26 January 2018

Not Okay: A Discussion of Grief and the Books That Helped

Serendipitous factors always deliver the right book to the top of my reading stack. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, followed by Lois Metzger's YA novel, Change Places With Me encapsulate the intensity of grief. Ove, a curmudgeon, surly enough to claim king of the cranky old man castle woke one Tuesday morning without purpose. This is a funny, odd book about an odd, funny man who doggedly attempts to quiet his mourning widower's heart. In Change Places With Me we swing to the teenager, lost without her father, freezing the pain, and subsequently herself. Rose, or is it Clara sleeps in late, childishly giddy with wanting to explore the wonders of her world. As we walk along her high school hallways, we as with Rose begin to notice that not all is what it seems. Ove, and Rose have lost someone, as they meander through and around their anguish, they reluctantly embrace their sorrows, learning to live again. 

A great writer died on Monday. And while I have read only one of her books, Ursula Le Guin’s passing has left me glum. Not delusional regarding my role in her life, the emotions conjured by her death honour my melancholy as I continue to walk the road of my grief. 

Eugene Everett Best died September 16, 2016 - it took me, his daughter one year to arrive at my own season of sorrow.

The autumn of 2017, the acceptance of my loss filled me with oppressing heartache. Anxiety crept in like a cancer, holding me hostage as I cried alone, looking out my living room window as the leaves gradually turned from green to orange. School morning drop-offs, I circled the blocks of my downtown neighbourhood, gasping for breath, attempting to lay back claim to my lungs that seemed imprisoned in spinning fear. I continued to maintain a shell of normality, keeping fit, smiling when deemed appropriate, willing to laugh, to crack the joke, drink that coffee even when the bitterness rang to the bottom of my toes. 

I began to question happiness, intently curious if the emotion was achievable once one’s heart exploded. Surely the serenity permeating from my acquaintances, friends and strangers was an abnormality conjured by their own dismay? Gradually, I began to substantiate my life in two fractured parts: the Holly with a father, and the Holly Without.

The Holly Without transitioned to the beginning flurries of winter with a scream locked at the top of her throat. That siren of sadness needed to escape but the shame of not feeling better kept it at bay. When someone dies, people legitimately want to ease the burden of the bereaved; flowers sent, casseroles made, hugs given all within an acceptable period that too quickly closes. Time, as the adage claims does not heal. Each second the clock ticks is a reminder of how long it has been since I last spoke with my Dad. Time was a curse, not the conceived Band-Aid that everyone assumed it to be. And then the day came, as days do come to pass when the barriers crashed down around me, and I confessed to my mother, standing on a bustling city street, that I was not okay.

I wasn’t okay. The very utterance of the word unhinged the scream, and I willingly wanted to make myself whole again. Where to start, counselling was a startling daunting process that I barely could navigate, books on mourning, prescribed reading torture. Eventually I honed my circle for help into a tighter, more malleable process by cloaking myself in honesty. I began to share my truth. Confessing myself as not okay, unhinged some friendships; sadness is an emotion few of us are willing to be comfortable with, let alone allow in a friend. The loss of a few people in my life gradually made room for me to find myself. 

We all have our story of grief, our moments of not being okay. I am a daughter, eternally grateful for my father's love, finally able to walk down my own road to happiness. Sad days come, but they no longer define me.

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