Grief is Not a Choice*

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Connie, Ashlee. Roger and Cimcie at his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Chapter in 2006.

When I picked up Roger’s iPhone, after his last breath, a long time passed before I remembered to breathe. I froze. Some people do feint at the sight of death; maybe they forget to breathe? I was amazed that I could breathe. But why was I breathing and not him? Why did Roger, who exercised and didn’t smoke or abuse drugs/alcohol get this horrible Pancreatic Cancer?

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Malibu, 1979

When distant gods and empty creeds offer no respite and no answers to this “why” issue, what’s a sensitive soul like me to do? Somehow, the pain and inner voices are guiding me to write Memory Clouds, especially for myself, but maybe reach out to others struggling with grief and lingering “why” questions. After all, misery loves company. But something or someone? won’t let me die with Roger, no matter how much I wish to on some days.

Most days, I still find myself frozen in shock, really fear. I lost someone I’d shared most of my life with–over 33 years of the good and the not-so-good, but it was ALL OURS—our children, our animals, our home, our dates, our triumphs, our tragedies. How the hell can I go on without him to face the money problems, the unfinished projects we’d both worked hard on, and just when it seemed the financial stability that our efforts over decades so richly deserved had finally started–the new coveted steady jobs, why, oh why did he have to die now?

Intellectually, I knew it would never be a good time for him to die, but where was my head? All I knew was a broken heart. Everything was gone: my lover; my friend; my confidant; all the life I knew. Even our old dog, Spookie, chose to die three days after Roger.Rog Spookie FB picmonkey Cowards! Get back here and help me! Who was going to pick up the dead bird in the yard or fix the garbage disposal or hold my hand while we watch the sunset or walk our daughters down the aisle at their weddings or go with me to the doctor or not care that I needed to lose 30 pounds? Each new minute in this new reality after Roger died still delivers different, shocking fears.

When I finally got some counseling, after I thawed out a bit, Ginette Paris, a wise woman with a PhD in Psychology and a twinkly eye, suggested that I not ask “why.” Not only is this asking “why” not helpful, but also by asking the unanswerable “why”, we get stuck in a destructive loop of always asking “why”? It seems that this “why” remains elusive for many things in life like sickness, greed, war or death. But “why” I ask. I’m stubborn that way.

In scanning our limitless Universe, all I know for certain is there will always be more questions for the inquisitive mind. Answering one question will just open up the door to another one. Ask “why” but don’t expect any definitive answers. Why birth? Why do we breathe air? What I do know is this: if you’ve been something to somebody (s)he will grieve when you die. Grieve, I do. This part of life is bad, bad, bad grief, being the one left behind—the fear immobilizing.

In some circumstances fear would be a good thing, if I was a zebra on the Serengeti running from lions. But when the lions leave, zebras totally relax. Not so with humans. We carry our angst on the tip of our tongues, buried inside our bodies like a steaming hot mess ready to boil over at the least provocation. At some tipping point, too much fear, too much grief and your body shuts down. Mine did. I just felt numb. I couldn’t move.

Will I survive this? How does anyone? Can I stop asking “why” questions? Time will tell. No matter how it happens: divorce, abandonment or death, it’s loss beyond words. But, grief is not a choice.

*Update: I wrote this 23 June 2012, the day I started writing Memory Clouds: Good Grief Bad Grief and as of 27 Nov 2018 I am grateful to be alive and enjoying my life in this next chapter ;).”

Connie Hermosillo
Conrad Reeder