Calculus of Grief

My family lives all over the country. My Dad’s people are from Illinois and Indiana; my Mom’s are from Boston and its environs. Some of us are in NYC now; others in the Pacific Northwest.

Not a big deal, til someone dies.

On Wednesday, near as we can figure, my cousin committed suicide. He was only 21, and he was upset about how things were going. I remember 21. Things were a lot more dire.

Anyway, I tried to figure out a way to get out there for the funeral, but it’s just too far. And you only get a day for a cousin at most companies, so that’s another wrinkle. In the end, I ended up staying here, where I’ve mostly been sitting very still with my mouth open for the bulk of the weekend.

“This is really hitting you hard,” Mom said, during one of our fifty phone conversations this week. She was supposed to go out, but she got the stomach flu. This is significant, as she never gets sick. Mind-body connection, and all of that. I myself have opted to develop adult acne.

“Yeah,” I said. “And I feel really dumb.”

“Why? I think it’s normal, don’t you?”

“It feels like I’m overstepping, somehow. Like, cousins get X much grief, and we should mostly be rallying and being useful to his parents.”

I can’t seem to help it, though. I just keep thinking about how he was the youngest of the cousins, and now he’s gone. He was also one of only two boys in the family. He got very manly Christmas presents, as you might imagine. Little footballs and things like that.

“If you ever did anything like this, I’d find you,” Ma Smash said. “I’d find you, and I’d bring you right back.”

It’s really tempting to think about that. I picture us all on horseback, or something, with daypacks, going down into the afterworld to get him. “Sorry, we need six grandkids,” we’d tell him, “You’ll just have to reschedule. Excuse me, various deities and sprites. We’ll need this one back.”

In the meanwhile, I pace my apartment, picking things up and putting them down again. It feels like my whole body is full of novocaine, and I can’t imagine how much this will hurt when that wears off. I’m making myself notes: “Eat something.” I’m making little plans: “Clean the tub.”

When I get out from underwater, though, maybe things will be easier. And I probably won’t think about this every second of every day, after awhile. That’s something I wish I could have given him, that thing you only get when you get older: Knowing that painful things, like joyful things, cycle away on their own. Tincture of time.

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14 thoughts on “Calculus of Grief

  1. So so hard…. sometimes, it seems that it’s almost easier when it’s not suicide, because suicide seems so, well, avoidable or preventable.

    But that sort of thinking is also a dark hole of guilt for the family and friends, and the guilt left behind is what seems to be so especially awful about suicide.

    Try to take care of yourself — it’s an awful emotional shock that takes time to recover from…

  2. i’m so sorry to hear…sending you and the rest of the fam love as well… grief can be hard but you will get through it.

  3. Hey Jennie,
    Just got off the phone with your Mom…I can’t tell you how sorry I am that this has happened.
    You are so right when you say that things at the age of 21 are so different, and that with perspective and age one sees that there is nothing that can not be overcome with time.
    I remember a time when I was much younger, a sad time when my heart was broken and I thought it would never mend. Fortunately, I picked myself up and kept going…but I wonder how much of that was “me being me” and how much was pure luck. Moments pass and life does go on with mended hearts.
    I called your cousins at school just before sitting down to tell them this sad story and reinforce the fact that nothing can be that bad if you let another day dawn for you. It is always a good thing to have an excuse to say I love you.
    So go clean your tub, and know that I love you too.
    Auntie Lynn

  4. This is the best possible thing that can come out of this. Please, let any of your young’uns know that bad stuff doesn’t last forever. Thank you, Auntie Lynn.

  5. You’re so right about bad stuff not lasting forever. What lasts forever is love from your family. Nothing and no one can ever stop that from continuing. This is beautifully written, honey. It only makes me love you more.
    Love from your own Ma Smash.

  6. Hi Jen,

    As I read your blog yesterday, I was so sad and taken aback to hear about Marco. I can’t even imagine what his parents and sister are going through and my thoughts and prayers are with them.
    My prevailing thought…how could anything be so bad that someone would feel that this was the only answer?
    I immediately looked at Chloe and Emma and told them that no matter what happens in their life, they should always know that they are much loved and that they can always come to their Mommy, Daddy, Grammie, Buppa, whomever they needs to talk with, in order to get help with anything and that there is never a point of no return. Of course, being only three and two, they did look at me as if to say, “okay Mommy, whatever you say, you crazy woman!” However, I figure it is NEVER too early to impress upon your children that they are loved and supported no matter what happens in their lives. This situation is a solemn reminder that we all need to be more forthcoming with the “I love you’s” and never shy away from letting our family members know how important they are in our life.
    So Jen, I love you! Take care of yourself and come home for a visit soon. You need to see the girls and we need to see you!
    Love, Shan

  7. Thanks, Shan. I love you, too, and you’re right: I do need to see the girls! Chloe’s taller than me now, isn’t she? It’s cool.

  8. So sorry for this news. Hopefully you’ll find a way to grieve and recover, undoubtedly with the support of friends on- and offline. Thinking of you.

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