Monday, May 04, 2009

I think experiencing grief is a little like learning a foreign language through emersion. I spent some time in Japan after college. I’d taken a few Japanese classes, but really had no experience with the language – with actually speaking it.

When I touched down, I recognized certain phrases, and could utter a few studied sentences, but my brain didn’t really process it all. After several weeks, however, I began to learn the conversation that I would have over and over again – the “Curious about the foreign girl” chat that was always the same 5 or 6 questions, and I always answered them the same way. They always ended with “Oh, your Japanese is so good!” and I thanked them, and dissembled – their English was far better, and I’d studied before I came over, and everybody was so kind and patient and helpful, it made it easier to learn…

Truth is, I think my Japanese was pretty horrible. If we went out to eat, I had no idea what people at the next table were saying. I couldn’t express anything more complicated than “I’m hungry” or “That’s pretty!” I had my practiced dialog, and people predictably asked about the same, safe topics, so I got by.

Sometimes I feel a twinge in my brain when I talk to people about missing Karl. They are going to ask a few questions, and at first I had no idea how to answer. Now, I’ve had some time to learn my own feelings a little, and I can say, “I’m so glad I have Elliot – he reminds me to smile, and laugh” or, “We’re taking it a day at a time. I have great support, and I’m so lucky not to have to worry about the bills.”

It’s another practiced dialog. It isn’t insincere, or pretentious, but I don’t know that it’s ever a real conversation that goes any deeper that “That’s pretty” did. I feel things that I have no vocabulary to express. I don’t cry in front of people, because I wouldn’t know what to *say* when (if?) I ever stopped crying. I don’t say it hurts, because I can’t explain *how* it hurts, *where* it hurts.

Then again, maybe it’s enough just to feel it, and I don’t need to explain it. Or maybe it’s time to find a group of native speakers (others on the same foreign soil of widowhood, at least) to help me practice this language of grief.

But really, I’m doing fine, a day at a time, or a night at a time. I’m still here; I’m holding it together (even if I’m not sure what, exactly, “it” is.)


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