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I first wrote about 9/11 and the lessons we were learning right after the World Trade Center fell. At the time, I found myself worrying that in our fear, our grief, and our rage we Americans would do what no external force could ever have done: we would destroy ourselves from within.

Nearly two decades have passed since that terrible day, and I’ve seen that post proven true over and over again. On a national scale I’ve seen the the divisions in our society grow wider and wider as everyone struggles to get his or her “fair share”–something that always seems to involve seizing the right to physical, moral, or financial superiority over someone else. Conservative fundamentalists assert their religious superiority, while their men assert their right to total control over our reproductive rights as a species.

Light-skinned people assert their rights over darker-skinned people. English-speakers assert their rights over non-English-speakers. The educated assert their rights over the uneducated–and the uneducated assert their moral superiority over the education. And the list goes on and on. We have become like too many rats in too small a cage, tearing each other apart in what we have come to believe in a fight for survival.

Even at a time when we are assured that the U.S. economy is doing very, very well, millions of us experience daily need, and millions more of us experience daily want. Somewhere, a giant drain has opened in our financial system, siphoning off the prosperity for far too few, and the expense of far too many. We are not a nation of lazy, greedy sluggards–we have been robbed. And we know who has done it–a quick look at income shares since 1980 shows us exactly where all that money has gone. While the percentage of American children living in poverty fell to record lows in the last year of the Obama administration, experts warn that Trump policies threaten to reverse that trend. And this in a time when the U.S. ranked near the top of the list of OECD countries in 2015

And now we have the racism and xenophobia being publicly enacted against babies, children, and families seeking asylum and jobs in our name. Meanwhile, crops are rotting in the fields, while the people who have harvested them for generations sit in improvised jails.

Yesterday a newsman spoke of the children in the camps creating art, presumably as an example of how the children are being given a creative outlet, and therefore being treated well. I found myself thinking of  the art created by children in Theresienstadt. Just because children are drawing doesn’t mean that they aren’t being treated monstrously.

When I first wrote the post below about 9/11 I wrote and posted it because I was seeing a nation that, in its efforts to restore a fantastical version of America, where everyone was white and Protestant and living in neat little houses with white picket fences had managed instead to create a monstrous system that was becoming increasingly dangerous not just to itself, but to the world.

That’s us on a national scale. We have become what we have always claimed to abhor.

On a personal level, though, I find reason for hope. As a college instructor I meet a lot of students, many of them from conservative Christian homes. And I find them overwhelmingly thoughtful, considerate, and far less quick to condemn. I live in a small town in a “flyover” part of a largely rural state, and while my fellow townsfolk and I tend to vote very differently, we manage to treat each other reasonably well. Yes, we have divisions among us, and they trouble me, but while don’t all agree, to manage to resolve our differences short of bloodletting most of the time.

I have to believe that while we, in our microcosm, contribute to that terrible overall picture of the U.S. as a nation, it has not yet become an accurate picture of many of us as individuals.

So the question is, how can those of us who are increasingly finding what our government is doing in Washington D.C. and often in our State Houses appalling find a lever to move us as a nation? How can we end the increasingly regressive and abusive practices that we, as a collective, are committing?

Opinions on this vary, but here are mine:

