Sunday, May 31, 2015

giving blood, good “grief”!: a long pea picklin’ diary

Monday morning
Recovery day. Steady light rain, upper 50s, watching yesterday’s Cubs game, reading The New Yorker. Memorial Day. Recovery Day.

I am exhausted. Over the past few days I’ve suffered several bouts of grief for no particular reason. I call it “grief” for lack of a better word, for lack of a clear diagnosis, for lack of any diagnosis. It just happens, kind of like a spell descending from on high or creeping up from below, and at one time these spells occurred with some regularity, if not quite on a schedule, so I tried to chart them by moon phases, by the time of the month, by things like oh, was I too happy just before? But I have yet to discern a pattern, establish a connection. Sometimes there are triggering events or dates, but sometimes not. What it seems like is that every so often it’s just time to grieve, to grieve for all that’s been lost, for all that there is not, for all that I wish there was; to lament that which has become and that which has not.

Atop the river bank looking south, away from the river.

When in the throes of this grief it makes no difference all that I have, all that I see I have and all that I am and all that I am grateful for day in, day out. It makes no difference that I am sheltered and reasonably sane and reasonably happy with people I love and a few who love me; it seemingly makes no difference that I have a good life with much freedom. I wonder. How can that make no difference? And I ask: Who am I to grieve?

But this has been happening now for, oh, maybe six years or so, and this is what it is: A cocoon of crying, sadness, despair. It can rack my body until I am exhausted, until I can cry no more. There is little to assuage it. I have lost my battle with it on beautiful days walking through peaceful woods; I have lost my battle with it on stormy days ensconced in a comfortable chair in front of a blazing fire. I have lost it in sunshine, I have lost it in rain. I have lost it in crowds, I have lost it in solitude. I have lost it while adhering to a strict routine; I have lost it in the midst of going with the flow.

I have thought it of me, of something deep and woeful inside me, this thing, this sadness; and I have considered it shallow, meaningless, pathetic, a mere knee-jerk reaction to petty circumstances. I have thought it organic, a physical thing, and I have thought it somewhat spiritual, as if an ethereal emotion were wrapping me up in all suffering, the suffering of us all, the whole suffering of being. Sometimes I think it’s just me crumbling under the daunting task of facing life alone.

But I have no idea what it is. This time, I call it grief.

Sometimes I take two aspirin and it abates, calms, and I am thankful if I can read a bit and fall asleep. Reading can help divert it, but just for a while, just as being with others can divert it, but just for a while. Once, going out for an ice cream cone helped. Work of any sort diverts it for a bit, but to summon energy for that work, that’s the trick. It talks, this grief, it talks like mad like an evil Chatty Cathy in my head, and it can write like mad. I may be able to silence it for a minute or two, or even an hour, but once present, it sneaks back around, all of a sudden there, with more to say.

I seldom talk about it, about this, am not sure I have ever told anyone the extent of it, the absolute miserableness of it, but a few have told me that it’s no big deal to cry and feel despair, that they cry, too, quite frequently, perhaps, but is it like this? Is it like this consuming power that just comes upon you and you don’t think it will ever let go? Even though you know, from experience, that it will end, that you will be fine, that you will go on, in a day, maybe two, but right now, while it has you in its grip, it cannot end soon enough, and maybe you even wish you were dead.

Some might say: You need help. But.

I started a jigsaw puzzle.

After two or three days, it disappears like a bad guest. I have energy again, positive energy, and I go on, or maybe it lingers, somewhat, having taken a bit more out of me than I can readily snap back from, like this time. I was not expecting it. It has been a while, quite a while, but there it came, this thing I am now calling grief, hitting me upside the head and eventually flattening me so now, today, this holiday with steady light rain and temperatures in the mid-50s, this day of stillness but for the hatching, exploring mosquitoes, I take to recover. With tea and a ballgame and The New Yorker, on the sofa with Josie snoring at my feet. I am exhausted. Perhaps starting a pea-picklin’ diary will help bring me back.

