April 13, 2006
Sometimes the enormity of Michele’s death hits me particularly hard. The very idea of death is so hard to wrap your mind around that, when coupled with the death of your life’s love, you really can’t grasp it all. Or even begin to understand it all.
The only analogy I can find is the fable about the blind men in a room with an elephant where each man describes a different animal for he only examined part of the whole. Experiencing grief is like that as well. Your mind can’t accept or process it all at once, so you move through grief in bits and pieces, only rarely catching faint glimpses of the whole. My memories of my sister’s death and my reaction to it are naturally jaded now. Thirty-three years of life experience will warp any memory to its will. But I do remember not being able to understand or comprehend what had happened. Certainly the coping skills and thought processes of a twelve-year old are ill suited for something as momentous and shattering as the death of a sibling in childhood.
It turns out that the coping skills and defense mechanisms of an adult aren’t much better at making sense of death either. Or rather sense of the aftermath death creates. I understand intellectually that Michele is gone. She killed herself deliberately. I found her, and I saw her dead. There is no doubt that she is gone from this lifetime forever. This intellectual fact doesn’t fit into any place of recognition in my mind however. There are still times when I turn around thinking she’ll be there smiling, or holding one of the cats. I expect my cellphone to ring and to hear her voice in my ear. These phantoms created by my mind’s need to be with her still, only create situations where I relive to some degree the pain of losing her all over again.
Perhaps the mind is protecting itself by only examining the grief and the enormity of death piecemeal. If death were the elephant and my mind a blind man examining it, then I would only be able to explore a bit at a time. “Seeing” the whole elephant at once isn’t possible. Trying to take it all in at once would likely shatter my bond with reality. Understanding this process and accepting are two different things entirely. Cycling back again and again to certain aspects of our relationship, her death, and the aftermath I’m sifting through is brutally difficult. Like pulling a bandage off I want to do it swiftly so as to get it over with, not start and stop and hesitate.
And so as I wander through the rooms in my head where Michele still lives, and I reconcile those memories with the reality of her being dead, I very much feel like a blind man desperately trying to figure out the nature of the enormous creature with which I am confronted. The trick, I think, is to examine enough to satisfy and then move on; for trying to understand the whole elephant would take more than a lifetime, and at the end of my life, my death will answer the questions I so desperately want answered now.