Business Musings: Grief And The Writer
I wasn’t going to write this, but my muse, stubborn wench that she is, kept throwing out sentences like flares into the darkness that is my mind.
So, here goes…
On March 26, my older brother passed away. It was a surprise, even though he was nearly 81 and not in the best of health. There were good odds that he would die long before me: he was twenty years older, male, and a chainsmoker for most of his life.
However, there’s a difference between “good odds” and what actually happens. For example, there was a period there, before we moved to Las Vegas, in which I might’ve been the first one to go. My health had cratered in those days to the point where I nearly didn’t make it. Thank heavens for the miracle cure of the desert.
Also, my family is long-lived. And my brother was, in his own way, a strong presence in the family. He was The Rusch—the oldest male, which in the generations before ours, meant something super important.
(For the record, he was not happy being The Rusch, and pushed against it most of his life.)
When he went into surgery, everyone—and I do mean everyone, from his kids to his doctors—expected him not only to survive, but thrive.
And it didn’t happen.
Even though all the signs were there, I went to bed the night before his passing confident he’d make it through what was proving to be a difficult recovery. When I woke up, there were two missed calls on my phone from family on the East Coast. I didn’t have to call back to know what they would tell me.
His death has hit me harder than I thought it would. My brother and I never shared a household. He was in college when I was born. In fact, my mother used to say I exist because my parents drove my brother to college in September. Apparently, my parents had a good time on the drive back.
He was more of a favorite uncle than a brother. We had a lot in common—similar interests and similar pressures. I was raised essentially as an only, after the second wave of feminism, so my father believed that I too could be more than a wife and mother. (He raised my sisters to be that, expecting them to get a college education, but not really expecting them to use it.)
Over the decades, my brother and I stayed in touch in a casual way—recommending books, exchanging information about family history, and, during baseball season, commenting on the strange things going on with the game.
Weirdly, the fact that he died days before Opening Day (April 1), didn’t help matters.
I found myself floundering, off-balance, and uneasy. I knew that this was coming, also knew it would have no day-to-day impact on my life, and yet…I’d never experienced a world without him in it. And, as Dean pointed out, my older siblings have in some ways been the older generation, the way that most people’s parents are. That little barrier between me and death.
I’m processing. I’m sad.
And it’s made me reflect a bit on grief.
2020 and 2021 have been grief-filled years. I’ve lost friends to COVID this past year, and friends to other diseases. I’m not counting how many people I know who died because if I do, I might collapse into a puddle.
I’m sure you’re all going through that as well.
And then there’s the loss of the world that was, which we all slowly dealt with as the realities of the pandemic hit and we realized this damn thing wasn’t leaving any time soon.
We are, as I’ve blogged before, slowly emerging from the rubble into whatever this new world is going to be.
Sometimes deaths hit hard and do so unexpectedly. Some deaths, which I thought would be difficult, were relatively easy to go through. For example, I had done my grieving years before my mother’s death in 1997. She and I did not get along and I slowly moved myself out of her orbit, so that when she passed, I was more perplexed that she was no longer in this world than I was sad.
(There’s more to it than that, but that’s a relatively good summary.)
The loss of some friends, though, has been earth-shattering. I’ve found myself in tears or filled with rage or both that they are gone. I’ve gone through the entire grief wheel on some of them, and I know those were just practice rounds for the loss of the best friends—if I do outlive them.
The death that hit me the weirdest, though, was my father’s 31 years ago. For months, I couldn’t write or read. I would get home from work and sit in front of the TV, watching movies that I had rented. Words simply blurred on the page.
I was in therapy at the time and the therapist suggested that maybe my father had taught me how to read, so all of that shut down. But one of my sisters was the person who taught me how to read, so that theory doesn’t hold water.
It was scary to lose that ability, especially since his was the first major death I had experienced. I was afraid I’d lose my reading and writing ability with every important death.
So far, I’ve been spared that torture since then.
But each death has been different, and my reaction to each one has been different than what I had assumed it would be.
This one is hitting harder than expected, but I am finding refuge in reading and writing and storytelling. Although, baseball is making me kinda sorta angry right now. Probably because I can’t share it.
Dean keeps telling me to give myself time, which is what I would tell me if I were a friend. I know he’s right. But I’m impatient.
I want the icky emotions to pass quickly, especially now that the world is slowly opening up. I want to enjoy life again, but part of that means dealing with the darkness of the past year plus.
I have no advice here. I have nothing except the acknowledgement that each death, each grief, is different. I do know that many of you have told me you’ve been unable to write this past year. I also know that some of you wrote more than you ever imagined. And both groups mentioned that they thought their response was a way to deal with the turmoil—and in some cases—the grief of the pandemic.
These messy emotions are something we’re all going to have to find our way through. I’m not exactly sure how or what will be on the other end. I’m looking hard at books about the 1920s right now, but I’m looking for something specific.
I’m looking to see how the country, the world really, came out of the 1918 pandemic and all of the death from World War I. What kind of impact did that grief have and what legacies do we still have?
Yeah, I’m nothing if not analytical. It keeps me sane. I’d be 100% brain if humans could be designed that way.
But they aren’t. I’m not. Which means dealing with the tough emotional stuff.
This blog is part of that, as you’ve probably guessed.
I’m processing, and not happy about it. I’m working slower than I want to, and I’m not sleeping well, which is not a surprise.
