|Marilyn Crook/Comedy Central press gallery|
Stephen Colbert on grief: “The interesting thing about grief, I think, is that it is its own size. It is not the size of you. It is its own size. And grief comes to you. You know what I mean? I’ve always liked that phrase ‘He was visited by grief,’ because that’s really what it is. Grief is its own thing. It’s not like it’s in me and I’m going to deal with it. It’s a thing, and you have to be OK with its presence. If you try to ignore it, it will be like a wolf at your door.”
I found out recently that the great comedian and performer Stephen Colbert suffered an enormous loss when he was young - his dad and two of his brothers were all killed in a small plane crash when he was 10. It's one of those heart-wrenching scenarios too difficult to contemplate. Yet, here he is, decades later, proof that life is ever persistent.
His take on living with grief really struck me. I've never looked at grief through this lens, but I think he's on to something here. Maybe grief isn't something to "get through" and "move past" as much as it is something you have to learn to live alongside. I think we sometimes beat ourselves up for not breaking free, fast enough, from the losses that will dog all of us at various times. After a painful experience, surely it's possible to both heal and also move to a place of accepting grief as a natural component of life. Physiologically, even, there's got to be something important about grieving, since it's such a base, universal experience. When we're "visited" by grief, we'd probably do better to allow it in for a cup of
coffee whiskey than to pretend it's probably just that really nice guy in the suit from the Church of Latter Day Saints out there on the doorstep, who won't be terribly surprised if we don't open the door. OK, maybe whiskey isn't the answer.
We tend to place way too many qualifiers and limitations on acceptable emotional responses, at any rate. We're too hard on ourselves when it comes to concepts (and once-pretend words) like "normalcy," and we're way too scared of that wolf at the door. Not only is there not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to dealing with mental stuff, there also isn't an ideal endgame for everyone.
What feels like coping to me might look like not enough progress, to you. But you can't fully understand the totality of another person's process. The older I get, the more I understand that I can't fully understand any other person. I can get close, maybe, in a few, select cases, but we don't get to climb inside other people's brains to check out the mechanics (at least not yet - Monsanto has something new coming out in our national corn supply, I've heard). All anybody can do is to keep moving forward. If we're honest and patient with ourselves, we figure out how to live with pain as we go. Sometimes we need a little help, and that's OK, too, so long as we're working toward fully turning toward the things that hurt.
The best I can do in the meantime is accept you at face value, and encourage you to live an authentic life, even when that means your authenticity might make me uncomfortable at times. Something about authenticity brings out vulnerability in other people, according to all the Brené Brown I've read. And that can be scary, but also valuable. In fact, I'd say grief is one manifestation of vulnerability, which is key to fully embracing this imperfect life. It's all part of the sometimes frightening circle of Truth.
It's a lot to contemplate. I'm sure 8 out of 10 psychiatrists would tell me that my B.S. in political science and a lengthy interpretation of a Stephen Colbert quote doesn't actually qualify me to psychoanalyze all of society in broad, sweeping strokes. But 8 out of 10 psychiatrists would also have 8 different answers for why I cry every time I read Green Eggs and Ham to my sons. It's just what I do.
Knowing that I'll never have it all figured out is a gift that never stops giving me the future embarrassment I'll feel when I read this 3 years from now. Future Sarah, please don't be too hard on November 2012 Sarah. This was before that really huge thing happened with Oprah, when we all found out the true meaning of life. And to think we once thought it was free cars and Flamin' Hot Cheetos!