Waxing Philosophical

The Etiquette of Grief

I’ve been contemplating this for a while, now. I have discussed it with friends and family, and yet, I still don’t know how to say any of this exactly right. I’ve just about come to the conclusion that, maybe, there is no “exactly right.” Also, as I began to type this, I realized just how complicated my feelings on this are.

2016 has been a rough year. Even as I type this, I am feeling a little bit guilty. There has been so much loss around our family this year. And yet, for all of that, I have been mostly on the periphery. Certainly, I’ve seen it, and felt it, in the way that something that is just there, suddenly is not. It’s like the big tree that used to mark the turn to my parents’ house. A large live oak tree, standing in the island of a divided highway, marking the turnoff to a backroad that was otherwise poorly marked (or unmarked altogether, if the local perennial pastime of stealing street signs was being exercised). And then, the tree was gone. Too many vehicle collisions. Too many years in exhaust fumes. Poor soil. Or maybe even the isolation from other trees wore it down. We were still able to find our street, of course, but the marker that had always been there was gone. It’s been gone many years, now, and that intersection still looks somehow naked. And I think that is a perfect analogy for how I am feeling this year. I miss that tree. Yet, I was not one of the birds or squirrels or other creatures that called it home. For me, it was just a signpost, but for others, it was a vital and concrete part of their lives. I miss it, but it was never my home.

There are not words to express to our friends and family how much I truly wish I could help you. I can’t make it better, though. I can’t become your home. I hope I can help, by not making it be worse than it has to be. There are a hundred thousand things that we do, everyday, that maybe we can take some of the burden of. And that is all I can do.

I am watching my friends and family struggle. They are worried about how their grief appears to others, and in some cases, are even being told (overtly and through hints) that their grief is illegitimate or too-long-lived.

Your feelings are legitimate. You are allowed to feel what you are feeling. You are homeless, now, without your tree, and you are allowed to grieve that loss as long as you need to.

But for all of the different kinds of loss that I’m seeing around me, and all the different ways I am seeing these people cope, or try to cope, I am hearing the same refrain – a worry that they are not doing it “right.” Do you feel like we are watching you, and judging you on the ways you are processing your loss? I’m sure you think we are watching every detail, from the words on the funeral program to the speed with which you clean your house to the day you go back to work.

You’re right. We are.

But it’s not because we think you are doing it wrong. It is because you are guiding us. There is no way to know how to do this, because we have not done it. There is no wrong way to mourn a loved one. There are no signposts. We are watching you, because we are wondering what we would do. What we will, inevitably, one day have to do.

For those who I have not supported as well as I should have: I did not understand. I still don’t fully understand. But much to my sorrow, I am learning. And I am sorry. I’m so, so sorry that I didn’t see. There are some lessons, I suppose, that we don’t want to learn, and so we simply don’t acknowledge that the lesson is being taught. And there are some things, that because they are scary, we willfully decide not to understand. Maybe that is part of maturing – learning the lessons that we never wanted to recognize.

There are those who are going to find this to be an alarming post, and worry that my thoughts are going to dark places.

But I am troubled by a coincidence that cannot go unremarked. My father-in-law passed six months ago. His family is wondering what the statute of limitations on grief are? How long can they be forgiven their sadness? An acquaintance’s husband passed two months ago. She is already getting implications that she should be moving on. This horrifies me. There is no cap. Nor should there be. That is one of the important lessons that I have learned, just recently.

If I have ever made you feel like you have passed the allowable limit on grief in the past, I owe you a profound apology. I had no right, and you are allowed to feel what you are feeling. No matter how long it’s been.

So many of you have taught me these lessons, some gradually over the years, and some who have hit me over the head with it like a proverbial frying pan. I thank you. And sincerely wish I had not only been better to you, but that there was a way to make things better for you.

I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught. – Winston Churchill

My Spiritual Adviser is a Grocery Clerk

There are two ways of spreading light – to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. – Edith Wharton

I cannot count how many times I’ve heard phrases in the family of “God never gives you more than you can handle.” Or, “God is bigger than your worries,” or “Give God your weakness, and he’ll give you his strength.” There are probably 10 different memes telling me this on my facebook news feed, right now. Sometimes, it feels kind of aggressive, to tell you the truth. Have you ever just tried to vent a little bit, and gotten a very assertive affirmation that if you just “Give it to God,” it’ll all be okay? Many times, I would rather sit for a few minutes in a quiet, empty church on a random Tuesday, than be told it all again. (My youngest child and I are alike, in that. We find our peace in quiet places.)

The thing is, there is a clerk at my local grocery store who says the same thing. But there is something about the way she says it – I believe her.

Perhaps the other folks I’ve heard the same message from are just not the people I’m meant to hear. Perhaps Ms. J doesn’t resonate with everyone, and there are folks who find her as jarring as I find some people. But she resonates with me. Perhaps because she’s quiet, like my favorite churches. She’s a very soft-spoken woman.

