good grief

November 5, 2006

life lessons

I gotta say it’s damn nice being nowhere near the NYC Marathon.  I received a text from Alexandra today: "Today is the marathon.  Thinking of you and how far you have come. XO."  I knew it was the marathon before I heard the "dink dink" from my phone.  It’s a milestone day, I guess, where we’re prone to reflect where we were once, and where we are now.  If you read through my past entries, dated a year ago, today, you’ll see these anniversaries served as markers, mile markers, measuring how far I’d come.  It’s why we call them milestones.  But let me tell you what it’s not, what I’m not.  I’m not one of those people who is going to define herself by her catastrophes, or by the sad that has burrowed into my life.  I’m not going to mark my life in the deaths of things or people. I know some people who still set the dinner table for loved ones who’ve died.  I cannot imagine their sorrow.  This isn’t about the Miss Havishams of the world who clearly need help.  It’s about those of us who stew in it because we think it helps to define us.  I don’t believe life is about grieving. 

Every experience, the good and bad, every person who has touched my life is worth remembering, but it’s not worth dwelling.  There’s a difference between expressing a memory of a loved one and not being over it.  Some people, somewhere inside themselves, think the sadness brings them closer, helps to honor the people that came before.  Being sad, still, proves how much it meant.  It’s almost a temper tantrum to prove your point.  See? I still hurt!  That’s how important the event was in my life.  The sadness brings them closer, connected.  It’s proof.  Guess what, shit happens, and sometimes it really sucks, and we can miss and ache and feel sad, but at a certain point, what is the point?  Yes, it’s the NYC Marathon again, the anniversary for me, the day my life changed as I knew it.  Good.

"Good grief," as I’ve written in Straight Up and Dirty.  It’s about time to let it the fuck go.  I’m no longer living my life in anniversaries of what was.  I think the people who do this are giving themselves an excuse to wallow.  “I’m allowed to feel sad today.”  Why?  Because something shitty happened a year ago?  I understand profound sadness, but gearing up for it, anticipating the anniversary of it, is just added drama.  Live your life in the now.  The then always catches up when we’re not looking, not on anniversaries or anticipated events, but on the sidelines, in found letters, slipped between tattered books.  In perfume scents on strangers, in songs, in dreams that might haunt us.  Grief might find a way to sneak in, but we needn’t very well invite it into our lives, offering it a place mat and coordinating napkin ring.  At a certain point, that shit should be left off your table.  But I think it’s up to each of us to figure out when that point is, when is it still just an excuse to wallow and feel like shit, just because you’re entitled?  You’re not special because you’ve overcome the shit that’s been thrown on your door.  It doesn’t make you unique that you’ve turned crap into craptastic.  You’re special and unique because you were born that way, at the very beginning, before all your "life-defining" moments.  Don’t find a reason to grip the bad because you think it defines who you are now.

*As an aside, this site isn’t called Greek Tragedy because I think my life is tragic.  It was named such, in part because of my Greek heritage, and in part because the "Greek system tragedy" that happened to me in college was all about how to handle rejection, which is a life lesson, one I explore often on this blog because I think so much of how we handle rejection hangs on our self-esteem, a subject about which I’ve always been fascinated.   

41 Responses to “good grief”

  1. Wicked H Says:

    Good grief….Good for You!

    Well said.

    Reply

  2. Hen Says:

    I think this is the first time I've seen you be so… triumphant! The "eff you" motion to bad things that have happened and moving on with your life is refreshing! I wish you'd write more like this.

    Reply

  3. christina Says:

    i think its ok to wallow sometimes on the anniversaries. sometimes we just need that to process through something…to obtain that closure that we can't get elsewhere. and how can you not be consciously aware of the approaching date? i guess you stop being aware when you stop giving it so much importance! of course there's always that point that you have to wake the f up and snap out of it and live your life. sometimes there are good days and sometimes you just want to wallow a little….until you, yourself realize your life is turning in a different direction. i'm so glad you've reached the point where there is no anniversary wallowing!! i continue to strive to live in the day and reach that point as well! its easier said than done, somedays!

    Reply

  4. Mo Says:

    Fantastic entry. I'm so with you on all of it. Grief does come back often enough, you don't need to invite it.