I’m resisting the urge to revamp my schedule. It’s too soon for that. Because I’ll just frustrate myself. I know myself that well, at least.
So it’s a daily trudge, and probably a familiar one to some of you. Most of you, probably.
Because the weird thing about this past year plus is that we have all gone through similar experiences at the same time. That only seems to happen once a century or so. Lucky us that it happened in our lifetimes. (Add your favorite sarcasm emoji here.)
No real conclusion here. Just an acknowledgement that sometimes life throws a curveball. Sometimes you can hit it out of the park. And sometimes the damn ball smacks you in the knee.
Yeah, baseball analogy. It seemed appropriate.
“Business Musings: Grief and the Writer,” copyright © 2021 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / curaphotography.
Im never very good at these things having suffered similar losses in my own life, but I do offer my condolences on your loss. I’m reminded of a quote I heard years ago. “If you haven’t experienced grief from the loss of a loved one, it doesn’t mean you’re fortunate. It just means you’re young.”
On an episode of Nevers last night, a Lord told his guest “I’m sure you’ve had more condolences than you can stand. May I offer you a sherry instead?”
I hope your heart finds room to write again very soon.
I love that quote. Thank you, Keith.
You have all my sympathy. I’m sorry for the kids of your brother. I didn’t write much after my dad died. Not for a long time. The kicker for me is dementia. Not mine (yet) although there’s a lot of mid life brain fog, other people’s. 14 years and counting so far, five of those years hard core running everything care – too hard core for me to sustain for five years let alone the five or six more I’m looking at – I was expecting three at the worst. My father’s came first, and now he’s gone, my mother had it. Then, since he’s ten years older than me, I expect it’ll be my husband’s or mine because here in the UK over 50% of seniors get dementia. Mum’s has just taken a big dip, so if it helps, I’m not writing much either.
Try to be kind yourself. Although I know that isn’t easy and try to give yourself time. It will pass, and is it doesn’t, you will find that you learn ways to write with the pain.
All the best
I’m sorry to hear about what you’re going through, MT. Please be kind to yourself as well.
Hi Kris, my sincerest sympathies to you.
Two weeks ago I lost my older brother to Covid.
Oh, Mark, I’m sooo sorry to hear that. Nothing really prepares you for an important loss like that, no matter how many times you’ve grieved others. So I’m thinking of you.
When I lost a dear friend, I discovered that different people grieve differently. It was kind of a shock. His father had the pack-rat reaction and had to take everything belonging to his son, down to the thumbtacks in the wall. His mother didn’t want anything, their relationship was the most thing important to her.
I had a friend whose father threw everything out the window when his wife died, clothes, sheets, dishes. Another friend told me that when his mother died, he and his siblings fought over her possessions for years. You can never know how people will react.
Now I tell people to try to be tolerant when they are grieving. Make space for yourself, but let others have their space, too.
Exactly. Great advice, Alice.
Tough one. My condolences. May you find comfort in the relationship you did have with your brother – it’s funny how, even with many others in your orbit, you have such a big hole when someone leaves. Give it time – and words. For a writer, these words are critical. I don’t see how others manage.
Dean is right, as you point out. Grieving takes time, and when you’re already less than resilient it is harder. But the Psalms have it right: grief lasts for a day, but joy comes in the morning. Take joy you have friends and family to help.
Thank you, Lawrence.
Thanks for writing this, Kris.
We are living in a time of global mass trauma and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, from where I’m sitting. Messy emotions, indeed. So yes, we have to learn how to live with this, too, (and look to people who’ve lived with ongoing trauma for decades if not centuries, pointing to Black and Indigenous people as one set of examples). Through it all, we figure out how to keep taking care of ourselves, each other, and yes, figuring out how we relate to art and work.
I’ve been living with an accident (compounded by an illness) related brain injury for months and am finally talking about it in public more because I realize that everyone is struggling right now, and maybe my relationship with my own struggle might help. We are all signal flares to each other, lighting up the night sky, saying “You are not alone.”
Each grief is both unique and universal. And that’s one of the things stories communicate so well. To quote James Baldwin: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”
Sending condolences for your loss, and gratitude for your writing.
Thank you, Thorn. I appreciate all of this. And yes, speaking up is how we help each other…and ourselves. So glad you’re talking about your struggle, even as I’m sorry that you’re struggling. Hugs.
I’m deeply sorry about your brother.
I’m so sorry, Kris. This blows.
(Also, I am officially changing my family title. “The Lucas” sounds so much better than “The Patriarch.” Thank you.)
From now on, you shall be “the” to me. (And thanks.)
Our 23-year-old son died from unknown causes in his bed in our home, 24 years ago. We lost our sense of color for three years as we walked through our valley of grief. Gradually, we found ourselves climbing through the canyon as we hele each other’s hand. Now is a good time for you to take Dean for a walk in the park. There’s a group called The Compassionate Friends, International for people who ha lost a child or sibling. TCF of Summerlin, Las Vegas – Compassionate Friends in Las …https://www.compassionatefriends.org › chapter ›..
Compassionate Friends, a non-profit helping grieving families offers a TCF of Summerlin, Las Vegas in Las Vegas, NV.
It might help.
Thank you. I did not know about the group. And your description of grieving, haunting and beautiful, and it gells with my experience with other losses. Thank you.