Saturday, March 8, 2008

Katie's birthday

Today, March 8, would have been Katie's 13th birthday. And my heart goes out to her mother, Karen, as she makes plans for the day. How, in the face of so much loss, do we go on? And wouldn't some of the blythe pronouncements of my last blog -- "All shall be well," and "How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having" seem horrendously callous under the circumstances?

I think, if I were Karen, my lip might curl in bitterness hearing these thoughts -- as my own lip often curled in the months after my father died, when I would go to church and hear the language church uses around the core concept of the loving father God. Because it is hard not to be angry when life is grossly unfair.

Thanks to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, most of us now understand that anger is a natural part of the grieving process. But what are we supposed to do with that anger? And what purpose does it serve?

My own daughter, who was celebrating her 16th birthday in this old photo from the family archives, came home over Christmas for what her college calls Field Work Term; two months of work (in her case volunteering at a local theater) in "the real world," preferably in her field of interest. At the beginning of February, 2 weeks before she was to return to college, she was desperately missing her school friends and eager to return. But when it came time to fly back to school, 2 weeks later, she was wracked with grief, a grief that kept her in tears for another 2 weeks after her return.

She is better now, which can be attributed to any number of factors. But one defining moment, I think, happened two weeks after her return. She encountered a situation which was grossly unfair, in which she felt, first helpless, and then furious. When she called to tell me about it, though, she was remarkably calm, and her voice, which had been weak and trembly in most of the multiple daily phone calls we'd received since her return to college, was firm and strong. And when I asked how she was doing, she said, "Well, the good thing is, I'm too angry to be sad."

I should back up a bit here and say that, as an only child, I was raised to believe that anger was bad, and I had no right to it. I was well into my thirties before I learned that it was okay, not only to feel, but to express anger. And only later that I learned how easy it is to get stuck in a pattern of righteous anger, that insidious ego-feeding voice in your head that feels superior because someone else has done something so obviously wrong.

But what do we do with this other kind of anger, that hurt, frustrated, furious trapped feeling when life seems so grossly unfair? I'm not sure I have the answer. Feel it, I guess -- and forgive yourself for feeling it. Maybe healthy anger works like a fire, burning away the other confusing thoughts that muddy our hearts and brains, clarifying the memories of beauty and joy; the sense of purpose that lies beneath the mud?

Perhaps the heat and the flame of that anger, the healthy kind, releases something in us, like the balloons Karen will release for Katie's birthday. And when the time comes to blow out the candles of rage, perhaps some peace will come. I hope so.


KC said...

Hmm. Perhaps all three of us are still kind of linked in this way- dealing with anger. Can you tell me what happened with Al? Or should I ask her myself? (Kind of weird- Hey Ali, on Mom's blog there was a note that you were angry about something, what was it?) XD
Perhaps Ali out of the three of us though is the most able to feel anger. Over the last few months dealing with Ben and stuff, and the rage that has been building in me, I've realized that I often choose to express anger in tears. I wonder if that's why I've been crying so much since Reed began- just being angry at circumstances. It seems likely, as a pivotal late night conversation with Martin just before the hot spring trip led me to list off a bunch of things that happened at Reed that made me angry.
Anyway, I was stuffing it down, choosing for the sake of my relationships/groups to put the needs of others before myself. Veev and Ben are so fragile in some ways- an argument would have really fucked shit up. However, Martin has been helping me to realize that stuffing this stuff down does no good- and even just allowing myself to feel it doesn't either. I am your daughter, and you and I (and probably Ali) don't get angry about a lot of things- but things that are unjust, or unfair, really rile us up I think. And if those have to deal with us, as much as we may want to just recognize it and thus let it pass, won't go away unless actually dealt with.
So eventually I'm thinking I'm going to have a little talk with Ben. Still getting the courage up for that, hunting for the correct time. Man, one totally great one happened the other day, but we were eating in a public place so I couldn't do anything. Gah what an ass he is sometimes... anyway.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I agree- blowing out the candles of rage will bring peace, sure. But you should sing the whole song first, not just blow them out prematurely.

Okay, well, that's a weird metaphor, but hey I just woke up and Martin's been playing the Fire Emblem soundtrack since before that, so I'm all like mm battle songs XD Anyway, Mom, I love you- if you feel angry, let it out and let your needs be met, and think that Katie's having an awesome party where-ever she's gone =)


karengberger said...

Thank you for this, Diane; thank you for remembering and honoring Katie. We had a pretty good day yesterday, considering.

I love the photo of Ali; she is beautiful. The blog photo of you is gorgeous, too.