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Oct 08 2012

Grief Diary, 10/7/12

10/7/12

Ingrid and I went to the Cindy Sherman exhibit today. In a perfect world, this wouldn’t have been the day to go see a challenging and disturbing art exhibition: we just got back home to San Francisco yesterday, and in a perfect world, this would have a day to rest, play with the kitties, maybe take a gentle little meditative walk. But today was the last day of the exhibit — we’ve been meaning to go, and things kept interfering — and I knew if we missed it, I’d hugely regret it. I’m feeling very “carpe diem”-y right now, very conscious of missed opportunities, and I didn’t want to miss this one. Very glad we went. It was somehow both cathartic and distracting: the exhibit was intense, on themes that resonate very strongly with me… but mostly not the themes I’ve been obsessing on in the last week. It was kind of a relief to be having intense, challenging, unsettling feelings about something other than loss and grief and paralyzing meta-meta-meta self-consciousness. (Although there was one photograph that was very close to home, one I kept returning to and flinching from and returning to again: one of the “centerfolds,” the one that to me looked like an entirely exhausted and defeated woman on the verge of finally falling asleep but with shell-shocked eyes that won’t quite close.) And I went out of my way to walk on the top-floor walkway, the one where you can see straight down through to the four floors below you. I think I wanted to have the experience of the ground not seeming solid under my feet… and experience it as adventurous and pleasurable, and know that it was actually safe. And the long walk to the museum — an hour, maybe a little more — was excellent, and much-needed.

Speaking of which: Memo to self about long walks. During this stretch of grief and depression, I’ll often have a moment during a long walk where I’ll think that I’m exhausted, a moment where I’ll think, “I can’t keep doing this, I have to stop, I have to sit down right this second.” It usually comes early on in the walk, not even fifteen or twenty minutes in, long before the time when I would actually be physically tired and needing to stop. Memo to self: I am not actually exhausted. Not physically, anyway. I am fully capable of continuing to put one foot in front of the other. And if I push through it — if I continue to put one foot in front of the other for a while, even if it’s in a zombie-like daze — I am always happy that I did. I push through it emotionally as well as physically, and feel more awake and alive.

Oh, I remembered what it was! The thing I wanted to say about ways that self-interest and compassion intertwine, the thing I wanted to say yesterday but couldn’t remember or put into words.

It’s this: I’ve been resisting, somewhat, the idea of letting people take care of me. (Except for Ingrid.) Lots of people have been saying, “If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know” — and I’ve been feeling reluctant to take them up on it. I’m somehow afraid that it’ll suck me into a vortex of self-involvement, that I’d be taking unfair advantage of their kindness. Or something.

But something occurred to me. When people in my life are grieving, or are otherwise suffering, I want to help. It’s not that I think I should help, that I feel obligated to help. I want to. I feel better if I can. I feel helpless and shitty in the face of suffering and grief, especially the suffering and grief of people I love — and being able to help, even a little, makes me feel better.

So letting people help me isn’t just self-involved or taking advantage. I mean, it wouldn’t be anyway, that’s dumb, my father just died and it’s okay for to ask for help. But letting people help me is also, in this complicated intertwining of self-interest and compassion, a way of helping them. My friends want to help me. If there’s a way that they can, I’m doing them a kindness by letting them. Besides, the help isn’t just about the practical help. It’s about the connection being created by the act of helping, and of accepting help. I’m reminded a bit of one of the vows Ingrid and I wrote for our wedding: “I promise to give you my help and support, and to accept help and support from you.” The second half of that is as important to the connection as the first.

Have been having thoughts about atheist views of death and meaning, and how we create our own meaning instead of persuading ourselves that it’s handed to us by God. But Kanani gave me her old Kindle today (she just got a new one), and I bought “The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan, and I want to get into it. I’m feeling slightly less frantically and obsessively driven to record every single thought and feeling every single day in this diary, slightly more willing to let things simmer, and I want to go with that. The atheist meaning of death is not time-sensitive. It can wait until tomorrow.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    Martha

    It’s absolutely true that it’s a kindness to the people close to you to let them help. And a kindness to yourself, too. There’s enough isolation in grief that you’ll need the moments of bonding that allowing people to help provides.

    As for getting through the walks, this is where it helps to be a dog owner rather than a cat owner!

  2. 2
    magistramarla

    Greta,
    You got me to thinking about how I often refuse help as a disabled person. I always have that “I can do it myself” attitude. You made me realize that people who offer to help me are usually doing it out of love and that it does make them feel good to do it.

  3. 3
    davebrown

    I recommend “The Long Goodbye” by Meghan O’Rourke. It helped me a lot after my mom died.

    I hear what you’re saying about accepting help (or not accepting as the case may be). When I was at the deepest/worst part of grief/depression over my mom’s death, I was both pushing people away and desperate for some kind of connection. Difficult position and I think I’m still not completely rid of it.

  4. 4
    danielmchugh

    Thank you so much for posting this. It feels so wrong that we treat accepting help as a moral weakness when we treat helping as such a virtue.

  5. 5
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    It’s very true: if you let me help, it’s a comfort to me because I feel I’m helping you to feel better. And when I ask for help and get it, or accept it when I need it, I feel better, too. Win-win. “Shared pain is lessened.”

  6. 6
    geocatherder

    I fiercely rejected all offers of help after my dad died… and later paid a therapist for that help. Appreciate that people are there for you and take them up on the offer. We are interconnected, we humans.

    I’m glad you saw the exhibit you wanted, but do take time to rest and play with the kitties, too!

    Kudos to Ingrid for being an understanding wife. There are a few things she could teach my husband…

  7. 7
    didgen

    Reading your posts right now is difficult for me because it brings back my feelings from after my mother’s death. I think of you often, and hope that each day is bringing you closer to equilibrium.

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