    Really motivating post you created there.
    Please keep up your great work and most of all I can't wait for your next book. I think your blog doesn't even compare in the slightest way to "Straight up and dirty".
    Loved the photographs.

    Reply

  5. Michelle Says:

    Wow, Stephanie. That's awesome. You must have had a very talented therapist. Um, do you think you might post her number up here so I can give her a call? :o)

    Reply

  6. Paige Says:

    Wow! That is so true! I never even looked at that way. Thank you for making me see things differently.

    Reply

  7. daisy Says:

    what happened a year ago?

    Reply

  8. brookem Says:

    Thank you for sharing shedding some light on how to make a not so happy/pretty shitty past situation something to see in a more positive light.

    Reply

  9. Buffy Says:

    "I don't believe life is about grieving…"

    This may be the most poignant thing I've read on your blog yet…

    I spent so much of my life dreading the day when this or that would happen. I was that bad. I didn't even wait for a catastrophe. I anticipated them, and my reaction. Then someone gave me the proverbial slap in the face…told me to stop being so self centered and to get over myself.

    "We're a long time dead" were his words.

    I married him for that. Because without him…I could never get over that part of me. I'm awful that way.

    Reply

  10. damn yankee Says:

    Love the post. Time is a wonderful thing. Time doesn't necessarily heal, but can dull the feelings of some things. You have so many wonderful things going on in your life now. Soon you'll be busy raising your children. You'll be a great mother. You have so much to offer your children. It just depends, like you said, if we invite saddness in. Its up to us if we accept the invitation.

    Reply

  11. L Says:

    Loved this post! It is especially poignant because I thought I was "over something" and your post sums up how something you considered resolved can take you by surprise
    "on the sidelines". For me it came via a spooky dream. It has been haunting me a little, thanks for helping me through the process.

    Reply

  12. Heather B. Says:

    I love that when I'm all fuck the world, I come here on a whim and read; "You're special and unique because you were born that way, at the very beginning, before all your "life-defining" moments. Don't find a reason to grip the bad because you think it defines who you are now."

    I totally needed that. Thanks.

    Reply

  13. Nia Says:

    So what struck me about this particular entry was not only the truth that it holds, but the links back to some very telling blogs. Very nicely done – the links to the past really pull it all together. your ending with the ex, the fabulous post with life advice, and the pledge rejection story. In 3 minutes, we got quite the proverbial ride. Thank you.

    Reply

  14. frg Says:

    Your message hit home today…i just found out that my ex remarried on a cruise that he just returned from with our kids….talk about putting salt on an open wound. I will reflect on your words…."I am aloud to feel sad today" and try to move on with my life however difficult it may be..

    Reply

  15. Maggie Sumner Says:

    Having lived through several sad and life-changing moments myself (starting with the death of my mother at an early age), I find that such anniversaries mark a different sort of passage. Rather than an invitation to wallow in past sadness, these dates offer me a marker of how far I've come. It's an opportunity to remind myself that I am stronger now. Happier. More whole. Each of my life experiences, good and not so good, has shaped me into what I am today. I'm not the girl I was when my mom died years ago. And I will not be the same woman I am today in the years to come.

    Some of my worst life moments have been my most defining, though not as someone left behind, but as one who eventually triumphed. Sadness can make us wise. But we are wiser still if we use this special knowledge to be kinder, more empathetic people as we continue on life's journey. I agree there's nothing worse than trading our tomorrows to stagnate in a place of sadness where we no longer wish to be. Staying too long with your sadness is like clipping your own wings. It keeps you grounded when you could be flying.

    Reply

  16. Huge Fan Says:

    For me, this is one of your very best posts and I've been reading your blog for a very long time.

    Reply

  17. cookie Says:

    Well said… but what about the GOOD things that shape who you are, that make you special? Living in China for a while, connecting with the women over there… entering tsunami-devestated areas, connecting to the people there… that defines me these days. It has been these life-changing "life-defining" moments that have made me different and changed who I thought I was. Just a thought..

    Reply

  18. bianca Says:

    I was wondering, are you familiar with the work of photographer, James DeMaria, Brooklyn, NY?

