or loved one and you aren't sure if you saw their chest rise, but then it does. Except in this case, where it never rises again.

There will be more to say and more grieving to do as time goes on. My feelings are confusing to me now. When I am surrounded by my family, I can feel their grief, but not my own. With my husband by my side, I can feel anchored and calm, and can then quest inward to find my buzzing thoughts and questions. I am still as impatient ever. I hate the unknown. I hate the waiting. There is a lot to do of both.

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