Sunday, November 15, 2009


"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break." ~William Shakespeare

When my mother died in 1997, I was 29 years old and in graduate school. I was dating a man named Michael and living in Washington DC in a group house with three other women. I had a persian cat named Dante and I worked part time at Witness for Peace, a grassroots Latin American human rights organization.

Why my father died in 2009, I was 41 years old and had been working full time for twelve years. I am not seriously involved with anyone romantically and I live in Amsterdam, the Netherlands alone in an apartment in the Oost. I have a siamese cat named Simon and I work for Medecins Sans Frontieres, a medical humanitarian organization.

So a few things have changed - but not that much. Grief has caught me unprepared. I thought I could handle it- after all, he had been struggling healthwise and whenever he became ill, he would remind me that he had had a very good life and was tired and didn't want to live forever. I spent three weeks with him at Christmas, cooking him anything he liked to eat, and chatting with him, and taking him to doctor's appointments. We cooked spaghetti together and drank champagne on New Years Day. We had a wonderful time. I left in January, expecting to see him in April.

It's been eight and a half months since he died suddenly. I miss him dreadfully and as the Christmas season sneaks up and the year anniversary of the last time I saw him, the sadness becomes overwhelming sometimes. I feel unmoored by grief. Things I took for granted are gone. I don't have a 'home' anymore except for this rented apartment. Alyson and I are attempting to sell our childhood home and I haven't been back to South Carolina since March after the funeral. My landlady and I had a minor dispute about the use of the guestroom a few weeks ago and I felt a huge sense of violation of my privacy. I just wanted to go home and I don't have one that is mine anymore. I was enraged and overwhelmed by my anger.

When I travel to new countries now, I become overwhelmed by the fact that I can't call my father before I leave and when I get home to tell him about it. He always wanted to know what the beer was like. There's noone now, really, to worry if I arrive safely or if I return okay. My sister and friends care, I suppose, but its an empty feeling to know that the parents who always fretted over my safety and wouldn't let me drive to a Duran Duran show are no longer there to worry about me anymore. I cry now at departures because there is noone to wish me off and I cry at arrivals because there is noone there to welcome me home. Airports which before had been so incredibly exciting and dull at the same time are now emotional.

Sometimes the emotions are so raw that they feel unmanageable. I do not know if I can describe this feeling that sits on my chest like a heavy millstone. So for comfort, I turn to the words of others to assure myself I'm not crazy and that this is a human experience.

" The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost."  ~Arthur Schopenhauer

"I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they'll 'say something about it' or not. I hate if they do, and if they don't."
— C.S. Lewis (A Grief Observed)
"Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes."

— Joan Didion (The Year of Magical Thinking)

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in."

— C.S. Lewis

"As long as I kept moving, my grief streamed out behind me like a swimmer's long hair in water. I knew the weight was there but it didn't touch me. Only when I stopped did the slick, dark stuff of it come floating around my face, catching my arms and throat till I began to drown. So I just didn't stop."

— Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible)


  1. Big hug, Darling. I know this is a very hard time but you are strong, beautiful, and an angel of good on this planet. You have always inspired me to be a strong woman and I am sure you inspire others the same way. If you ever need to talk, I am never more than one timezone and a Skype call away. Love you, Patti

  2. You have inspired me again to write about this same subject, I hope you don't mind if I follow suit.