Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sounding the Noon Whistle

When I was a little girl, I could find myself in tears very easily.

Not for the normal things you would think little girls cried about. I wasn’t throwing a fit or upset over a game... instead, I would wake up in the morning crying from a dream or because of a nagging, sinking feeling in my gut.

I would cry because of worry. Of fear. Of discontent.

My mom would tell me that it was ok, that when she was little my grandpa told her that she could cry just because the noon whistle blew.

Grandpa meant it to be flip, that something seemingly without emotion could send my mom into tears, but I understood the analogy differently. I thought it made sense because the noon whistle had such a mournful sound.

And that’s why I think I was such a crier. I felt empathy even for the unemotional, mournful sound of the noon whistle’s blow.

Somewhere along the line that changed. Not the empathy part... the crying part. Whereas my friend Susie sees someone crying and joins them in their tears, I see someone else cry and my tears immediately dry up. I feel the emotion but go into the mode of being strong and taking care. I hug the hurt and make the plan and console the weary.

It’s how I learned to mourn.

When Susie’s dad died, I stayed with her and her mom. I organized the kitchen and looked after her son and sang at the funeral. I empathized. I loved. I mourned.

When my friend Kelly’s daughter Kate died, I sat with them at Hospice and sang to her at her bedside. I prayed with them and laughed with them and shed tears with them. I planned her funeral and sang with every fiber of my soul. I empathized. I loved. I mourned.

And then Dad died and I understood the difference between mourning and grieving. Between weeping and wailing. Between sadness and heartbreak.

I always knew it was different. I saw it in my friends. I saw it when I held Susie months later as she came out of her physical shock. I saw it when I loved Kelly through what was so evidently a physical pain of loss. I empathized. I loved. I mourned.

But it was their grief to feel.

That physical, deep, tearing into two that can’t be imagined until it’s felt.

Some of you know exactly what I mean.

Grief is a physical animal that takes control where you have none.

Mourning and weeping vs. grieving and wailing. It’s a lesson we all learn eventually, but it’s one we can’t imagine until it arrives.

And that’s what I’m wading through. Except with me, all the clichés are out the window. All the ways of coping seem moot. I want to wail. I did once. And the physical pain that ensued gave my body a memory it refuses to repeat. I begin to cry now, my body tenses and it shuts itself down. It knows what follows and it won’t let me grieve.

I can’t go for a run, I can’t immerse myself in work, I can’t busy my hands with projects or divert my mind with tasks mundane. I can’t DO. Every time I begin to be up, be out of bed, be occupied in any physical way, the pain increases, the nausea creeps in, the vomiting starts and the pain increases yet again.

It’s a vicious cycle. It’s grief. Plus disease. And it’s exhausting.

I’m telling you about this because so many have emailed to say thank you for putting into words what they felt when they had loss. Some were recent. Some were forty years ago. And all are grief that lingers still.

But while you thank me for words, I thank you for reading. Because in this space of physical grief... this space where I can’t cry or scream or run or distract... all I can do is write.

All I can do is tell you my story. And the story of my dad. And put my wailing into words. And while I cannot cry like I want to cry, I can tell you all that the noon whistle is blowing in my heart.

And you’ll know what I mean.

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