Thursday, June 22, 2006

4. The "Never" Mantra

It’s funny, but I can’t remember exactly what Mario and I talked about that first night. I know we laughed at our mutual wrong expectations: He thought I was a tall blonde, and I thought he was an older, Ricardo Montalban type. But it seemed clear we would be friends. Or, at least, partners. You know, in the Dead Mates Society.

We were not at a loss for words. But people sometimes wonder: What do you say to a person who’s just lost someone?

I used to be one of those people – before my mother died, the first “major” loss of my life. I avoided and didn’t say anything. This is about as wrongheaded as it gets.

It’s always important to honor where a person is with their grief – they may or may not want to open up or spill their guts to you. But the acknowledgment is important.

I will never forget when I retuned to work after Gregory died and a coworker approached me. Bob was not someone I knew well, but offered simply: “I’m so sorry about your loss.” I cannot tell you how much it meant to hear those words.

As flip as I might have sounded in my first post – I am a smartass at heart – I knew that my meeting with Mario was no date. And I genuinely wanted to reach out to him. I really could feel his pain, especially the way it consumes you in those initial weeks and months.

More than anything, grieving requires the willingness to accept feelings as they surface – whatever they may be, from anger at the person who has died to heightened sexual desire. You have to give yourself room and time to experience and process them all, rational or not.

One of the first ways Mario dealt with the rush of feelings was to jog. He told me that he often worked on his grief when he ran, talking to Isabel and crying along the way. By the time he’d get home, the tears would have blended into sweat.

It can take a while to move from the initial shock to grieving. On the night I learned of Gregory’s death, I don’t remember exactly when I started to cry. But very late, tiny wisps of feeling began to penetrate that fragile feather barrier. Tears began to accumulate and fall, like droplets from melting snow.

In those initial hours, as shock – sweet, protective shock – wears off, the overwhelming feeling is pain. Waves of consuming pain. On the one hand, it permeates every cell. But then it’s as if someone has ripped something out of you – except a physical sensation would be preferable to the psychic agony, which has no finite edges.

To never see Gregory alive again. Never touch him or be touched by him. Never look at him sitting across the couch. Never engage in our repartee. Never share the private jokes and glances. Never see him burst through the door, carrying his laundry to hang on my line. Never smell smoke from the grill in his hair. Never get called away from tossing a salad to come quick and see this sunset. Never feel him entwined with me beneath the covers.

It becomes a mantra of pain: Never. Never. Never. Never.

Whether it happens quickly, as with Gregory, or slowly, the way Isabel just ebbed away, death is the same line of demarcation. Our twin loves. Here, then gone.

Photographs by Paul Caponigro


Blogger girlysmack said...

Never smell smoke from the grill in his hair...

You write so beautifully. The sadness and the beauty of your blog makes my heart hurt, makes me cry. I am going to go outside and give my tired, sweaty husband a bone-crushing hug. I love smelling the smoke from the grill in his hair. Just sitting here, I can smell it. Is it a blessing or a curse, to remember all those things so so clearly, I wonder?

6:42 PM  

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