“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 Second Time

It was Easter season again.

I think it came early in 1970. The day was a bright, cold early March day. Winter was clinging to the dogwood’s branches. The jonquils were still plentiful, since they were a bit late in breaking ground. I wore yellow.

I stared out the back window of the black Cadillac. I suddenly remembered the other worst day of my life, the Easter that Chickie Easter Egg drowned. Until this cold 1970 day near Easter, I thought the other Easter was the worst day of my life. This cold day my brother was to be buried at this gravesite in the cold ground. He was 23.

When I looked over at mom in the Cadillac, she was staring out the window. I shivered. Was she wondering how many cars were in the procession to the gravesite? The motorcycle cop roared past the driver’s side, headed up to the light at the next intersection. Mom swung her head around, startled.

Suddenly it seemed like an obnoxious tradition to hold up traffic all over Alabama when someone died. But that’s how it is still done today. Cars will pull over and stop on the side of the road in respect, even on the interstates. Ridiculous.

“It’s really cold for Easter,” I said out loud. I thought to myself, “I don’t regret wearing this yellow spring suit to my brother’s funeral.” His body had to be shipped back from Vietnam. It took over a week. I felt like throwing up.

So I concentrate on mom. She is beyond crying, I thought. She’s like a piece of marble, white, veined, cold, stiff.

Why couldn’t finding Chickie floating in the duck’s water have prepared me for this? Why didn’t that experience warn me about this day? What is experience for, if not for this? Why didn’t mom and dad tell me about this the day Chickie Easter Egg drowned? About having the worst day of your life. About grief.

This day is the one when I came to know grief, nearly unbearable grief.

A Funeral, Over and Over

In 1993 after my daughter’s first trip at age 18 to a 28-day in-patient recovery plan for addicts, I began to spiral into an abyss. My dreams became more and more desperate, vivid, and archetypal:

I am on a boat in calm blue waters. The sun is warm. There is no horizon or vantage point. I cannot get any bearings and I see my daughter drowning. I am trying to get to her some way. I can’t find a life preserver or floating ring on a rope. I can’t move. I am paralyzed. She is flailing her arms. I try to scream but am mute. I wake myself up screaming.

There are kittens in mortal danger. I am walking down the stairs of someone’s den and I see these kittens out the glass sliding doors. They are trying to get in, but there’s a huge tiger in the den. If the kittens come in, they will be killed. I’m trying to do something, but I can’t remember what. My black lab tries to appease the tiger. I wake up, my heart palpitating.

After Mary completely relapsed, I enrolled in some kind of expensive after-care program to help me function again. I went to Al-Anon meetings. I flailed and flailed and flailed. This is when I began going to the funeral over and over and over. It has never stopped. I still go to the funeral over and over and over.

It has been the worst day of my life over and over and over. It is unceasing, unrelenting, until now.

You simply can’t evaluate something so completely out of your ken. That’s where we were as parents in 1993 – standing on the edge of the river Styx and thinking it was the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa. It was simply out of our understanding.

 

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