I Measure Every Grief I Meet

February 12, 2010

Alexander McQueen died this week. He committed suicide, and he did so, in part, it seems, because of his bereavement over the death of his mother earlier this month.

This is going to sound awful, terrible, extreme, insane… but… I think that I know – maybe, a little bit – how he felt.

I didn’t contemplate suicide when my dad died, but I did contemplate death, closely and more personally than I had ever contemplated it before. As I flew home to deal with his death – as I struggled with finding myself, suddenly, living the nightmare that had haunted my childhood (because this is the horror of losing a parent: you become a child again, and that child’s worst fear comes true, and her source of comfort is gone and she becomes lost and it is the stuff of nightmares and it is bad) – I thought, more than once, I could die now. This plane could plummet to the ground and I could die and it would not be a terrible thing, because at least then I would know, I would go to where he had gone and I would know.

I was aware that this thought was disturbed, that it was wrong, that I did not want to die, but in those moments – and, truthfully, in some moments since – I thought – I have thought – of death differently; I have thought of it more intimately; it has something to do with me, now, and I cannot turn away from it, and if it ever came too close… I don’t know that I would run so fast to escape it.

I’m not suicidal. I can’t stress that enough. My life has been challenging of late, but I still love that life. It is possible to be sad, to be overcome by grief, and to still appreciate joy. I still appreciate joy. My life is filled with joy. But contemplation of death, in light of death, is not necessarily a rejection of life – sometimes, it’s just a yearning for what has been lost, an aching temptation to push aside the curtain to see what’s on the other side, so that one can know, one can see for one’s self, that it’s all okay over there, that it’s good, that it’s somewhere we might want to be. Because how else can we tolerate the loss, without clinging to a belief – no matter how tenuous – that what – who – we have lost has not disappeared but gone somewhere good, somewhere better, somewhere we might go, too. Will go, someday.

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, Eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size…

I wonder if it hurts to live –
And if They have to try –
And whether – could They choose between –
It would not be – to die –

Emily Dickinson, I measure every Grief I meet.

It does hurt to live, sometimes, when you’ve lost someone you love, someone you needed, someone who was a permanent fixture in your life, someone who you’ve never lived without, someone who was ever-present, eternal, always. It hurts to live because your life becomes suddenly different; the landscape changes so that you no longer quite recognize it; you move forward, disoriented, motion-sick. It doesn’t mean that you give up on life. It does mean that you live in a different relationship with life.

This is complicated for me, because I was convinced, for some time after my father died, that he had committed suicide. When I got the phone call, when I got the news, when I collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath, clutching at my shattered heart, this was my thought: why, Daddy, why? He had come close to suicide many times in the past, but he had promised me that he wouldn’t do it, that he couldn’t bear to hurt us that deeply, and although I believed him, when I got the news of his death, I was convinced: he’d decided that he couldn’t go on, he was in too much pain, it hurt too much to live. And so I spent many hours, many days, trying to reconcile my heart to this, to his pain, to his choice, and I got to a place where I thought that I could understand his choice, and his death having been a choice, something that he wanted, became something that was a source of some comfort.

It was determined, some months later, that he hadn’t taken his own life, but by that point I had come to that conclusion on my own, simply by sorting through the mess of his death and the disorder of his life and by asking painful questions of the people who had found him (had he fallen? where? how? did it seem sudden? oh, my heart) and, of course, by the undiscovery of a note. He would have surely written a note. He had, in fact, written such a note, which I found among his things, but it was from years ago, from a time when I hadn’t even known he was depressed, from a time before he made promises like, I won’t take my own life, sweetheart.

It hurt him to live, but live he did, until he didn’t, and in the aftermath of realizing that he had not taken his own life I was left to figure out how I felt about the fact that his death had not been his choice, that he might not have wanted it, that he might have, in his last moments, been anxious and afraid and worried that I would think that he had taken his own life. It felt bad. Ironic, that. Painful, that.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Beyond this, anyway: that when I read that Alexander McQueen had taken his own life, and that he had been grievously bereaved, gutted over the death of his mother, I thought, oh, I know, and I thought, people will say that this is strange and twisted and extreme and maybe it is those things but maybe, also, it’s not. From where I’m standing, it’s not. It’s just where someone might land when it hurts to live. It’s terrible that it ends, in his case, in another death; terrible, terrible. But such terribleness is not necessarily madness.

It’s just grief. The worst grief. Rest in peace, sad boy.

(Closing comments, again, again. I’m so sorry, I keep doing this – it’s not that I don’t love our discussions – it’s just that, I’m still sick, and this is too heavy.)

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