The Monster, Grief, In the Closet

My recent post, Grief as a Companion, brought about such meaningful and moving responses.  My friend Debra, took pen to paper and shared this personal piece.

Expressive Writing has evolved to include more than jotting down my feelings in a journal.  Writing short stories about my past has supported my overall health in surprising ways.  This fall, as as I experience the 20thanniversary of my husband’s death, I found myself courageously writing the following piece.  

Debra Stobbe 

Opening my calendar, the date stares at me.  I skip over the words I have scratched under it.  My memory knows well what is behind that closet door.  

Every year, I ceremoniously record the birth dates of family and friends in a new calendar.  Flipping to each month of clear open white boxes, I use a red pen, to contrast the day-to-day events that will eventually crowd the space, hoping the celebratory date will still pop out and jar my attention.  I include the number of colorful candles that will be on their cake, all the while noting the unavoidable passage of time.  I quietly marvel how my own wrinkly, greying outsides betray the feelings of my thirty something insides, and wonder how five, ten years can move so quickly.  

I enjoy celebrating my special ones on the day they entered our world with a card popped into the mail or a spontaneous phone call or a special cake baked with love.  My heart gently flutters with gratitude and joy.  

Twenty years ago, one of the little white boxes filled with an event.  And as the years moved, more boxes are similarly marked.  Darkness surrounds the memories of these events, no candles to celebrate, no phone calls, no gratitude. 

I fear these dates, not wanting to open the closet, knowing the monster grief is sitting waiting for my visit.  Sometimes the door cracks open weeks before the date.  Memories seep into my nighttime dreams and rattle my daily activities.  A dark cloud of anger, sadness and fear easily snakes through that crack.  Tears blur my vision while I drive.  My voice raises over a chore not completed.  And my nights become sleepless marathons.  Denial tries to push the door closed but over time it becomes weak and tired.  Patiently, grief waits for me.  

Time does not respect monsters or fear.  The sun rises and sets.  Another box is crossed off.  It may be a celebratory box, or an empty box, or a box that holds a monster.  

Henry, my almost three-year-old grandson, has a witty storybook called: “Are You My Monster?”  A young boy has drawn a picture of a green monster with large eyes, sharp teeth, a striped tail, and red claws.  On the following pages, the boy meets colorful monsters of various sizes and shapes to which he asks, “are you my monster?”.  He then goes through the recognition that they are not green like in his picture, or they do have sharp teeth but not a long tail, till the last page where he looks under his bed and finds his stuffed monster bear and tucking it under his arm, he sighs and says, ‘you are my monster’ and closing his eyes, he peacefully drifts off to sleep.

My monster does not have green fur or a striped tail.  My monster sometimes scares me and sometimes holds my hand as I navigate life.  Often, I do not want to open the closet door, and it get’s opened by a white box reminding me.  And sometimes, a conversation, a smell, a photograph, startle me back to the reality of a loved one who left this world.   The memories of loneliness, the experiences of sorrow, the dark nights are slowly healing.  The clouds do move and the sun shines.  I am learning to celebrate my departed loved ones in a different way.  I too then sigh, and say, ‘you are my monster’, as my heart tucks my grief in beside gratitude and joy.         

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