  1. Reform our voting system. Ensure that voting places are equally accessible to all, and that all campaigns receive a part of a single fund. Disallow disproportionate donations from individuals, and disallow corporate donations altogether.
  2. Enact stricter banking regulations that protect our national economy and smaller-income entities.
  3. Enact a single-payer healthcare system. Healthcare should not be a profit center; it should be a right.
  4. Prioritize the future. Enact laws that foster child health and early childhood education, college education, move us away from fossil fuels, and restore and preserve the environment.
  5. Reform the tax code and minimum wage scale to ensure that the poorest can be assured of a basic income, and that the richest no longer receive a disproportionate level of tax returns.
  6. Foster cultural diversity. We learn from each other. The more diverse we are, the more we learn. Rather than enacting “one-language” rules, why not promote multi-lingualism? Back in the day of William the Bastard, England found itself in a similar situation–a new, small ruling minority, who spoke Norman French, found itself being unable to speak to the vast majority of the people who they were relying upon for financial support, who spoke Old English. What happened?The Anglo-Saxon mothers immediately began encouraging their children to learn to speak Norman French. And the noblemen, who in many cases had been married to Anglo-Saxon heiresses as a way of promoting peace, first relied on their wives to translate–and then learned Old English. That’s not quite right, because what really happened was that the two populations, who both understood that safety and success lay in understanding each other, ended up creating a new language: Middle English, which became the English we speak today. By the time English again became to lingua franca in England it had added many thousands of Norman French words. It has continued that tradition ever since, and that’s why English is such a rich, complex, amazing language. As we accepted immigrants, we added the pieces of their languages, and in so doing, we added pieces of their culture. We are not a nation with a monolithic history.Instead declaring that everyone who comes to America must accept all aspects of our culture, including our language, why not continue what has made us so very successful in the past–adopting cultural and linguistic elements that we find useful?

We learned lessons from 9/11, but the years are increasingly proving that we learned the wrong lessons, and we have forgotten the single most important lesson history has taught us: Our safety and success lie not in dividing ourselves into ever-increasing splinter groups, but in opening our minds and hearts to each other, and seeing our diversity as an opportunity learn new skills, languages, and customs. It’s time to set those lessons we learned in fear and anger aside, and learn some new ones–or relearn the old ones, the ones that made us great. The world is a dangerous place, but we do not make it less dangerous by locking ourselves away and destroying ourselves from within. Paradoxically, I believe our best chance for a future lies not in closing ourselves off from the world, but in opening our minds and our hearts to each other.

Old post: September 11, 2001

The television footage says it all—and nothing. Over and over, I see the World Trade Center in New York, the top of the foreground tower swathed in pillows of dark gray smoke. And then another jet shoots behind it, and a fireball erupts from the background tower’s heart. The scene switches; soot and ash blanket the street, the blasted cars, the twisted girders, the piles of rubble. That’s all that’s left—rubble—of what used to be one of the tallest buildings in the world.

I am amazed at how bloodless the scene is. There are no bodies. From time to time EMS crews push a gurney to an ambulance. On the gurney are sealed bags. Is this all?  Just bits and pieces?  Perhaps. There are few people even visibly wounded. Perhaps that is most horrifying of all. The mayor of New York, the news commentators, keep talking about the thousands slain, the horrific loss, the body parts in the streets, emergency vehicles driving over bodies because they are buried in the ash and soot.

There is the crash in Pennsylvania—the news crews say that there’s nothing left bigger than a telephone book. When there is a crash, one expects there to be wreckage. And yet, there is nothing to look at, to say, “This is the cost, this is horror, these are the dead.” There is simply nothing.

There are stories of people jumping from the towers, rushing to meet their deaths, rather than waiting to be devoured by flames, or crushed in the collapse of steel, of concrete, of glass. This morning, there is a single shot of a man lying on the wind, his business suit correct, his tie whipping upward. As I watch him fall, he is already dead.

I feel nothing. Where is the pain, the grief, the anger, the anguish? I called my son’s grandmother and aunts in New York. They are working far away in Queens, near the airport, at the other end of Manhattan. A few streets can be a world. They are fine.

I feel nothing, but I am exhausted. I hold my son, and sleep. Then I wake, and try to work. I cannot concentrate. There is a pall over the day, a cloud of soot and ashes. Everything is gray, dim. I call my mother. She believes this is the beginning of Apocalypse, the birth of Armageddon. I hang up, wondering if she’s right.

Voices speak of thousands dead, but there are no visible bodies. They speak of terrorists, but there is no visible enemy. How can I comprehend a disaster so overwhelming that there is simply nothing left?

