Death, denial, disfigurement and the Divine
"spinning internally in a whirlwind of unkind thoughts about how self-indulgent I am, how sharing the experience was grossly revealing and that I should stop performing public autopsies on myself"
Writing like this is the opposite of self-indulgent: it is generous. Please don't stop.
I’m reminded of a beautiful quote from (to me) a rather unexpected place: the Marvel show WandaVision. In a flashback to a time when Wanda had just lost her brother, Vision sits with her in her pain and says,
“What is grief, if not love persevering?”
I think this is a helpful framing. I hope it helps to stave off future spirals of shame as you continue to process your own grief.
I’m always surprised at how our bodies respond to our resistance to feeling our emotions. I, too, have an almost sclerotic spine, and nerve compression under my collar bones from shrinking in on myself. As I age, I feel the chronic-ness of these physical manifestations more, and become so aware of the fact that I’m “running out of time” to manage them (I hesitate to say “fix.”)
Grieving is hard and weird and sometimes bewildering but here we are. At least we have birds. Thanks for your post. 😊
A beautiful piece. I think there is a whole lot of wisdom in the line — “Avoidance of a subject breeds shame”.
And I really like the idea that our impermanence can help us embrace all the feelings and experiences life has to offer.
Also, I’m really enjoying your pieces, and so, I’m glad your sharing them in spite of your own reservations about doing so.
Thank you for this sweet gust of wind, I feel it in my bones.. and it’s helping me form a posture that can lovingly hold shame, compassion, curiosity and love.. even if only for this moment. Thank goodness for your life and the gift of your writing- so precious and priceless. I do luh 💗
My first opinion is that you are not self indulgent at all such strong feelings that often boil up in our grief and anger at the grief are clarifying for the persons own sanity even though it may feel to the person like they are going insane they are preventing themselves from doing that just that you realize you are on the edge somehow is a good thing
I listened to Martin Pretchel’s book on audio and it was definitely medicine for my soul. I love his perspective on grief!
Reading your words is my weekly reminder to remain present and to hold everything in awe and be continually reminded (I'm quoting you here, such is what I want to do with your words>>>) "that existence is finite and fleeting."
I love that David could embrace that frustration of the wind and turn it into something positive.
Often, I get annoyed at our public transport system here and having to wait around for delayed trains on my way home from work, especially when it's cold and windy. The next time that happens, I'm going to this "but this could be *the last time* I get to stand and be buffeted by the cold wind on a platform" and try to enjoy that moment, or to at least look and inspect it and appreciate it for the fact that I get to sense it.
As Jill said, your writing all of this is the opposite of self-indulgent.
Please do not stop.
The indulgence is all for us, the readers, through the act of reading your wonder words.
This was an emotional read, fiery, angry, not as gentle as others I've read so far, and it's just so honest.
This post really reminded me of my mother so much (alas a lot of things do these days). She is in complete denial about my father's prognosis. "He hasn't told me" she says often, as well as "look at him, he's mowing the lawn, he can't be that sick". And it's exhausting because we are all facing dad's illness so it's extremely insensitive for her say these things in front of him.
My point in telling this story is that death is something they don't talk about. And you don't bring up someone's dead loved one. I asked my mother recently what she knew about her father (who died 2 months before she was born). "Oh I never asked my mother about him. I didn't want to make her sad."
My folks have purchaaed their cemetery plots, however, mum believes that doctors should not be allowed to tell patients if they are incurably sick and about to die. So you're right, we don't talk about it because it makes us uncomfortable. But all I want to do is talk about it. Because we're living in it.
I believe that talking is the only way to release shame. I have tried so many other methods, but honesty and oppeness is the only way.
Dear Chloe - as you know I was out of town for a few days, and while I did read your post, I felt like I needed to sit in a familiar space to really READ it, and then, to comment.
