It has been over a year since Michael and I have written a post for Cure for the Common Crazy.
Why did we stop?
A myriad of things—exploding work hours leaving less time for writing, the sense that the blog had become a chore to be done rather than something to be relished, and a sudden dearth of creativity caused by grief.
Between our last post in October of 2014 and this writing, we’ve experienced five family deaths, and several other deaths of close family friends. We’ve also seen the deaths of relationships as multiple friends have gone through divorce. We’ve faced disappointments of many kinds, things I won’t even put into words here.
We have numbly walked through the last year of our lives approaching everything, from the joys of the births of new nephews to good news about Michael’s book (more on that upcoming) to success for my singing and teaching careers to the small joys of cooking and ice skating and road trips and discovering wonderful new music all in the same way:
I heard this phrase in an older episode of the amazing podcast Welcome to Nightvale. And instead of laughing at the silliness as I’m wont to do in many of their episodes, I broke down and cried.
On some days, the overshadowing of grief has been minimal, similar to the bell jar hovering over the late Sylvia Plath—there, but comfortingly at bay even temporarily.
Other times, like when I found out I’d be making my Carnegie Hall debut in January, I started going through the contacts in my phone before I realized I could not call my grandmother and tell her about it.
And the grief morphed from a clear glass jar just overhead to a tsunami of sorrow, washing away the joy and any possibility of perspective.
The mini seismic sea waves that follow these tsunamis last for hours or days or weeks, churning up anger and a terrified realization of my own mortality and that of my remaining loved ones.
A few days after one of the funerals this year, I threw a frying pan at Michael.
I THREW A FRYING PAN AT MICHAEL.
What I was not able to articulate at that moment was that I’d been yelled at all day by a nasty older man while temping, and I was enraged at the cosmic injustice that a giant [expletive deleted] like that guy lived and seemed to be in reasonably good health in his dotage while our loved ones mired in pain for years before slipping away from us recently.
So instead, I threw a cooking implement at the man I love. He ducked and it hit a wall. That pan forever has a dent in it, reminding me of my failure to contain or express my emotions using my words like an adult.
And why, I wonder to myself, should I bother with things like cleaning the toilet or writing a blog post or brushing my hair or visiting with friends? It took every ounce of energy I had to maintain professionalism and passable quality work throughout the year, and the rest of the time I spent sleeping or staring vacantly at a wall.
My Protestant work ethic glared back at me from that wall calling me lazy nearly every day.
It’s not the same as depression because it’s not treatable. Grief can’t be wished away, it can’t be ignored (just watch the movie The Babadook to see what happens when you ignore grief), it can’t be placated with a sunny positive attitude, and nor can it be kept at bay with the pharmaceutical weaponry of Paxil and Zoloft and Lexapro.
Grief can only be felt and shared, and sometimes, buried deep within yourself to be felt at moments you don’t expect.
I don’t think we’re out of the woods for the tsunamis, but now I’m peeking out of the blankets, seeing sunlight somewhere beyond the ever drizzling rain that has beaten at the doors and windows of my heart, and I’m starting to venture out again.
This year, though perhaps the hardest emotionally of our lives, has also been the best for our marriage, despite the aforementioned frying pan incident.
I used to play bass for “Frying Pan Incident.”
Michael and I have grown closer in ways that can only happen through great loss and strife. A refining fire has passed through our lives, and we’ve come out the other side, not unsinged, and not whole, but still there and bound by the kind of love which makes it possible to dry the tears of a tsunami.
With that, we begin the year with a poem Michael and I co-wrote as a wedding present to our friends Veronica and Burton, married yesterday:
Reflections on Love—Michael W. Berg
Real love is farts in the night.
It is inside jokes, endlessly repeated and stretched
To the breaking point of their atomic structure
Until they snap, gently, and become
A language for two.
Real love looks a good deal like
Giving her grandmother an arm
As we walk down the nursing room hall,
And then giving that same arm
To your Beloved as you walk
From a funeral where
You wept, too.
Real love will sometimes
Feel like the joy of unwrapping
The perfect gift, because
And does it every time, and
You know it is because you
Real love can also look like
Picking up the dented frying pan
Thrown in a mutual rage that
You both could have prevented
And, wincing at hurled words that
Hurt more than the pan could have,
Washing it, drying it, putting it
Away, and bringing her
A peace offering of cookies.
Real love is not smooth, because
Life isn’t, and we
Aren’t. And like us it is sometimes
Pretty, but sometimes it has bags
Under its eyes and needs a good nap
Sometimes it is simply
Exhausted, numb, and in need of retreat.
And sometimes it is
So full of so much joy that it—that