I recently read a book for book club called Tell Me More: Stories About The 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say, by Kelly Corrigan. It’s been one of the most helpful books I’ve read as it relates to grief and life, and I think it should be required reading for all of humanity. I don’t know that it’s really considered a “grief book.” But it is about how tough life can be in general and thus tackles a lot of rough stuff, so, needless to say, I could relate to it. I should also mention that Kelly Corrigan has a sense of humor, so although this is a heavy read, there are lighter parts, maybe even a few laughs, in here as well.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone grieving a loss – there were a number of passages in here that really resonated with me, some that even elicited “a-ha!” moments.
Perhaps most impactful (WordPress is telling me this isn’t a word. Is it not?!) was this paragraph about the human condition – what it means to have a mind and a heart and a life, “It’s like this. Minds don’t rest; they reel and wander and fixate and roll back and reconsider because it’s like this, having a mind. Hearts don’t idle; they swell and constrict and break and forgive and behold because it’s like this, having a heart. Lives don’t last; they thrill and confound and circle and overflow and disappear because it’s like this, having a life.”
This quote has actually made such an impact on me that I designed a bracelet around it, which seems less dramatic than getting a tattoo, but a tattoo doesn’t seem too ridiculous either considering this reverberates in my mind multiple times per day. When I get anxious, sometimes I catch myself saying under my breath, “Christine, It’s like this, having a life.”
I guess what it is to me is a good reminder that life is just devastating and heartbreaking and a huge struggle sometimes, for so.many.people. To live means to experience this at least on some level. And if this is what it means, to have a life, to reject this is to reject having a life, almost. And although since Matthew’s death, I haven’t always felt this way, I do want to remain alive for my living children and Mark and for other loved ones.
The only thing I still wrestle with about this quote is I sometimes push back, “But is it REALLY like this?! For f#ck sake, not everyone loses a child. Hell, not even most people lose a child. Like you are not supposed to outlive your child. I have it worse than most other people.”
And to some extent, this is all true. But then I read some story about something awful happening, or I’ll stumble upon a devastating article about a child dying and start reading the thousands of comments below saying, “This happened to me too,” and I re-realize that for many, many people life IS like this. (I don’t mean to suggest that in situations where warranted we shouldn’t push for positive change and instead just always accept something wrong or shitty as being “like this,” but, at the same time, many things are out of our control.)
Maybe I’m an idiot and everyone already knows “it’s like this,” but I’ve had difficulty coming to grips with this truth. Prior to Matthew dying, I’d been very fortunate in life and had never really lost anyone super close to me. I had anxiety about potential tragedy, but, at the same time, I think I looked at others around me with lives that seemed “charmed” and thought, “Why not me too? My life has been charmed up until now. Why wouldn’t it stay this way?!” I didn’t necessarily think I was immune to awful things, but still I was optimistic about my prospects for everyone around me living into their mid 90s (or longer). To be clear, I think people DO live these charmed lives, and I’m now insanely jealous of such people, but I’m beginning to think they are very much an exception as opposed to a rule.
Another impactful (is this a word?!) paragraph relates to a woman, Kathy, whose teenage son died in a car accident, “’For maybe ten years,’ she told me, ‘I kept asking, Why did this happen? It was all I could think about some days.’ She said she tried a dozen different stories, but nothing fit. Nothing stuck. Until she finally figured it out: It happened because it can. Cars can flip. They can skid out and turn over and hit a tree. The metal can bend, the glass can break, the roof can cave in. It’s a car, it’s a body, physical objects with physical properties that obey the physical world. Seeing that clearly, embracing that unadulterated reality rearranged her insides, making it easier, finally, to breathe.”
For nearly three years I’ve tortured myself with the why question too. Not only this, I’ve blamed myself for Matthew’s death to the point that I’ve experienced extreme self-hatred on a near daily basis (when it was at its worst). Although this concept seems so simple, reading this kind of set my mind free in a sense. While I still struggle, I find myself better able to accept that Matthew died because he could. It happened because it can. To be clear, this doesn’t make his death any easier on me, but this has made my grief less complicated, possibly. I find I’m torturing myself less frequently now with the why question, which is a welcome change.
On a lighter note, I loved this paragraph about a strategy to help one deal with social anxiety disorder, “…, which brought to mind my friend Paul, who told me once that at cocktail parties, whenever someone tells him what they do for work he says, That must be really hard, and every time, no matter what they do, they say, Oh, it is. He started doing it because he’s shy and needs the other person to do the talking, but he kept doing it as a public service. Everyone loves Paul; they can’t say exactly why, but I think I can.”
I’ve actually started employing this – I just say, “That sounds really hard,” to everyone I encounter in regards to their job (or life), and it totally works. (I don’t feel like I’m being fake because most of what others do does actually sound really hard since I’m not that motivated to do much of anything.) Sure enough, most everyone to whom I’ve said this has responded, “IT IS!” and launched into a huge monologue about why. 🙂
Anyway, there is SO.MUCH.MORE in this Kelly Corrigan book, and I will be quoting it in the future, and I think everyone should read it, because I’m tired, so I can’t type any more about it tonight, or ever again.