Why do we look up at the ceiling when we talk to dead people? It’s as though we actually think they all ascended to some imagined sky realm that sits atop the universe, where some celestial civil servant shunts them to the appropriate afterlife department. I’m aware that I have a Dantean vision of the afterlife in my mind’s eye.
So, yesterday my mind lingered in those inky dark places to which grief can take me. I thought about M., about the way he ducked out, gave up, took the coward’s way—as he had done so many times before. Judge me if you like, though do remember I have considered his final moments, the depth and vastness of despair engulfing him, and the pain that drove him. You can’t imagine how I have anguished over his manner of death in secret silence at 2 am in the shower, hoping the sound of the water beating down onto the porcelain of the bathtub drowns out my ugly guttural cries and keening. The two am banshee, that’s me. So, I feel like I get to call M. on this one. As cowardly. Because, this final act simply completed a pattern, a pattern that Chantel Kreviazuk best sung about with these lyrics: I was there Come on, tell me I wasn't worth stickin' it out for. Well, I was there and I know I was worth it, 'cause if I wasn't worth it that makes me worse off than you are.
So, yesterday wandering through the inky dark garden of grief. Staring at the ceiling of my flat as I full on rage ranted at a dead man. I imagined him in Dante’s Suicide Wood. I remembered the first thing my very Catholic mum blurted out over the phone when I told her he’d hung himself—well he’s going to hell. God love her, she’s an aspergian and so sometimes forgets tact—tact seems dishonest sometimes to an aspergian. That’s my mum, she’ll never change. I love her. Obviously I felt hurt and I got over it. I do imagine M. in the Suicide Wood when I think about him, though I do leave room for mercy. I remember as a young girl the parish priest had come to our house for dinner and we discussed suicide during the after dinner conversation and he simply stated there would be no way we could know if the person didn’t, at the last minute, ask for forgiveness. Leave room for mercy means focus on the reasons that drove the individual to take his life, and not on my need to judge him. I am the judge of nothing, though in my humanness I fail to live up to this—nafsi nafsi.
Grief wore the judges robe and slammed that gavel around yesterday. I shrieked at the popcorn ceiling how selfish a man had to be to take his life 2 days before his own son’s birthday, dooming that young man to carry his despair on a day he should celebrate another revolution around the sun in the most carefree manner his heart desires. I let myself expel these grief demons. In the aftermath, I felt very parasympathetic and vasovagal, the same way I do after a violent pyloric spasm causes me eject forcefully the contents of my stomach. I felt like I had just given birth to a giant demon with a spiked body. I heard Pema Chödrön’s voice in my head. You are the sky everything else is weather. Others feel this too. As a child I held everything inside, never had meltdowns—hyperemesis is how my little body dealt with stress. I rarely get violent pyloric spasms anymore, and I no longer hold everything in—I couldn’t if I tried. Like holding your breath, you can only do that for so long, then your brain forces you to stop holding your breath. Descartes was wrong about dualism. The gut provides a powerful mind-body connection.
I have reached that point now, where I can no longer “hold my breath”, so to speak. If I never let go I cannot take another breath. So, I must let go, then. It hurts to breathe, it hurts to exist sometimes. And yet suspension feels unbearable. And fiery rage feels like a second degree burn. You are the sky everything else is weather. Others feel this too. Releasing the valve in spurts guards against a full on reactor failure and the ensuing meltdown. So, I have these conversations with a dead guy in Suicide Wood. The urge to judge myself has waned as I have learned that nothing catastrophic will happen when I touch my pain. Like a child, demanding to be soothed—that’s pain.
“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
― Pema Chödrön