    Reply

  19. Kari Says:

    It's funny…this blog reminds me of one of my favorite lines from a TV show. Six Feet Under. It was the season 4 finale:

    "You hold onto your pain like it means something."

    That always struck me. Your blog says it all, I think. Life is not about grieving, you're right. Thanks for reminding me of that.

    Reply

  20. Justin Says:

    Is it weird that sometimes i feel like this blog is bigger and more anonymous that any NYC Marathon, ever?

    Reply

  21. brookem Says:

    oh- "dreams that might haunt us"… ya- those happen all too frequently yet still unexpectedly every single time!

    Reply

  22. marif Says:

    I really liked Maggie Sumner's post. That's also how I think of significant anniversaries – not as a time for wallowing, but for introspection and self-reflection. I have a friend who lost almost her entire family to a terrible tragedy, and every year she reflects on that awful event, how it altered her life forever, and how far she has come since then.

    Reply

  23. Serena Says:

    …a beautiful post, Stephanie.

    Reply

  24. Arielle Says:

    This is why I love this site~ bc you constantly reiterate that while shit can happen in our lives, we should learn and grow from it, not wallow in self pity. The strength that we already have becomes apparent when shit goes down; it's how we deal with it that makes us stronger.

    Thanks for reminding us of this, yet again!

    Reply

  25. Deb Says:

    You’re so right! People do focus way too much on negative anniversaries. Even to remember a death of someone –the date and all is spooky. It sort of haunts you. It is torturing yourself in some weird psychotic way… I would like to appreciate their birthday, as well as remember them when they were here…dates that were ‘good’. Not dwell on the negative aspects.

    Reply

  26. Beth Says:

    This really hit home with me today. I've been inviting the grief from my divorce to haunt me every day now it seems. I feel like I wear the scarlet letter D for divorced on my chest and it has worn me down. I printed out your post today and am going to start living it. It is not worth dwelling and the paintful experience doesn't define me. Thanks, Stephanie.

    Reply

  27. monica Says:

    Also, it is unfortunate but true, that in grief as in death, we are alone. Nobody, regardless of what Bill Clinton says, can feel our pain and nobody wants to. People will sympathize and support you and be there to a point, to the point where your grief starts to look like an open wound that doesn't heal. Then they will tell you to do something about it like they would if you had a bloody hole in your head. A wound of the soul has to heal like a wound of the body and eventually become a discrete scar; it will bother you if the weather is bad and people will notice its presence but they won't turn away. But they will turn away from someone who can't stop picking at a scab. People are afraid of loss and the pain and grief this brings, they are afraid of not being able to cope, of "not being able to get over it". Most people have experienced painful loss in their lives or they know they will experience it if they live long enough. They don't want to have to feel someone else's pain and sorrow knowing that their own might be just around the corner.

    Reply

  28. Amy_in_Pgh Says:

    Great stuff here. On an unrelated note, I had a dream last night that I was in some sort of confusion and my friends were all there helping me work it out. Oddly, you were there too… and very helpful. I know this sounds like some creepy stalker thing to say- and I'm not one- but thanks.

    Reply

  29. michelle Says:

    these sorts of anniversaries always get me … my last relationship ended the day after a big event for my work, and i not only will never attend it again, but no longer work there … and why does it stick in my head that the last time i had contact with my ex was november 18th? and why, now that i have the potential for a great guy in my life am i freaked about it? the female brain is w.e.i.r.d.

    Reply

  30. JoeyB Says:

    Maggie said it well. It is not at all bad to remember the bad olde days. If you haven't known failure and/or sadness, it's much more difficult to enjoy success. Every once in a while, it's good to reflect on what you are now comapred to what you were. It gives you a better appreciation for what you have. It also gives you better empathy for those that might be going through what you went through.

    Reply

  31. the paper doll Says:

    i can't thank you enough for this post.
    today marks one year since the death of my mother. and no one seems to understand why i'm not in tears.
    thank you for expressing what i couldn't find the words to say.

