Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Café Adagio




Grief advice for a complacent millennial.

Sometimes you need attitude when talking to people about grief because many are still clueless, and polite words don’t penetrate their foot of insulation. Grief isn’t polite. It’s messy and filled with stampeding bison, but it also invites kindness, if we are paying attention.

This is an imaginary conversation — the what I wish I could say.
            *
Put your iPhone down and look at me. I asked you a very simple question, you know-it-all punk. All you had to do was answer like a normal person and we wouldn’t be in this situation. Tell me “It’s complicated” “Hard” “A drag” Whatever! 
I don’t care if you’re Snapchatting, Instagramming, or crushing candy on your phone. Put it down and look at me! You could have answered with a smidgen of respect for someone older. But no, you had to be a smartass and say, “What’s grief?”

Look outside. See the old man with his head down and hands stuffed in his pockets? Walks by here every day. A widower and lonely, he lives in a house where the yard needs work. See that middle-aged businesswoman across the café? She lost her daughter, but listening to her, you wouldn’t know. But notice the sadness in her eyes when she smiles at the waitress.

You probably don’t know Siddhartha. He was as clueless as you until he went walking through the not-affluent parts of town and saw how many people were suffering. But maybe you know Sandberg, one of Facebook’s head honchos. Sheryl lost her husband. You’re probably too cool for Facebook. Stop drinking your Sanpelligrino Chinotto! Tell me what you know about grief, and I’ll leave you alone.

I can see you’ve led a pampered life, what with your muslin shirt casually opened a button too far, your ruffled, asymmetrical hair, and your untied shoes without socks. But maybe you had a pet die, a grandparent, a distant cousin to opioids. You’re old enough to have lost somebody. If not, your parents have, but clearly something went wrong if they haven’t told you about grief. Maybe your mom had a miscarriage. Maybe your dad ran over Bambi. Maybe they’re hippies and letting you find your own way. So, for the sake of humanity, I’m going to help you.

What do you think about grief? Or are you as blasé about it as the cream color of your shirt? Even if you think that grief is something that happens only to old people, I know you’ve heard about the mass shootings in schools. Dead is dead. You know that, right? Unlike the movies, in real life the dead do not come back. How do you feel about that? Don’t you dare say, “What’s death?” or I will slap your glass.

See that painting on the wall? It’s by Alec DeJesus, a Peoria artist. At first I thought it was his creative interpretation of Kali, the Hindu goddess who destroys evildoers, but there were obvious differences — her skin wasn’t blue and she didn’t have four arms. Then I noticed the tiny owl’s head where her bindi, the third eye of spiritual sight, would be. With her ash-white face and the swirling yellow and red behind her head, she may be a nature shaman bringing awakening and inviting us to dance with the forces of life and death. If you get up close, you can see the cosmos in her eyes. I think she’s staring at you.

Look. I’m going to sit here until I know that you’re at least aware of the concept of death. My friends are beginning to die, and I want to know what a self-absorbed 20-something-year-old thinks about grief because when I was your age I knew how everything worked. I want that back.

Here’s the thing. What are you going to do when your best friend dies? Ride your parents’ boat through the solemn church hymns and tuna casseroles? Or head into the woods where you toked the dank weed together, contemplating the bliss of elemental consciousness, and smudge the air with burning sage and raven feathers as you bury your friend’s ashes and bones? You don’t know, do you?


You aren’t Doctor Who and your girlfriend isn’t Clara, zipping through time and space enjoying each other’s company without a care for all eternity. Oh, you know about British sci fi mythology but not about grief? News flash. Clara’s dead!


            *

This is what I felt like saying to him. But I knew that no one understands the trauma of grief until it hits. This is when the dialogue begins.


(The painting by Alec DeJesus, “She was Everything (the universe), He Was Her Light," is currently on display at the 30-30 Coffee Co. at the corner of Prospect and N. Knoxville in Peoria. There is more to the painting than I describe. Image is used with Alec's permission.)

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