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My blog entries include a tag for "grief" more than any other tag. Grief inspires me, or is it the suffering and struggling that accompanies it that moves me most?
A colleague and friend who I love has had, from my frame of reference, the worst possible event occur. Late last night, I learned that her child died. He was 10 days old. I didn't know I loved my colleague and friend so strongly until this happened, and probably, I might have never told her otherwise.
Ten years ago, I was her manager. Ever since, she and I have been in a mentoring relationship and friendship in parallel.
At least a decade ago -- we might have been simply on the same team at that point -- I gave her a ride to a lunch-place near our office in Somers. I had been listening to an Aaliyah tape during my commute that morning and it blasted when I turned on the engine.
I was embarrassed because it was Aaliyah's hit, "Hot Like Fire," but my colleague and friend agreed it was a great song and so we listened to it, speeding down the driveway of IBM's marketing world headquarters.
What a relatively care-free time!
And then Aaliyah died in a plane-crash in late-August, 2001...and then September 11th happened less than a month later....
My colleague and friend has a healthy, smart, talented son in high school. Her new baby was another son. He had a name. He fought for more than a week, though he had been born at 25 weeks, rather than nine months. According to the birth announcement for him, he was tiny, though strong.
If she were Jewish, I'd head over to her family's house on Sunday with food. It would be a natural response during the first eight days of any Jew's grief over losing immediate family members. My colleague and friend is Trinidadian and not Jewish, though.
C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed, from a Christian perspective and Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart, from a Buddhist angle, have helped me in recent years to feel the grief of my father's death as deeply as I needed to do. Exactly 90 days after my dad's death, Rabbi Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People came out. I've not been attracted to it, and never have read it.
Perhaps, it was because I resented all of the well-meaning people, who told my family and me that we should read it when it came out. We were given more than one copy. At that point, I could not see to read. I was blind with shock. It seemed that they were trivializing my dad's death by handing us a pop-culture grief book, though I've since heard that it's genuinely comforting.
When my dad died, I was a high school senior and two of my high school friends, Erica and Mark, a couple, showed up at my door with a gift of a Siamese fighting fish. I think I've written about this here before. They were Japanese-American and Chinese-Irish-American, and had no idea of Jewish mourning customs, and I've never forgotten their kindness.
They said, "The fish reminded us of when you wear your turquoise oxford shirt and the magenta lipstick." I had bought the lipstick in Spanish Harlem, at a store near the hospital, where my dad lay dying, and I wore it all fall to cheer myself.
I need to think of the equivalent to giving my colleague and friend a Siamese fighting fish.
And More Grief
My colleague and friend was sensitive about telling me of her pregnancy, since she knew I had tried to become pregnant nine times by IUI, unsuccessfully. And when she did finally tell me, I was pleased for her, and unfortunately, yes, a bit jealous.
She is younger than I was when I was trying to become pregnant, between ages 36 and 38, and I remember calling off the quest when it came time to opt for IVF. Miscarriages had happened to others in my family and I couldn't bear the thought of being pregnant and then losing the baby.
Growing up, my mother always said that the worst thing that could happen to parents was to survive their children. She said it so often, and when my sister Kathy had breast cancer, I know it weighed on my mother. Thank God Kathy survived and is once again healthy.
Another piece of my frame of reference comes from Yiddish/Jewish culture. I've written here prior that it's standard to call little girls, "Mamele,"/"Little Mama" and little boys, "Tatele"/"Little Papa" -- that's how heavy the expectation is that a Jewish child will grow up to produce more Jewish children.
At a holiday party several years ago, an IBM VP, who has since retired, told me that no work-pressure she ever felt was too much because she had had a baby die, and after that trial, nothing could rattle her.
My colleague and friend's death announcement of her baby was so brave in tone and I agree with her that I believe everything happens for a reason, but that's slim consolation, I think, really. Rather, what has consoled me about losing my father so young is how empathetic and further humane it has made me at my best.