Of course there is a right way to grieve. That is to carry your solemn soul tucked deep inside, to smile when smiling is called for, to keep the tears unspilled until you are alone when you can thrash and flail and scream.
The right way to grieve is to sort through it, to write your feelings in your journal and work through the stages, what are they? Anger? Denial? Substance abuse? Running naked down the crowded city streets? Burying yourself in your garden with the moonflowers? Sleeping outside in the yard by yourself?
The right way to grieve is to first eat yourself sick on marshmallows and lasagna, bowls of Hershey’s kisses, and of course Reese’s miniature peanut butter cups, and then to be suddenly averse to food and stop eating all together until one of your friends grabs you by the bony shoulder and gives you a squeeze and says, “Enough.” That’s the right way to do it.
The right way to grieve is to go to work and look out at your students and wonder why some of them didn’t die instead of your brother. A thought like that might condemn you to hell for all eternity, but it’s still the right thing to do because after all, they can’t read your thoughts.
The right way to grieve is to put on a big fat hairy act like you know what you are doing as you muddle in the river Styx with the soul of your brother, crawling through the murky waters like a paralyzed soldier, calling his name, reaching, reaching, screaming, “WHERE ARE YOU??” into the dark abyss of death.
The right way to grieve is to go outside in the thunderstorm and sit under the tree, waiting to be struck by lightning because then, then you can find him, feel him even though you know he is swirling around you at this moment and in all the moments. His molecules, his energy, his storms are flying now through the night, night, night.
The right way to grieve is to laugh in the face of your plans for your tidy life.
It is to crawl on your hands and knees to your stairwell and curl into a fetal position on the third step while your house fills with well-wishers who empty your dishwasher and take your children out to see a new pony while your husband hovers just exactly the right distance away from you, warily and stoically and wisely and tenderly, just right there if you need him but not in your face. You can stay on the third stair all day, or go back to bed, or get up and make coffee, or whatever you need to do because the right way to grieve is to do it so selfishly that everyone gets out of your way, you crazy person, you.
The right way to grieve is to put on your mourning clothes and stay tucked away for a year.
The right way to grieve is to come back to your senses, you fool, after your year is up and begin functioning again properly. Stop all this living on the thin edge of time, like you could die at any minute, or lose someone you love in the blink of an eye. The right way to grieve is to move on. Time heals all wounds, don’t you know?
But no. The right way to grieve is to ignore that one year mark and keep putting one foot in front of another. I know this because I did it and now it’s twenty years later and my feet have been steadily trodding out this path of life and I am still here.
Everything I did in the rawness of new death was right. And everything about losing my only sibling, my broken brother, is wrong.
To myself, standing barefooted at my brother’s funeral watching my four-year-old daughter turn somersaults in the grass, wondering how I will ever move forward again, I offer this old, tired hand. Come along, come along, there is no right and wrong anymore. Just come along. Come along; you’re doing it right.
© Mary Dansak
[This piece was selected by Heather Cripps. Read Mary’s interview]