Have been contemplating the different usages of the word “home.” A few days ago, I was flying home to Chicago because my father had just died. Tomorrow, I’m flying back home to San Francisco. Both of these phrases mean such different things, and yet they’re equally true.
I’m feeling a bit apprehensive about starting the “getting back into my regular life” phase of all this. As stressful and painful as it’s been, the intensity and drama of the “flying home on short notice and seeing the family and having the commemorative gathering” thing has been… not a distraction, that’s not what I mean at all, but something like that. It’s been like stepping out of my regular life, and into the land of grief. Next week, I have to start figuring out how to get on with my life, how to weave this loss into in my daily life, how to manage my grief while also meeting deadlines and paying bills and returning emails and scooping cat litter and watching Project Runway. Also, the time in the land of grief has an endpoint. The time living my life with this grief woven into it… I have no idea how long that’s going to last. The rest of my life, to some extent. It’s going to gradually dial down over time, with better moments and worse moments and an overall arc towards better… but it’s not going to have a stopping place. That’s daunting.
I’m noticing that my reminiscences and trips down memory lane are almost as much about Mom as they are about Dad. I guess that makes sense. Of course Dad’s death is going to remind me of Mom’s; of course remembering his life is going to remind me of hers, since for years they were so closely woven together. Plus, when Mom died, I didn’t process it for shit. Her death was so premature (she was 45), so out of the blue (six weeks between diagnosis and death), and it came at such a bizarre time in my own life (two months into my first year at college)… and I kind of just shoved it on the back burner. Where it periodically boiled over in stupid and self-destructive ways. In a weird way, it feels good to be re-processing her death in a more healthy way. (“Re-processing her death in a more healthy way”? Sweet fictional Jesus, could I sound any more like a Northern Californian?)
Big insight of the day: I think I’m starting to see where some of my “am I doing it right?” self-consciousness about my grief is coming from. The thing that’s dawning on me: Grief isn’t just personal. It’s social. A grieving family or group of friends grieves together (ideally, anyway): comforts each other, supports each other, gives each other perspective and wisdom, takes turns taking care of each other. I don’t, in fact, just want to “grieve in my own way”: I also want to support my grieving family members as they grieve in their own way.
There’s a saying from Hillel that’s always stuck with me, ever since I first heard it decades ago: “If I am not for myself, than who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, than who am I?” The balance between caring for yourself and caring for other people, between resisting pointless social pressure and conformity while at the same time genuinely caring about not upsetting people, between being true to ourselves while at the same time being conscious of the effect we have on others… even at the best of times, this balance is both important and difficult. And during a time of grief, getting that balance right is both much more important, and much, much harder. Right now, I know that my usual perspective and my usual instincts are totally fucked up. So right now, I need to carefully think them through. Hence… self-consciousness.
Also, I strongly suspect that when we’re grieving, our personalities and natural tendencies get dialed up to eleven. If we’re naturally introverted, we probably tend to withdraw; if we’re naturally demonstrative, we probably tend to cry and vent; if we’re naturally work-oriented, we probably tend to throw ourselves into our work. I already have a tendency to be introspective and self-questioning. I generally value this trait, in fact I think it’s one of the best things about me. I don’t want to always assume that everything I do is right; I want to be willing to question my ideas and actions. But right now, this tendency is cranked waaaaay up, to the point where I’m spinning my wheels over ridiculously trivial shit. (Today, among other things, it was about which size and variety of Frango Mints to buy.) I’m reminded a bit of the time right after I read “Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me,” the book about the process of rationalization, and was so conscious of my own processes of rationalization that I was paralyzed for a week with massive self-doubt over every tiny decision, and with massive guilt over every tiny mistake.
Today we — Rick and Ingrid and I — mostly walked around in downtown Chicago, visiting assorted spots from our past. It was good to be outside, getting exercise, reminiscing. And then I hit a wall. Actually, I ran into a wall at about sixty miles an hour. So far with the grief, I’ve often been able to feel myself beginning to fade, gradually getting less focused and more tired and foggy. Not today. Today, I was totally fine one minute, exhausted and paralyzed the next. The prospect of buying a train ticket in an unfamiliar train system seemed utterly impossible, like a brain-teaser for super-geniuses. Rick finally had to do it for me.
Of course, after spending hours being exhausted and wanting nothing more than to sleep, now I’m wide awake again. I think writing this diary tends to wake me up. A good thing in one sense: it makes me feel alive, connected, moving forward with my life, not buried in a fog. But it also wakes me up right when I’m about to try to get to sleep. I think I’m going to take a Benadryl and call it a night.