Normally news helicopters would circle the scenes like vultures, shooting endless vistas of disaster. I could see them, and understand. But the air is off limits. Ground crews shoot footage. It is bleak, gray, dead. This morning, I hear the roar of a jet. It fills the air, rumbling the house. I am across the country, in Oregon, and I know that, apart from our harbor, there is very little reason for terrorists to find us an attractive target—we are small-time, small-town. I have always believed that very smallness protects us.

But when I hear the jet, I realize that there is no safety in anonymity. The thousands of New Yorkers, the plane passengers, the Pentagon workers, were anonymous. They were simply going about their lives. There was nothing dramatic or attack-worthy about them. I begin to shake. I want to run outside, and scan the horizon for a column of black smoke. To the east, far away, near my mother’s house, lies Ordinance, an old army base. My son and I pass it when we go to visit her. Pronghorn antelope range the fields around the bunkers.

I try not to look at those bunkers. I know that they are used to store biological weapons. Today, when the plane roars overhead, part of me wants to look east, toward Ordinance, but I don’t. If Ordinance has been hit, it’s already too late. So I hide, and trust in the failed normalcy of the world, and in the failed smallness of my life. Probably Ordinance is fine. Probably. Later I turn on the television. The news is still all about the devastation in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. I am safe.

At least for now. I listen to the President’s remarks, and I find myself wondering how one can respond to such an attack without making it worse. To do nothing is to send a clear message to terrorists that there are no consequences for such an act. To respond militarily is to risk the world. How should such an act be answered?  I don’t know.

While no one seems to be sure exactly how this will change the world, everyone agrees that it has. Americans have traditionally been willing to risk their lives for freedom. We have been a nation of risk takers. Perhaps now we are willing to sacrifice freedom to preserve our lives. We are growing older. Perhaps we are going wiser; perhaps not. Perhaps we are only growing tired, cynical, fearful, and lazy.

I watch the news coverage, and I find myself thinking of shear bolts. My parents ran a custom harvesting service. Each summer, we faced shear bolts. Forage choppers work by pulling things into a box and chopping them up. A pair of toothed rollers spin behind a row of knives, pulling the forage into the box as it is mown. In the box is a revolving set of knives. While the system is powerful enough to kill a sheep, a deer, a man, it is also fragile. If the machine picks up a rock, or a sheep, or a person—anything over a certain size—the rollers push apart. They still spin, but if sufficient pressure is placed on them a shear bolt on the end of the roller snaps, and the rollers stop.

Fields being what they are, shear bolts snap often. As the truck driver, it was my job to replace the broken shear bolt each time it snapped. One horrible day it seemed that I was replacing them every five minutes. My head throbbed. My nose ran. My neck ached. The wind blew and it was August, and the chopped forage and dust flew everywhere. I choked, and the dust stuck to my skin, and I itched. And the damned shear bolts kept snapping. By the end of the day I was ready to rip that machine apart with my bare hands, take a hammer to the windows, and a knife to the tires.

That night I asked my father if we couldn’t just weld the parts together or something—anything to keep the chopper running. He said, “No, we can’t. The shear bolts protect the system. They’re designed to be the weak point. By snapping they stop the rollers before something can be pulled into the knives that might break them, or destroy the gears.” It was the first time I had heard of a weakness being engineered into a system for the protection of the whole.

The next morning we stopped at the Hesston dealer and got some new shear bolts—apparently the box we had hadn’t been tempered enough or something. And then we went back to work, and the bolts still snapped, but not quite as often.

We are faced with a monumental broken shear bolt. And we have to fix it. Changes are necessary. The situation must be addressed. But perhaps we should think carefully before we start welding things together. I find myself hoping that in fixing this tragedy, we don’t fix it so well we destroy ourselves completely.

I watch the news. It’s still bewildering. I still don’t understand. We have been struck a terrible blow. But the death blow is in our own hands, to strike, or to avert. We can only be destroyed from within.

I don’t have answers. I don’t even know all the questions. I haven’t even begun to comprehend what is happening. But one thing I know: there is much that is good and precious in my life, and much of that is because of our system, flawed as it is. I don’t have the answers, but I hope that we can keep from picking up hammers and knives—that we can search for the properly tempered solution, and that we can hold onto our patience and courage, and in the end, save ourselves.