Monday afternoon
Every hour or two Josie and I have gone outside, I yet in my pajamas and robe, teeth unbrushed, and the longer that goes on the better it feels. I was going out to bring in the bins of candles left in the van after Saturday’s market. There are sixteen bins, and each outing I lugged in four or three or two, did a quick inventory, made my list of candles to make for next week. Some outings I kept my slippers on. Some outings I slipped on my rubber boots.

After the ballgame, which the Cubs lost, we watched “The Sagebrush Sea,” a PBS Nature program, and Josie and Elliott were interested in the birds: the eagles, the ravens, grouse, bluebirds, the owls. Josie also liked the pups—coyote? fox?—that yipped and howled. It reminded me of when I was a kid watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins. That was on Sundays before Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, and that was the one night of the week we were allowed to eat dinner in front of the TV. Hamburgers, chips, carrot sticks, a glass of milk. A wild kingdom, a wonderful world.

There is a hollow space inside where energy should be.

View from a bridge.

Fog this morning, rather ordinary, but beautiful and mysterious. The air is thick with green and moisture and mosquitoes, with tight flower buds waiting to burst, with wafting beech fluff and dandelion seeds. There’s a heady scent of blooming chokecherry and damp pine.

I have been working all week on a “grievance” list—meaning a list of that for which I grieve. I realize, of course, that naming my recurring bouts of sadness as “grief” does not make it so, but it gives me a new way to look at this thing and to work with it.

Part of the puzzle.

I gave blood today because my father was the first person to pop into mind when I began my grief list. I first donated blood shortly after his death and found so much to like about it, it became a routine. A routine I fell out of a couple years back.

So what’s to like about giving blood?

It starts with the questionnaire, all the yes-or-no questions about your diseases, drug use, which countries you’ve been in and when, and then about your sexual partners. It makes you think about all these things you could have done, that might have happened, that didn’t, that weren’t. A person then looks over your questionnaire, sticks a thermometer in your mouth, makes small talk, wraps that cuff around your arm and pumps it up to measure your blood pressure, and my blood pressure tends to be low so that can spark a comment such as once: “Wow. Are you sure you’re alive?” Now there’s something to think about! And there’s plenty of time to think while relaxing with your feet up, drinking juice, watching someone stick a needle in your arm and then watching your blood drain out through a clear plastic tube. My veins are good for this. They stand out like two hoses (I am told) just waiting to be tapped, and the nurses, the ones drawing the blood, are pleased. When it’s all over, there’s this serene lightheadedness and you get a cookie. So, all that for just one pint of blood! One little pound of something you will never miss that might help someone somewhere, someone you will never know. Seriously, what could be better?

I wonder if perhaps grief is not linear.

See the mice?

Time for bed and Elliott wants in and Josie wants out so I open the door and Elliott drops a mouse at my feet and I scream a bad word (or two) and the mouse darts back and forth in the doorway and Josie gets excited and Elliott gets befuddled and the mouse runs inside, across the room, disappearing, and I shove Josie out with my foot and slam the door and scream another bad word (or two) and realize Elliott might best catch this mouse in the house so open the door and Elliott is streaking around the corner of the cabin, disappearing, because he does not like it when I yell, and Josie runs in, over to where the mouse might be but then he seems to think the mouse has headed up the stairs which certainly he (or she) has not (I hope).

I’ve been given two words to mull over this week, ordinary words that appeared in correspondence from friends. The first word: Reality. The second word: Wonderment.



  1. Lon joke: ( I tell him to be careful to whom he tells such jokes, but he doesn't listen about this). "Why does the blond carry a red marker?" "To draw blood."

    Good to see you briefly and in the windy cold at the Marquette Farmers' Market yesterday.

    1. I admit, I don't always get Lon's jokes. But no doubt they are funny! Next week's market should be warm and sunny ...