The thing about grief that most people don’t understand (unless they’ve experienced it) is that it never goes away. Time allows new experiences and relationships to naturally fall over old ones, causing grief to recede deeper and deeper within. But it never leaves us completely. And like with events that happen in nature that cause the earth’s inner core to come bubbling to the surface, so do things happen in our emotional lives that trigger grief – however old it may be – to the surface.
The irony here is that I’m constantly underestimating grief and being caught by surprise.
This past May 3 marked the 3rd anniversary of my husband’s death. It was also the first year that I didn’t do anything specific. The first year, I honored the day by going to Joshua Tree National Park, a place where we’d shared many good times. The second year, I went to the mountains where we’d dispersed his ashes. Both times I took the day off from work.
This year May 3 was on a Saturday. I told myself I wasn’t a fan of this day and therefore wasn’t going to give it any energy. I went to the horse races with my good friend T. Only at the end of the day did I remind T that it was May 3rd, at which point she apologized profusely for not remembering.
“I know yesterday was tough for you,” she texted me the next day “We should have done something in Kaz’s honor. ”
“I’m not a fan of May 3,” I responded. “I rather be out with you and not thinking about it too much.”
A week later I fell into a deep depression, deeper than I’d felt in months. I didn’t discuss it on the blog in part because I’d just written about not complaining. Plus I wasn’t sure if it was directly related to the 3rd anniversary because it didn’t feel like typical grief.
Though I was crying and moping about, I wasn’t always thinking specifically of Kaz. Rather, I was thinking about life in general. I wrote to my sister: “Generally feeling like my life has amounted to nothing. No career, no kids, no husband. Lots of ideas and unfinished work, but nothing major to speak of. It’s killing me that I’m still an assistant at 43, and have been for the past 4 years. Filmmaking feels like a far off distant memory, something I used to love and now…”
I was also feeling frustrated because I couldn’t get anyone on the phone. It might be my imagination but it seems like phone calls are getting rarer and rarer. Letters are almost extinct. Are we getting more disconnected, or is everyone simply busy with their own families and lives? Either way, not being able to talk to someone simply drove home the fact that I am alone. I was missing my mother and my husband, and nothing seemed to have any purpose.
One friend I finally managed to get on the phone asked me what had changed in the last few weeks to bring on this bad mood. I admitted that I had fallen off my diet wagon, and this seemed to have a domino effect on the rest of my life. Also, the 3rd anniversary had came and went but with little fanfare
“Grief is a sneaky, wandering thing,” my therapist told me later. Then she reminded me of the Demeter and Persiphone myth.
In ancient Greek religion and myth, Demeter was goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth.
Demeter’s virgin daughter Persephone was abducted to the underworld by Hades. Demeter searched for her ceaselessly, preoccupied with her loss and her grief. The seasons halted; living things ceased their growth, then began to die. Faced with the extinction of all life on earth, Zeus sent his messenger Hermes to the underworld to bring Persephone back. Hades agreed to release her, but gave her a pomegranate. When she ate the pomegranate seeds, she was bound to him for one third of the year… There are several variations on the basic myth… In all versions, Persephone’s time in the underworld corresponds with the unfruitful seasons of the ancient Greek calendar, and her return to the upper world with springtime. [Wikipedia]
I related to so many aspects of this story: the wandering, searching, preoccupied phase of grief; the madness that comes with no longer being able to place the lost loved one; the unfruitfulness of loss vs. the harvest and fertility of love; the seasons of grief.
What pulled me out of the slump was (once again) writing. I had to deliver a personal essay by the end of the week, and was forced to concentrate on that. The topic of the essay was the Memorial Day weekend a few weeks after Kaz died when two childhood friends came to visit me.
Though it was a bittersweet memory, writing about it felt good. I suppose writing is my fruitfulness.
May 25, 2014 at 11:57 pm
Grief is a sneaky thing. I used to do something for my mothers anniversary, also mothers day, her birthday etc. Now I just have a quiet moment. But then on a random day it will be worse than any specific anniversary. Lots of hugs for you Niva xx
May 26, 2014 at 9:55 am
Thanks. Yes, those random days are tough and catch us off guard. Hugs to you too. xo
May 26, 2014 at 6:17 am
Grief is a sneaky thing … and I’m guessing it’s a lonely thing.
I’m so glad that the friend that you caught up with was able to offer comfort in greek mythology.
Strength and peace to you, Niva.
May 26, 2014 at 9:56 am
Thanks LB, and to you as well.
May 26, 2014 at 9:50 am
Well done, Niva. Grief is sneaky – it can hide as well as any cat, and just when you think it’s gone it saunters out to greet you. I love the Demeter story and have thought a lot about it. That feeling of being a part of two worlds is so true. I’m glad you’re feeling better. It is a melancholy, bittersweet journey, and while each of our paths is separate, perhaps there’s enough to share that we can occasionally wave at each other. I hope you have a lovely, peaceful and friend-filled Memorial Day.
May 26, 2014 at 10:00 am
Thanks DS. It’s funny, I’d heard the Demeter story years ago in school, but when she told it to me again it was almost like hearing it for the first time. I suppose that’s because I relate to it in such a different way now.
I’m spending today with friends (and their pool!). Hope you’re having a good day too. xo
May 27, 2014 at 4:54 am
Hi Niva. It seems to me that you’ve done a great job recognizing grief for what it is–a journey that has many layers and many twists and turns. Jean Shinoda Bolen’s work–Close to the Bone– looks at the Demeter/Persephone myth from the viewpoint of illness–but it does a great job explaining the psychological twists and turns of the descent into the underworld and the return to earth. I applaud you for writing your way out of grief. That takes great courage. All the best–Patti
May 27, 2014 at 11:33 am
Thank you so much Patti. That book sounds fascinating. I’ll definitely look it up. Thanks for recommending it.