Thursday, October 06, 2005

23 days

So I read my professor's book today. The death class professor, who lost his wife to cancer. Lost her in 23 days from diagnosis (as probably treatable) to death. I read the story of his grief. It affected me profoundly. Here's what I wrote to him.

You should have warned us to read the book in one sitting. I read up to the letters to Alex and then I slept on it, woke up (feeling a little down), and then went to class. By the end of class I was in downright despair! I left crying. I think the weight of the book - my emphathy with your story - had built up over the hours until it spilled over. One of those times that my sad disposition (I've had clinical depression for a number of years, for which I take medication) simply took over. Not really despair, just general sadness.

I grieve frequently - for the world, for my friends, for the situation you were and are in. Yes - I like to think of clinical depression as a genetic predisposition to grieving. The way you described your grief in the book is very much the way clinical depression feels - particularly the feeling of helplessness, of having to "wait it out." Medication can help, but it takes weeks to be truly effective (and trying to go off it can start everything up again, which leads to fear). Talk therapy is also useful, but again, there is this thing inside you that is gnawing away and you cannot control it or make it better. You just have bad days and less bad days. Until the meds kick in.

But of course, grief is a different experience, most notably because it will (hopefully) not be so frequent for most people. And it does involve the real loss of something that one is unable to regain, unlike the perceived losses during a depression which one regains when the world seems right again.

I very much empathize with your resistance to process and to be categorized by books and experts. Even reading the "Letting Go" book, I was wondering the same things: "have these people ever grieved?" But then I think I might be able to step away and look at it so clinically myself. Especially because I've had so much experience with death. It hurts every time it happens to you, but it's not that hard to look at someone else like a test subject rather than a human feeling what you've felt.

You didn't talk much in the book about how your children coped - particularly I was wondering about Rebecca, who saw her mother so much less than the other two due to her being ill during the last few days of Renee's life. Did Rebecca ever express regret about this? Did she feel angry that you did not convey the gravity of the situation so that she'd have been there, no matter how sick she herself felt?

I love the part of the story about Renee opening her eyes and willing God's will. It reminds me of the hours before my grandfather died and he told my aunt and uncle that he was "going home." He knew and he was ready to go.

Did you ever feel selfish or guilty or overdramatic? Because I am so down so much of the time, I feel as if I may be the girl who cried wolf - that is, if I ever have a real tragedy, people may be tired of my grieving so they will not be able to be there for the real process. But is what I feel now any less real? And would people really be that way?

Well just to be safe, I try to keep my pain hidden most of the time. Have to save up for the compassion of others. What if they are not there with it when it is time for me to need it?

Did anyone ever hurt or disappoint you when they were trying to help, and if so, can you share what they did so we don't make the same mistake?

Is it okay for me to compare my depression to your loss or is that completely inappropriate and selfish?


Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

People sometimes have trouble understanding grief even if you haven't "cried wolf." I remember when a man I had loved died suddenly, and a month - just one month - after his death, I remember someone saying to me, "It's been a month." As if that meant I should be over it by now.

Anonymous said...

So often you have put my feelings into print. First you are more honest; Second, a better writer; and finally much braver than I.

An investigative reporter from behind the lines "blessed assurance" and "me-ism". The foil that tells me it's O.K. to continue seeking from within.

I pray you stay the course.

A shameful admission for a septuagenaric male.