Some Four-letter Words: The Dark and Ugly

I remember coming back from Mongolia and being glad nobody died while I was away. Before I left my mom did frequently bring up the question of what to do if I died  – sorry – “passed away” over there; and I may be the youngest person I know to have a list of pallbearers ready.

Odd thoughts? Perhaps.

Sometimes I think I’m warped.
My mom just says “Experienced.”

Anyways, I came back from Mongolia. And nobody had died.

Now, however…

Now it’s a different story. Another season. Another chapter, another chunk. A season that will be darkly coloured in several lives I know.

However, this time circumstances are not mine. It’s other families, in outer circles. A few steps away but not out of reach. You may have heard about Kris, and that’s not been the only event since I got back.

I don’t believe in tragedy lists, for life and death is not a competition. Therefore, I’m not listing the hard stories I’ve observed since getting back. Let’s just say there’s been a few. If life hasn’t been fair to me, it hasn’t been fair to anyone else either. Our lists may look different and our pain comes at different times and different pictures and I cannot judge, sneer, or compare.

Nobody knows what’s going on inside a life for not all battles come with chemo and a bald head, or take place at the ICU. If you know my family, you’ll know that some of my family’s hard things have just happened to be a little more public than others’.

That aside, I will tell you that I’m listening to Tenth Avenue North’s  song “Worn” tonight. It’s one of those nights. One where you’re looking at hurt. Hard. Maybe looking at some pain too, I don’t know.

A friend was given a number, you see. The number of months expected to live.

That’s ugly.

And yet, I’m okay. I don’t know if it’s because it’s not in my family and I’m awful for even considering that for why I’m not in shock (or maybe I am), or maybe I’m in denial and shutting it out to avoid the hurt that news like this brings. or if I’m just too tired to allow the familiar feelings of grief wash over me. I am reminded that grief is exhausting.

I always thought my Mom coined the term ‘Pre Grieving’, but a quick google tells me it really is a ‘thing’. Of course it is; I have a smart mama!

And I think that’s where I’m at. I am subtly grieving as I listen to this song and absorb it all, rather realistically. Looking at the hard news from a few steps away, deciding where I stand on this one. Half way between processing and shutting it out. Halfway between hurting and ignoring.

I’m half way between calloused heart and empathetic neighbour,
because I know what grief is, and that means something.

It is far enough removed that I could very well block it out and choose not to go there, not to touch it, the dark and ugly.

 But I get it.

I don’t want to, but I do. I could think of what’s next for this family, but I don’t want to. Not so much denial as resistance through apathy. I don’t want to be involved. I’m screaming between “Yup. That’s life and it sucks. See y’all in heaven.” and wondering how they’re doing. Wondering if anyone has gone to drop off chocolate milk for the kids…

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Chocolate Milk and a Night of Slush: Lessons on Life, Death, and What to Do

 The Superstore parking lot was slush. Disgusting. Wet.

And snow coming down. Hard.

Big flakes that got down your neck, reflected in the streetlights and melting immediately, making you squint and hope not to drop your mittens in the wet.

Puddles, ice, and nastiness. The weather was gruesome. Uncomfortable. A fitting experience for the night.

Mom and I had spent a longer time than expected in Superstore that night. We came out with bags of assorted foods – foods we didn’t necessarily see in our cupboards regularly:

Tea. Crackers. Chocolate. Cranberry juice. A lovely basket. Fruit. Grapes. Cereal. Chocolate milk. (It goes down easier than food when there’s a lump in your throat, you see.)

2 Staples in life: Tea & Kleenex

2 Staples in life: Tea & Kleenex

Because when family comes for a funeral it’s nice to have easy-access food. People drop in. They snack. And kleenex wads pile up so let’s throw some garbage bags in too. You eat at weird times.  Or run on coffee. Honestly, you only want to look at meat-and-cheese platters and miniature sandwiches with the crusts cut of for so long! And it’s nice to have a cup of tea in your hands.

My mom knows this.

And this is how we came to superstore on a random, atrociously wet Thursday night.

A coworker lost her dad. And that’s what you do. You show up. 

My mom did more than buy chocolate milk that night. This was more than the giving of her many minutes, or the amount the grocery bill came to. Those weren’t things to feel good about, a rank or accomplishment to pin to our chest like a ribbon and walk away, feeling a duty accomplished.

It was a lesson in community. Bravery. Generosity. In compassion and legacy. 

She took her 18 year old daughter along, but age didn’t matter. She would take an 8 year old. She would tell them the truth – that it hurts, but there is hope. That mourning is real and that in a culture where the protocol with death has been lost, this is something you can do.

You show up, even if it’s awkward and  you don’t know them well. You don’t have to stay long or even take off your shoes. Grief is uncomfortable, but it means more to show up.

Our society has lost our protocol of grief. We don’t know how to deal with death, we don’t remember how to grieve. So here’s what you do when you know someone is hurting and you don’t know what to do.

You take care of people. You give. Cheerfully, not chintzily.

Driving home through the onslaught of snowflakes you might expect me to say my heart was warmed, looking at these inspiring lessons, knowing I would carry this experience on for the rest of my life.

Nope. I shivered. Because it was snowing.

And that’s what you do, in reality. You shiver and drive and just do life (the day to day AND the not-so-day-to-day). There is no feel-good music like the movies. I know this. But it was good, regardless.

It was food for thought that night, those crackers and milk in the basket.  There were lessons in that night, and a memory to hold to for many nights to come. The example was powerful.

And if nothing else – please do know
that if you don’t know what to do and someone might be grieving

you really can’t go wrong with a big ol’ bottle of chocolate milk.