some thoughts on grief and community

July 30, 2014

some days I am capable of constructing community out of thin air and sticks. today I have neither the momentum or the energy, where today means every day tomorrow, and every day for the past little while. my cat has died, and I don’t know how I feel. grief exhausts me, and I’m always grieving, gathering myself up alone in the cold on the back porch of my new flat, listening to the cicadas in the dark. and yet I’m still here because somewhere along the line I learned the hard rubber barriers of resilience, and there are bewildering things that keep me from desperation, that keep my wheels turning from day to day to day. things like rest, and promises of rest, and new ideas, and a growing understanding of the hard, patient endurance required for faithfulness, and the hope of the presence of God, and the work of God in my everyday living, and the faith of the people around me, and the faithfulness and patience of others in their own difficult, discomforting lives.

I’m going to see the doctor on Friday. there’s a lovely lady named Suzy at my school who genuinely pays attention and genuinely cares, in the way that people who have lived difficult lives and have thought deeply about their experiences do; she offered to take me, and so I’m going. my brother texted me today to say my parents had bad news, and alarmed, I phoned my father; my mother picked up and told me that the cat had died, that they’d had to put him down. I was relieved; I’d been spinning worried tales of either one of my parents’ sudden death or disability, and so the cat made little difference in the wild, wide scheme of things. and then again, I never really know how I feel when it comes to things like death. when it comes to death or people leaving, often I don’t feel much of anything at all, and yet it’s more complex than that- an it’s complicated nowadays by the fact that I’m leaking grief out of every seam in my body, and a grief that has a weight and an ache that holds a far deeper, older seat than any newfangled attempt at sadness that might even think of trying to move in me. I wonder sometimes if it’s just that I don’t know how I feel, and that I feel something but I’m simply not aware of it- or perhaps it’s just that I’m hugely self-contained, and I only grieve things that directly affect my existence. but I’m not sure, because it’s always the living I feel for; when my mother started crying and talked about how she went home after the appointment at the vet and realised the cat wouldn’t come out to greet them the way he always did, I hurt for her and for the pang of the memory of it.

I don’t know. I came home after the noise and clamour and chaos of too many voices in too small a room- the young adults group I attend- and slipping out through the curtains I went to sit in the cold on the damp wooden deck of my new flat. the cicadas were going; the flat’s cat, George, came to visit briefly and disappeared. there were no stars out tonight. I sat on the damp bench and thought of my cat and cried, but it’s hard to know what I was crying for exactly because it seems I’m endlessly, continually grieving some enormous loss that I’ve never been able to articulate or come to the end of. so I was in the grip of the usual grief, and also crying for the loneliness of it- I’ve been at school all day and surrounded by people, but I’ve not found the time or space to tell anyone, because nobody appeared to have the time to simply stop and pay attention and listen, although I’d had so many long conversations with people throughout the day. and that hurt, because it’s isolating, to know that all the people around you are too busy with their lives to care enough about you to really ask, to really pay attention.

I’m well aware, too, that I have friends who do do that. I am deeply, enormously blessed in this way; there are friends who I can take this to, who do take the time to listen and actively engage in my life, who actually care about me beyond- beyond surface inanities. it’s really more that the people I was at school with today were people who I’d consider friends to some extent, who I get along with marvellously well, who I like and who I think like me- and it just stung, that to some extent we talk so much and so grandiosely about what community is, and yet we’re still operating in this shallow little puddle, this paper-thin veneer of caring that goes no deeper than the flat edge of a hand and a passing question and barely an ear for an answer. I feel sometimes that I ask all the questions and I deliberately make these attempts and clear space and time to listen, to really listen, and while I’m not doing it as a quid pro quo, I’m still aware that very few people do the same in return. and that hurts. it hurts because I’d like to think of these people as my community, and it’s hugely disappointing to realise they’re not. and it makes me feel isolated and like I don’t particularly belong; like I’m just passing through. like I could leave and it wouldn’t make too much of a difference to their lives at all.

and some days I’m okay with the absence and shallowness of human networks, because some days I have the energy to construct community out of sticks and spit and whistling. often I’ve found that if I try to be faithful and patient and care about people who have those instincts and tendencies already, even people who have the barest glimmerings of them, often these people respond and are faithful and patient in return, or learn to be that way, and we may possibly construct a relationship that lasts over time and goes deeper than just an everyday passing of ships in the night. and I’ve been blessed over the years to find this equally true in the reverse, where people have invested time and patience and energy in me, and I’ve learned to respond to them, and even if we’re on different islands or in different cities or countries, these are still relationships that last through the fluctuations of time and tide and busyness and separate everyday lives. but other weeks, days, months, moments, I’m just exhausted and demoralised at the thought of trying, and this is one of them; I want to be cared about, and I want others to grieve with me because it’s just awful to both grieve and fear on your own, but most of the people I call my friends here don’t seem to have any understanding at all of how to do either, and it just hurts.

there are exceptions. there are always exceptions, and I am blessed to find them. Suzy’s one of them; there are a few others and I am grateful for them. but oh, I’m not handling the world well at the moment, and it exhausts me, and the people I’d consider my community- aren’t, and I’m too exhausted to try and shore anything up. these things hurt, and so I am very sore on the inside today, and that is all I have and am for the time being.


(we shall come to heaven deeply scarred, I think.)


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