A Reflection On Grief and Fear

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”

-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

My father died two weeks ago, during this hour, today. Yesterday would have been his birthday. During the past month, I’ve flown to Seattle and back three times, to be with him, and two days ago for his funeral. I’ve never felt something quite exquisitely distressing as the loss of my dad. It’s not a stabbing, unbearable pain, as one might feel when they are hurt or abandoned by a lover… but more a confusion. A frantic, desperate confusion, and emptiness. All of the clichés I have witnessed over the years now begin to make malevolent sense with sickening clarity.

“I feel as if I’m falling and can’t see the ground.”

“It’s like I’m in a daze.”

“I roam the house, searching for any piece of them left behind, but am left ever with nothing. Not a trace.”

All of these cruel notions, I feel. I go about my days. I continued teaching lessons the morning after he died. I’ve more distracting plates spinning than I can count-but the slightest thing, like a visual in the grocery store of a father holding his daughter’s hand sends me into a silent, trapped hysteria.

But then, there is something else. There are the other clichés; the one’s that I’ve found to be far more detrimental:

“Try not to think about it.”

“You have to keep busy.”

“He’s in a better place.”

It’s not that these aren’t wholly appreciated, and stem exclusively from a caring love. But I’m learning something-it almost flawlessly separates the ones who have felt this pain from the ones who have not. The ones who have lost one such as this? They sit. They listen. They cry with you. And occasionally, you are blessed to receive those beautiful words: “You will get through this. Everything will be alright.” By saying this, instead of minimizing or overshadowing the loss, aftershock and long-lingering effects, you have not only joined the bereaved where they kneel, you have acknowledged their pain and thus bore witness to their anguish. You have given them what they possibly need the very most: the immediate motivation to continue to live.

It’s funny, what we see in movies and television. A month or so ago, I watched the first episode of Six Feet Under (which I swiftly found to be a poor judgment call at the time). But we see these. We see the woman receive the phone call alerting her that her husband has been killed. We see her throw her pots and pans, and ultimately crumple to the floor. We witness this motion in action in Hollywood and Music…and yet it can’t prepare us for when you get that call.

When my mother called me at 6:30 pm Monday, August 1st, I had readied myself, but not for so soon. I had just flown back to LA the night before! It didn’t matter. She said “Diana,” her voice cracked, and my body immediately shut down. I don’t believe I cried, I just remember immediately calling a friend, getting a voicemail, and sitting down. Around 11pm, I received a kind text from someone, and went to bed. What interests me about this? It’s not me. I am an emotional, extroverted, open person. When I feel something, I say it. I feel it to the highest degree. But this? The prospect of losing my daddy? It’s like I’m acting the one way I could not have foreseen: utterly emotionally trapped.

The scariest aspect of this for me is that it’s my greatest childhood fear come to life. From as long as I can remember, to the time I was about 17, I had a dream, recurring being a mild way to describe it. It began as the typical Jungian archetype of the sensation of screaming, but no sound could be heard. Running away from something, but the use of my legs was lost. It always ended with me throwing myself on the ground, and giving up. I couldn’t cause action or motion with any of my faculties, so I gave up. Around then, I would wake, crawl back into bed from the ground, and try to forget.

If we view this from an artist’s perspective, it becomes a bit more interesting. What is the artist’s greatest need? To express themselves, regardless of the possible noble or ill intended outcome. What, then, should be the artist’s greatest fear? The inability to articulate what they deem critical. It is these thoughts that have plagued my mind in recent days, and will reflected upon again in this medium soon, hopefully with a type of resolution to my own shortcomings.

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9 thoughts on “A Reflection On Grief and Fear

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Diana. Your words are so poignant and eloquent. I too have read C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. I can see how you relate to it (as do I) and chose to cite it. I wish you the best going forward.

    Bob

  2. I’m just a few weeks ahead of you; my mother died 6 weeks ago. I’m getting on with things, baffled and disbelieving. Oddly, the world hasn’t stopped. Why not?

    I’m off to hunt out CS Lewis 🙂

    • Speccy,

      I’m so very sorry to hear about your mother. I truly am. I know. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve begun to have this thought…”The world hasn’t stopped, why not?” It feels as if it naturally should. But it doesn’t, and it won’t. I hope you enjoy Lewis, he’s got some really lovely writing in “A Grief Observed,” and also “The Problem of Pain.” Keep going.

  3. So i scoured the net searching for some c.s. lewis quote about death, in hopes it would be encouraging, intellectual and impressive. and i found nothing. I am left with this– Having gone through pain that is not quite so personal as the loss of the being whom gave birth to me, but faced with the mortality of one, and having lost a best friend and classmate, and dearest mentor, i find myself at a loss for words. which is the most infuriating state i most often find myself in. however– I also concede this. All i wanted when petey died, when ginny died, when Herm died, was for someone to shut the fuck up and listen. I didn’t care what they said, and when they said “they are in a better place” or, “they no longer feel pain” it did nothing but infuriate and confuse me, bait me toward bitterness and unfeelingness. my point? i will always listen, and you have my number. I may not always have an answer, i may not always have a clever and encouraging, christian thing to say. most often i will be silent, wishing to myself that i had the right thing to say, and wishing i had some answer that was bigger than you or i, and more eye opening than anything anyone has ever heard regarding death and loss, especially of someone as important, influential, and endeared as one’s own father. But i will listen. my ears are yours, and my empathy also belongs to you. I love you D, hang in there. And call me at any hour, on any day. thats the most i have to give.

    • Jonathan,

      “I find myself at a loss for words, which is the most infuriating state I most often find myself in.”

      Dear friend, you know it all too well, and I share this with you. We’re artists. It’s our greatest blessing and most dire curse. And its for this reason and many others that yours has been one of the truest friendships I’ll ever have. We could timeline our relationship by the number of instances I’ve begun a long-distance phone call with “Jon…I did it again…ugh!” Hehe.

      Truly, your earnest love and compassion for me has gotten me through countless heartbreaks, stressful situations and now loss. You’re friendship and affection has been supernatural, unreal and unconditional. I’ll never find another personal quite like you; you are so very special. Thank you for being my “friend soul-mate.” Love you kiddo.

  4. My condolences Diana. If you ever just need someone to talk to you know you can talk to me.

    When you mentioned “the inability to articulate what they deem critical” this quote by Jung immediately came to mind: “Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself.”

    • Oh my goodness Daniel, as per usual, spot on. Incredibly spot on. I feel as I’ve been punched in the gut hearing it, because it rings so true. When I have time and place to grieve about the less immediate pains in life, this is often one concept that simply eats at my soul…

      Thanks Daniel.

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