Then: September 8, 2010

I wrote those words in the days following September 11, 2001. We don’t often talk politics over here, but I look around at the irrationality that has come to pervade our national discourse. I listen to hate-filled talk go unrebuked–and indeed, being treated as comments worth addressing. I hear about good Christians who publicly plan to burn copies of the Koran.

I watch as my fellow Americans busily undermine what remain of our civil liberties in the wake of the Bush era, and I am afraid, not that we will be destroyed by Muslim Americans wishing to build a youth center in downtown New York or by ravening hordes of Mexicans yearning to pick apricots, or by some evil plot hatched by the President and Democratic leadership, but by the pettiness, prejudice, racism, bigotry, and self-serving small-mindedness that have grown so prevalent our national government is literally choking on them. Our government has become an obscenity.

The thing I feared even more than fiery destruction is coming to pass around me–there are those among us who have taken that dark day as an excuse to give in to their own darkest impulses, to retreat into the simple, false world of “Us” against “Them,” of “Saved” or “Lost,” of “Christian” or Muslim, Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Progressive, Good or Evil.

Rational discourse is dying. If we can’t find a way to talk to each other, work with each other, and respect each other we will, in the words of my long-ago blog post, have “fixed ourselves too well,” and brought about our own destruction.

Our true enemy is not a group radicals half a world away–or even just across our southern border–but our own bigotry, isolationism, and selfishness. We are being manipulated coldly and cynically. Our fear and anger is making us co-conspirators in our own destruction. And it’s all being done with words.

I am just one person. I live in a small town in a Red part of a Blue state. I worry about how I will buy milk a lot more than I worry about the migrant laborers who come to our town to pick the fruit. I don’t have power or influence. I don’t have the money to buy them–hell, I don’t have the money to get a physical right now.

But I have my words. And today I choose to use them not to rail against imagined outrages perpetrated in the name of making things a little better for all of us, but to protest against the criminal abuse of our wonderful, rich, nuanced language. I choose to use my words to ask–no, to demand–that we give our Mother Tongue a little respect. That we not manufacture horrors to scare the populace into a position that will benefit us, and harm them. That we learn to edit our national discourse, to remove the extraneous and distracting so that we can focus on the words that matter. And that we demand of ourselves the same integrity we demand in our national discourse.

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This last week we’ve seen two examples of parents facing something that no good parent can even dream of facing. I read about the child falling into the gorilla enclosure, and the toddler being taken by the alligator, and something in me recoils. I’m a fixer–“plan for the ‘what-if’s,” I’ve taught my son. I believe that. I believe in being careful, in planning ahead, and yes, even in padding the corners of the world for our children, at least until they’re steady on their feet and have a decent sense of self-preservation. I believe in that so deeply that many considered me over-careful–and yet never for one second have I regretted the pains I took. Even with all that, though, accidents happened. I felt awful, and worked all the harder to prevent the next one–and that there would be a next one I had little doubt.

The thing about accidents is that they come at us from random directions. By their very nature, they are accidental–things that happen that we never dreamed might. I believe in being careful. I also understand that accidents happen to even the best of us. And that’s why what I’ve seen unfolding in the comments sections of the stories covering these two tragedies has sickened me. Here are these parents who have just experienced something for which even I, with my passion for fixing things, can’t find a next step. What would I have done if my child had slipped away for a moment–only a moment–and devastation occurred? I don’t know. I can’t even imagine my next step. When I contemplate losing my child I realize that when his life stops, mine does, too. There is no next meal, next act, next step. There is only life with him in it, and then nothing.

Two sets of parents are struggling to find their way through something so terrifying in one case, awful in the other, that my mind shuts down at the very idea–and yet what I see in the comments section is all too often not supportive, empathetic comments, or even comments seeking to understand how such events might serve as teachable moments for the rest of us–hold on tighter, stay out of all water except in swimming pools while in alligator habitat–but blaming and shaming.

