Grief, Loss, and Our Neighborhood Ravens

Saturday/Saturn Day April 29, 2023

I’m exhausted; I know this to be one of the many facets of grief. In all it’s many guises, it’s the physiology of the matter that always throws me off balance. In Joan Didion’s stunning memoir, “The Year of Magical Thinking” she recounts her experience of how grief shows itself after the sudden death of her husband, John Dunne and the imminent death of her only daughter, Quintana. She sites a study from the 1940’s (!), by the chief of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital:

“Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. Virtually everyone who has ever experienced grief mentions this phenomenon of “waves”. After interviewing all the members of those killed in the 1942 Coconut Grove fire, defined the phenomenon with absolute specificity in a famous 1944 study: “sensations of somatic distress occurring as waves lasting from twenty minutes to an hour at a time, a feeling of tightness in the throat, choking with shortness of breath, need for sighing, and an empty feeling in the abdomen, lack of muscular power, and an intense subjective distress as tension or mental pain.”

Later in the book, Joan writes, “”Until now I had been able to only to grieve, not mourn. Grief was passive. Grief happened. Mourning, the act of dealing with grief, required attention.”

I first read “Magical Thinking”, back in 2007,  just weeks prior to my mother’s death from complications due to Alzheimer’s. I remember sharing a passage from the book to my eldest brother, Ron, specifically: “The death of a parent, despite our preparation, indeed, despite our age, dislodges things deep in us and that may cut free memories and feelings that we had thought gone to ground long ago. We might, in that indeterminate period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean’s bed, aware of the depth charges, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections.”

And now, here I am, in 2023, actively mourning (whether I like it or not/want to or not), the death of my eldest brother Ron, who died in the early morning hours of the solar eclipse on April 20th,  just 11 days after turning 71. The progression from diagnosis of cancer to seeing him at the hospital awaiting transport back home and to be placed on hospice was the speed of a bullet train.

I take it back-this post is clearly, and mostly,  about death. It’s about loosing one of your siblings. I had a friend ask, “Is this your first death of a sibling?” Although there are many similarities and overlaps emotionally when it comes to this process, there are elements specific to each situation. For me at least, there’s always been the awareness that I’d loose my parents (who are both gone now). Of course all the children will outlive them. I never thought of what it would be like, feel like, to loose a brother. And even standing next to Ron in the ER, holding his hand, while he glided in and out of consciousness from the morphine and ativan, not even in that moment could I have imagined what that feeling would be like. Not until I stood in my kitchen the following evening, talking about his death to my partner and I had, as was described above, “…an empty feeling in the abdomen, lack of muscular power”, finding myself involuntarily bending over at the waste. The weight and heaviness of the loss.

It has only been 8 days. But all life keeps moving forward; climate collapse, mass killings, meditation retreats, kundalini rising and the battery needs replacing. Ron and his wife, Carol had recently relocated from a Chicago suburb, building a new home just an hour south from where I live in New Mexico. I’d been thinking, “maybe we’ll become friends, hanging out, sharing holidays, having them up to our house for a hike out in the Pecos wilderness. Now I’m thinking, maybe Carol and I will strike up a friendship, be able to support her through this loss, generate a kinship of sisters.

We have a pair of ravens who have attempted to start a family since we moved here, near the Pecos Wilderness, 9 years ago. After many attempts, there has been success. When we take our 2 dogs for their walks, the path we follow allows us to look up and see the nest. Usually one of the parents and now, because we often can hear the squawking of the fledglings, the mother will be feeding and the father will either be right next to her or, if he sees us coming, will fly down and distract us away from being nosy humans.

I’ve decided to call one of the babies Ron, I like to think of him flying free. I’ll know its him because he’ll be wearing glasses.

“The Year of Magical Thinking”, by Joan Didion.

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