Earlier this week, I was scanning my newsfeed on Facebook while I was trapped beneath a softly snoring infant. I came across a blog post shared by a friend, one that discussed the new Reese Witherspoon film Wild in a way that I hadn't considered.
I've heard buzz about the movie, for sure, though far too much of it seems to be banter for the shallow surface dwellers of the world. Discussions about whether or not she was wearing makeup during filming and whether that was something to be considered brave. Musing about her age and whether she'd taken a risk by foregoing being made up.
If that is all you can honestly think of when you are introduced to the story she tells in the film, I for one will call you lucky. I'll call you lucky because it translates to the fact that you mustn't have encountered that kind of reality yet, endured that kind of loss and the seemingly bottomless hole that comes with it.
There is more to this story than discussions about vanity, for sure.
The film, one based on the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, centers on Reese's portrayal of Cheryl Strayed. Strayed wrote of her journey in the wake of the loss of her mother and other personal devastation, including drug use and the end of her marriage.
I haven't yet read the book, so I'm in no position to comment on that. I haven't obviously seen the film yet either, but the post that I read this week about it made me think that perhaps I shouldn't. Not yet anyway.
Maybe someday, but I'm not there yet.
That post, this one by Veronica Arreola on The Broad Side, it struck a nerve, one that hasn't stopped twitching since I read her words. It reached into the deepest darkest parts of my psyche, to the places where I stuff things away, slam the door and hope they stay hidden. It hit there.
It is a phenomenal piece, and I encourage you all to read it for yourselves. She talks about how she can't relate much at all to the journey that Strayed took in the wake of the loss of her mother even though she too lost her mother at a young age. She couldn't for a simple reason, she was about to give birth to a child. She couldn't just take off on some self discovery grief journey. She couldn't.
Something about her words, the eerie similarities of pieces of her mother's story and my mother's story, it brought me to tears. And I understood her.
I also began to understand a piece of this grief journey that I myself have been on, one that I hadn't even realized was there before.
It is this.
The type of grief in the story, the one that involves this level of self discovery, it is a luxury, and one that I wasn't afforded.
Some of us don't have the chance to wander.
It seems strange to think of any type of grief as luxurious, I am sure, just as I am sure that those words placed beside one another may bother some of my readers. It's not to say that one grief is bigger than another, that losses should be compared, that one person's experience is better or worse than another's necessarily, but they are indeed quite different.
And I just hadn't realized this piece of it before I read her words.
I see it now. There have been times, god have there been so many times, in the past four or so years when I would have given anything to run away. Nothing would have been so enticing or delicious as isolating myself away from all the noise, fully immersed in the grief that I felt. I could have thought things out, worked through what was going on in my mind so much easier if I'd had that opportunity.
I could have backpacked alone for as long as I needed, sat alongside the rivers and lakes and streams and oceans until it all made sense. I could have done anything I needed to in order to get to a good place, if I'd only had the time and ability.
I could have, in some imaginary world where the luxury of that kind of grief exists.
I do not dwell in that world.
When my father died, I had to take care of my children, and I had to take care of someone else far more needy and demanding - my mother.
When I lost so much in the months after his death, there was nowhere for me to find that peace and solitude. I couldn't go off and find myself, draw on that inner strength in the middle of a river somewhere. I couldn't do it because I had too many obligations here. I had those children to care for, that mother to attempt to care for.
When she died last year, after far too many tragedies, far too many heartbreaks, far too much conflict and the creation of far too many new wounds, I had to wrap my mind around the fact that I now occupied a world not just without my father and without the other things that I had lost, but I was now without her too.
And I had to do it all between 9:30-11am because it was the only time I was ever alone.
The harshness of grief doesn't comply with our rules and desires. It doesn't say to us that it will cooperate and only come when it is convenient for us. It comes when it wants, often without warning. It is whole and heavy, the weight of it oppressive at times.
In the wake of her death, though there was pain and sadness, there was relief too. In that relief, a guilt. A confusing reality. A shame. The questioning of what could have been, what should have been. The certainty that it will never be.
So many feelings, so much depth and complication, each feeling leading endlessly to another.
And I was supposed to get it all processed in that short time frame because I was too busy. I had too many obligations. I didn't have the luxury of grieving the way I necessarily wanted or needed.
I still don't.
I suppose that there is an argument to be made that I could. I could have left, taken off at any time. There is nothing physically holding me here. There wasn't then and there isn't now. I could have just announced that I needed time to sort all my demons out, time to work through these losses and how they changed me or didn't or whatever. I could have.
But then I'd be failing them, the innocents in my life, the ones who had nothing to do with the losses I've endured. My children. And I couldn't go.
I couldn't do that to them.
I wouldn't do that to them.
I wonder sometimes what it must be like, to not have anyone else to really worry about, to not be needed, to truly have time to oneself, to possess the ability to just walk away and allow oneself all the time in the world to process.
Then I stop wondering because there's no utility in it.
Besides, I'm too busy.
I'm intrigued by Strayed's story. I'm absolutely certain that there will be parts that I relate to, parts that resonate so deeply and that only the other parentless children in the world can fully understand.
I'm also certain that there will be a piece of me that will be envious of her in a twisted and bizarre way, that will envy how she was able to walk away until she found herself.
Then there is the deep dark part of the envy that I fear the most, the piece where she could just mourn the loss of her mother. I wasn't given that luxury either, because sadness wasn't all I felt when she died.
There was relief too, peace that it was over, that she couldn't hurt me any more.
Having a complicated, troubled relationship makes the grief more complicated and troubled. I envy those who can just embrace the grief without hesitation, without qualification.
Perhaps this inability to own my grief the way I feel like I should is what has made it last as long as it has. Perhaps.
Perhaps the reality that I needed to stay strong and grounded and present and stable is the very thing that led to my development of PTSD. I refused to allow myself to deal with the pain when it was new, because I couldn't, because I didn't have time, because someone had soccer practice or needed a snack or was sick. In refusing it, in disallowing it, in suppressing all of it, perhaps I created more demons.
I'll never really know.
What I do know is this: not every adventure that needs traveled is, not everyone is granted the time they need to find themselves, not all of us have the luxury of this grief.
My sincerest gratitude to Veronica for opening my eyes, and to Aliza for introducing me to her. May we find peace on the journeys we walk, even if they aren't what they might otherwise be. xo
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