It's lunchtime, I've got one eye on the Spain-France scoreboard, I'm in my office, and I'm frustrated. I'm underslept, still fighting a cold, and I'm coming to the terms with the fact that I'm not nearly as good at getting in touch with my grief as I thought I was.
From 1986-2003, I was in psychotherapy fairly consistently. I've been around Twelve Step programs since 1987. I've been in a great many men's groups, gone on countless retreats, sat in innumerable circles and talked about my feelings and listened to others talk about theirs. I've read just about every major self-help book published between, say, the mid-eighties and the mid-nineties. I'm a born-again ENFP Gemini who lives in L.A., for Pete's sake -- shouldn't all of this background, all of these character attributes, make me better equipped to process my own grief at my father's death?
Today and yesterday I've been alternating between a kind of numb cheerfulness and a testiness that borders on the openly angry. I'm not crying; heck, I'm not even consciously thinking much about either my Dad or Matilde and that I lost them eleven days apart. I've done something classically male (though plenty of women do it as well): I've thrown myself into activity to cope, and the solace it provides is limited indeed.
It's not that I don't expect to grieve. It's that I don't know how to grieve well, and I persist in thinking that there's a "right way" to do this. I mean, twenty years of therapy can get me to say to myself what others are saying right now: "There are no good or bad emotions, no right or wrong way to handle the death of loved ones. Whatever you feel is okay. Take care of yourself."
Yeah, yeah, yeah -- I can recite it chapter and verse. The vocabulary of consolation is so familiar to me; as a youth minister and a teacher whose "door is always open", I've held so many hands and proffered 8000 boxes of Kleenex and said therapeutically and pastorally appropriate things to people who are grieving losses. But I don't practice what I preach! For all of my insistence that men need to become better verbal communicators, and develop the ability to speak of their own inner terrain, all I want to do this week is isolate and bury myself in work and activity. I don't want to talk much to anyone. In other words, I'm reacting the way so many folks react to grief. But in my hubris and my narcissism, I think "Hugo is supposed to be so wise in the ways of the heart; Hugo has had so much therapy/prayer/encounter group/running naked in the woods/AA/what-have-you that he should be able to grieve in the most emotionally excellent way possible." I feel as if I need to model for others the most emotionally and spiritually healthy way to grieve -- it sounds crazy, but the teacher and the youth leader in me always feels this compulsion to have even the most painful of emotions neatly organized, neither repressed nor indulged.
This post is not a request for advice or sympathy, though I am certainly not too proud to accept either. Though I describe myself as an "E" (an extrovert), I find that in times of high stress, my desire to crawl into a cave and isolate is immense. I don't mind teaching, of course -- but in the classroom, I can escape being preoccupied with sadness. What I don't really want to do is interact with anyone, other than (possibly) small animals. Matilde would be such a comfort if she were still alive! Last night, just as my wife and I had talked about, I dreamed that my Dad and Matty were together in the next world. It was a very comforting dream; I thought I had cried in my sleep but when I woke my pillow was dry.
I apologize to my readers who want more feminism or faith or politics. There's already plenty of introspection on this blog -- but ultimately, I'm committed to blogging both the public and private aspects of my life and work. And right now, I'm struggling to get a handle on what I'm supposed to be feeling and doing, and it is a comfort to document that struggle.