Friday, October 9, 2009

Death: Just Talk About It!

Another road trip, another Motel 6. I am in Red Bluff, California, half way between Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. It has been 51 days since Marcus died. I just spent ten days in LA, ten days as Melissa’s house guest, ten days of having very little time or space to cry. Ten days of wearing my "game face," a mask to trick people into thinking I'm "just fine" now. Which I am not. Which is probably why yesterday I cried for nine solid hours, all 541 miles of my drive.

Crying – deep, heavy, loud, guttural bawling – is not the safest thing to be doing while driving. It’s surely safer to talk with a cell phone attached to your ear or jam a messy Big Mac in your mouth than cry the way I was, my glasses fogged up and streaked with tears, my eyes filled with blinding tears. Driving up I-5, the potential for my Mini Cooper to become a semi sandwich, me the glob of tuna salad mashed between thick slices of Freightliner or Mack trucks, was extreme. But in spite of myself, in spite of my death wish, I made it. Yes, I said death wish.

PHOTO: My mom packed some snacks for my road trip, including a piece of berry pie. Eaten while parked. The pie stopped the tears for a few soothing minutes. Thanks, mom.

Whoever says grief doesn’t make you suicidal is wrong. What other way is there to escape this pain? This intense, endless, life shattering pain. Pain that curls you into the fetal position, writhing on the floor of the bathroom or in the car (pain does not discriminate in its choice of location, it can strike anywhere, anytime). Pain that shoots razor blades through your heart, slashing, cutting, tearing, ripping you apart. Pain that leaves a gaping hole inside you, a hole so large that nothing can fill it, a hole so wide that is impossible to repair. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross writes in her book ON DEATH AND DYING, that a surviving spouse’s reaction to loss is fear of their own death, fear that God will retaliate and take them too. Huh??? This is not my reaction. Do I fear my own death? No! Quite the opposite! I wish for it every day.

Of course this is a topic that makes others VERRRRRRY uncomfortable. It’s not a conversation that one can have with even the closest friends or family. It’s not a conversation one can really have period. I know my mother and sister, for example, would much rather talk about shopping than death – be it Marcus’ or my own wish for it. And it’s obvious my friends would rather talk about their kids or work or decorating their house. Death is a subject that I am noticing everyone is going to great lengths to avoid. Almost no one will talk about Marcus’ death with me unless I bring it up and insist on staying with the subject. My own family can’t even mention Marcus’ name. Hello, is there an elephant in the room?

There is only one person I can talk to about death – and I mean the real issue of death, death as beast, demon, torturer, inflictor of pain, inspirer of rage – and it is Maggie. Maggie’s husband, Paul, died of the same thing as Marcus (hemopericardium due to ruptured aorta) in February, so she is six months ahead of me in the grieving process. “I think about suicide every day too,” she assured me. “It’s the only way to stop feeling this pain.” Well, there you have it. Maggie thinks about suicide and she is still alive. I think about it and I am still alive.

The point to this is to remind everyone JUST TALK. Talk about death. Talk about pain and grief. Don’t avoid the conversation. Don’t be afraid of it. Everyone has to deal with death at some time in their life. Death is unavoidable. So don’t avoid discussing it. We can all help each other and learn from each other. And as long as I’m lecturing, I should also add, don’t drive while crying! It’s advice I plan to follow myself.

Today is a new day, my eyes are dry for the moment (albeit exceptionally puffy!), the sun is shining, and I-5 is calling me further northward. Tonight I will be staying in the beautiful Portland bungalow of my good friends Alison and Thomas. Next week I will be starting my nine-week grief support group. I also plan to look for a part-time pie baking job. And seeing as I will be staying in one place for the next two months, I am happy to report this will be my last Motel 6 for a while.