Why would we do this? Why would we figuratively “hit these parents while they’re down?” I think that some of the virulence can be attributed to  the form of religion many of the “perfect parents” who seem to be most vocal practice.

While there are many wonderful Christians, it’s hard to deny that Christianity has an ugly secret at its heart–it’s a religion custom-made for those who can’t stand the vagaries of life. It offers something it can’t deliver–the guarantee that God will watch over those whose worship habits are up to snuff, that good people will be rewarded with blessings, that tithe-payers will be rewarded with the treasures of heaven to such a degree their bank accounts can’t hold it all. This promise is called the “Wisdom Theory,”because it’s a formula found all through the Psalms and the “Wisdom” books–“the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” for example. That Bible writers expected this to be the case is abundantly clear–story after story recounts instances of good people being rewarded and bad people punished. David often expresses anguish at the fact that even though he is a “righteous” man, his life all too often is in danger. “Why do the evil prosper?” he asks. Why indeed. And yet the Wisdom Theory still shapes the beliefs of millions. It’s often brought out at times like this to “explain” that the fact that this awful thing happened is “proof” that the parents failed God in some way.

The Wisdom Theory promises something it has never delivered–assurance that we can, by our own actions, keep ourselves and those we love safe. You hear it all the time: She was raped because she dressed provocatively, or she was in the wrong place at the wrong time; his kids went to jail because he left his wife; single mothers bring their hardships on themselves; poor people lost their homes in the financial crash because they lived beyond their means; the abused wife suffers because she has pushed her husband too far, spoken out of turn, burned the dinner. For those who believe in the Wisdom Theory, there can be no accidents. Every awful experience is earned by some failure in those going through it. They deserved it. Such a thing could never happen to us. We’re good people.

Alternatively, the “comforters” will assure each other (and the parents) that this devastation must be some part of God’s plan–that their child might have turned out to be a monster, so “God took him early.” The Wisdom Theory provides an illusion of control, the false assurance that we actually have control over not just our own behavior but the behavior of every one and every thing around us–that if we just love God well enough, and follow the rules slavishly enough, we can be guaranteed protection against all misfortune.

The thing that makes it so seductive is that to some degree we do shape our fates. We do need to be responsible for our own safety. But no matter how responsible we may be, we are all at the mercy of forces much greater than ourselves. None of us are all-knowing or all-seeing. Accidents happen. Accidents happen because we don’t have total control. They happen because we live in a world of intersecting chains of causes and effects, and sometimes those intersections can be dangerous, terrifying, and terrible places.

Here is the truth. The Wisdom Theory isn’t about life. It’s about power–about using emotional blackmail to coerce people into sometimes self-destructive or other-destructive behavior. It’s about coercing poor people to give money to religious institutions bloated with wealth–institutions who give lip service to “helping the poor” even while they exploit them. It’s about keeping slaves, wives, children, and the poor in their places, supporting the status quo, following the rules, not rocking the boat. The Wisdom Theory keeps the king safe on his throne, and the beggar on the street starving.

It’s time we relegated the Wisdom Theory to the dustbin of history, where it belongs, and follow instead another teaching found in Christianity–“Bear one another’s burdens.” It’s time to recognize that no matter our best efforts, we are all subject to the whims of fortune far more often that we would like to be. It means that rather than seeking to ferret out the grievous sin that made the loss of a child a suitable punishment, and then adding our own punishment to that, we instead recognize our common humanity, accept that those of us who have not faced such a loss are perhaps not so much better parents as just luckier, and then doing whatever we can to not ease the pain we see–perhaps no one can do that–but to not make it worse: to sit with the sufferers, hold them up, bring them food, love them and their children, do their laundry, vacuum and dust their houses, and perhaps, just perhaps, help them survive long enough to find their own way out of a very dark place.

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Here's part of how I said "good bye" to Leroy.

Here’s part of how I said “good bye” to Leroy.

