A sappy letter and a stinking collage
In imitation of George Costanza—a character in the television series Seinfeld who once tried to change his luck by doing everything opposite to the way he would ordinarily do it—I’ve been trying to go against my own grain. I want to be aware of how my knees jerk and to test them for usefulness, so I joined a bereavement group whose session just ended. Forty years ago I’d’ve thought a bereavement group kinda wussy and might well have rolled my eyes. I’m not nearly as smart as I used to was, though, and I never know where I’ll find the next good titbit, so I try to show up.
Not only did I spill my guts to a roomful of strangers, I also read the assignments and wrote the sappy letter and even did the stinking collage. Cutting out pictures that I associate with Janice—beaches and fresh vegetables and our honeymoon and nature and love—and gluing them on cardboard was, dammit, therapeutic. Dammit because I’ve spent a lot of time actively not writing sappy letters while simultaneously not cutting out pictures. Then I let go of the dammit part so I can get a good look at what I have now, which I periodically remember is all that matters. It’s a process.
On a beautiful spring morning I don’t go out in the garden early like I used to. Janice would come out when she woke up, and now that she’s dead and gone I think about all those unremarkable mornings we spent together in our gardens in Minneapolis and then Chico. With practice I enjoy the reminiscence without yearning for it, with lots of practice.
I liked hearing others’ stories. Misery loves company because it feels good to know you’re not the only one who feels bad, and it’s not actually bad anyway. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to find out that there were other people who had waves of sadness, rampant listlessness, and no attention span to speak of. Me, too!
I liked hearing how other people coped with the aftermath of a death in the family, divvying up their stuff, getting rid of their stuff. I liked knowing I wasn’t the only one not thinking clearly and not caring one way or the other.
I liked seeing those teary, stunned people every week. They know something about what I’m in, what’s likely looking at me in the mirror every day, what I’m trying to get used to. There’s a hole in my life, and there’s one in theirs, sometimes more than one. They get it, and I like that.