Jean Rostand said there are things, which don’t deserve to be said briefly. The same can be said about the desire to write an essay whose genesis sparked from all kinds of slivers of pain, neatly inserted into the crevices of my life, showing up ten years later.
Lately, it seems that I’m trying to hold on to things that are both everywhere and nowhere. Really, I am outraged at the way I carried on, celebrating my birthday one month after Dad died, carrying on with a relationship, teaching, working, and worst of all, allowing myself to ever laugh again. I didn’t deserve a birthday cake that year.
A few nights ago, I had an incredibly vivid dream about my late father. I was in my childhood home, the one I lived in until his death in 2010; we stood in the kitchen with my mother and sister, the four of us hysterically laughing because we couldn’t find a bottle cap. I don’t know what it all meant, but my husband told me the next morning that I had been laughing very loudly in the night. I thought the dream was about nothing, but it took me a few days to figure out that it was about everything a father is meant to be.
We hang on because we have to hang on.
We laugh hard because we are hurting hard.
I’ve had one decade to measure everything up against death. I’ve dissected, revisited and impressed in my mind, moments in my life when I was met with cruelty at a time when I was broken in grief and needed to be met with empathy.
The time someone behind me mumbled a joke during my best friend’s funeral and didn’t think I heard.
The time a relative showed up at the hospital to sit at Dad’s bedside, complaining about what a rough day she’d had, as my father’s life support machine beeped one last time.
Yes, lately, I’ve had no choice but to measure everything up against death. Because I’ve come to believe this notion firmly: that as Rostand said, there are things, which are not meant to be said briefly.
I’m so angry with anyone who has a father.
I’m so angry with anyone who still has a best friend.
Grief is irrational and it makes us measure others’ contentment against our pain. I cling to anyone who echoes my sentiments. Everyone else? I wonder if they ever feel like I do, like dragging a toddler to the bath as they wail along, forevermore. Every time I see a photograph, I swear I can see his eyes move, and I can hear her infectious laugh bursting through.
I have to take some comfort in the fact that I am not alone. Grief is an amalgam of yesterdays and never-agains. Grief can be a shared experience but often weighs heavier on those who are tapped into the essence of communal sorrow. When you really get down to it, up against death, nothing else measures up.
Death is the alpha and the omega. The end of any beginnings and the beginning of never-ending loss.
When I visit my late friend Anita’s husband and child six months after her passing, he accidentally says, “Just ask her!” while telling a story, completely forgetting that the house will never hear her voice again. Her purse and keys still sit on the counter by the door.
So as every single moment measures itself up against death, many realizations are made: anguish is a way of life and grief is immortal.
Like a chanticleer I mean only to wake up my audience, to proclaim in a piercingly loud voice that, you can only be a champion of grief if you live by it. Stand up for your grief.
Stand up to anyone who trivializes your pain.
Stand up to anyone who ransacks the grace of empathy.
Stand up to the person who makes a joke at your friend’s funeral or strips you of the sublimity of your father’s last moment, his last breath.
Walk in circles and keep telling the ghost of your friend to run in the other direction when she sees a hospital entrance door. Tell him, not to let his heart attack him.
Say it. Grieve it. Do not be brief.
Ani Kachbalian is a native Los Angeles author with an MFA in Writing. She is currently an administrator and teacher of high school literature in Southern California and hopes to instill a love of stories in all of her students.
The organization I wish to support is: Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School in Los Angeles California. Visit www.pilibos.org.