The Rhythm of Grief


I’ve fallen under the spell of a Dominatrix named Grief; this bitch was born to wield pain. There is a rhythm to her ways that I can’t seem to disrupt.

“Grief has no distance,” writes Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, in her book about the aftermath of dealing with her husband’s abrupt death by heart-attack. She is spot on.

Sleep is now a thing of the past; insomnia rules my nights. I routinely awake every hour and find myself doing time hacks. “1:47… 2:36… 3:17… 4:43… 5:23…” until I mercifully release myself from this halting prison and just.get.up. But my mantle of grief is always waiting, feeling like 50-pounds of chain mail heaved onto my shoulders and chest from the moment my feet hit the floor.

Food is haphazard. During one stretch last week I suddenly realized I hadn’t eaten anything across three days, ingesting nothing more nutritious than coffee. Meals set before me are perfunctory, lacking all meaning and taste. Stepping on a scale I see I’ve lost nearly 10 pounds; I note that I’m within spitting distance of my son’s weight when he died.

For long periods of time my mind will drift as I rock back-and-forth in my home office chair trying to will myself to do something, anything at all. Nothing happens; I often think about how time is moving more slowly than I thought possible. This Medium post is being written across the span of three days and I still don’t know if it’ll ever get finished as my mind revs up, then idles and revs up again like some punk hot-rodding at a stop light.

My fingers are prunes.

I stand in the shower an extra five minutes, just letting the water run and run and run over my still body. Head buried into arms crossed and leaning on the tile of the shower wall, it’s not that I can’t move it’s that I don’t want to move. I barely made it into the shower in the first place and now I’m exhausted by the simple routine of wash, rinse, repeat.

The thought of turning off the water, grabbing a towel and exerting the energy needed to dry off seems monumental to me at the moment. Perhaps I could just turn the water off and drip dry; I wouldn’t feel the chill because I’m not “feeling” at all these days. I remember while at my mother’s house I grabbed a lighter, flicked it and held my palm over the flame to the burning point — the pain was excruciating — but I needed to prove to myself that I could feel something outside this Great Barrier of Grief on which my soul has run aground.

I dress in black and grey to match my beard, which began growing the instant I got “the call” two weeks ago about my son’s suicide. I just can’t bring myself to shave it off.

The boxes of his belongings that I shipped from California arrived today; they sit unopened because I cannot fathom at this particular moment diving back into my son’s writings; I can’t fathom occupying that space in his head that was so tortured and painful he had to pull the ripcord on his life.

I recognize I’m living a delusion. There is part of me that believes if I can just get a handle on his pain, if I can take enough of it onto myself, I can relieve him of it and he won’t need to kill himself. I’ve preserved enough of the “how things were” that we can roll back the clock and make it OK. That’s where the beard comes in; if I shave it’ll be a testimony to the universe that I’ve accepted his death and I don’t want to give death that satisfaction.

I carry his dog-tags and medical alert around like a talisman. I find myself taking frequent walks in which I fondle them and ask him profound questions about the universe that he will be unable to keep quiet about…

And I have rituals. One of the shirts I rescued from his apartment sits within easy grasp of my hand and I am fond of gathering it into myself and breathing deep. His scent is still there… this delusion becomes illusion when I stand in front the mirror with his glasses on. It’s all too, too real and I expect him to pop around the corner at any given moment, harassing me about my mediocre chess skills and taunting me into playing a game with him. Surely we can roll back the clock for that… then I remember (often with sobbing, deep regret), that we abandoned his portable chess set in the apartment to whomever would swoop in and pick over a dead man’s things.

Eventually, my mind swings back to the rational world, the one in which I know he’s not coming back. Ever. But even as my rational brain strains to wrest control from the grief junkie I’ve become, my hand is absentmindedly stroking my beard… and part of me believes…

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