Golby: Oh man this is going to suck

Used-ArnoArno.flickr
My parents are dead and I’m starting to get to the age where my friends’ parents are dying, too, and I feel I should know what to say to them. And I never really do: instances of grief, I have found, are unique, two never coming in the same shape, and they can be piercing and hard-edged and they can be like passing through deep, dark treacle or they can be like a long, slow-passing cloud. There is no one single catch-all solution to dealing with the worst life has to throw at you. 
 
But what I do always say is: oh man, this is going to suck. 
 
...And I say: at one point you are going to become keenly aware that everyone is judging you for the way you outwardly behave when someone close to you dies, and I need to tell you that that is a nonsense. You are going to feel a dirty little feeling of guilt. If there’s a long illness involved, there might be this horrible, metallic-tasting feeling of relief, one too hard and real for you to admit to yourself is there. You will do weird things and behave weirdly and not even know it is happening.
 

Michelle Leatherby: Please endorse me on LinkedIn for "Good at Grieving"

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During my time at your company, I have grown tremendously. Recently, I developed perhaps my greatest professional strength: grieving in a way that isn’t super inconvenient to others. When I returned to work after The Event (see how I used “The Event” so I didn’t force you to think about my trauma in detail?), my new skillset blossomed. It is with the utmost humility that I request your endorsement of the followings skills:

Got dressed.

Returned after just 3 bereavement and 2 personal days despite everyone in my family taking more time and feeling like a big giant meanie mean.

Endured a pre-meeting sympathy hug.

Only cried at work twice, and when no one was looking.

Brought back The Event leftovers, but referred to them as “desserts from home” so others didn’t have to think about my misfortune.

Stopped drinking office coffee due to a constant heightened state of anxiety following The Event.

Responded “good!” when a coworker asked me how I’m doing.

Responded “good!” when a different coworker asked me how I’m doing, and then when they clarified “no, but how are you really doing?” gave them enough information to make them feel important but not enough to actually give insight into the deep, emotionally shattering anguish I experience on a daily basis.

Wore a color!

Only listened to one Bon Iver album too loud.

Ate more than a handful of almonds and less than an entire cake for lunch.

Channeled personal stress into work stress, creating the most perfect and organized Excel spreadsheet of all time.

Said “totally” in response to a coworker deeming the loss of an email attachment as “traumatic.”

Showed up.

Thanked a coworker for the flowers placed on my desk the day of The Event that were dead by the time I arrived back at work, reminding me of The Event.

Smiled and sang happy birthday to a work acquaintance despite the more-present-than-ever feeling that life is fleeting and should be spent with those whom you love most.

Bathed.

Did not throw every stapler, computer, and office chair when a coworker asked via g-chat “So, things getting back to normal now?”

Dissociated at the water cooler less than 10 times.

Pretended to relate to a manager’s bad day, which was caused by a soggy sandwich.

Refrained from divulging sad weekend plans that included wine consumed alone and The Event-related paperwork.

Breathed.

When coworkers said “I can’t imagine,” resisted responding “Well, then let me paint you a picture” and then launching into an overwrought description of my trauma.

Breathed.

Abstained from screaming in the face of every person older than the one I lost in The Event, asking why they deserve to live longer.

Breathed.

Avoided confiscating the computer of anyone who sent sympathy via email and insinuated that The Event was God’s Plan™.

Breathed.

Did not get in my car during my lunch break, turn on the ignition, crank the radio as loud as possible, scream with as much lung power as an entire high school band wind section, and drive straight into the nearest body of water.

Breathed.

Kept going.

Michelle Leatherby
on Twitter @MichelleLoserby

Thanks to McSweeney's, which published this piece on 5 October 2018


Photo credit: Canon EOS 70d at MaxPixel


Mohammed Assaf, age 12, on his mother

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Aleppo, Syria in December 2016
 

The Word Ummī— My Mother

My beloved mother.
When I go to my house, the pain of missing her
Arrives before me.

Mohammed Assaf of Syria, age 12 when he wrote this.
Mohammed lives in England now and his poem is in
England: Poems from a School (2018), edited by Kate Clanchy


Georg Heym: The last watch

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How dark your sleeps are
and your hands so cold.
Are you already so far away
you don't hear me any more?

