A Grief Observed: Grief, Fear, Love and Election 2016

 Photo by Mary Curran Hackett 

Photo by Mary Curran Hackett 

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” --C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Many people who know me personally know that I am preternaturally incapable of keeping my mouth shut. I was born this way.  (Wait. Hold up. That's not entirely true. Actually, the more accurate way to say this is: "Life made me this way.") The legend in my family is that I was a mute for several years as a child. I refused to speak. I think the technical term now for this condition is "selective mutism." Back then though I think most relatives, experts, and doctors agreed, "She'll talk when she's ready."  "She's stubborn."  "She's a slow learner." "She'll eventually catch on." "Believe me, enjoy this. Once she starts talking, she'll never shut up."

All the above statements still hold true to this day. And the doctors were right, just before kindergarten, I got my proverbial shit together and started to speak up. And as my dad (to this day) says, "She could talk the ears off a brass monkey."

Yes, I have a lot to say. And I am never afraid to say it. I have my family to thank. In those years I didn't speak, I spent a lot of time observing. Though I couldn't/wouldn't speak then, I could hear and see everything. I saw my father fight for his fellow firefighters in unions to gain access to health care and pension benefits. I saw him fight for widows of fallen firefighters. I saw him speak up whenever her saw an injustice or wrong in the world. I saw my mother profess her faith proudly and unapologetically. I never heard from either one of them that it was wrong to discuss such things as politics, religion, and economics at the dinner table or with company. Those topics were de rigueur in the Curran house. It was sport. It was often contentious. It wasn't often civil either. We each had our opinions and we each shared them. Sometimes we screamed them. F-bombs have been dropped. Doors have slammed. But, then, magically, dinner is ready. And all is well again. We sit at the table and we eat. Together.

Fast forward to the Election 2016. I don't know about you, but this one was a doozy for me. It was exhausting. It was vitriolic. It was vituperative. It was also--I can't believe I am saying this: Necessary. It all had to happen. Exactly like this.

What? Have you gone mad, woman?

Now let me assure you, I was not in this place last week. Not even close. I literally had to block everyone in my family--not because of anything they said, but because I was terrified of what I was capable of saying to them in moments of weakness, anger, and defensiveness. I am not my best, truest, or most authentic self, when I am digging my heels in for a fight. Like most people, operating from a place of righteous indignation, I lose sight of the bigger picture and see only one thing: I can win this thing. I will be damn sure to teach you a lesson and the lesson is I am right, goddammit. I can also, as Winston Churchill put it so elegantly, send people to hell and have them looking forward to the trip.

Here, dears, let me help you pack.

Over the years, I have been called "fierce," "passionate," "persistent," "dogged," and all those are euphemisms for what people really want to say:  "bull-headed," "stubborn," and "unrelenting." I get it. There are no surprises here. I know who I am. Good and bad. And as I was saying before: this election was necessary. And I believe whole-heartedly that everything in this life, good and bad, is all leading us toward our highest good.

Our highest good? Screaming at each other? Name calling? Fearing our neighbors? Riots? Racist slurs? Crimes against humanity? Our highest-goddamn-good? Are you crazy?

That's not what I am saying. Bear with me for a minute. This observation didn't come easy. 

It actually occurred to me while looking at my daughter's MRI pictures in a doctor's office last week that Election 2016 was an MRI. It scanned us. We're getting up there in years, and the shit we did in our youth has caught up with us.  So the MRI/Election looked deep into our layers and showed us our weaknesses, our tears, our breaks, our cancers. It showed us what's killing us. What's hurting us. We are one body. One miraculous, great creation. We have strong working parts. We have beautiful systems in place. But, we have broken ones, too. We have defects. Individual cells have the potential to grow and do great harm, if they're not treated. And you can't treat what you don't see. 

We can start a vigorous treatment now. We can start to fight the cancers. We can heal the breaks and the tears. We can also go in there like surgeons and take a deeper look. And when we do we might be surprised. For example my daughter's surgery last week revealed something completely different than what the scans showed and the experts thought.  She had been in serious pain for weeks and her knee kept spontaneously giving out--causing her to fall and injure herself. Several doctors and experts couldn't agree. The MRI showed what looked like a tear. It looked serious. Best case scenario--they repair it and she would have a 10-week recovery. Worst case, they remove the meniscus entirely--setting her up for a life of pain. She was overcome with fear and stress. She had shit to do: PSATs, a play she was directing, homework, and she wanted to try out for a singing/dancing part in a musical. It was inconvenient. It was annoying. It was painful. She was scared. She didn't want to have surgery. However, when they operated they discovered, all that they thought they saw had been a misread. She had an extra growth. They would have never known if they hadn't gone in. It was all for her own good. They caught it. She can get better now. 

Over the past week she, like so many young people watching this election, is full of fear--for our country and world. She had been watching the news (real and unreal) following all the reports from both sides. And let's be honest there is a lot of reason to fear. Unknowns by their very nature are frightening. And some of the knowns, let's be honest, are frankly terrifying.

BUT, BUT, BUT...we can't lose hope. 

We also have to recognize that fear and grief feel a lot alike. Nothing gets better with fear and grief takes time. You can't just snap out of it. You can't just say,"Ok! I'm cool now, let's go." Nope. Doesn't work that way. And neither does our country. Neither does healing. And the healing only begins when we get in there and take a long hard look at what must and can be done so can we get better--and then do the work. 

I've been doing a lot of meditating whenever and wherever I can. And whenever I do, I realize that fear is not the answer. Love is. Love. It's the word I've been seeing everywhere. On my librarian's bracelet. On my son's notes to me. In spontaneous emails from friends. In texts from my husband. And it's even hanging around my neck--on a necklace I had made prior to the election.

Love is and always will be all we need. 

Fear is never the answer. Fear creates pain. Creates division. Fear of the other. Fear of the unknown. Fear of differences. 

We can't operate out of a place of fear. I can't. You can't. We can't. 

So I am trying.

For as long as it takes I will practice "selective mutism" when it comes to speaking from a place of fear. However, that doesn't mean I'll be silent. Rather, I will use my voice and my love, to overcome fear, injustice, and hate whenever I see it. In the meantime, I return to the books I love, the people I love and feel happy and completely myself with. I will try to help others who are hurting, afraid, and "not ready yet" to heal. I will smile and care for others. I will tell my children that for now and forever kindness, courage, forgiveness, and love win.

It starts at home.

It starts with me.

Let's be real. It's not going to be easy. But, nothing worth having ever is.