In 2013, my little brother died.
I remember the moment I received the news. Bad news assaults you with a comprehensive attack, painfully eroding your emotions and physical balance. Upon absorbing the news, your whole body goes numb, especially around your heart. Instantly, the entirety of your being falls into a deep tingling sensation, similar to your leg or foot slowly ‘coming to’ after being asleep. You feel heavy, sluggish. Dueling sounds embed themselves in your ear canal… the jagged reverberation of the needle scratching a record or an old television show going off the air in the middle of the night, coupled with a steady and deafening tone resultant of a gun shot or loud noise in close proximity. This is the clamor that blares out from the movie screen after everything gets blown to hell and the actors attempt to get their bearings and find cover.
And then there is the ulcer. The ulcer can by physical or emotional, or both. Your stomach launches into full gear, sloshing acid over the same spot within the first 24 hours of exposure. At the beginning, your whole being is reacquainted with the truth and severity of your circumstances every few minutes, and the ulcer provoked. Sleep is interrupted. Thought patterns derailed. Routines hijacked. Your window of reality is detonated. So you quickly strive to press together the shards of glass to reestablish normalcy, resulting only in bloodied hands and exhaustion from this exercise in futility.
And here’s the deal. This response is automatic. There is no way to time the response or control its onset, frequency or length of stay. You are held hostage by the very core of your being recoiling from the assault and trying to keep all systems operational to avoid shutdown.
I already anticipate two strong responses to what I’ve written thus far. First response: This is miserable, why are you writing about something so miserable? Second, in reaction to the uncontrolled response: But, did you pray? Did you meditate? Yoga? Smudging? Counseling? Reiki? I have a book for you. I can fix this. It will get better. It could be worse.
To the first response, I say this: Miserable things happen. We don’t talk about them. And we sure don’t talk about how to manage misery. And then we struggle through an onslaught of attacks on ourselves which looks like this. We condemn ourselves for feeling angry or sad or incapacitated. Then we condemn ourselves for NOT feeling those things. So now we have a double-decker sandwich, with the first layer of grief, shock and pain, topped with judgment toward our grief management. A dog chasing its tail. A black hole. A pain labyrinth. So, I am writing this for the people who are choking on that pill (maybe even right now, in this moment) to frame misery in the context of normalcy in which it should exist.
And now, to the second group, the Fix-It Felix crowd. Do you remember Fix-It Felix, from the Disney Movie Wreck-it Ralph? He fixed everything with his golden hammer in a video game. Right away, right after things got broken.
At this point, I have reached the crux of my post. There is a time for fixing. And healing. And moving on. And the time for all of those things is NOT at the time of assault. What is mandated of you, at the time of assault, is not repair.
Instead, I propose an alternative. Keep in mind that this is only my personal response to pain. Because it has worked for me. And I believe it is worthy of consideration.
I propose this response to pain and tragedy: Feel It Fully. Let the sadness and absolute despair wash over you and through you. Say out loud, this hurts me and it is beyond what I can handle in this moment. Now, I will say that I believe the human spirit to be extremely resilient. Eventually, you will overcome and rise above. But in those initial moments of comprehending your loss, your disappointment, you need not “handle” anything. Your only task is to mourn with complete abandon and total honesty. Start there. Start with honesty. Admit that you are human, and love big and, as a result, have the capacity to be wounded with great severity. I contend that healing is secondary, and contingent upon, exploring that laceration first.
I got the call about my brother’s death on a Monday afternoon. That gave me a few painful hours to be awake and replay the scenario, his life, the phone call, in my head over and over again. Then I had the whole night of intermittent waking up to relive that initial blow. The ulcer growing with every realization of the present, and the sudden and permanent end of the past. And it was in that moment that I knew I could not escape this. I couldn’t jump ahead to a place of getting better or moving on. So I stayed right there. And the pain swallowed me whole. Little did I know, that was mandatory to eventually reach a place of therapeutic momentum. Resurrection Day.
Today I endured a similar blast to my psyche. No one died. But I received news that turned on the firehouse of ulcer-causing agents. I received news that changed my reality to shards of glass and will require hard work and figuring stuff out to move forward. But I don’t have to do that right now. I cannot undo what was done today. And I will embrace with honesty the fact that this news strips me down to my barest self, full of fear, uncertainty and doubt. So here I am, little and scared. Wrecked.
And tomorrow the sun will come up. Hopefully I will achieve some rest in the interim, in between the chunks of time wherein I awake in a panic and wonder if what happened really happened. At some point soon, I will embark on the path to reconfiguring these broken puzzle pieces to create a new platform on which I can exist. I’ll read about Job and Viktor Frankl and seek to use pain for growth, and build character from scars. Not right now though. I can get there, but I need to start here first.