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The thing with grief, if I may whine for a bit, is that it splits you into different people and all those different people are doing different things.

Practical shows up first (at least in me, and thank god for it) and says “Yes, I WILL have hysterics, but in a minute—first we have to deal with all the horribly banal details.” It would be easier if we all just fell apart into rose petals or motes of light when we died, but we live in an unpleasantly biological universe. Fortunately Kevin was here and handled most of that.

Practical holds together pretty much long enough to pour the first shot.

Then the bit that I think of as me wanders around feeling like I’ve been hit by a board—what just happened? Is this really happening? Is this allowed to happen? Does the universe really get to do things like that without the possibility of a do-over? Can’t we fix this somehow? Isn’t there someone we can call?

Then my body starts crying. I can’t really explain it better than that—I suppose Hyperbole & A Half nailed it, because it feels like an emotion called crying, not like me being sad. Me still isn’t quite sure that this is irrevocable, that I don’t have a save point somewhere, that I can’t just go back in time three hours and maybe get a re-roll. My body, somewhat wiser, knows that bodies are mortal, that whether or not me is a soul and gets to go on to other lives, bodies get a finite run. It takes orders somewhere below the conscious level. It starts crying.

Crying, however, is exhausting and you can’t do it for long. Well, I can’t. Other people maybe have toned those muscles more. I get about thirty seconds to a minute of intensive weeping and then I’m drained. And then life is almost sort of normal for a few minutes, and I can find things funny and even laugh (although laughing is perilous and may set off crying again) and then the reserve of energy builds up again, as if I’m climbing some sort of switchback of grief, and then I get another minute of weeping again and then my eyelids are raw and my sinuses are plugged up and I have to stop crying to find a Kleenex. It’s like an allergic reaction caused by fate—No, I don’t accept this, my body is rejecting all these individual particles of what just happened, and so your nose swells up and your eyes get red and you croak like a frog out for a walk.

Incidentally, there’s a mockingbird on my block who can do frog calls. Also the two-note “boop-boop!” sound of a car being unlocked remotely. I discovered this this morning while sitting on the front deck, crying into gardening gloves. Don’t do this. Take your gloves off. No matter how miserable you are, life will not be made better if you wipe your eyes with a coarse polymer fabric impregnated with dirt. It took me about ten minutes to learn this basic truth and I pass it on to you free of charge.

Also, I have poison ivy in both armpits. Just there, nowhere else. I must have been doing a tick check or tightening a bra strap or something. I’ve had it for over a week now, I just haven’t had an opportunity to work it into conversation yet. Applying camphor to your armpits is really quite unfortunate. For skin that gets stropped with a razor every day, it is wretchedly delicate.


Eventually Practical comes out again—we have to stop this, we have to write something, writing fixes things, writing makes you believe what you just said, writing nails down reality to the page and we can work from there—and slowly things start to unify together. And Kevin moves the chair that Ben died in up to the attic, so that I’m not staring at it whenever I walk in the door and seeing the indentation (useless chair anyway, only good as a cat bed, no one uses it, just takes up space, also blocking the beer fridge, so to hell with the chair.)

The part that’s me starts to kick off the crying. I can finally put my finger on an emotion and say There, right there, that’s sorrow, instead of being made of equal parts bewilderment and cryingThis is the point where I move into Advanced Coping Mechanism, where I deal with it as long as I can stand and then I call time out and go play video games. Jade Empire and Oddworld and Knights of the Old Republic got me through my divorce. I would literally talk about my relationship until I couldn’t handle it any more and then say “Okay, I need to stop this for a bit.” (Possibly my marriage would have lasted longer if we had separate consoles.) I am hoping to conquer this one with a few long Civ campaigns, although I have Bioshock Infinite ready to crack in case of spiraling despair.

(Give it credit, my grief is well-trained. When I say time out, it really truly steps back. We have made a bargain that I will only call on this power when I have a game queued up, and it allows itself to be switched off for an hour or so at a time, as long as there is no sneaky trying-to-think-around-the-edges. We both adhere to our sides of the bargain.)

And I mostly stop hoping for a do-over, except for the occasional Really? Are we sure? fading off into the distance, like the call of a kildeer somewhere over the moor, except that I don’t have a moor. I should probably get one. They seem like useful things, moors.

And I can’t eat and food is nauseating and then finally my body says To hell with this, I’m taking command here and I eat an entire pizza by myself, and think Good thing I’m emotionally healthy! This sort of thing could really fuck a person up.

Kevin’s been awesome. If there was a medal for Doing Everything Right, he would get it with all the extra stars and bobs and gizmos and clusters. I hope when his turn comes to be miserable, I’ll do even half so good a job. (Well, of course, I find myself thinking, Ben wouldn’t have left you if he didn’t know there was someone there to take up his duties. Kevin was the only adversary in the house he respected. Heh.)

And I climb the switchbacks and wish it could be over faster, knowing that I’ll get to the top, knowing that this is not the worst thing I have lived through, nor the last thing I will live through, but still wishing there was a pass time button or a make camp button or take an extended rest button, just so I could be there now instead of staring up to the top of the hill.