    Reply

  32. lucy Says:

    poignant….? more obvious.File under self-help 101.
    surely grief is the most personal thing in the world and not for anyone to prescibe their own way of dealing with it, especially when they are dwellers themselves.
    I think it is naive and lacking to believe that happiness is what life is about. Surely every emotion is human and should therefore be explored equally, not dwelled on, but appreciated.
    Sorry I guess I am sick of all this self-obsessed Amercian pyscho-babble. Try spending more time thinking about how you interact wih the world around you, rather than navel gazing!

    Reply

  33. phosda Says:

    sometimes anniversaries sneak up on you. i hadn't consciously remembered it was the first anniversary of my dear friend's murder. didn't consciously recall at all. i was actually out on a date at the movies. but when my date and i drove past the spot where my friend had been killed on our way back, i vomited out the window. the body will sometimes remember what the mind would rather forget. wallowing had nothing to do with it at all.

    Reply

  34. Maggs Says:

    Easy to say, three years post the fact. Remember yourself when it happened – not so militant, were you? Grief is healthy, grief is natural. Denying yourself grief is like being on a diet – only works in the short term. And I'm speaking from experience, turned out the man I imagined myself growing old with didn't share the sentiment. Two months and counting. Smoke less. Drink less. Cry less. Still hurts like a motherf***er.

    FROM STEPHANIE: Yes, that's the point. At a certain point enough is enough. That point has come for ME.

    Reply

  35. Wry Bri Says:

    Well, I do know that one year (and two days ago), on a picture perfect day, we toted our cameras and our sorry asses across a bridge for some pizza with a Girl Who met us for lunch!

    And it's still an awful place to get the 'rhea!

    Reply

  36. shelly Says:

    AMEN, SISTER, AMEN!

    Reply

  37. Cat Says:

    "The then always catches up when we’re not looking" – so true.

    And even when "the then catches up" with me, I still find that I dwell on the past and have to unstick myself from it. Not everyone can be so strong, some of us just need a little bit more time.

    Reply

  38. christina Says:

    did you changed that up or am i hallucinating? i came back to this post b/c its been bothering me. when i posted, i talked about wallowing being okay. i like to come back and read the comments and so did…and i'm the only one talking about wallowing. i've clearly been allowing myself to wallow. enabling it. welcoming it at times to help relieve the sadness. but i don't want to be the sad person. i don't want to be defined by my catastrophes. i don't want to welcome grief. i want to live in the day and look forward to my future. i suddenly feel like i've been wasting so much time. i love the idea of using the anniversaries as a time for introspection. i could really see how much i've grown and changed in the past year. its so helpful to be able to understand where i was and where i am now. it gives me hope and strengh. i guess i needed to re-read and re-post.

    Reply

  39. Lu Says:

    it is true that those moments that make your stomach turn and your skin crawl will appear without invitation or expectation and honouring them with a date or an anniversary is paying them too much attention and giving them too much credit for their role in your life. if something shitty happened and you overcame it, it should be yours to do with as you please.

    Reply

  40. Maggie R. Says:

    All I can say is that it's clear from this post that you've never lost anyone close to you. My mother died 4 years ago from cancer. She was a wonderful, vibrant woman who left this world far too early. A day doesn't go by that I don't think of her. And there isn't a day that goes by that I am not sad for all the things I never got to do with her and for the time we lost together. Yes, I am happy for the memories I have of her when she was a live. But I've got to tell you having someone in the flesh, right now is a hell of lot better than the memory of them. So I am sad when I think we will have another Christmas without her or that she won't be around to celebrate her 64 birthday this year. I don't wallow. But as certain anniversaries approach, ie the day we found out she only had 3 months to live, the day I realized we weren't going to get her into an experimental drug trial, and the day of her death, I feel the empty hole in my heart and a deep sense of melancholy. I don't consciously try to feel sad as these dates approach. It's an unconscious wave of emotion. My little sister is getting married next year. I know it will be a very happy day, but I can also guarantee you there won't be a person in that church who isn't thinking of my mother. And we will all be thinking how we wish she was there. Anyway, I didn't mean to get so mad about this post. I just can't stand it when people try to tell other people how they're supposed to feel. It's so annoying to me when people say, "Oh, you'll get over it with time." The truth is when you lose someone like mother, you never get over it. Never. So until it happens to you, I'd try not to pass judgement on others.

    Reply

Leave a Reply