Grief Takes a Holiday

This post title could be interpreted a couple of ways. For instance, grief sometimes takes a holiday and makes it a hostage, hiding it away from all past expectations and practices. It can (and will) take over the traditional celebration of any (and every) holiday or special occasion, translating once-joyous dates into somber signposts of loss. This is particularly true within (but not limited to) the awful Year of Firsts in which new mourners face twelve full months of ” the first time without” their loved ones, culminating in the anniversary of the death that took them. Grief doesn’t discriminate; it takes over all such events, whether they are public or private, secular or sacred, frivolous or formal.

But that’s not the interpretation I intended by this title.

After the initial shock of bereavement begins to fade (and this takes months, not weeks), grief  takes a holiday from inflicting its regularly scheduled torments on the bereaved. By “regularly scheduled” I mean 24/7 because Grief (personified as Death’s hang-around cousin) invades sleepless thoughts and disturbing dreams as easily as it steps into the personal space of its targets’ wakeful awareness. Without warning, Grief takes over so much of a mourner’s life that no more will fit. Every pore becomes saturated  with sorrow and every air sac stretches near to bursting with bereavement; every bone, tooth, hair, and nail droops, leaden with agony. Grief becomes too heavy, too smothering, too oppressive. Too. Much.

As pervasive as Grief becomes in the lives of those who’ve suffered deep loss, from time to time it becomes too much to handle. Too much. Too. Much. TOO MUCH. TOO MUCH! Grief has to take an occasional (albeit brief) break from its duties lest its unwilling hosts break altogether.

And so Grief takes a holiday.

In the 1934 movie Death Takes a Holiday, Death took on human form for three days in order to better understand why people avoided him with such vehemence. During that time not one person died — not anywhere in the world. In this old black and white film, Death was too busy going about the business of living to go about his usual duties.

While this analogy isn’t perfect, it’s the best way I can think to explain the looonnnng two-month gap between my last post (July 3) and this one (September 4).  Within a short period, Grief butted into one too many conversations, eavesdropped on two too many phone calls, snooped through three too many emails, and inked itself into too, too many calendar squares.

Grief was becoming an obnoxious pain in the — well, it was becoming a pain — and it realized I’d hit my saturation point. Lack of sleep and a nasty, lingering respiratory virus left me tired and sick physically, and a convergence of multiple grief triggers left me sick and tired of feeling, well, sick and tired.

I held my hands to my ears, closed my eyes and chanted,

La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la–la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la …”

I had to ignore Mr. Grief as I regrouped to take better care of myself. (That meant no more writing — especially about grief — during supposed-to-be sleeping hours!)

When Grief realized its attentions were becoming futile, it went on holiday to recharge and, no doubt, to seek out and practice new methods and tricks. Meanwhile, in the real-life, three-dimensional Technicolor world, I was busy going about the business and duties of living.

I’d like to say Grief left for good, but — Alas! — that’s not how it works.

I’ve been “tagged,” so Grief keeps my itinerary on its watch list. It may watch me from the sidelines, monitoring my emotional baggage and holiday plans, but it never retires its ID badge or all-access card key. It lurks, more determined than any stalker. And it runs into the terminal whenever it chooses, sometimes keeping me from making my connecting flights. Once in a while it tosses a handful of cheap souvenirs my way, as if offering to make things all right.

I don’t know that Grief and I will ever become friends, though we’ve become so well acquainted. I’m now a more seasoned traveler. I’ve learned that once in a while it’s okay to shove Grief off the path and let me step along on my own. Even knowing it will return from time to time, I’ve earned the right — and the ability — to give it a push and say, “Grief, take a holiday!”