Permission To Grieve

(I apologize in advance for the unbearably emo, angsty tone of this post.  But there’s a happy ending, I promise.)

Did I say today would be better? I was so very wrong. For some reason, the day after losing Alan was much, much worse.

It didn’t start out that bad. I was mostly numb, still in disbelief, still furiously trying to avoid thinking too much about it. But as the hours passed, I could tell I was losing that battle.

One of my favorite films is Carrington, the story of the intensely romantic, but (mostly) platonic love affair between artist Dora Carrington (Emma Thompson) and writer Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce, another actor I’m very, very concerned about).  Spoiler alert!  He dies, quite unexpectedly actually, and she doesn’t take it well. She seems to go on with her life for awhile, but her heart isn’t in it. She goes through the motions, until one day she calmly, matter-of-factly, digs out a rifle and kills herself.

Don’t worry, I’m still not suicidal. But the bleakness, the emptiness, the loss of purpose–I was drowning minute by minute. I had no energy or motivation. Everything felt pointless. And the worst thing about those feelings is, when they’re crashing over you relentlessly, you feel absolutely certain this is how you’re going to feel from now on.

By lunchtime I was sobbing again. I hate to belabor the point, but as I wept with my head in my hands, Logan walked up to me and stretched up from the ground to pet my face, which he’s never ever done before. When you’re sad enough for a cat to take notice, that’s grief.  It would be too melodramatic to say my lunch tasted like ashes, but it did taste like a muted, pale version of previous meals.

I stumbled upon this Coldplay song on YouTube. I don’t really like Coldplay, I think they’re generally uninteresting and mostly put me to sleep. But in my current frame of mind, this song hit me just right. It feels like ocean waves of despair washing over my head. I can get lost in it and just feel and feel.

Tery gets mad at me because, whenever we have to euthanize an elderly pet (and as serial ferret owners, this happens a lot), I see the end coming and I put up a wall to protect me. This is precisely why. I know I have this capacity for a bottomless well of sadness inside me and, I won’t mince words, it terrifies me. It would be so easy to get lost in it, I know because I spent a lot of my childhood in it.



I was a surprisingly mopey kid, for no good reason

But with Bowie and Alan, I didn’t get a chance to build my wall, so I got blindsided full force. I know illness is a very private thing, but I wish we could have had just a little more warning, time to prepare.

But even as I mourned, I felt silly.  I didn’t know Alan personally.  I didn’t know anything about him that I didn’t read in an interview or article. Which makes it a little crazy to be THIS upset about, for all intents and purposes, a near perfect stranger. Right?  Except that’s the problem with emotions–they’re by definition not based on rationalism.

After two days of crying, my eyes were beyond exhausted. And I still had to work the hospital that night, a task that seemed impossible in this state. I dreaded most of all seeing other people when my face felt frozen with sorrow I couldn’t hide for polite society.

The first person I saw was my longtime friend Tabby, and I felt some relief. She saw the news on Facebook, which would spare me having to explain myself. She asked how I was, and I couldn’t hide my tears. I apologized, said how silly I felt being this sad.

But…she understood. She has the exact same depth of attachment to Sarah McLachlan (I know, I brought her to one of her concerts and she wept almost the entire time), and she’d be every bit as devastated if she died.  She offered me a hug, and I cried freely on her shoulder.  And it felt amazing.

And…that helped. Knowing I wasn’t crazy, knowing even one other person sympathized completely, made such a huge difference. It was permission to grieve, and it was exactly what I needed.  I was able to work my shift, and the next day I was almost back to my normal self.  I was even able to watch some of Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny without so much as a twinge of sadness.

Because I realized, realistically, nothing in my immediate environment has changed. I’m actually no further away from meeting him than I was a few days ago, and I’ve already been as close to him as I could hope to be (the most thrilling afternoon of my life when I got to breathe the same air as him on Broadway).  Of course I’m greedy for new content, but I’ll always have the massive body of work he’s left us.  I’ll wrap up my grief in a tight little ball, keep it close. But in my DVD player he’ll live forever.


Answer:  Whatever you want, name your price


2 thoughts on “Permission To Grieve

  1. I completely understand this, Elaine. You were the first person I thought of when I heard the news and I felt so terrible for you. I don’t think it’s melodramatic to feel this way over a celebrity, someone we have never met. Especially when we have practically grown up with them in our lives.

    2016 is not off to a good start. 😦

    • Thank you Erin. I hope people don’t think I’m minimizing their well wishes on FB, but just knowing others can relate to this level of attachment to a celebrity (which I know you do as well) is enormously comforting.

      I’m a bit concerned for Robert next. Fingers crossed.

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