Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reflections of Grief

Alright, that’s it. That’s death number three in four months. And if you go back to April, you can count the family dog as number four.

But this most recent loss has shaken me up the most.
Grandpa died peacefully in his sleep.
The other unexpected death was unnerving, and I pushed through and put on my “I’m strong I can deal with this mask,” like I always do. Skip mascara, just in case.

This past Friday morning (Bangkok time) felt like being kick boxed in the sternum.

I have lost the friend that has been my biggest supporter since moving to Bangkok, the most frequently in contact, and someone I thought was going to be a positive force in my life for decades to come. I have lost a mentor and friend for whom I held deep respect – and for whom I still can’t quite process what’s happened to the past few months.

Since August, when my friend’s trouble began, we’d been in touch even more regularly. The past month, we were in email contact daily.

This past Thursday morning, I was a righteous grump at morning assembly. Frustrations with work, Bangkok life, the American elections, the list goes on. But more than that – my friend hadn’t emailed. I think I already sensed something was gravely wrong. I wish I were wrong. I was still making up other possible scenarios, putting it off. It’s just as well I went straight to bed on Thursday – at least I got a full night’s sleep first.

Anyone that moves to another country has a reason, or multiple reasons for it. A big reason that many leave the shores of their homeland that we often don’t admit to is grief. Everyone has a story – whether economic or emotional, for being so far from ‘home.’

When my entire family was grieving, I felt smothered. I felt blamed. I felt trapped. I could not find the space to heal on my own without carving it out for myself, far far from home. I have felt deep seeded wanderlust, I have felt a specific curiosity about Asia, and Thailand alone. I do not wish to repeat the mistakes of so many who regret not traveling more in their youth. I needed to follow the opportunity placed before me for experience in teaching, and seeing things from a view other than that of Middle America. But if I’m truly honest – I needed to grieve.

Thailand offers lots of methods for placating what ails you – sunshine, beaches, jungle huts, alcohol, illicit substances, medical tourism, sex tourism, Buddhist meditation, Thai massage, aromatherapy, retail therapy – the list goes on. Surely something on the list suits most everyone.

What’s interesting to me – is how determined I was to create the space for myself to heal, and how far I’ve come – yet how much at this moment, I really and truly am the most homesick I’ve felt since arriving here. Unlike before, when I felt the pressure of family smothering me – with the loss of my dear friend – I want nothing more than to be with the people I knew in college, the family I felt so oppressed by as we each found our own paths to grieve.

And it’s a reminder, too, of what we cannot take for granted. Of all the people that I thought might commit suicide, that I worried about – I never, ever imagined he would. I cannot imagine what he went through these past nine weeks prior to his death – the doctor’s visits, the lack of answers – or feel what the flood of medications made him feel. And it’s not my place to reveal more of his story here. But to try and remember the human compassion we so often reminded each other we denied ourselves in our hyperactive self-criticism; especially at this moment to allow for the grace of human kindness and at the least – an end of great suffering.

In a couple of days, it will be my two-year anniversary of living in Bangkok. I’ve been planning a blog post for that day for over a year and a half, whatever form it may take; or whether it may be late – or not what I thought given my current state of mind.

I will be ‘home’ at Christmas and New Years – whichever zip code or couch crashing spot I may find myself in. And I’ll be paying my respects several times, it appears.

Shortly before his death, my friend told me I’m one of the strongest and kindest people he has ever known. For once – I accept the compliment, and believe it – instead of slicing it to bits and questioning myself about how it’s not correct, how I still just don’t measure up. Life is too short. And there is no such thing as being perfect – especially if being perfect comes without being happy.

Everyone grieves differently. Each grief adds a new depth to the loss one has experienced before. I’m not sure you ever really ‘get over it,’ but you learn to move forward, and upward. Like hiking Mount Baldy – the sand dune – one step up, half a step back. You keep going.

I’m not going to say I’m thankful, for this loss, or that all things happen for a reason. I hate those sayings. But it’s certainly been a wake up call in my quest of figuring out my life purpose, and soldiering forward on the path of figuring out when I am happy and what I really, deep down am passionate about. So many days I doubt I’ve really quite felt it out yet, my real driving passion – which is exhilarating, terrifying, and normal. I guess. But I do know that hinging one’s sense of self too heavily on one passion or identity is entirely too dangerous; and the flexibility, some say the inability to make decisions and focus – is a great gift in itself. When you can change, you can survive. Hopefully, you can thrive.

It’s about 6pm and with the massive storm clouds rolling in it’s pitch black outside. I could use a little more sunlight – but maybe once the thunder and lightning hits, it’ll feel like back home in Indiana.

So many people, including the friend lost unexpectedly in July, say “do it now.” And yes – you should do something, now. But you cannot do everything ‘now,’ and if the simple mandate to ‘do it now’ causes you anxiety – learn to live, and change, and move forward – but grant yourself the grace to slow down, and to let yourself heal, and to tell yourself “you’re already a great person, and this world needs you, even if in this moment, you just need the world.” Gah now I feel like I’ve gone all mushy. Don’t worry, the world needs my sarcasm and it will be back in short order. But it’s also true, what was said to me recently: “you’re using all your energy to keep up this mask, and you don’t have any energy left to give.” Well, there. Defenses down. Ok?

I’m kind, and I’m strong – and today I’m admitting that the two are not always mutually exclusive as I’m just trying to be kind to myself.

Ultimately, I believe this loss will shape the artwork I create, the continued education I pursue, and add some good hard scar tissue to both qualities my friend felt I possess, strength and kindness.

To all my dear friends and family – near and far, in and out of touch – I love you, I miss you. And when I’m far away, I think of you fondly.