Aw, shame, my old friend... Perhaps you are right that it grows in those places where things should be said the most, but aren't. And now here you are saying them, and yet shame raises its head and yells "I'm still here!" and the temptation, of course, is to retreat and be silent, again, which is exactly the opposite of what you should do, which is to keep writing, and being, you. Perhaps shame will appear more and more ridiculous each time it is forced to shout and wave and do somersaults trying to be heard over all the words that needed to be said and written, and finally are.
I had a similar experience with my father's death: despite the fact that he had been to the hospital multiple times, and spent the last many months of his life slowly turning blue from a failing heart and lack of oxygen, still my mother and sister persisted in saying his death "came out of the blue" without the least realization of the irony. I was an adult, though, and I had other people who were not so afraid of death to help me through it. I am sorry you did not, but glad to have now the improbable wonder of Death & Birds. Keep singing, my dear.
Beautifully written as usual. “I should stop performing public autopsies on myself.” Love this and please keep operating. Curious: are you thinking of audio reads in the near future? Cheers
I feel a bit late to this table but it just takes me some time, and some courage.
"I appreciate the hesitancy in bringing up Death around people who are somehow closer in proximity to it; whether through grief, age or illness." It is exactly for these reasons that I am so deeply grateful for this on going conversation, Chloe. For your courage and your intently held purpose to hold this door open for us, for me. It oddly enough feels like a 'lifeline' to me to be able to focus on death, to open myself to it, to allow a deeper and so much more immediate understanding of death which has now moved so closely into the atmosphere of my every day reality. Through my own age and through my daughter's illness. I thank you with all my heart. And to everyone who joins here, I am grateful to be able to learn from you, and with you.
Gorgeous. Restacked this. Love your honesty and vulnerability. My dad just died on June 2nd and I wrote about it here. Death is the only real thing we have yet we all mostly deny it at our own peril.
My essay on death: https://michaelmohr.substack.com/p/death
‘Sincere American Writing’
I am so grateful for you and your truth and beauty telling Chloe. My mother lost her father very young and was lost her memory also as he was never spoken of again. My grandmother with 4 young children, aside from wailing at his death, never allowed herself to grieve or feel his loss in any shared way. My heart aches for her and my mother and her siblings and for me and mine that still carry the weight of what was unfelt. Much love to you xxx
"... I appreciate that we can tell ourselves we are being respectful by doing so, that we’re not wanting to make this person uncomfortable—and, I strongly encourage checking that it is not in fact ourselves who we do not wish to make uncomfortable."
It was only after I experienced some griefs of my own that I realized that, on some level, the dead are always on my mind. What I want is an opportunity to talk about them.
There can be a kind of doubled grief when people speak around the dead as though they never existed. At the same time, consent is important. I now ask people straightforwardly if it's okay to discuss certain topics.
I wonder if you're familiar with or would be interested in the conversational practices around sitting shiva in Judaism. https://guttermansinc.com/jewish-mourning-customs-expressing-your-sympathy/
There is so much I love about what you've shared here. For one, the importance of developing a relationship with our mortality "to insure them against the tragedy of missing the inherent preciousness of existence by it continually reminding that existence is finite and fleeting." My brother-in-law is an EMT and his mantra is "slow is smooth, and smooth is fast." Meaning, if we take time to do something right, we will end up where we want to be much faster than if we had blundered through it in haste. Or, as you so beautifully described with your David and the wind, we might miss out on the power and glory of whatever it is that is blowing us around if we cannot stop and take a moment to let it be, to feel it wholly, and to look it directly in the face. And then, once it's been acknowledged and appreciated and felt, it loses its power to affect us so. Thank you so, so much for being open and willing to share. I don't, as they say, know you from Adam, but I feel like in the short time I've spent reading your posts, I've reconnected with my own humanity (and all of the messy, uncomfortable, frustrating, and beautiful thoughts and feelings that come with it) on a level that was much needed. Thank you 💚
I stumbled upon this meditation on Spotify one day, and I've come back to it over and over again. Your post reminded me of it strongly!