Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Reality smacks me again

My friend had a bowel resection today for the cancer they found during a routine colonoscopy a few weeks ago. At the time, the doc removed a polyp and was sure it was nothing...until the biopsy came back. Now she's down 7" of colon and will be in the hospital for 3-5 days, (forever in insurance time), and will be recovering for weeks. I want to be supportive, and I try, but the one thing I can't bring myself to say is that everything will be all right. Because I don't know that, and I don't believe that anymore as a default, and I don't want to be a liar.

Another widow thing; it makes us socially uncooperative in so many ways.

I am hoping for the very best, for my friend's sake, of course, but also my own; I can't lose another best friend. But at the same time, I know it's totally out of my hands, as most things are. So I find myself in the limbo between unreasonable-yet-comforting optimism and fatalism. The die is probably already cast. She came through the surgery well, but now there's a waiting game. Did they get it all? Will it come back? Will she have to do chemo or radiation after all? Will she, and those who love her, ever be able to relax again?

It may all be fine; but I have plenty of reasons to know that it isn't always. I no longer believe I wouldn't survive another great loss of a loved one; I just don't want to, you know?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Who is allowed to remember?

I don't take anything away from those who lost family and friends in the 9/11 attacks. They are, for me, a kind of family, like all the widows I know, all the bereaved people I know who have suffered. I want to say that right up front. Their pain, their grief, is as valid as mine, even a decade later.

That is not my issue.

What keeps running through my head is this: We have been reminded, exhorted, and otherwise encouraged to never forget that day, to keep the wound fresh, seemingly so it can be exploited by any number of people for whatever self-serving reasons they may have, most likely control and commerce. People who are passionately angry can be riled up and swayed. People who are afraid can be influenced and coerced. However cynical that may be, the fact of the matter is, as a nation we have been in mourning, actively grieving, for a full decade. And it's been encouraged everywhere you look. Even people who were not personally affected by the 9/11 attacks are encouraged to wear widow's weeds for a nation that died that day and was reborn as something different, something vulnerable, something afraid.

As someone who got a month, tops, before people were bored and uncomfortable with my widowhood and explaining to me that I needed to grieve better, faster, and more correctly, I really don't understand the patience and passion it takes to keep an entire nation, the majority of which was only affected emotionally and intellectually, not personally, by the tragedies and the loss of so many lives, in mourning for 10 full years and counting. Did the 9/11 widows and widowers get 10 years of compassion, of genuine empathy, of listening, as they tried to put their lives back together? Maybe in New York, where the scar of the attack burned and smoldered for so long, where the skyline had changed so dramatically, where there was no way anyone there could forget...maybe there was more compassion for longer. But what about the families of the people on those planes from other parts of the country? Did their neighbors and coworkers and friends soon get tired of their grief? I've read the stories, because they've abounded in the last week, of people who HAVE rebuilt their lives. They have moved forward, and healed. It's a good thing; it's just that their nation hasn't followed suit. If the USA were another widow in this emotional place after 10 years, we'd say she was stuck. Really stuck. But we're not saying it.

I don't know. I really don't. But I suspect that the patience for individual grief, even for those who lost loved ones through this heinous act of murder, was still too brief than it seems to be for national grief. Where grief-stricken individuals are pushed to "get better" and "move on" and heal as soon as is convenient for their observers, the level of pathos, of anger, of vowed retribution seems unabated in all this time, and the scab is regularly pulled off the wound wherever it seems useful to do so. Why is the general impatience with grieving suspended in this case?

I guess I feel some anger and confusion that at 5 years out, I'm supposed to be well over having been widowed, and I certainly should not be still talking about it, but as an American, I'm never supposed to get over 9/11. In fact, I feel like the message being broadcast is that it's my patriotic duty to never move forward from it; I'm supposed to be just as hurt and angry and torn up about it as I was the day it happened.

What is that about?