26 November 2012

Grief does not change you...or does it...

I read an amazing book recently: The Fault in our Stars by John Green. And if you haven't read it, well, you are missing out. It has it all: Love, live and death. Oh, yeah and the C word--Cancer.

One of the best quotes in the book requires repeating:

"Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you."

I have been thinking about this quote a lot in the days and months since I read the book because for a long time after Grace died, I simply said, "Oh, I'm a different person now." But was that an easy escape? An easy answer?

Am I really a different person? Yes, in some ways I very much am.

Yes, to a certain extent grief has changed me, but not as much as it has revealed me perhaps.

See, because really, I have been grieving since I was five years old, since my father died, only I wasn't aware that I was grieving because 40 years ago, grief was dealt with differently.

But it was revealing me. In fact, there was no better way that grief revealed me than in high school when I did all kinds of things that would be considered dangerous. But I hid them pretty well, I think, from the people who cared about me.

I tried cutting, but I didn't really like it much. I smoked weed, I drank alcohol, I starved myself--500 calories a day for six months until I was in the low 90s. I stood in the middle of the street once willing myself to be hit by a car. I slept many nights with bottles of pills under my pillow wondering if I should just take them and get it all over with.

I prayed every night for death to find me. I was convinced I didn't want to live.

I did all those things thinking I was a bad person, I was an unlovable person, I was a person who wasn't likable. I wasn't the most popular, nor was I the most unpopular. But I didn't do them because I thought I was grieving. I did them because I thought I was unlovable.

No one should be made to feel unlovable. It is one of the most lonely, isolating, scary, horrible emotions to feel. And lucky for me, there were just a few people who revealed themselves to me during those lonely years that I think really kept me afloat. People who appeared in my life at the time when I really needed them to even though I didn't know it back then.

So I stayed afloat, barely. But I did, and as soon as I could, I left home to go as far away as possible from my unlovable self that I could.

I spent a lot of time running in my 20s, though I still didn't know what I was running from.

And then in my 30s, I thought everything was fine. My past seemed some distant shadow of myself that I wanted to forget.

Except then the unthinkable happened. The unstoppable.

My child died.

My daughter died, and I couldn't save her.

My daughter died, and I couldn't hide grief behind myself any longer.

Suddenly, I was a fatherless daughter and a daughterless mother.

And then my childhood revealed itself to me again in the form of so many dark and unbearable nights.

Saint John of the Cross speaks about dark night of the soul in his 16th-century poem titled the same. It has to do with God, with light, with soul, with detachment, with all of the confusion and sorrow I had been experiencing my whole life. And where in the world was God in all of this?

Only what if my dark night was a gift? What if my dark nights were a revealing of a gracious God? Were a revealing of the self?

It is hard to think about the unthinkable.

Still, when I think back to those days in high school, I mostly feel grateful now that I survived them.

There are no high school prom pictures to remember those days by.

I didn't go.

What I remember are a lot of lonely nights, a lot of pretending to be someone I never was, a lot of missing my father and being unable to talk about him.

With Grace, at least, I did grief differently. Oh, I spend a lot of days and nights missing her, but I didn't hide behind any kind of other self. (Okay, maybe, occasionally, at a dinner party in the early years when people asked how I was and I knew they didn't really want to know), but not on most days.

Because Grace has revealed a better sort of self in me, a self that is empowered by my grief, a self that is happy to talk to you about my sorrow and to listen to the sorrow of others.

A self that will fully admit it completely sucks to have a dead daughter. And it really sucks to have a dead father that I don't even remember.

Yes, indeed, grief did in fact change me.

But it also has revealed me.

And I imagine in the years to come (I hope) it continues to reveal who I am, who I am going to become, who I am continuing to be.


Barbara said...

I love this idea of being revealed through grief. I am working on an article about comfort for those who mourn, and your post has given me good grist for the mill. Love to you.

Sarah Bain said...

Thanks Barbara.