She’s not a trained theologian. (At least, not that I know of.) She’s a grocery store clerk. An elderly woman, whose son and his family have just moved in while they build their own house. Who raises chickens, but because the rooster is just too much of a character to get rid of, she sells chicks instead of eggs. Who cannot manage to keep her kitchen garden alive. Who loves to go camping. Who remembers her regulars, and asks after my kids and how they’re doing in school, and lights up on school holidays, when they go with me to the grocery store and she gets to see them.

I will wait in a longer line, just to be checked out by Ms. J. It is entirely possible that I have decided to cook a dinner I do not have all of the ingredients for, as an excuse to visit with Ms. J. (I’m not saying it’s absolutely true, but it’s possible.)

Does she know? Does she know that she has customers who prefer her? (I know I’m not the only one. I’ve spoken to other customers who agree that “Ms. J is worth waiting for.”) I hope so. I made it a point to tell her, today, that she brightens my day.

I want to make it a point to tell people that they matter.

We’ve had some losses this year. Our own family is missing some loved ones, and friends (both close friends and developing friendships) have lost people, too.

Tell people they matter. Tell the grocery clerk that she brightens your day. Tell the guy who patiently walks the limping dog every morning that you look for him when you drive the kids to school, and were happy and excited to see the dog running yesterday. Tell your kid’s teacher that for the first time ever, your daughter thought the math homework assignment was fun. People are surprised, when they find out they did something that matters to you. And I’ll bet you don’t know the impact you’ve had on other people, either. You and I, we may never know.

I don’t know if Ms. J knows that she is special. How many other people don’t know? It’s time to go reflect some light back at them.

This is not something to be proud of.

confederate battle flag

I don’t care where you’ve got it tattooed. I don’t care about your bumper sticker, the hood of your car, the shade in your window, or the flagpole in your yard. I don’t care what battle your 5 times great-granddaddy fought in.

This is not something to be proud of.

This is not even the Confederate Flag. It was the battle flag of General Lee and the army of northern Virginia. It was used by civil war veterans’ groups after the war, but it got into popular usage in the 1940’s – as a symbol of segregation. This is a flag whose current popularity was built by hatred.

The legislature of South Carolina has – unintentionally, no doubt – done an excellent job of illustrating the perversity of this symbol. A confederate battle flag flies at the South Carolina statehouse, at a monument to confederate soldiers. It is affixed to its pole. It cannot be lowered. It will never sit at half staff. It may never be allowed to show deference or respect to anyone – even on Confederate Memorial Day. I would go so far as to say that this sort of refusal to offer respect to its own history as a battle flag disconnects it irrevocably from that heritage.

I cannot respect anyone or anything that does not show respect to anyone else. Period. And I will teach my children the same.

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This is the actual flag of the Confederate States of America.

1st conf flagIf you want to fly a visual symbol of history, fly this one.

I am all for replacing the publicly displayed battle flags with this one. But only if we publicly call it what it is. Announce it loudly. Pass official resolutions on the state and federal levels. Make this part of the history books. Make it so that every single time anyone looks up this flag, anywhere, this is listed as part of its history:

This is a symbol that we have committed evils on one another. Actions that can never be corrected, and are a stain on our past. This is also a reminder that we must constantly be striving to be better. To remember that we were wrong. To remember that it is in our power to learn from our heritage, and be better people than our ancestors. We are better than our past. And this is a symbol that coming together is not easy. That we must strive to unite ourselves under a quest for decency and respect for one another. That we must all work for our country to be the great one that it should, and can, be.

When the Civil War ended, the Confederate states were not assimilated as conquered territories – though that was considered by more than one Congressional session. They were ultimately readmitted as sovereign states (albeit, with some requirements). It was messy and ugly. But they were readmitted.

To put it mildly – they screwed up, in one of the worst ways possible. But they were readmitted.

This flag should remind us of that, too. We are a country that has had a dark past. We hurt our fellow human beings. We killed each other over whether or not we had the right to hurt each other. But then, we decided to try to stitch ourselves back together, in the hope that it was possible to do so.

It’s a travesty that it has been 150 years, and we are still stitching, and that it is still messy and ugly.

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Under the First Amendment, individuals have the right to free speech. Even it it’s distasteful and hateful. The confederate battle flag cannot be banned. It can’t even be forcibly removed from state houses or state capitols. No matter where it is, we cannot remove it without violating one of the tenants that makes this country great. But we can think about what we are saying to one another when we display it. We can talk to one another about it. We can learn. We can stop accepting it.

This is going to offend somebody. But I’m leaving comments open. Leave a comment. I can’t learn if you don’t explain things to me.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/06/19/why-south-carolinas-confederate-flag-isnt-at-half-mast-after-church-shooting/

http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2015/jun/21/jean-casarez/flying-confederate-battle-flag-south-carolina-half/

http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Readmission+of+states

Muliebrity

Muliebrity is a kind of cool new word I just learned. Means “womanhood.”

