Saturday, March 19, 2011

It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want To (An Atheistic Approach to Grief and Birthdays)

The circle of life is not a beautiful gift from the universe. It doesn’t illuminate some secret about the meaning of existence or justify the pain of loss. The circle of life is a poetic reframing we use as a tool to deal with a world where we’re constantly losing what’s most important to us while at the same time trying to enjoy whatever we’re left with.

As if the universe has a mind (which it doesn’t) and is trying to give me a message (which it isn’t) my Grandfather died this morning, on my birthday, on a day when I woke up enraptured with the fact of my existence and grateful for the ineffably beautiful experience of being alive. The universe isn’t trying to teach me a lesson about symmetry or cycles or anything else. It’s just a universe. It’s not a mind. But I am a mind, and even though there’s no message, I have the amazing, enlivening ability to make meaning from whatever happens to me in the mindless universe.

There is a symmetry to all of this for me. My body hurts, feels pushed down by the weight of grief. I want to call my mom and tell her everything, to cry with her, to hear her voice...but of course, she’s dead, too. So I take this pain, and I do what I do with pain: use it to remind myself that I can only know how painful it is to be alive because I am gloriously, inexplicably alive despite the overwhelming odds that say I should never have existed at all. And knowing that all human beings experience pain much like I do, I can use my life to eliminate as much of that hurt from the world as possible so that this wonderful life can be a little better for everyone.

Thirty-two years ago on this day, my mom was giving birth to me, holding me for the first time in her arms, smiling and thinking about all of her hopes for my life. And what a life! I can’t tell you how much I love my life! I love all of it, every inch of it. I love simple experiences like food and wine. I love complex experiences like falling in love and mothering contrary children. I love the part where I’m knocked off my feet by the hurt of losing my Grandfatherbecause it is entailed in the fact of having a Grandfather. And I had the best, the very, very best Grandfather. He filled my life with an impossibly huge amount of love and blessing and care. He and my Grandmother were instrumental in raising my little brother who is my very best friend and one of the most hard-working, talented, compassionate people on the face of the planet. My Grandfather loved and nurtured my aunt and uncle who in turn loved and nurtured my outstanding cousinsall of whom improve the world by being in it. I love all of this. Of course, it is hard; it hurts very much to be alive. I hate being motherless. I need my mother. I hate that I’ve lost friends I need. I've lost my Grandparents. And I’ve lost opportunities and hope and dignity and ideas about who I am and what I'm capable of. I am not grateful to the universe for its mindless, unrelenting greediness for things I want to keep. But how I love that I can hate the universe for this! How I love that I exist to love every inch of my life!—to love even the experience of hating.

And so, here I am on my 32nd birthday, a puddle of joy and tears and birth and loss and enveloped in a profound sense of awe at the majesty of being.


Holly Ann said...

So beautifully said. I send my sincere condolences on the loss of your grandfather today. I also wish you another 32+ years of loving life!

kate said...

This is one of those times when I know words will fail me, but I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. And at the same time, so incredibly happy that you exist and that this day marked another happy year for you.

I have such a hard time commenting on your blog posts, because I read them, and I realize how incredibly stupid being a mother has made me (I think I'm still in that brain-shrunken phase, you know? Like I know I'll come out of it someday, but for now, I have to just completely succumb to the aphasia and... oh, I've forgotten the word for it, but I just need to roll around in it, let the dumbness wash over me, appreciate it for what it is and know/hope that someday, I'll have a brain again...), and I have such a hard time responding with anywhere near the sort of response such posts warrant. I read them and it makes me wish we lived in the same city so we could get together and talk about all this awesome stuff (and so that I could come to one of your awesome Rock Band parties...) and so that I could respond and you could see my gestures and my expressions and perhaps through those glean a comprehensible idea of what I'm inadequately trying to say in response.

Anyhow. Where was I? Yeah. I'm just so sorry for your loss. I've only experienced the loss of one grandparent who meant anything to me (mom's dad died the week I was born, dad's dad was not the nicest fellow, and I wasn't at an age where I could really fully comprehend that loss of human life is still loss, etc., and dad's mom is still living but estranged from our family for very good reasons), and it was devastating. I still miss her, every single day. I know you'll process this your own way, but if your grandfather meant as much as my grandmother did, I'm guessing he'll be heavy on your mind for many years to come, if not certainly forever.

At times like this, it is definitely thought-provoking, wondering that if the universe did have a mind, it would have an incredibly sick sense of humor and/or quite twisted teaching methods...

Dale said...

Beautifully put. Thanks for this.

Renee Cooperman said...

It's hard to think what to say, but your beautiful post moved me and, the way I see it, I want you to know that I read and loved reading about your thoughts on this heavy and uplifting stuff. You have a gift for being heavy and uplifting too and that comes, I supposse, from being very authentic and trying very hard to get at the truth and to face the closest thing we can guess is the truth wich is so much more comforting and powerful than a children's story about white wings and halos which can't possibly be a real comfort, can it? I don't see how.

Happy Birthday, your dear Grandfather's passing will make it a very heart-ful memory. I'm so sorry for us all sometimes. Didn't Dorothy say something like, "People keep coming and going here in the strangest way" after the Good witch floats out in a bubble? I wish I could remember that quote. We're coming and going and sometimes it seems ridiculous to me, but here we are. It seems so important to love it all like you do.

Corey said...

You said it beautifully. I hope to handle it with that much grace.