My Aunt Terry died on Thursday after being diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her liver only six weeks ago. “Aunt Terry died.” It is weird to see that in writing. I thought it would make it feel more real, but it just looks strange….kind of like when you say a word over and over again, like “cream rinse,” and then ask yourself: “Is that even a word or did I make it up?”
I had not planned on writing about this, in part because it is so devastatingly sad, but also because books on writing will usually tell you not to write about something that you are currently going through- you are still drowning in it, you lack air…distance…perspective. Your reader will just think you are a babbling whiner.
(That’s why I apologized in advance).
“So what should I write about?” I asked my mom.
She thought for a moment. “I don’t know….how about Halloween?”
So I tried that, but all I came up with was: “Tomorrow is Halloween. Emma is a ballerina. Phoebe is a strawberry. I ate all the Reese’s peanut butter pumpkins. Like, in two days. It’s snowing in October. Life is f***ed up. I’m going back to bed.”
I don’t have a ton of first-hand experience with grief, at least not as an adult. At times I feel like I am going a little bit crazy, or that I have been transported to some alternate plane of existence, like the Twilight Zone for The Hopelessly Sad and Heartbroken.
According to Elisabeth Kubler Ross, the five stages of grief are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. When I try reading about these stages, and attempt to match my experience to what Ross is describing, my head starts to hurt and all I can hear is the Charlie Brown teacher voice.
So I made up my own Five Stages of Grief:
- The Reclining Stage: At any given moment I can be overcome by the overwhelming need to lie down. On the couch, my bed, on the floor, in the shower… sometimes I just change locations: couch to bed, shower to bed, bed to floor. It doesn’t really matter where or when, but the sense of fatigue is so powerful, there is no fighting it. This is why I have been avoiding Wegman’s.
- The Wormhole Stage: This stage refers to large gaps in time that I have trouble accounting for. For example, I will sit on the toilet to pee, and then before I know it my butt is cold and I am still on the toilet, starting out the window. I then think to myself, “How long have I been sitting here?” This stage also applies to the countless times a day I find myself standing in the middle room with no idea why I am in there, or why the ironing board is out, considering I iron maybe once a year.
- The Ice Water-in-the-Veins Stage: I may not have any scientific data to back this up, but I stand firm on the theory that grief makes you cold. For example, I taught yoga this morning and arrived early so I could lie down in front of the heaters cranked up to 80 degrees. I have been drinking copious amounts of red wine taking hot showers at night in an effort to defrost, but then the idea of putting my pajamas on seems so unpleasant that I just sleep with my robe on. Phil keeps comparing me to some weirdo he interviewed who didn’t get the job (in part) because he kept his puffy ski jacket on the entire time. I seriously wonder if that poor guy was grieving.
- The Appetite Schizophrenia Stage: This stage kind of reminds me of the first trimester of pregnancy. Yesterday I made Phil go to the store and buy all the makings for Bibimbap, a Korean dish that involves rice, meat, and a fried egg. It looked good when they made it on the Food Network- kind of hot and mushy and comforting. By the time he got home and began to assemble all the ingredients, I said, “I will literally puke if I eat that.” Poor Phil. We had cereal.
- The What The Fuck Are You People Doing Stage: It dawned on me this week that people die every day, and all this time I have been moving through life totally oblivious to this fact. Now I feel like I am the other side of the glass partition, watching people engage in everyday activities as if nothing is wrong, like nothing has changed. Sometimes it pisses me off – like listening to some woman at the gym bitch to her friend about her botched highlights: “Well, I told the girl I wanted HONEY colored highlights and these are clearly more ASHEY….” I kind of wanted to punch her in the face.
The world just looks and feels different somehow. I was driving home from my writing group yesterday morning and the snow had really started falling. I turned off the radio because it felt too loud; too harsh, too grating…and suddenly the car seemed so quiet, punctured only by the swish of the wipers and the static sound of snow falling on the roof. Something felt weird and eerie, and I realized that I had never seen snow on the trees before the leaves had fallen.
The leaves, still so fiery and vibrant, looked wet and cold under the frosty blanket. The branches hung low like an icy canopy, brushing the top of my car as I drove underneath. They looked sad, many of them snapping under the pressure of this premature act of nature; a hasty goodbye to the season of color and beauty.