So Many Memories
Editor’s Note: This the second of a series of articles reflecting on death and grief that will run under the thematic heading, “So Many Memories.” With many people in the Takoma Park Community experiencing the loss of friends and loved ones, we decided to provide a forum for thought leaders in the community to offer their reflections on grieving and loss. If you have questions or would like to contribute, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. —Apryl Motley
A Reflection on Grief
By John Robinette
Five hundred words on coping with grief. That is the assignment.
There are no words, let alone five hundred, or five million for that matter, that can do it. That is the thing. Some of you have experienced grief. Gut-wrenching, nauseating, confusing, searing grief. Maybe you are experiencing it right now, and reading this is an act of courage no one can comprehend; the words blurring and dancing about on the page through tears and feverlike hallucinations. Others of you have borne witness to a friend or loved-one navigating the tumult and delirium of a full-on bout of the condition. Helpless you are to their helplessness – wondering what magic you can conjure from Earth or the Gods or the wind to ease their pain even a nanometer. And if it is a child’s grief, you’d happily hand over a limb or two as sacrifice if given even a probability of success.
There are those who speak knowingly of the stages of grief. Some offer insights on how long before you get on with life. Some invoke a deity’s plan in hopes of comfort. Or you may have your own ways to cope, like turning to drugs or alcohol like I did when my wife died suddenly at age 42. And do you want to know a secret? It works. At least scotch worked for me. For a while. And then it stopped working.
There are other things that help. Being with people helped me cope. So did being alone. Physical exercise was important as was sleep. My grief made me nauseous, and I barely ate for two weeks and lost 15 pounds. There are some who eat for comfort and gain 15 pounds.
I no longer subscribe to a specific faith. I lean Buddhist or Unitarian-Universalist. But for my money the wisdom in Ecclesiastes is hard to beat:
For there is an appointed time for everything. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
There was grief in the Old Testament. Lots. They got it – the cyclical and transient nature of life. Strange comfort comes with the awareness of our own short lives and that all things, even my grief, will come to pass. And dancing? I added that. My late wife loved to dance, and whether in ecstatic joy or ecstatic misery, dancing is proper therapy.
I’m afraid I have no list of 7 items or 9 tips, for coping. I’m sorry about that. What I can say is this: Be yourself. Don’t let anyone say you are grieving wrong. The proper amount of time is the amount of time it takes. Ask for help; there is no shame in it. Get plenty of rest and exercise. Eat healthy food, and go easy on the liquor and drugs. There are people who love you.
You can do this.
John Robinette is a father and husband, re-married after the sudden death of his wife in 2010. In John’s book, Never Stop Dancing: A Memoir, which he wrote with close friend and co-author Robert Jacoby, such issues as male friendship in our modern era, how we look at life differently in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy, and how we understand the concepts of love, God, and religion in our lives are explored. The book is based on John and Robert’s conversations during the year after John’s wife Amy died.
This article originally appeared in the August 2020 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. See the full newsletter here.