Saturday, September 10, 2011

What is Grief?

A few years ago, I put to paper what my experience was on September 11, 2001. Like most, I can remember snippets of the day, television screens, quiet skies, disbelief. This ten year anniversary has brought to mind not the initial shock, though, but the feelings that followed and continue today when I hear the newscasters recount "the events as they unfolded." In actuality, my world seemed to stand still for several months following 9/11 as I wound my way through life on autopilot, unable to believe that there would even be a tomorrow (let alone a next year). I vividly remember a bike ride with Mike where I felt so overwhelmed with sorrow that I stopped on the side of the road and wept. When he asked what I was feeling I described it this way...the only thing I wanted to do at that moment was take my bike over my head and hurl it into the field. I wish I had accepted then what it was that kept me up at night and miserable during the day. It was grief.

My reaction seemed ridiculous to me at the time, knowing that I was safe in the Midwest, nowhere near danger. I scoured the lists of people who were killed convinced I should know at least one person...that would validate my emotions. But there was no familiar name, no face I recognized. Looking back it seems so obvious...much as I complained about the concrete and the oppressive crowds, I considered New York my city. People in Michigan always raise an eyebrow when I say I'm from NY, even though my hometown resembles Okemos more than it does Detroit. On September 11 there I was, hundreds of miles from "home," where my people were suffering.

My brother was working downtown during the attacks, and for several difficult hours I did not know where he was. My sister knew one of the firefighters that was missing, the father of my niece's friend. Once I could get a call to her (close to midnight), we sat and talked as we watched the horrific videos shown over and over again. In the months that followed, I was not only grieving the 3000 strangers who died, I had lost my sense of security. How on earth would I travel when I could never envision boarding a plane again? I thought I was pretty smart, and knew how things worked. But apparently the world can change overnight, and we are left powerless, small and terrified.

I still cannot fathom what some people lost that day...friends, co-workers, family. But having since experienced the death of my father, sister, and mother-in-law, I now have a clear picture of where my depression came from. I fought it because I didn't feel like I had the right to grieve, but I did. We all do. There is no sense in making an internal comparison of who lost more, or when. If I had owned my loss ten years ago, talked about it, asked for help, I might have been able to switch off the autopilot sooner. Really, I should have just thrown the bike.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My First Day of Kindergarten

No, I'm not writing this from E's point of view. In the hour and a half I spent in her classroom yesterday, I learned a lot. Tons. More than she did, probably. Now I know what people meant when they said, "Just wait til your kids start school."

On my first day of kindergarten, I learned...

  • I'm going to need an inbox for all the papers E brings home. And an outbox for all of my homework.

  • Although they deny it, they're expecting kids who enter kindergarten to know how to write their names, cut paper with scissors, and match letters with sounds. Gone are the days of tissue-paper-crinkle projects.

  • There is a big difference between "carline" and "parent drop-off."

  • My girl is so much like me it's scary. As I filled in the sheet describing her, it was as if I was answering the question, "What were you like, exactly, as a 5-year old?"

  • Put me in an elementary school and I'm immediately a teacher-pleasing machine. I hope she liked me.

  • The Pledge of Allegiance makes me cry.

This is going to be a big year for us. In the end, I hope my hard work merits a "satisfactory," but I'm betting on "needs improvement."

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr