The stupid thing about dying is that we all go through it but we so rarely seem to understand it, and I am finding that my cavalier attitude towards it is wearing a bit thin these days.
I've wrapped this cavalier-ness around me -- and at times an accompanying near disdain for grief -- since I was sixteen years old. Once you've watched your father writhing on the lobby floor at the local Boys & Girls Club, and then watched his eyes glaze over as he's shoved into the back of an ambulance, there's maybe not much room left for empathy.
I don't know that I've ever really gotten over it, though I've learned to fake it better over the years. I've learned to sound knowledgeable about death: about the witnessing of it and the mourning of it, about the cocooning inward that happens sometimes after it.
They say, about childbirth, that your body forgets the pain, the agony, of it all. I wouldn't know about that, but I wonder if the same isn't true of deep, deep grief. How else to survive the mind-numbing brutality of it, after all, than to forget?
But I've forgotten the actual feelings of loss behind the facts of my father's death. The closest I can come now is to the grief I felt when a boyfriend up and left in abrupt and spectacular fashion after five years of living together. For weeks I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, felt the world closing in around me, kept looking for the next thing that would make me feel better only to discover that the next thing never helped.
It's a silly comparison, I know, but it's the place I can look to for understanding. Adult grief is so much different, I think, than adolescent grief.
The year or so after Dad died, I found myself not cocooning in, but rather bursting out through the seams, craving attention and worry and concern, staying out late, sometimes staying out all night, or for days on end at friends' houses. I dyed my hair black and stomped around in black witchy boots and took up smoking Marlboro reds. I curled up and cried at parties, fell asleep at the movies, cut way too many classes, scratched at fragile skin with needles and pins. Some of my friends took to making sure I had someone to hang out with on certain nights. Some of them called this Emma-sitting, as in, "Who's got Emma tonight?" I like to think they didn't mind this task so much, but of course they did. We were seventeen years old.
Now I am watching this person I love going through the loss of his father. We're supposed to be grown up now, and there will be no rending of garments, no slashing and burning the world around us to the ground.
I am selfishly trying to remember that being on the outside of this is the right place for me to be: to be the person needed in the moments needed, to show up uninvited without feeling unwanted, to sit quietly over cups of tea, to not be the one needing to be held. I am trying to remember how to reach deep into a darkness I don't quite understand for an empathy that seems like it should be easy.