Gratitude creates its own attitude. It can give you a new perspective, a new focus. I am going to use this day as my opportunity to see those things.
“When are you going to get over it?”
“Just get over it already!”
“Dear, you just have to get over it … and move on.”
Ever hear any of these? I think that we all have at one time or another. Maybe it was regarding a lost love or a lost life. Either way, it’s something that I’ve thought about a lot. You see, I would consider myself to be a bit of an expert on grief. I’ve lived with it intimately for nearly my entire life, as I got hit hard and early. I was talking about this with a friend a few weeks ago and decided that I wanted to write about it.
We lived on a farm in Maine when I was born. My sister and brother had both been born in New York City. By the time I came along, my parents had bought the rambling, white farmhouse with attached barn. I hear that it was on a whim. In any case, life was pretty fun for me most of the time. What I can remember at least. There were a couple of horses, a pony named Sooty, a couple of pet billy goats, chickens, a Golden Retriever named Jeb, puppies, kittens and more. In the winter, we ice skated on the creek and went sledding. In the summer, my Mother gave riding lessons to a friend and me, and we swam in the pool of the house across the road. I played in the hay loft, while my father planted pole beans and popcorn.
All that changed when I was about five and a half. The only real memory I have is of my father coming home and standing us all up in a row outside. Then he said, “Your mother is dead.” At least that’s what I think happened… I’ve found that my memory is pretty spotty on a lot of the finer points. I think that the psyche is very good at self-protection and blocks out experiences that we are unprepared to deal with. All I know is that I had never felt so alone and haven’t since. Like I was the only person on the entire planet.
So, after a while, with Dad drinking more, I ended up being moved to my great aunt’s house in upstate New York. I took one toy with me, a little cowgirl doll with jointed legs, a fringed skirt, matching vest and blond curls. She had the sort of eyes that close when you lay her down. And they were a beautiful hazel with long eyelashes. I guess everyone thought that I would be going back. I do remember talking on the phone with my father. He had sold the farm and moved into town. He said that my new room was all fixed up and waiting for me. Then one day the phone rang and he was dead too. That time I remember sitting down on my great aunt’s modern, Scandinavian style couch and crying. I think that I was seven by then.
I ended up staying with my great aunt. My older brother and sister went to live with other relatives. I didn’t see them too much after that. My great aunt was in her sixties, had no children and had never been married. I was doted on. I was now an only child and an orphan, though that word was never used. We made a cozy family for a while. We went to the city every fall. It was great fun to get dressed up, go shopping at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, have lunch at the Russian Tea Room, visit all the Museums and, best of all, go to the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. I loved watching the show jumping. It was entirely thrilling! And second best was visiting Kaufmann’s and Miller’s to draw in the intoxicating leather smell, sit on the saddles and dream.
Even though we lived on seven acres in the Catskills and had a great old two story barn with stalls in back, behind the carriage room, I wasn’t allowed to have a horse of my own. I did get weekly lessons. Even when my great aunt had to hire the local handy man to drive me there on icy winter days, I still had my lessons. That was a real gift. It made me learn to ride. And I thank her for that.
I also took ballet for years and have the toes to prove it. I was coerced into tennis lessons. In essence, I was being raised to be a well-rounded young lady, hopefully to marry well I guess, in an outdated sort of way. Things went along okay, until I hit puberty.
I was sixteen. After that, I lived with my grandmother for a couple of summers, while I went to college. I never finished High School. My dog and two cats were not welcome at my grandmothers and were older, so there were put to sleep. I have to say, that was a very sad day for me.
I don’t think that you ever just get over deep loss. Instead, it needs to be honored and, eventually, incorporated into who you are, into your very being. Otherwise, you can be like the living dead; walking, breathing, talking, going to work; but not really alive. This has to come in its own time. There is no way to force it. It must be allowed to happen. These experiences ultimately are integrated into a new way of being in the world. Anything else is somewhat less than true. And there is not an end to the process. It continues.