With the Saturday sounds of the laundry and the dishwasher humming and bumbling away in the background, I read this excellent recent New Yorker article by Meghan O’Rourke today, and wanted to pass it on: Finding a better way to grieve:

The topic is one that I have often studied: death, grieving, and loss. Why my fascination with such a difficult topic, I am not sure, other than perhaps I like sometimes to delve into things that don’t have easy answers. I have not experienced unusual losses in my life; in fact, I have probably been luckier in that area than most people. Perhaps my interest is proactive -- to steel myself for harder days to come, because they surely shall. I just know that I feel some frustration with the overall mystery, denial, and isolation surrounding something that every single person on the planet must face.

For most people, thinking about the deaths of loved ones or of their own demii (I just made that word up right now, cool) is something to be completely ignored until the Grim Reaper is having a tea party on the front lawn. In other cultures, death is a much more open event, the process taking place in the home if fortunate and the street if not. It is not tucked away in a hospital or hospice with shifts of strangers coming by to deliver medicines, check machines, bringing DNR or Power of Attorney paperwork to sign and date. Is grief lessened when death is a more-integrated part of everyday life, when there is by necessity a need to see and accept what is happening because you can’t just drive away at the end of the day? When you see how death really is, do you fear it more or less?

I find it ridiculous that most people are ignorant of what actually will happen in the death process. No one tells you. Even your doctors won’t tell you unless you hound them mercilessly. You should know! Your body is all you’ve got and you should be an expert on all of its stages. There are a zillion books about pregnancy and birth, right? How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland is the only mainstream one I can think of that plainly talks about the physiological changes that take place during the most common causes of death. Man up and read it! If you have some real idea of what will happen to you or to a family member, perhaps you will be less shocked and able to work with the medical community to get the “good death” everyone hopes for. Own your decay as much as your bloom. That’s revolutionary.

But even more complicated is grief, and anyone who has gone through a major loss knows that. What O’Rourke’s article brings up is that the most current research about the grieving tells us it is an individual and unpredictable process – something I find pretty common-sense. “Process” might not even be the correct word, actually. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ famous “five stages” – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – are by no means linear, and by no means the end of the story. In most cases, there really isn’t a tidy wrap-up. A major loss leaves a hole. Grief can become less raw, rationalizations set in place, a necessary numbness achieved; the brain knows you can’t stay in extremes for too long, so it helps you cauterize the wound. But it is reasonable to expect that grief will remain to revisit. It is natural to assume that there will be bad days and good days, and that some things in life are irreplaceable, and we will always yearn for them in some way.

The discomfort of others weighs on us heavily. The world moves on, and wants you to come along at its pace. Sometimes this is good, and sometimes it is impossible. There are so many factors – personal resiliency, feelings of guilt, relief, hopelessness, support systems, other stressors/responsibilities – that go into coping with any loss. And loss does not just have to be from a death. Divorce or other romantic break-up, job loss, a close friend no longer close, an unattainable goal -- these can be just as devastating. We don’t know until we get there how we will feel, and then it comes down to learning how to live with loss. Not covering it up, not drowning it in drink or drugs or endless perseveration, but figuring out how to make some kind of new, good life with the cards dealt you.

So, are we born to suffer and die? Yup. We are also born to love and giggle and run and wonder and enjoy every single bit of the joyous mess that the world offers us.

I have to get back to the laundry now, but do read O’Rourke’s article, a thoughtful piece that covers a lot of interesting theories in its five pages. And because one of my healthy coping mechanisms in life is music, I will leave you with this, “Someone Great” by LCD Soundsystem.

I wish that we could talk about it,
But there, that's the problem.
With someone new I could have started,
Too late, for beginnings.
The little things that made me harassed,
Are gone, in a moment.
I miss the way we used to argue,
Locked, in your basement.

I wake up and the phone is ringing,
Surprised, as it's early.
And that should be the perfect warning,
That something's, a problem.
To tell the truth I saw it coming,
The way, you were breathing.
But nothing can prepare you for it,
The voice, on the other, end.

The worst is all the lovely weather,
I'm sad, it's not raining.
The coffee isn't even bitter,
Because, what's the difference?
There's all the work that needs to be done,
It's late, for revision.
There's all the time and all the planning,
And songs, to be finished.

And it keeps coming,
And it keeps coming,
And it keeps coming,
Till the day it stops
And it keeps coming,
Till the day it stops.

I wish that we could talk about it,
But there, that's the problem.
With someone new I could have started,
Too late, for beginnings.
You're smaller than my wife imagined,
Surprised, you were human.
There shouldn't be this ring of silence,
But what, are the options?

When someone great is gone.

We're safe, for the moment.
For the moment.