During the six months since my brother died I have been thinking a lot about people’s preconceived notions about grief. There is a big difference between how people think grief should manifest itself and my own personal experience. At the six month point it seems like people think everything should be back to normal for me. A few of my friends are still reaching out to me, but life seems to be going on as usual around me.
My life has gone on, too. I am applying to jobs, and Brian and I went to France and Spain. Yet Dan’s death is still a major part of my everyday life. On Instagram and Facebook it might seem like I am having a good time and I am, but I am still mourning. I am in pain and I have no choice but to go on. I am straddling a world of mourning and grief while trying to exist in everyday life where there seems to be little room for these feelings.
In yoga class the teacher often asks any woman who is pregnant to raise her hand. I secretly wait and hope that they’ll ask for anyone who is in mourning to do the same. I am constantly looking for any frame of reference, any acknowledgement that mourning is a thing that all humans who love inevitably experience and that grief is constantly around us, but rarely comes to the surface. I look for acknowledgement of my grief everywhere—in books, songs, movies and TV and here are a few examples.
I am not proud to admit that I have recently sought solace in The Kardashians. I think it’s because they have so many siblings and I yearn to be with my sibling and love watching all the kids go in and out of the Jenner home. I know that this family isn’t perfect but on their show they presented the first example of mourning I ever saw on television. The Kardashian patriarch, Robert Kardashian, died of cancer a few years prior to the filming of the show. One of the episodes was dedicated to the anniversary of his death and depicted how each person in the family was responding to the loss of their father/ex-husband. Everyone in the family reacted differently; some couldn’t talk about it, some cried, Khloe got drunk and got a DWI. No matter what happened to each of them, I found this exhibition of the mourning process comforting. I had never seen anything like that right before my eyes; it felt like a gift.
It is so rare to see a family in mourning three or four years later, or even six months later. It seems like the only time we ever have access to a person’s mourning process is in the days following someone’s death or at a funeral. Funerals are seen as the only acceptable time to mourn loss, after that your time is up.
The book, The Goldfinch, gave me my second opportunity to see an individual mourn. The story dealt with the loss of Theo’s mother from the first day she died to several years later. I was given insight into Theo’s thoughts in a way that allowed me to understand my own mourning process.
Like Theo, I replay a day that I spent with my brother last August at the US Open. I want to remember every conversation, every laugh, every facial expression he made that day. As someone who dislikes tennis, I might have forgotten about that day if Daniel hadn’t died. It might have been filed under the “sports games I didn’t especially care for” category in my mind but it is so much different because it was one of the last nice times we spent together. While Theo’s mom died at the Met that day, he seems to cherish every detail of the memory in the same way as I do the US Open. As Theo says “If the day had gone as planned, it would have faded into the sky unmarked, swallowed without a trace along with the rest of my eighth-grade year. What would I remember of it now? Little or nothing. But of course the texture of that morning is clearer than the present, down to the drenched, wet feel of the air (p. 9).” It is baffling to me that there are so many ordinary memories that I might never remember, memories that I took for granted.
Recently I was having dinner with my mother and a couple my mom has known for 40 years. We were discussing my brother when it clicked for the man that he and I had experienced a similar loss, since he had lost his own older brother to AIDs in the early 90s. Even though he was at my brother’s funeral, it had taken him until that moment to make the connection. He began to shake his head saying “Ohh Becky, Becky, Becky.” Then he said, “How old are you?”“25” I replied. We locked eyes for a while and I knew he understood my pain. I am not sure if grieving occurs in a linear fashion but it helped me that he was ahead of me in the grief process. In that moment he was suffering and surviving right in front of me and I saw him as someone who was still on their feet, still functioning 20 years later.
I am looking for signs of other peoples’ grief in everyday life and it has been healing to me when people have shared their pain. These are acts of vulnerability and courage that are immensely helpful to me. Knowing that people have gone before me and survived, whether it be on TV, in a book or in person. I hope to be vulnerable with others in the same way, allowing them to see a fellow mourner going to yoga, reading literature and watching the Kardashians