the far side of grief

I know I wrote a lot last year about my parents' deaths. I know it probably got tiresome to read. I know it was depressing.

But I think I'm done grieving. I can think of it now - the cold, hard fact of their absence - without losing my breath. Or my voice, if I'm in conversation. I'm now in the It is what it is phase. Not numbness so much as dryness. The tears have dried up, and in their place is a crisp matter-of-factness. Yes. They're gone. I'm on my own. 

It is what it is. 

I'm on the far side of grief. And, maybe as a hard-won bonus, something else is taking its place, in bits and pieces: wisdom. 

It's impossible to throw out a word like "wisdom" in relation to yourself without sounding like a smug ass, I totally get that. And god knows, the older I get, the more I realize how little I know. But there are things I know now that I didn't know then, and that I wouldn't know, if not for. Surprising things. 

1. Grief has made me a better dog owner. Chaucer is one of the best things ever to happen to me. I adore that dog to the moon and back a dozen times. But he can be exhausting. Not just his physical needs, but his emotional ones. Mastiffs are incredibly sensitive, and Chauc is no exception. Look at him the wrong way and he'll be an anxious, unsettled wreck. He's a lot of work to care for on my own, and there were times in the past that I felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities and duties of being his sole master and provider. It's the little, time-consuming things that can get frustrating with him, like having to wipe down his paws after each walk, having to mop up the floor around his water dish several times a day, having to repaint patches of wall every week - even having to drag his bed across the apartment at bedtime, since otherwise he'll sleep on the hard floor to be next to me. 

Sometime in the past few months, though, I suddenly became infinitely more patient with him. The small annoyances ceased to be annoying, because I realize how precious little time I have with him. And I know exactly what I'm in for when he dies. I know the precise shape, form, and depth of pain I'll be facing, because I've faced it down twice now. And I am in no hurry to be in that place again. I will happily, gladly, please and thank you very much, sponge dirt and drool off my floor, my furniture, my walls, and him several times a day, for as many years as I'm granted. And I'll do it with a genuine smile on my face, because he's all the family I've got. 

Gratitude and good humor have replaced the exasperation I sometimes had with him. There are still moments when my patience wears thin, no question. But in general, the perspective I gained from losing loved ones has tapped an even deeper wellspring of love and appreciation than I thought I had for him before.

2. Grief has made me a more selective dater. It's simple: life is short. Life is precious. Life, to me, is about relationships, experiences, and creation - that's where my happiness comes from. I don't want to waste my time being unhappy. I just plain don't have enough of it, as far as I'm concerned. So I've worked really, really hard at getting to know myself and my needs better - so that I can better predict my happiness. I don't know how else to say it: it's just incredibly important to me that I don't throw any more time away on relationships that don't fulfill me, or that don't move me closer to the person I want to be.

ETA: plz to read this clarification, thx. 

3. Grief has made me a happier person. How's that for a paradox? It comes down to gratitude. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Gratitude for the connections I make with others, big and small. Gratitude for the things I'm still here on earth experiencing, while others are gone. Sunshine. Rain. Friday nights. Monday mornings. Sex. Breakups. A drive with a handsome boy in a fast car. A plodding bus ride surrounded by strangers. Leisure time or hard work, pain or pleasure. It's all a fucking privilege to experience. And while that's something I could have said a year ago and thought I'd meant it, it would have been lip service at the time. Now I really, really get it. What drives it home for me is the total apathy of the universe, towards all of us. My mom died. Bam. Gone. Some people cared, of course, but the universe at large didn't give a shit. My dad died. Bam. Gone. Some people cared, but again, the world in general did not. This life is ours for such a tiny, tiny slice of time, and how little an impact we make on the universe is almost laughable - almost belittling to us. It doles out experiences to us with complete indifference - it doesn't care that it's dumping rain on our French Polynesian vacation, or that someone's brain is not manufacturing the sort of chemicals that would make him want to spend the weekend with us.

It doesn't care, period.

So if you can't find a way to feel joy in more than just the obviously joyful things, you're fucked. Because there just isn't that much obvious joy in this life, and the universe has the power to knock you down, again and again and again - if you let it. You have absolutely got to cultivate joy. Treat it like a plant, like a living thing you feed and water. Carry it around with you. Learn how to transplant it to places it normally wouldn't survive. Cherish it, and it will grow so strong that you find yourself smiling and optimistic, in spite of x, where x = whatever challenge you face at that moment. Joy is my shield when the world batters me. I practice feeling it every single day. I train myself to soak up even the smallest drops of it. It's freezing out, and I'm so cold and tired, and I have another fifteen minutes' walk back home - but it's still early enough that there's sun on the opposite side of the street. If I cross and walk over there, I'll be warm. Ahhh, yes, that's awesome. And wow, the air is really crisp and fresh tonight. Smog? What smog? This air is amazing. Oh, hey. My favorite song came on shuffle. It's a sign. I'm totally gonna speed walk now. 

And that was a pretty lame example of what I'm talking about, but you get the general idea. 

4. Grief has taught me not to hang my happiness on things that can change. I touched on this a few posts back, though I didn't really go into detail. But since this is one of my New Year's resolutions, and I planned on writing a post about those, I'll save this for that.