I have forgiven everyone who ever harmed me although that’s been made much easier by having outlived all of ’em.
What is it about grief?
Well, it’s a human universal. When someone close to us dies, we routinely experience grief. No surprise there, but what fascinates me is the variability in the grief i’ve experienced over the deaths of people i’ve known.
Take my father. He had pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to the point that by the time it was discovered, nothing could be done. When he became so ill that he could no longer stay at home, the day before he was going to have to return to the hospital for good, he killed himself.
And he did so in a way so perfectly calculated that i could feel nothing but admiration. He tricked my mother out of the house by telling her he wanted some Jack Jordan’s barbecue, for which my mother would need to drive across town to the restaurant, go through the serving line to get the barbecue, and then drive back across town to return home. So he had lots of time.
He had also checked to make sure that the next door neighbor was home because this guy had been on the Bataan Death March and in a Japanese POW camp for three years, so he’d seen it all.
Once my mother was out of the house, my father, not wanting to make a mess inside, went out in the back yard and shot himself. The neighbor heard the shot and, knowing what he was going to see, looked over the fence to our back yard and called an ambulance, which was already gone by the time my mother returned, so she was spared the sight of his body.
The perfect suicide. And one that saved both himself and his family the horror and agony of a slow death in the hospital. The Christians, of course, would have preferred that he die by inches in great pain, and they sponsor legislation to make suicide as difficult as possible.
I had already experienced my grief in the period after his diagnosis, so his suicide served as relief that he was finally out of his misery.
My mother finally died in a nursing home, so completely devoured by Alzheimer’s that she didn’t know who i was, so in her case i had also already experienced my grief.
And Allen had suffered so much during his final six months, and i was so exhausted from caring for him, that his death was also a relief although i did sit there crying as his monitor flatlined, romantically holding his foot.
But there were two occasions in which i was so utterly overcome by grief that i went into protracted uncontrollable sobbing.
My first encounter with overwhelming grief was when my friend Dick called me with the news that our mutual friend Harry, profoundly depressed over his declining health, had deliberately stopped taking his meds and sat at home until he died a week later. I was so stunned that i managed to croak that i couldn’t talk anymore and hung up. Then i walked down the street sobbing to the nearest grocery store to get some chocolate milk, the best treatment i could think of for my grief and probably a unique experience for the clerk since relatively few customers went in crying for a carton of chocolate milk.
The other overwhelming grief encounter was with Wess, my barber of many years whom i’d always liked very much but had not realized how much he meant to me until i went in for a haircut and was told that he’d died in his sleep the day before. I burst into crying and left.
And then, when i composed myself, i went back to the shop to arrange for a memorial and burst into tears the moment i walked in the door and had to leave because i couldn’t talk. The next day, i got a full grip on myself and went back, only to encounter the owner on the sidewalk outside and again burst into tears and left. Only on the third try was i able to keep my composure well enough to talk about a memorial.
So i guess for me the only occasion for uncontrollable grief is when someone dear to me dies suddenly and the death comes as a complete surprise.
Meanwhile, some San Francisco street art put up in anticipation of Pope Francis’ recent pronouncements on capitalism.