During my freshman year of high school, we read many of the Greek classics. Tragedies were never my favorite, far preferring the comedies. Yet, these past weeks have reminded me of the importance of recognizing our shared, messy, heartrending, and often tragic humanity.
My father in law passed away this morning. His death was not unexpected. He was afforded a rare gift; he died exactly how he wished to: at home, in his own bed, surrounded by his beloved family. He has spent the past week reminiscing, recounting fond memories and even took the opportunity to ask if there were any lingering resentments or heartaches. I think those were his exact words when speaking with my husband, “Do you have any heartaches with me?” Damn.
I’ve been thinking a lot about grief, and how we are expected to express mourning and other strong emotions. I’ve also been thinking about writer’s block and how to be authentic; listening to podcasts and reading articles by creative people, especially around creating timeless work and expressing one’s real self. I’ve been working on several drafts, things that don’t feel too scary. All this time, considering how to write about more difficult, more personal stories, without regret. How do we express ourselves, authentically, without apology, without trying to control the reaction of others?
A co-worker recently suffered the loss of a young family member. I’ve watched, at first with great compassion, and later in horror, as this individual has told the story of their family’s loss to anyone who would stand still. I watch this person, and others, wallow in their pain and loss. They broadcast their devastation – the equivalent of tearing at their hair and clothes as a public sign of mourning.
Then I think about the coming funeral services for my father in law. Wailing and ripping my own hair out is not my style. I tend to be more stoic, maybe even dignified. At least that’s what I like to tell myself. But then I also think to myself – we drug people who express strong emotions, they are startling, shocking. I find myself feeling embarrassed when faced with someone experiencing a strong, emotional reaction, like I’m seeing something I perhaps should not. Strong emotions are violent and out of control, and they often make the rest of us feel uncomfortable.
On the other hand, who or what is served when someone makes a spectacle of themselves? I realized that the reason I now view this co-worker with mild horror is because I feel manipulated. The sorrow, the mourning no longer feels genuine. It feels like a drama meant to solicit sympathy and attention.
This is why I hesitate to recount some of my personal stories. I had a couple of personal discussions at PantheaCon about some difficult subjects and I’ve been wondering to myself – who would it serve to share these stories? Would I really want to share these parts of myself and my life with the internet? I have no interest in getting attention, sympathy, or Gods forbid, pity. I’m not sure who or what would benefit. Would someone actually gain something from my mistakes and experiences? Or would it be like the rubberneckers driving past an automobile accident? Hungry for drama? Or hungry for inspiration?
Or is keeping my personal history and stories private my way of distancing myself, drugging myself, so that I need not face them? Is it a way of denial? Of not having to risk making a spectacle of myself or making others uncomfortable by never writing it all down? Would I write about my personal stories in such a way as to manipulate my readers to take my side? To feel what I want them to feel? And then feel anger or frustration when their perspective differs from my own?
When I attend my father in law’s funeral, I will wear a dark suit, and I probably won’t say much. I will likely shed a few silent tears for the man who taught my beloved spouse how to throw a knuckleball, how to drive, and how to repair a stripped bolt. Goodnight, Larry. Thank you for welcoming me to the family during dinner a few years ago. I’ll leave you a glass of bourbon. Ciao, babe!