A friend of mine is losing his mother. They’re to the hospice stage now. Having just lost Leroy a few months ago (3 months ago today, actually) how we say “good bye” has been very much on my mind. Leroy’s passing wasn’t my first trip to the rodeo–I’m at that point in life where the world begins shrinking, a grandfather here, an uncle there, a father here, a Leroy there. I’ve been reflecting on how I did–or didn’t–say good bye in each instance. The most traumatic passing was probably my dad’s, largely because of the family issues that surrounded it. I couldn’t say “good bye.” I didn’t cry for him for a year. The odd thing is that, as awful as that time in my life was, it taught me more about saying “good bye” than any other death I’ve experienced. The lessons from that terrible time were many. Here are a few of them.

1. Nobody really understands what you’re going through. Grief is an intensely personal thing–as unique as the relationship between two people. No one can know what you’re experiencing, the things that cause you pain–or the things that bring you comfort. Each of us walks through grief alone, not because no one wants to be there for us, but because no one really can. Yes, family, friends, and even strangers can throw a lifeline, but in that deep, intimate place where we grieve, we are alone.

2. I relied on the kindness of strangers. When Dad was dying, the people in my parents’ church brought food. I remember one woman in particular. She didn’t come inside, even. She just showed up, handed off a big pot of soup, smiled, and left. That touched me deeply. I learned from that. Now when people I know lose someone I take food, not because I think they’re broke, but because the kindness of strangers is a lifeline.

I also started offering my design services for free to grieving families. It started by accident; my local Kinko’s called me one day and asked if I could help a customer. They knew I did design work because in those days Kinko’s was where I printed out my proofs. I drove down to Kinko’s and met the woman. It wasn’t hard to pick her out; people who have just lost a loved one often look gobsmacked. She couldn’t focus. She had a hard time articulating things. Making decisions was completely beyond her. I found myself thinking like a teacher, rather than a designer. I found us a table in a quiet corner. We sat down. I thought of all the platitudes: “How sad you must feel,” “What a terrible loss,” “He’s in a better place now,” thought of my dad’s incredibly complex death, and realized that I didn’t know if she felt sad, if she felt loss or relief, or even if she thought of him in heaven. I didn’t know her, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have really understood her feelings.  In the end I just said, “Tell me about your husband.”

And she did. She told me that he had been the postmaster for years, that he loved his church, that his family was important to him. She told me stories. She cried. She laughed. And I realized that we would put together a program that captured something of her husband’s essence–it would be a way of not just letting mourners know who was doing what, but of really honoring a person who had been here, and now wasn’t, at least not in the same way. More than that, though, she reminded me that because grief is personal, having someone try to assign you to a category, to tell you what they are sure you must be feeling, is really not helpful. What is helpful is being invited to talk about what you are experiencing, who the person you have lost was to you, who they are to you now, who you were with them, and who you might be without them. Grief is a time for listening.

I’ve done a lot of memorial programs since then, and they all start with the same question: “Tell me about…” And when they have told me, we turn the program into something intensely personal–the lace off a mother’s wedding dress might become the background, an award or medal might become part of the front, a lifelong unrealized dream might become part of the interior. I offer my hands, and my ears. I treasure those times. It’s my way of returning the sense of love I felt from that woman standing on my parents’ porch, holding a soup pot.

3. Start before you need to. Grief is debilitating and overwhelming. The paradox of loss is that when you are experiencing it, it can be very difficult to actually think of a way of expressing it–of saying “good bye” in a way that’s meaningful to you. When Dad was sick my sister and I took the time to sit down with him and watch old slides. It was something he loved to do. In his younger years he loved driving up into the mountains with the camera and taking pictures of wild flowers. He didn’t pick them for pressing–he was a proponent of “leave it as you found it” long before that was popular. Those slides were his flower collection. They were important to him. As we watched them my sister and I listened to his breathy voice talking about the ones he loved the most, and my sister laid those aside, had them drum-scanned, and sent them to me. I used them to build Dad’s memorial bulletin. As I worked I cried–building that became an important part of saying “good bye,” and would probably have remained intensely meaningful had all hell not broken loose between the time I made the bulletin and the time we used it.

