Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Upside of Grief

     So here it is.  This year began hard, and it made me doubt that things happen for a reason.  Or at least that they happen for any reason that I'm okay with.  I felt overwhelmed--grief, that old enemy, and anxiety, my greatest demon, had found me again.  And I was okay with it for a little while, because I didn't want to be happy--I wanted to be full of the grief because it's fucking grief, and we need to feel it, we need to be sad, and angry, and for just a minute, grief and anxiety need to be in charge because then we know that it matters.  
    Maybe they would've won this year, or I don't know, maybe I would've lost, but apparently, I'm from sterner stuff than that.  I'm determined to be the girl who reaches out and grasps the upside of grief.
     When my brother Jay died I took up tap dancing.  No, it's true. At the tender age of 29, I realized that all my life, I had wanted to dance.  And since my brother had been 31 when we lost him, I knew there was never a guarantee that life would be long.  I joined a class where I was the youngest member, and the only one with no prior tap experience.  For two years, I put on those shoes and learned how to do parididdles and cincinattis, meeting once a week with the class but practicing all week long, tapping out a reminder that life is short.  Life is short.  Life is short boom de boom.
     I wasn't a tap Goddess, but I felt alive.  Several years later, two kids and a full work-load let me forget about the shortness of life.  I threw myself into work, missing out on tap and to be honest, too many of my children's achievements.  It took two miscarriages, the death of my in-laws, and a bout with cancer to remind me again:  life is fragile.
     I found myself searching for something new to remind me that I was young, and alive, and strong enough to hold onto fragile life.  This time it was martial arts.  My kids had been attending a local studio, and the movements fascinated me.  I was overweight, and nearly 40, and the last thing I thought I would look good in was a white uniform.  But it did make me feel strong.  I felt some of my muscles used for probably the first time, and the forms held a certain kind of comfort when I did them well.  I've always been attracted to movement, and feeling my body flow from form to form as it remembered what my conscious brain did not was soothing in a way I hadn't even known I needed to be soothed.  Oh, sure, sometimes I could not convince my hands that they knew how to move the jong bong (like a bo staff) in the right direction...but other nights I felt like I was water flowing through the wind.  I continued my training until I was eight months pregnant with my youngest, and then retired my belt to once again marvel in the young life I was raising.  I forgot, again, about my own life.  I got lost in "there's always tomorrow for me."
     But last year my oldest brother died.  Grief returned and with a vengeance reminded me that tomorrow has never been guaranteed, and that if I want something I need to grasp for it now.  I need to work hard and make it happen.  I didn't go back to tap dancing or martial arts.  I already knew I was physically strong.  This time, I needed to nourish my creativity and challenge myself in other ways.  
     I wrote a novel, a fantasy, and submitted it for publication.  Pressing the send button was probably the most nerve-wracking thing I've ever done.
     I also found the Boston Superheroes, a volunteer group where members dress as superheroes for charitable events.
     You might laugh at a 43 year old (still overweight) woman signing up to dress up as Black Canary and parade around at volunteer events in a leotard and tights, especially when you realize that her anxiety disorder often prevents her from leaving the house.  I certainly laughed.  I laughed nervously while I signed up for an event, and laughed with a little bit of horror in my voice as I drove up to Patriot Place for the Cupcakes For Heroes event.  I checked my blond wig in the mirror and took several little hyperventilating breaths before getting out of the car.  I had never met a single member of the team in person.  
     But I felt like I had the entire time I was there.  I gave children high fives and made them laugh, and I was with a group of people who were diverse and interesting and down to the last wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  I had stepped as far out of my shell as I could and not felt foolish or unwelcome once.  
       This was a year in my life.  My brother will never be here again, and that isn't something I'll put away on a shelf.  It will always be with me.  But as I stress about leaving the house I'll remind myself that I can.  As a new year rolls in, I'll remind myself that the next one is never guaranteed.  And I'll write and submit, and I'll squeeze into my superhero duds, because tomorrow I might not get the chance.
   If there is an upside to grief it is that it can remind you that the end of the race isn't the goal.  The sights along the way, the skills we learn, and what we put out into the universe, those are the important things.  

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