Tuesday, June 17, 2008

By trade, editors deal with the micro details of a work. I have come to realize that I'm not naturally a big-picture person in regular life either. I try to employ my little-picture methodology to monolithic issues (raising kids well, saving for retirement, etc.). I want the reassurance of knowing the exact order of operations that go into whatever goal I'm facing down beforehand. But that's cramming a square peg into a round hole. The big picture is a vision that requires faith, hope, and improvisation at the start. For someone like me who absolutely sucks at improv -- that's a huge hill to climb, just to get started on something.

I've thought a lot about big-picture events and quests with a capital Q since reading the book, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm probably I'm the last middle-aged American woman to read it, but for the benefit of the three other people hiding under a rock, it is a memoir that chronicles a year of traveling and spiritual exploration after the author's soul-sapping divorce.

I'm shocked at how much I liked the book. I was cautious going in, because I heard the author was on Oprah promoting the story, and that Julia Roberts will star in a movie version. The book's press gave off the faint stench of The Secret, which really is just Social Darwinism respun in less harshly Victorian language (If your life is awesome, it's because YOU are positively special and earned every last orgasm and gold ingot! And if your life sucks, it's because You are negative and dragged those problems right to yourself like a magnet. Got that?)

But by just a few pages in, it was obvious that Gilbert wrote a memoir, not a smug how-to book. She isn't holier than thou or rigidly dogmatic. She's funny, open minded, and as enthusiastic about food in Italy as she is about meditation in India. Reading about her path from lost to found really did inspire me.

And here I am, recently awake to the fact that I am relatively at peace with my dead-baby-and-pregnancy-calamities saga. It took two and a half years, so it's not like it was an overnight change. Yet it feels so markedly different. It's like I've been staring for eons at the random dots in one of those Magic Eye books, and suddenly the big-picture just popped out at me.

For anyone newer to their grief, I would hasten to add that "at peace" doesn't mean I want to turn away from my loss, or distance myself from others out there for whom this is not as settled. I've been struggling to figure out a metaphor that explains the difference between how I felt before and how I feel now. The only one that sort of fits is that of the leg amputee.

We've all heard the death of a child being referred to as similar to amputation, right? It's permanent and impacts every step. The underlying truth is that you would always prefer to have your old leg back, where that an option. And in the beginning, even as you make progress at adapting to being one-legged, the lost leg is always keenly on your mind.

Being at peace is not getting your old leg back. Instead, it's akin to receiving a high-tech prosthetic. After being in a wheel chair and then on crutches, it feels pretty magnificent to bound around as a biped. So you don't think about the fact that all things being equal, you'd still like that real leg back, please. You just enjoy the breeze in your hair, and maybe look to the road ahead.

For me, anyway, that's what peace feels like. For others who have got here (in any matter, grief-related or not) what does it feel like for you?


Mama Marathon said...

I also just read this book, and was surprised to like it so much. I think that the author's journey to find her new self after a painful divorce mirrors my own journey to find my new self after the loss of my daughter. I read it while newly pregnant with my second baby after my loss, and what will be, come hell or high water, absolutely my last pregnancy. I've experienced my own emotional and spiritual awakening knowing that this is my last. For the first time in four years of pregnancy and loss, I feel like I can focus on rebuilding myself, rather than just doing the day to day coping with the aftermath of my daughter's stillbirth. I am exuberant - not so much about the pregnancy (though I am so elated about the baby-to-be), but about finally taking a step back from all the grief and worry, and beginning to plan what my life will look like in 1 year, 5 years, 10.

I thought the haze that surrounded me since I became pregnant with my first ill-fated daughter was just "preggo brain," but I realize now it was my own self shutting down as a defense mechanism. With the light at the end of my tunnel, I have finally switched back on, and I feel like my whole life is different, better, more complete. The grief and hurt are still there every day, but it's not the central focus of my life anymore, and I feel so free.

Ann said...

I have not read this book (one of the 3, apparently) but I'll weigh in on the second half of your post.

While I'm not an editor, I am a professional writer. The only way I can describe how I deal with our loss these days is that it has become a story. When I tell it to people, I don't necessarily want sympathy; I just want them to embrace the story to understand why I am who I am today.

It feels weird to be so at peace with our loss only 7 months after. Yet, I'm so focused on the future (the current pregnancy) that it's hard to dwell on the past. Sometimes I feel a little guilty at how I'm not torn apart by the thought of losing Zach anymore, but then I remember (my own version of your amputation analogy) that if I could change anything and have him back, I would, but I can't, so I have to move forward. I can't change what happened to Zach by tearing my hair out.

Wabi said...

Mama Marathon and Ann, I know of other women who release much more of their grief more during subsequent pregnancies than I seemed to do. So you definitely aren't alone on that front.

Mama Marathon said...

Wabi, the strange thing is I thought I had gotten through so much grief before now. I didn't feel unhappy or depressed at all. But I'm definitely entering another stage in my life and in my grief. I guess you're right - I am releasing it. A wise songwriter (ellis paul) once wrote "I'm letting go, because holding on's killing me." It's necessary to keep moving away from that acute pain so you can just live your life. But it's hard to release grief because it takes you one step farther away from the one you lost.

Julia said...

I am certainly not there yet, and I am certainly not letting go in this pregnancy-- I am digging in, focusing, trying to do whatever I can for this little one, so that I only have to know this pain once. Realizing there are no guarantees, of course.

I have been hearing about this book a lot lately, so perhaps I should get it and read it, ha?