After Joan Didion's mother died, a friend sent her these words. The death of a parent "despite our preparation, indeed, despite our age, dislodges things deep in us, sets off reactions that surprise us and that may cut free memories and feelings that we had thought gone to ground long ago. We might, in that indeterminate period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean's bed, aware of the depth charges, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections."
Yes, I understand.
Then, Joan Didion speaks of grief. "Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. Virtually everyone who has ever experienced grief mentions this phenomenon of "waves." Eric Lindemann, who was chief of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in the 1940's and interviewed many family members of those killed in the 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire, defined the phenomenon with absolutely specificity in a famous 1944 study: "sensations of somatic distress occurring in waves lasting from twenty minutes to an hour at a time, a feeling of tightness in the throat, choking with shortness of breath, need for sighing, and an empty feeling in the abdomen, lack of muscular power, and an intense subjective distress described as tension or mental pain."
I read this, and consider. When those "waves" go through me, is my body grieving? Is this what I am experiencing? Grief for all that is lost, and though I know, in my head, the gift of all I am receiving, it is true that my fast growing cells are killed. Are not the slower ones grieving, the ones left here longer, wondering where their friends and neighbors have gone?
And here, I might offer the comfort of Pearl Buck, her words on death, as a transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, and I hope that is so. I do drink tons of fluids to flush them out with a punch, that might whip them up, with wings, to the sky, but I think they are dying, and I see why I sometimes sigh, oh, my, this is a tremendous amount to understand, and I continue to welcome the gift of love, extension, connection, and care.