Unravel Cancer: Experiences with family battling cancer: July 2010
"Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We miscontstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be "healing". A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to "get through it", rise to the occasion, exhibit the "strength" that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself."
--Joan Didion, "The Year Of Magical Thinking"
My last post was joyous. The weekend spent with my brother & family in Denver was better than I could have imagined. Several days later, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years.
It was an incredible euphoria. I ran out into the streets screaming like a madwoman, waiving my Blackhawks jacket around. Watching the parade on the web and seeing the amazing support of my hometown city for this fantastically talented group of athletes made me so proud.
As the weeks carried on, I lamented not living in Chicago. Often I had thought about moving back, but as my roommate put it, Chicago is "geographically undesirable".
But in coming down off the high of the Cup win, my mind struggled. It was very difficult for me to be present. I was forgetful. I wasn't able to get good sleep.
It was grief. Still, although completing a large crying jag right after my Denver visit, grief was haunting me. Unconsciously I ran from it, terrified it would overwhelm me, drowning me in an abyss of nothingness.
My mind raced, hi-tailing it from reality in the hopes of staying 2-seconds ahead of the wall of nothingness that I feared. It was magical thinking.
Just like Joan Didion's book, and the quote above, my mind seemed to think the inevitable death of my brother wouldn't happen. Daydreams, fantasies, and the like twisted their way through my brain, concocting all manner of outcomes. In a way, the emotions I felt couldn't be tackled head-on, but instead my mind let them out slowly, like tipping the lid of a pressure-cooker every so often, to let out the steam & prevent an explosion.
When I read the passage above about a week ago, it hit the nail on the head. Every preconceived notion I had about grief, death, and dying has been flushed down the toilet of inexperience. Just as Joan Didion wrote, there were certain expectations that society, co-workers, and friends crafted in their interactions with me, that caused a slow insanity. I thought I was crazy for not feeling, thinking, or doing the things they expected. I thought something was wrong with me, for not behaving in the way I thought I knew grief to be.
Meanwhile, the part of me that was _able_ to be present, sincerely wished to partake in some of the Stanley Cup action in Chicago. Since I couldn't be there to get my picture with the cup, I decided to bring the cup a little closer to me.
Through much fear & uncertainty, I launched my Burning Man project: http://www.facebook.com/StanleyCup4Cancer
I'm building a paper mache replica of the Stanley Cup, and will throw it in the fire at the end of the Burning Man festival. But instead of writing names of hockey players on the cup, I'll be writing names of cancer survivors, and those fighting cancer right now. I created a new email address to collect the names for the cup: StanleyCup4Cancer@gmail.com
The intent is to honor my brother & mother who are _still alive_. My brain had wrapped itself around the axel of death, and was thumping along a dirt path relentlessly knocking my self-care, my self-worth, and my-self confidence around.
And it's a fitting parallel: The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports, while cancer is one of the hardest illnesses to fight and overcome.
This project has helped me tremendously in the two weeks since it launched. Spreading the word via Social Media methods is totally new for me, and a little scary. But, it's also created a space for vulnerability to set in. The results have been amazing! Going into the city to watch the World Cup final, resulted in several people hitting on me & trying to pick me up. See what happens when my iron-clad crusty shell falls away a little bit? It was nice to get so much attention... :)
But, that's not the point (albeit a bonus). Making the cup also brought about a groundedness in reality. It provided an outlet for creative expression, and creative decision-making that hardly enters into the corporate vortex that is my working life. And,the project has forced me to talk to others to spread the word, which helps build a community of people who can support one another, while forcing me out of my magical thinking shell.
It's been an amazing & beautiful thing. Despite the lemons that have been doled out by the gods, I'm making lemonade. I refuse to let my fears, my grief, and my sadness taint my ability to live. So, on I go, tearing strips of newspaper, gently cuddling my soul.
For those of you reading this on blogher and wellsphere, please spread the word! Tell everyone you know, tweet to your heart's content. So far there's only about 15 names on the list to write on the Flammable Stanley Cup. That's not enough to cover the whole thing.
Thanks for getting the word out and contributing names to the list. Your help is really appreciated!
Labels: Burning Man, cancer survivor, Chicago Blackhawks, paper mache, Stanley Cup