The Exhaustion of Grief

When I first started First Nations Studies, I knew Elders would be in the classroom. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but I didn’t expect Uncle Ray. Instead of solemn, he was mirthful; he told jokes, and he laughed and smiled, and he lead us in joyful songs and prayer to start the day.

It was his presence that confirmed to me I was in the right place, and his presence that made me decide to stay and get my degree in First Nations Studies, instead of just taking the one class I’d planned on.

*

Years before, in college on Maui, I took Anthropology and made friends with a guy I ended up calling “Faramir” because the LOTR movies were fresh and he looked just like movie-Faramir. I had a massive crush on him. (On both of them, to be clear.) He was decent, and funny, and smart; he was exactly the kind of guy you wanted to be friends with because you knew he was safe. He wouldn’t randomly turn on you or treat you like shit; Faramir was fair.

I got to teach him about half-birthdays because his was on mine, and I called us half-birthday twins. He thought it was weird, but I didn’t feel judged for it. (It is weird. It’s a weird tradition, but it’s one that I stand by, because it gives one more reasons to celebrate, and that is not a bad thing.)

In Anthro class we had those stupid desks that were attached to the chairs, and when a small spider started crawling across my notebook and I reacted with hysterical fear because my arachnophobia was much worse in those days, Faramir gently picked up spider dude and took him outside, and he didn’t make fun of me for my reaction.

When I asked him out, awkwardly because I’m really shit at that sort of thing, he let me down gently, and we remained friends.

We hadn’t talked much lately, but every Valentine’s Day I would remember it was his birthday without Facebook prompting. That should tell you how much I cared for him.

*

Sunday as I scrolled through Instagram I saw a post that made my heart skip a beat. A picture of Uncle Ray and my classmates from First Nations Studies, drumming and singing, and the caption wishing him safe travels to the spirit world.

Not wanting to believe it was true, I went to Facebook to confirm…and saw multiple posts on Faramir’s wall, saying they couldn’t believe he was gone.

Two unexpected deaths, one of a friend and one of a mentor, hit me at once, and I shattered.

You would think that by now, after so many deaths in my life, and many recently, that I would have a process in place, a system, to deal. But grief isn’t like that. Every grief is different, and hits us differently, and we cannot predict how it will until it does, and we’re knocked for a loop.

With this grief, I am exhausted. And I am angry, and frustrated. I’m tired of mourning people. I go through brief explosions of anger and irritation at everything, followed by deep lethargy.

Monday I fell asleep in the recliner and slept most of the day. It was a monumental task to get up and make my way to the computer to sit and start to write this post out. And of course, I was interrupted by a call from my mom. It wasn’t a bad call, but it meant I didn’t get back to this post until now, 6am on Tuesday, and my husband is supposed to have gone to bed but *he hasn’t* and I cannot focus, and every distraction spikes my anger back up.

My sleep schedule, that I pulled an all-nighter on Saturday to fix, is fucked again, and it’s only been a few days. I’m angry about that too.

I’m angry that one of the few truly decent guys I’ve known in my life died far too young, because now the world truly is worse off without him. I’m angry at the cause, which was a motorcycle accident, but he wore all his safety gear and drugs and alcohol weren’t a factor, so it was just that — an accident, because even with all precautions taken, motor vehicles of any kind are still incredibly dangerous. I’m angry I can’t be truly angry about that.

I’m angry we lost Uncle Ray, who may not have been young, but I feel was still too young to leave us for the spirit world. I’m saddened and angry every time we lose an Elder, because we lose more than them alone; we lose their connection to the old ways, we lose their knowledge. I’m sure Ray passed on many of his teachings, and for that I’m grateful — but I also know that loss is inevitable, as so many teachings do not make the transition from oral culture to a book-based one, and so few people are trained in the former now.

I’m angry, and it’s exhausting me.

*

And then I hit peak anger, and it drops away, and I’m just tired. I’m tired of mourning people. I’m tired of hearing bad news. I’m tired of having a good day, the first in a while, get shattered by something awful happening. As seems to be my pattern for…oh, most of my life?

I don’t know how to handle this grief, and I don’t know how to handle the vagaries of my emotions the rest of the time. I have high ACEs — Adverse Childhood Experiences — and it’s made me unable to cope with trauma in a healthy way. It’s made me unable to cope with anything in a healthy way.

I feel like my entire life is a cycle of highs and lows; a cycle of me putting the pieces back together after everything falls apart and I’m seized with adrenaline, only to have things shatter again as soon as they’ve been put back into place.

It isn’t just my inability to cope with things that makes this so; it’s also living in poverty, it’s being a Millennial in a city that’s trying to kill me, it’s living in the shadow of nuclear war — a sentence I didn’t think I’d write until I was quite a bit older, to be honest.

I currently get up every day and think “When I sit down to write, will there a brilliant flash of white outside, and then nothingness, and then Manannan greeting me, to take me over the sea?” Because let’s face it — nukes may be able to hit the West Coast from North Korea, but I don’t have much faith in their aiming capabilities, and if they go for Seattle the chances are large they’ll hit us instead. And even if they hit Seattle, we wouldn’t be safe.

I’d prefer the flash of white and nothingness instead of slow death by radiation poisoning. When I talked with my mom, we spoke of the possibility of putting together suicide kits for such an eventuality. Don’t get me wrong — if there’s any chance of my living through rad poisoning, I want to take it, but if not, if it’s too severe for me to have a chance…I want to choose my manner of death.

The urgency I have felt for months to get out of dodge, to move up north, has only increased. And we still have a year to go.

(My mother, of course, is spending time thinking “Dear gods, I hoped my daughter wouldn’t live through this too.” She was alive during the threat of nuclear war in the 60s, after all. She spent her childhood doing nuclear bomb drills where they went under their desks, and she remembers thinking “This won’t do anything. We’re dead regardless.” But I suppose it was the only way people knew how to deal with such a terrifying reality.)

Meanwhile, while I live with this daily anxiety, while I go online and see more about the pissing match between two certain leaders and wonder when the end will come, meanwhile people I love are dying in the most ordinary of circumstances. It seems almost comic, in a ghoulish way.

While grocery shopping on Sunday I thought “Faramir doesn’t get to do this anymore,” but now I think “Well at least he doesn’t have to fear dying in nuclear war, I guess.” It feels like a horrible thought, but it also makes me laugh, because gallows humour has always been a faithful bedfellow to me. And I think…I think maybe it would make him chuckle a bit too, because he had an excellent and broad sense of humour, and he didn’t take himself too seriously.

I keep thinking that I wish I had had the resources to get land and put together a fallout shelter, as I’ve been thinking of doing since my teens. The apparent apocalypse is looming much faster than I thought it would, and I’m not prepared.

The world rushes forward to its extinction, and it seems decent people are shuffling off this mortal coil before we reach the destination. Soon it will only be us sinners left in mourning to stop the oncoming storm.

The thought exhausts me, along with my grief.

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