Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wordy Wednesday

Marilyn Crook/Comedy Central press gallery
Stephen Colbert on grief: “The interesting thing about grief, I think, is that it is its own size. It is not the size of you. It is its own size. And grief comes to you. You know what I mean? I’ve always liked that phrase ‘He was visited by grief,’ because that’s really what it is. Grief is its own thing. It’s not like it’s in me and I’m going to deal with it. It’s a thing, and you have to be OK with its presence. If you try to ignore it, it will be like a wolf at your door.”

I found out recently that the great comedian and performer Stephen Colbert suffered an enormous loss when he was young - his dad and two of his brothers were all killed in a small plane crash when he was 10. It's one of those heart-wrenching scenarios too difficult to contemplate. Yet, here he is, decades later, proof that life is ever persistent.

His take on living with grief really struck me. I've never looked at grief through this lens, but I think he's on to something here. Maybe grief isn't something to "get through" and "move past" as much as it is something you have to learn to live alongside. I think we sometimes beat ourselves up for not breaking free, fast enough, from the losses that will dog all of us at various times. After a painful experience, surely it's possible to both heal and also move to a place of accepting grief as a natural component of life. Physiologically, even, there's got to be something important about grieving, since it's such a base, universal experience. When we're "visited" by grief, we'd probably do better to allow it in for a cup of coffee whiskey than to pretend it's probably just that really nice guy in the suit from the Church of Latter Day Saints out there on the doorstep, who won't be terribly surprised if we don't open the door. OK, maybe whiskey isn't the answer.

We tend to place way too many qualifiers and limitations on acceptable emotional responses, at any rate. We're too hard on ourselves when it comes to concepts (and once-pretend words) like "normalcy," and we're way too scared of that wolf at the door. Not only is there not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to dealing with mental stuff, there also isn't an ideal endgame for everyone.

What feels like coping to me might look like not enough progress, to you. But you can't fully understand the totality of another person's process. The older I get, the more I understand that I can't fully understand any other person. I can get close, maybe, in a few, select cases, but we don't get to climb inside other people's brains to check out the mechanics (at least not yet - Monsanto has something new coming out in our national corn supply, I've heard). All anybody can do is to keep moving forward. If we're honest and patient with ourselves, we figure out how to live with pain as we go. Sometimes we need a little help, and that's OK, too, so long as we're working toward fully turning toward the things that hurt.

The best I can do in the  meantime is accept you at face value, and encourage you to live an authentic life, even when that means your authenticity might make me uncomfortable at times. Something about authenticity brings out vulnerability in other people, according to all the BrenĂ© Brown I've read. And that can be scary, but also valuable. In fact, I'd say grief is one manifestation of vulnerability, which is key to fully embracing this imperfect life. It's all part of the sometimes frightening circle of Truth.

It's a lot to contemplate. I'm sure 8 out of 10 psychiatrists would tell me that my B.S. in political science and a lengthy interpretation of a Stephen Colbert quote doesn't actually qualify me to psychoanalyze all of society in broad, sweeping strokes. But 8 out of 10 psychiatrists would also have 8 different answers for why I cry every time I read Green Eggs and Ham to my sons. It's just what I do.

Knowing that I'll never have it all figured out is a gift that never stops giving me the future embarrassment I'll feel when I read this 3 years from now. Future Sarah, please don't be too hard on November 2012 Sarah. This was before that really huge thing happened with Oprah, when we all found out the true meaning of life. And to think we once thought it was free cars and Flamin' Hot Cheetos!


Susan said...

You made me smile once again Sarah.

MizGreenJeans said...

Timely, very timely. Maybe my Mom made you write this, just for me. ;) Even if that's not the case, thank you for your wordy words Miss Sarah, wordsmith extraordinaire.

Katie Ford Hall said...

Personally, I think that the notion that you can go through something, then close up shop and pack it up is a childish one. I don't believe in the concept of closure. And here's a quote I like:

The past is never dead. It's not even past.
William Faulkner

Thanks for the fine words.


Sarah Hunt said...

Thanks, friends. :) You never know, Laura! Katie - Today, I think I love that Faulkner quote more than before. Thank you. And I thought I did believe in closure, but now I'm not so sure it means what I thought it meant. This train of thought has rocked my brain. Props to your Morning Pages concept, Julia Cameron, wherever you are!

Elissa | said...

Hi Katie,
I discovered your work here after posting a note on my FB page about Laurie Colwin's novel, Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object. (My quote was something along the lines of "What a poignant reminder of the outlandish expectations that are placed upon the grief-stricken.") Twelve years ago this last August, my beloved father/best friend was killed in a car accident; as his only child but with an enormous raft of loving-and-proper cousins in my midst, I grieved alone, but was also expected by my family to grieve in a way that they deemed proper and acceptable. Twelve years later, my grief experience is a constant, mired not only in the losing of my father, but also in the expectation that I would take care of the people around me. Some days are good, some days are hideous, and the grief is always there, like Churchill's big black dog. I don't expect I'll get over it, or even through it, and I've come to accept it as a part of my life. Thanks so much for your great post today. Elissa

Anonymous said...

That's a really great quote from Colbert, he's such a brilliant and thoughtful man, thanks for sharing it. Also I really appreciate the Faulkner post that Katie shared.

That's all, I just wanted to let you know that these words have had an impact on me.

Kindest regards,

Brian at

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