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

Nailed it. You did. Again.

It's a talent for which I thank you, putting into words form images that I can't even see the light of what the fsck is happening to me.

I have similar experiences with grief. Sorry about Ben. Glad you have Kevin.

Thank you so much for being able to put into words, and then post them, things that we all experience but most of us can't express. Thank you, and best wishes to all.

I couldn't even comment on your last post. Too sad, though your eulogy was spot-on and perfect for that wonderful Ben we've gotten to know through your commentary and blogs. I am very sorry for your loss and I hope he's enjoying his Valkyrie.

I think there's a hole in the world and people (cats included) are draining out of it suddenly. I just visited a friend for probably the last time, as she's in the last stages of cancer, and it's hard to think of anybody who hasn't lost somebody in the last week or isn't visiting a deathbed right now. One friend of mine has three people who aren't expected to last the summer. It's crazy.

At any rate, we are none of us alone in our grief.

*hugs* Your description of the grieving process is perfect. It makes me tear up and laugh at the same time. You have all the support a long term internet acquaintance can offer.

*more hugs*

I'm so sorry. You have my deepest sympathies. It's so hard to lose them.

This felt really familiar. We all grieve differently but I think there is a human undercurrent to grief that is universal.

For me, the hard spot is treats. When I lose a rat (and I've lost so many and my heart still doesn't get better at letting them go) I find myself doling out treats to the remaining kids... and for the first few weeks I always forget and end up with one extra treat in my hand. One extra treat for one missing friend. And it usually brings on the tears. Fuck, it brought them on now and my last rat death was Ned almost 2 months ago.

Ben was lucky to have you. You were lucky to have him. It is always an amazing, wonderful thing to have an animal friend you share such a deep bond with, even if it hurts like hell when they are gone and you're left shellshocked and wondering what the hell just happened. Take good care of yourself.

For me, as odd as it may seem, it was litterbox scooping. Our wonderful amazing cat had kidney failure, and that meant scooping three times a day to keep up with him. For weeks afterwards I'd keep going in, staring at the nearly pristine boxes, and just cry.

*also cries & thinks this month needs an edit pass, because it's just... :( *

I'm so sorry about Ben. The big steady boycats always seem to leave us too soon, but then, I suspect any time is too soon.

That was a wonderful description of grieving. Thank you for doing one of the things you do so well, and putting into words what is so hard to explain.

I'm very sorry for your loss. I don't remember griefland very well, just the bramble scratches and skinned knees I got stumbling out again. And that it kept teleporting me back in to the middle of it at odd intervals for quite a while. Just...the intervals between the teleports get longer, and I find myself landing closer to the border... now it only happens a couple of times a year.

(Well, of course, I find myself thinking, Ben wouldn’t have left you if he didn’t know there was someone there to take up his duties. Kevin was the only adversary in the house he respected. Heh.)

That's what I was thinking. Smart thinking, that Ben.

As others have said, your description of grief is uncannily perfect.

Growing up, there was always Midnight. We got her as a kitten when I was 7, and she and I grew up together--she was my baby, my sister, my fur-mom, and my best friend for eleven years. She died from kidney failure on my bedroom floor the day I left for college, and I remember laying in my bed in my dorm room that night, in an unfamiliar place, on my own for the first time, and thinking how completely unreal it was to think of the world without Midnight in it. How could the earth keep spinning? How could the stars come out, and the sun come up, and the world go on doing what it always does when she wasn't there anymore? It's been fifteen years, and even now I sometimes think about that, and I'm still a little amazed the world didn't simply stop when she left. It ought to have.

In every situation where I've had to deal with intense grief--when Midnight died, when Gloomy died six years later, when my first marriage fell apart--I've always experienced that denial of irrevocability you described. For me, it's just a tremendous wave of anguish and pain, and the desperate pleading, "Can't we just go back? I want to go back! It's not real, it wasn't like this yesterday, it wasn't like this an hour ago, I just need to go back!" Unfortunately, my grief doesn't play fair with me, and no matter what I try to do--reading, video games, TV, painting--it finds its way back within minutes and sits there beside me the whole time, just waiting for me to kinda-sorta-forget for a minute and then it jabs me with a stick again. And then the anguish and the crying and the pleas of, "Can't we just go back?" start over again. It takes a while for my particular kildeer to start calling distantly over the moor.

I don't know if you remember, but years ago when Loki died and you worried he wouldn't get enough hugs and cuddles and kibble where ever he was going, I did a gift painting for you, and all I can think to do now is repost it and hope it makes you smile a little when grief gives you the next round of the-world-is-normal-again-for-a-minute: http://whitefantom.deviantart.com/art/Plenty-of-Kibble-in-Heaven-II-6857297

Edited at 2013-05-30 01:57 am (UTC)

Hugs if you would like them, and all my sympathies. Losing friends is so hard.

I missed your last post, possibly in the LJ shenanigans.

My profound sympathies, and rest well, Ben.