Thursday, November 02, 2006

Grief is like a hammer. You get the news, and you're stunned. "When? How? Why?" Your first thought is to try and fit this elephant-sized piece of disaster into your pigeonhole desk of a life. You jam, you poke, you push, heave, prod, kick, slam, slap and take a running jump at it, but it refuses to accommodate you. "Fuck you, I'm here, deal with me."

Then you have to take a rest break as you flop down, stare at this this thing parked in your heart, and wonder, "Where the hell did this come from and what am I gonna do about it?" It's only after you accept the fact this thing is here, right now, right in front of you and won't go away, that you feel the first twinges of pain and then the big hammer falls out of the sky and smashes you flat, like Wile E. Coyote under a falling anvil, only there's no five second recovery from this.

My friend Michael called Monday to tell me my former pastor/spiritual director/spiritual mentor/friend, Stan Owen, had died in at 1 a.m. from a heart attack while in the hospital being treated for an aneurysm.

At first I couldn't or didn't feel much, beyond bewilderment. Intellectually, I had been expecting his death for the last 2-3 months since his aneurysm and subsequent enforced hospital stay. But I hadn't heard anything in several weeks about a change in his condition, so I had assumed he was stable and Mike would call me if there was any significant change. I echoed everyone else's comments, "It's a blessing if he went now, before the pain and expense of a prolonged hospital stay," and, "Let God take him now, Stan's ready."

Then, about 24 hours after Mike's call, the grief came out of nowhere. I felt scooped out, emptied, hollow. My thoughts were scattered and even more disorganized than usual. I wondered, "Is this what real grief feels like?"

(I grew up in a home where emotions weren't encouraged and seemed to be seen as dangerous or infantile. As a consequence, I lived with all my emotions locked down and ignored until my mid-30s. Grief was an alien concept to me at that time. Now I'm in my mid-40s and my emotions have come back online, some more than others.)

Today, now, I still feel sad, but not as empty. Real life has a way of insistently butting its way into my little sacred, sterile gardens of preserved emotion, then eating the roses and shitting all over everything. Doctor's appointment ("Here, pee in this cup"), grocery shopping ("Mozzarella cheese, yes or no?"), even answering the phone only to hear "Dis is Govuhnoor Shvarzeneggah, I vant to--" Well, I never found out vat-- what he "vanted" because I hung up.

What am I trying to say with all this? Life goes on, even in death. Emotions are tricksy things, doubly so if you've got soapy hands, like I do. It's okay to grieve. No one gets to tell you how you should feel. Life does not wait for you to get your act together / finally lose those last ten pounds / learn to play the guitar / get that promotion / have a baby / see a Democrat president and Congress. Life is both insanely complex and bluntly simple.

Grief hurts, too.