Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Learning How to Grieve.

I woke up yesterday morning to a series of emails telling me that a Holocaust survivor from shul had passed away, that a student from UConn who was beaten badly during Spring Weekend had died, and most harrowing, that the mother of a very good friend at synagogue had passed away after a year-and-a-half-long illness. I immediately decided that going back to bed would have been more productive than walking into a world of death and its resultant grief and sadness. I then got news: "Guess where Person X is?!" Yes, probably my best friend in the synagogue community had gone into labor and by the early afternoon the world welcomed new life -- new, beautiful, living life. The circle of life, then, was complete.

I've never been good at dealing with or expressing emotions related to grieving. I'm rock solid; tears don't penetrate the surface -- I choke them, suffocate them, stuff them back into their unnecessarily emotional box. I just don't cry.

Tuvia found out on Friday that his boss had died the night before. For those keeping score at home, that's the announcement of four deaths in my orbit over four days. Throw in Melissa Redgrave, who happens to not be in my orbit, and we've got five in four days. Throw in the thousands more than died over the past four days, and the orbit has lost its center. Tuvia thus went to a service yesterday and today, leaving his bereavement meeting today to go to a funeral.

I'd never been to a Jewish funeral before. I've been to a few non-Jewish funerals in my time, the most vivid in my mind that of my Uncle David Pittman. He died in 1998 after 64 years of life, although I remember him being much older, more like a grandfather to me. He wasn't a blood relative, but a relative by the second marriage of my father's father, my grandfather. After that marriage, my grandfather had a short life and died of a heart attack in the 1960s. Uncle David Pittman, related to my father's step-mother, became a father to him. Growing up, I used to sit on Uncle David's knee and he'd steal my nose; it was his favorite trick with kids. He owned a locksmith store, and for a long time after he died I held onto the last yearly calendar with his store's information on it remained somewhere in my bedroom. The funny, or rather morbid, thing about his funeral was that it took place the same weekend as his son's wedding. Wedding and a funeral, a classic.

I think then, at age 14 or 15, I wasn't completely cognizant of death or what it meant for me. I don't remember crying, I don't remember needing to grieve. He was just gone.

The funeral today left me teary eyed. I choked the tears, else I would have lost it. I've been doing that a lot lately; my emotions are becoming real, and I have never learned how to deal with them. Writing this even has me teared up in a big green couch in Starbucks.

The woman who we honored today died at the age of 57. Fifty. Seven. My father turns 57 in August; it was sobering. I can't imagine having to bury my own parents, despite our distance and the space that creeps between us as the years roll on. They say that it's unimaginable when a parent has to bury his or her child, but the road cuts both ways as they say. When the parent is young, when grandchildren have yet to be born and simchas have yet to be experienced, it's inconceivable.

How do we grieve? For me, life is meant to be celebrated, even at death, and tears should be held, choked, crushed. But that's the me that understands emotion as weakness talking. The tide is changing and my emotions are reversed -- they're crushing me. Coping is what I need to learn. Figuring out how to grieve the loss of those alive and distant, as well as those gone in body but not spirit. I've always been strong, and tears shouldn't mean anything but that.

Here's to the spirits of those lost in my orbit as of late. Baruch dayen emet.