When Leroy had his second heart attack and he told me he just wanted to enjoy the time he had left, I remembered Dad’s bulletin. I came home, and I started going through pictures. Before he came home from the hospital I took the time to write down what he meant to me. I talked to The Boy, and suggested that he consider how he might want to say “good bye,” precisely because when the time came, thought–particularly coherent thought–might be difficult. On Leroy’s last birthday, we took him to the casino. While Leroy played “21” and the slot machines, The Boy wrote him a song.

And then we came home. I took the song, typed it into the computer, and then we were done. Three and a half months later Leroy left us. I was figuring out death certificates, supporting The Boy, working with the mortician in organizing the cremation, planning a quiet afternoon for the people who loved Leroy best. Had I waited to gather all the pieces something would surely have been left out. But I had planned ahead. I had pictures. I had words. I built a powerpoint and added music. And then I looked at it and realized what I really had was a book–so I made one, and because we had delayed the memorial service, I was able to get the books printed in time to give them to the people closest to him. Planning ahead was necessary, since I didn’t have anyone to take me aside and say, “Tell me about Leroy.” But it also became an important part of understanding who Leroy had been to us–and who he still was. We spent our last months wrapping him in love, honoring who he was. An important part of that was possible because in preparing to say “good bye” in a meaningful way I had reminded myself of the things I wanted to tell him while I could still do so.

4. Make private space for mourning. The day after we hosted Leroy’s farewell gathering, The Boy said to me, “It was nice, but there wasn’t really time for us to say “good bye.” And he was right. That gathering was wonderful–it offered people who loved Leroy a time and space to grieve, to comfort each other, and to begin the hard process of moving on. It was good and right that we honor Leroy that way. But because we were hosting it, we were necessarily taken up with things like food, making sure everyone had what they needed, offering comfort where we could. And that was right–but it meant that we needed to make a private time when we could say our own “good bye’s.” And we did. We planned an evening out on the patio, with a fire burning in the fireplace, and a dinner made up of Leroy’s favorite foods. The Boy wrote a letter. I took a copy of the book I had made.We read them, and looked at them, and then we sent them off to Leroy in the smoke of our fire. It was private, and it helped.

5. Don’t be afraid to laugh. Grief is intense. For some of us, laughter helps. When my grandfather died, I found laughter a great way of releasing some of the intense emotions. I won’t tell the whole story here, because it really deserves its own blog post, but to summarize my uncle, who was videotaping the memorial service, had a heart attack and died. And the camera was rolling. It was terrible. And laughter helped, not because it was funny–it wasn’t–but because…well, because it helped me. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Anything that helps us not mask the pain, but experience it, make it a part of ourselves, and then move on is a good thing.

By the same token, treasure the periods of “okayness” that seem to be a part of the grieving process, at least for me. It’s like a roller coaster, and thank goodness it is, because we need those comparatively tranquil periods between the periods of intense grief to give us respite. Enjoy them. Understand that this doesn’t make you a bad person. Feeling okay doesn’t mean you didn’t love the person, and that you’re not grieving. It just means that for right now, you feel okay. Be grateful.

So there it is–all I got about losing someone. As I said at the beginning, grief is intensely personal. Maybe nothing here means anything to you. That’s okay. We each have to find our own way. This was mine.

6. And finally–grief doesn’t have a time clock. It takes as long as it takes. There is no schedule, no set time beyond which grief is inappropriate. Yes, grief evolves over time–I no longer grief my dad and my grandpa in the way I did, but I still have moments. There are a lot of cheerleaders who will advise you to “move on,” to “let it go,” to “get on with your life.” Grief makes people uncomfortable. It reminds us that none of us are immortal. But your experience and mine will not be the same, and you will experience grief in different ways for different people. And that’s okay. It’s more than okay. Feel it until you don’t need to feel it anymore. Talk about it until you realize you want to talk about other things. There is no schedule.

 

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