“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

About Grief: The First Time

I’ve been thinking about grief recently.

Several events and incidents have sparked it: First, Katie Granju’s loss of her 17-year-old son, which she has blogged about at mamapundit.com, and the grief she is experiencing; next, my daughter’s being back in jail on a second charge in four months of manufacturing meth, which will cause my granddaughter once again to grieve for her mother; and the strange kind of grief I feel for my terribly drug-addicted, but alive, daughter, which revived as I scanned the old negatives for the three posts on the Gulf Coast beaches.

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When I look at those old pictures of my daughter running and playing at the beach, I wonder who she is today or what happened to that toddler in those pictures. I simply do not know. I have grieved for two decades for the loss of my daughter to drugs. It has been like going to her funeral over and over and over and over.

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Grief, a Creature

Grief is a strange animal. Unrelenting. But it’s not an animal you’re familiar with until it shows up at your door and parks itself for some time. There’s really no preparation for it.

Unresponsive to kindness or cruelty, grief responds to only two things: attempts to repress it or attempts to control it. Repressing it will cause it to erupt in other places and circumstances. Trying to control it turns it mean and dangerous. Only one thing works: look it straight in the eye and accept its presence.

I remember the first time I experienced grief that has remained in my consciousness. It was Easter season and the first worst day of my life.

I was about ten. I had gotten a pink chickie maybe a month or so before Easter, from Woolworth downtown, and named her Easter Egg. I have no idea how quickly colored chickies begin growing out of the lavender or pink or blue. But on this day, she was growing out of her color.

The Easter of pink Chickie Easter Egg, I also learned that my mother cried and I learned about secrets. I am still not sure how I knew her father, my unknown grandfather, had just died; his death explained why mom’s sister was coming and bringing her Cocker Spaniel. No mention was ever made of any of it. Why was it such a secret? Her father? That made him my grandfather. I had never seen him that I knew of. I didn’t really know he was alive, so how did I know he died? I don’t remember. Whispers, I think. Children understand whispers.

Mom’s father, that grandfather, was a problem drinker, and Granny had put him out decades ago. I don’t think they ever divorced; that would have been far too indecorous in those days. Mom’s sister was to arrive the next day with her blonde Cocker. Until the dog came and we had to find a place for Chickie Easter Egg, I really had no intimations of grief or death. I think that was a secret too.

Easter Egg lived in my room. She followed me everywhere, except outside, of course, where she would be prey for the neighborhood dogs and cats.

Grief, All Tears

Neighbors up the street had ducks, so they had a pen where Easter Egg could stay until the dog left. She was outgrowing her pink and becoming yellow. The ducks were in their pen, and the plan was I would stop by each morning on the way to school on my bike. We stayed long enough to make sure the ducks would let her intrude. They did.

I stopped for two days, I think it was. That third day, I knew something was wrong when I got to the pen. Easter Egg didn’t greet me when I called her.

Then I saw her, floating, pink and yellow, in the big washtub of water the ducks swam in. She drowned in the duck water. Those tears felt like my first real tears. It was the worst day of my life.

Grief, No Comfort

I don’t remember mom or dad comforting me. Mom and her sister disappeared for a day or so – their father’s funeral, I guess. No one talked to me about death or grief. In the intervening years, we had many pets die or disappear; I always cried over pets, and learned to dread the day that something would happen to another one. Grief is just so hard.

Why didn’t mom and dad tell me about all this the day Chickie Easter Egg drowned? About having the worst day of your life. About grief. About death. Real grief and death. About this hole, this well of grief so deep and so cold and so dark that some people never return. Now I know what it must feel like to fall into a well and never be found. What happened to people who fell into wells? Would I ever be found?

This is how I came to know grief, nearly unbearable grief. Maybe grief changes you and defines who you become. In my naiveté, I thought it was enough grief for a lifetime and I would be spared any more.

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