Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Good Grief

The dog decided 5:30AM was absolutely time for breakfast. I plodded downstairs to feed her and let her out. She ate and went right back upstairs to bed. Me? Not so much. It was early on Valentine’s Day and there was no sleep left for me.

Valentine’s Day is not a happy day in this house. It used to be, but not anymore.

It has been four years since that other Valentine’s Day morning. Maggie loved every holiday, regardless of the theme. Any cause for celebration was a good thing to that girl. The Valentine’s for her teachers and classmates were all ready. Her red outfit was all laid out. Maggie would be her resplendent self. But it was not to be.

It was very early in the morning that the nurse started yelling that something was wrong. I was down there in a flash but Maggie wasn’t breathing and none of my remedies were working. Steve called 911 and the firemen arrived quickly and worked feverishly. It took a while – too long really – to get her heart started again. We knew before we left for the hospital that this was very very bad. Maggie never regained consciousness and died the next day. So while the anniversary is technically February 15th, it will always be a sad Valentine’s Day tale for us.

From that day to this I have been awash in grief. It is always there. Always.

After four years I have learned a little about grief, very little really because my experience is just that-  my experience. It is a deeply personal thing and everyone has a different way of dealing with it. Still, here is what I’ve learned:

  I learned that the stages of grief are ridiculous and do not apply to a loss as great as this. Perhaps they are more applicable to a romantic breakup where one often emerges stronger after getting over the loss. The stages of grief suggest some sort of resolution that simply doesn’t exist for me or I suspect for many others.  Do I experience those stages? Yes. Sometimes several a day and in no particular order.  Do I feel any sort of closure? Never. Yes, I accept the fact that she is gone; I really don’t have any choice in that but the loss is as real and fresh today as it was 4 years ago.  It’s not the raw sadness that it was at first, but it is no less present than it ever was. 

I also learned that grief and sadness are two different things. Certainly there are times I am very sad, but I experience the whole range of emotions and the grief is still present. It is okay to be happy. It is ok to be excited. It is ok to be angry. The grief is there no matter what because it is a part of me. I am 5’6’, I have brown eyes and I am grieving.

I learned pretty quickly that the rest of the world thinks you have moved on – or that you should. People do not want to be reminded of the loss, perhaps because they can’t imagine the depth. Every minute of every day there is a piece of you missing, but when people inquire how you are, you dutifully answer “Fine.”  You can’t explain it, they don’t want to hear it, so you just push on. This only feeds the misperception that I have "moved on", but it’s just easier. And easier is ok.

I learned too that because it is always present and because people don’t want to be reminded of it, it becomes almost sacred. It is a part of me I don’t share with anyone except my immediate family. It’s like having a secret from everyone. While the secret may not be something folks want to share, there is a certain amount of privilege to be able to experience this so deeply and so privately.

Maggie changed my life when she was born, and she changed my life when she died. Every day she was alive was a joyful (but sometimes scary, often exhausting and exasperating) learning experience and I miss her every single day since she’s has been gone. Everything reminds me of her and brings either a smile or a tear, depending on the day and my emotions and any number of other factors. Missing her is part of the grief, but so is remembering her.   

My grief is one of my strongest connections to Maggie. And for that I am grateful.

Maggie McDonald
March 1994 - February 2014