But, what is it?

We define ourselves in so many ways. This train of thought has been circling in my head for quite some time, but it’s been brought to the forefront by my previous post, The Maiden, the Matron, and the…Other One.

So, in simple terms, who am I?

  • Mom
  • Wife
  • Daughter
  • Sister
  • Daughter-in-law
  • Sister-in-law
  • Aunt
  • Niece
  • Cousin
  • Friend
  • Neighbor
  • Homeowner
  • Community member
  • Citizen
  • Consumer
  • Pet owner
  • Earthling
  • Me

 

I am all of those women  – all at the same time. You can’t really separate them. It looks exhausting, sometimes.

I bought a rosemary plant at the grocery store today, and had the kids help me plant it, in the flowerbed right out front (edibles as ornamentals – this is a trend I am enjoying very much, and will probably continue doing long after it’s not trendy anymore). I bought it as a consumer, filled an empty spot in my flowerbed as a nod to upkeep of the property, in the name of being a good homeowner and neighbor. We use rosemary in one of our favorite dishes, so there’s my nod to wife and mom, too. I’d like to think, that exchanging pretty plants with plants that are pretty and useful is good environmental stewardship in its own small way, so hopefully, that counts towards being a good community member and earthling?

I try and explain to the kids – everything we do, every single thing, affects someone else. If we decide to drive to school instead of walk, then the traffic is a tiny bit heavier, and someone will have to wait an extra minute in the drop off line. If I stay up late after the kids go to bed, and binge watch season three of [insert trendy TV show I’m behind on here], then there’s a good chance I’m useless at breakfast tomorrow, and the corner doughnut shop is getting a little extra business.

With that in mind, I think the ultimate luxury is lack of obligation. Because we really are a lot of things, to a lot of people. The best thing, I think, is to find that point where the people you choose to indebt yourself to, are the people you like being in debt to (for the most part).

I love my family, I have great neighbors, and the community organizations I’m part of are full of people who are so fun to be with.

Now, that’s not to say that mommy doesn’t need to get away from time to time. (I am blessed with a family who understands that, and I do try to return the favor, when it’s possible to do so.)

But, in a way, that’s being good, too. It’s being good to Me, and it’s being good in that way that recharges you. I’m a better everything when I have a chance to step away and breathe for a minute. It’s like working a large jigsaw puzzle. After an hour or so, you have to step away from the table. When you come back, you glance down and see just how the pieces fit.

The Maiden, the Matron, and the…Other One

‘Look at the three of you,’ she said. ‘Bursting with inefficient good intentions. The maiden, the mother, and the crone.’

‘Who are you calling a maiden?’ said Nanny Ogg.

‘Who are you calling a mother?’ said Magrat.

Granny Weatherwax glowered briefly like the person who has discovered that there is only one straw left and everyone else has drawn a long one.

-Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

 

I’m no scholar of antiquities or theology. But it seems to me, that there are some common themes regarding women in theology and pop culture. To wit, the Maiden, the Matron, and the Wise Woman. This triplicate was brought into the modern collective consciousness by Robert Graves in his book The White Goddess. Whether it is accurate in its description of a three-faceted Goddess, I don’t know. But hints and bits and pieces of her pop up all over the place – books, film, and just about every theological doctrine. And, it makes a conveniently packaged starting point to an evolving personal philosophy.

I had a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with a little bit of my extended family recently, and got to sit and have a conversation with a woman who is very wise in her own right. Aunt P is very dedicated to the Family. She spends her Sundays attending church, and then cooking a meal for her husband’s elderly aunt, with whom she then spends a good bit of the afternoon. She then drives to the nursing home to spend the rest of the day with Grandmother. Every Sunday.

And this seems to be a comfortable place for her, because this is her phase of life right now. This is her role. In her way of describing it, she had what she calls her “cookie-baking years,” when she had a young child in the house. Now, her daughter is grown and moved out, and it is time to care for the older generation. That’s just where she is in her life phases, and she is embracing the role, and being it. I admire that. It’s hard, sometimes, to find where you are right now.

But defining where we are just doesn’t feel like a neat and tidy thing – you can’t just point yourself out on a map.

I am acquainted with three women who, though they are a generation older than myself, are currently raising young children, the same ages as my own. It is an odd dynamic to think about sometimes – in many ways, we are very different, but in some ways, very much the same. We have so much in common, and yet – don’t. On the flip side of that, are the women who are very close to me in age, yet have children much older or much younger than mine, and for exactly opposite reasons, we have so much in common, yet – don’t.

It’s odd – we are many things, yet the ages of the children in our homes affects so much of how we choose to define ourselves.

Food for thought.

So now to discover: who, what, where – am I?

 

 

Every phase of our life belongs to us. The moon does not, except in appearance, lose her first thin, luminous curve, nor her silvery crescent, in rounding to her full. The woman is still both child and girl, in the completeness of womanly character.  -Lucy Larcom