Under the flickering lights
you are so sad and old,
and your lips are gruesome
clenched stiffly forever.

In the morning the silence will already be here
and maybe in the air
still the rustling of wreaths
and a decaying smell.

But the nights will become
emptier now, year after year,
here where your head lay and your breathing
was always so soft.

    –Georg Heym (1887-1912)

Letzte Wache

Wie dunkel sind deine Schläfen
und deine Hände so schwer,
bist du schon weit von dannen und hörst mich nicht mehr?

Unter dem flackenden Lichte
bist du so traurig und alt,
und deine Lippe sind grausam
in ewiger Starre gekrallt.

Morgen schon ist hier das Schweigen
und vieilleicht in der Luft
noch das Rascheln der Kränze
und ein verwesender Duft.

Aber die Nächte werden
leerer nun, Jahr um Jahr,
hier, wo dein Haupt lag und leise
immer dein Atem war.


Message from a dead father to his child

Kalle-Gustafsson-Flickr

Before long I will leave this earth. I am trying to stay calm, to talk with you for the first and last time on this paper. I fear you can’t imagine what it’s like, alas. To face this moment and be unable to see you once, to hug you once, to kiss you once ... I am heartbroken. My regret is unending. 

  –Huang Wen-kung 黃溫恭 (1920–1953), a political prisoner condemned to execution in 1950s Taiwan, writing to his unborn child. The family was told he had killed himself. His daughter finally received her father's letter in 2008, at age 56, after her daughter found it in government archives.

黃溫恭

我不久就要和世間永別了。用萬分的努力來鎮靜心腦,來和妳做一次最初而最終的紙上談話吧。我的這心情 恐怕妳不能想像吧! 嗚呼!臨於此時不能見妳一面,抱妳一回, 吻妳一嘴…………我甚感遺憾! 長恨不盡!

 

 


Shmu'el HaNagid: On the death of his son, Jacob

ChrisHConnelly-flickr

Before me the world is a binding seal,
and my home to me is a prison, my son.
After your death I'll go in fear
no more of Time-- for my terror has come.

  --By Shmu'el HaNagid, also known as Samuel ibn Naghrilla (993-after 1056) from The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain 950-1492, edited and translated by Peter Cole (2007). Cole is a poet himself and has won the MacArthur award, among many others.


Helen Keller: We bereaved are not alone

Lars-Vaular-Flickr-Fres

We bereaved are not alone.We belong to the largest company in all the world, the company of those who have known suffering.
When it seems that our sorrow is too great to be borne, let us think of the great family of the heavy hearted into which our grief has given us entrance, and inevitably, we will feel about us their arms, their sympathy, their understanding.

Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world.So long as you can sweeten another's pain, life is not in vain.

    --Helen Keller (1880-1968) in Peace at Eventide (1929)


Áine ní Ghlinn: The warmth of the kitchen is cold

Kulicki-flickr

In the kitchen

For Robbie

I hear the hollow shovel, bleak
against the laughter of the sun
Sun, where shall I go now?
The warmth of the kitchen is cold.

I sense the hand once held in mine
the train discarded in the corner
Train, where will you go now?
The cold of the kitchen is bare.

I hear the gentle laughter, soft
against the silence of the wind
Wind, take me with you now
The silence of the kitchen is forever.

  --Áine ní Ghlinn (1955- ) in Sruth na Maoile: Modern Gaelic Poetry From Scotland and Ireland (1993)

Sa Chistin

I gCuimhne Robbie

Cloisim an tsluasaid lom
meascaithe le gáire na gréine
A ghrian, cá raghad anois?
Tá teas na cistine fuar.

Braithim an lámh a bhí im láimh
an traein caite sa chúinne
A traein, cá raghair anois?
Tá fuacht na cistine lom.

Cloisim an gáire séimh
meascaithe le ciúnas na gaoithe
A ghaoth, beir leat anois mé
Tá tost na cistine buan.


Kübler-Ross: The reality is that you will grieve forever

LetIdeasCompeteFlickr

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not "get over" the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.

  --Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004), with David Kessler (1959- ). If you know the source of this quotation, could you send it to me?