Five Stages

First: thanks to everyone for all your kind words, tweets, and comments over the last few days. I can't tell you how much you all mean to me. And I am not being sarcastic or anything right now -- I am honest-to-God serious. Thanks for being nice people.


I'm still processing my feelings about my grandfather's death, so this post will be all over the place. Probably I should apologize, but I won't. I'm not sorry about it -- I'm not really anything. I was hoping to have something deeply profound to say by now, but I'm a 20-year veteran of different kinds of therapy, so I know that all this stuff happens in its own time and whatever. I am also intimately familiar with the K├╝bler-Ross model and can report that I've skipped over denial and have gotten to acceptance already, but I seem to be having trouble with the stages in between -- for whatever reasons, I keep rapidly cycling through anger and bargaining with longer stops on depression.

This is perfectly normal, of course, and I am aware of what's happening and can sort of let everybody know what's going on, but I am finding myself in some trouble during those periods of depression: namely, I am running out of Oreos and dill pickle potato chips and Klondike bars. Fortunately the new Costco up the road opens up at the end of the week, just in time for the funeral, so I can stock up on comfort foods.

What is surprising me most, I think, are those swings back to anger. There are very specific reasons why I feel angry right now, reasons that I won't go into right now (or maybe ever) because my family does not deserve to have hurt feelings right now to go along with their broken hearts, and also because I know, logically, that my anger is selfish and potentially self-damaging. Anger usually is, of course; it is also, in this particular case, at least, pointless and fruitless. I just need to keep reminding myself what the best therapist I ever had told me a long time ago: anger comes from pain. Pain, when left unchecked and untreated, becomes anger. I know I need to let it go. But that's always the tricky part, isn't it?

So for now I am doing what we all are right now, which is holding it together the best that I can. My grandfather's passing was not unexpected, but what has surprised me is how unprepared I was for it, even though I thought I was ready. I made my peace some time ago with the fact that each visit with him might be the last, and yet I still feel blindsided by the one that actually was. For the last few months there has been a general sense of foreboding, that we all knew the end was near, but I almost feel that in the deepest lizard parts of my brain I was half expecting him to outlive us all, somehow. It was a ridiculous notion, but hope that you didn't know you had manifests itself in strange ways and in stranger places and at the strangest times.


My daughter, surprisingly or not, has been my greatest source of comfort in the past few days. She is only four, so her relationship with her great-grandfather has been short-lived and not as fraught with personal baggage as my relationship with her great-grandfather was. He was her Poppy Mousie, and he was almost always in that chair, and he gave her candy even when Mommy said no, and snuck her tastes of birthday cake frosting  even before we had the candles in, and watched horse races and baseball games with her. He loved her, and she loved him, and there is nothing else that needs to be said about that relationship because that's all there was to it. An old man and a little girl who loved each other.

We told her that Poppy Mousie died and we asked her if she knows what that means. At first she said, "He is up in the clouds and now Owen will take care of him." Later, she added, "It just means we aren't going to see him any more, but he'll still be there."

She's so smart, that one. Just like her great-grandfather.

Kissy Kiss 2


When I got the news very late Thursday night or very early Friday morning, I'm not sure which, I rolled over in bed and pretended to go back to sleep. I went numb for a while, and I didn't want my husband to worry more than I know he already does. He is worried about me but he doesn't want to ask how I am feeling, not because he doesn't want to know, but because after 17 years together he knows well enough that there is little he will be able to do. I laugh and cry and rant and scream in public, my heart bleeding on my sleeve, but most of the actual work of coping is done privately, inside my own head and my own heart, and nobody can really make me better but me. He can help, be a strong shoulder to cry on and an open ear for listening, but he cannot fix me. I married him in part because I know that he knows this.

What I didn't tell him was that I was actually awake, lying there in the dark, listening to him breathing next to me and my daughter snoring in the next room and the air conditioner running in the window, and I was trying to remember: what were the last words that I had with my grandfather? I can't remember the last thing he said to me. But I very distinctly recall what I said to him the last time I saw him, two Saturdays ago, just five days before he passed away. He was asleep in his chair.

"I don't want to kiss you goodbye, because you're sleeping now and you look so tired, but I love you."

I can live with that.


"I think: He and I have been talking ever since I learned how. A million words. All of them final, now. I don't need to make him give me any more, like souvenirs. I think: Let me not define his death on my terms." -- Dave Barry

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