As you may know, I (Jonathan) have an odd desire to write and talk about grief. It's not an easy topic and I wouldn't say I take a weird pleasure in writing about a painful thing, like one who embraces pain to relieve discomfort.
As I sit and write this, thinking about why I truly feel a grace and pressure to write about grief, I sit at my computer with a cup of coffee, of course, and bowl of granola cereal and milk. Now, this image seems innocent enough, but as I take a spoonful, I experience a conflict of realities. I can almost feel an opportunity for time traveling through the smell and taste of it. For the milk I'm drinking is from my goat Idah. I gathered this milk from her four days ago and it has a slight tartness to it, that reminds me of her smell. I often tell people goat milk is terrific, better tasting than cows milk, when it's fresh. That's the important part, freshness. Because after a certain amount of days the "goatiness" of the milk becomes too pungent and it's really hard to drink, as it feels like you're getting mouthfuls of her fur.
This however, still doesn't explain the conflict of realities, other than how I'm in the present drinking something harvested in the past - really this isn't a hard concept for us to live with. The other piece of the story, I haven't shared yet is what has hit me to realize another reason why grief is so hard. For Idah is dead. She died two days ago. (I pause for a bit, breathing deeply at the words I just wrote. Images and memories play back in a flash, like I imagine time travel might be. All the years we had with her, all the milking, all the bleatings, all the foot stompings, all the frustrating moments I had where she didn't want to walk and I had to pull her forward. I feel the frustration of how to put the words together to describe this sense of grief... I write and rewrite, trying not to give up.)
When we lose something, we experience a great level of stress. Our minds once had a sense of peace with the reality we knew then. But when you take something away from that reality, our brain literally struggles to know how to comprehend what happened and how to exist in the new reality, where once was is no longer. For about two years my brain secured Idah in my mind through love, work, and appreciation. In consideration of my life, time, energy, joy, and commitment; Idah was apart of that. The shear fact that she's not here anymore means I no longer have to consider her in any actions or decisions I make. (I sit back, feeling again the irritation about how this writing session is going, and how my last paragraph still doesn't feel right... but I continue moving forward.)
To bring it full circle to my bowl of goat milk cereal that sits next to me. When I take a spoonful of the milk, my brain experiences a sensation and because I've drank Idah's milk for over a year now, my old reality wants to scream at me that she must still be alive. I have thoughts about how the gallon of Idah's milk in my fridge will eventually run out, or become too "goaty" for me to drink and I'll have to toss it out, and I'll never have this again. There will never be another milk like Idah's because what it took for her to produce it considers a trillion different circumstances throughout time that lead to my bowl of cereal. (I take a few more bites and my eyes begin to water.)
Now, you may not be asking this question, because maybe you are familiar with this too, but why is it so hard to write about this, why is it so hard to talk about grief? Well, our brain has been neurologically wired to alleviate stress (and as I’ve mentioned, grief heaps trucks loads of it on us). We go through three stages of process in our brain: 1. We try to make understanding. 2. We fight or flight against/from the stress. 3. We freeze ourselves from the stress or shut down the stress so it doesn't affect us anymore. The first stage is the most frequent stage we all live in and I'd argue, we probably hit this stage hundreds of thousands of times a day. I could talk a lot more on this, but to my point about why it's hard for us to talk about grief... unfortunately, we all have the tendency to blame and shame in order to make understanding. For many of us fighting is something we don't want to do, because it feels unpredictable. We'd rather reason with blame than really feel the stress and work through it.
When I take a bite of my cereal and think, this came from my goat while she was alive, yet she's no longer with me and never will make this milk again, my being screams, "WHY?" Literally, my stomach gurgles (as I'm finding may be where I hold me stress, ironically enough), my thoughts flash through what happened when she died, my heart aches in sadness wanting resolution, maybe retribution, maybe even revenge. This is where we wrestle with blame. Every single freaking spoonful I face this luchador.
The most prominent and weighty idea/conversation, that's so incredibly hard to even write, yet I know in my logical mind I need to say because it will actually help in my healing... is how it was my decision to move Idah to a new spot to graze on black berries, but I failed to consider how close this was to our honey beehive. (I take a deep sigh, as I got it out the words.) I know this is bullshit to allow this idea a place in my mind and I want to ignore it, but it won't go away. The more it seems that I try to look away from it or run from this idea, the more of a mess that masked, spandex clothed, spray tanned luchador continues to make in my house! (I take another drink from my cereal bowl, seeing I have about a cup of milk left.)
What's happening here is how I want to blame myself for the death of Idah. This actually feels like a really good option, because my potential to hurt someone else because of my blame, feels a lot less. If you've ever seen Good Will Hunting, you'll know the scene I'm talking about, where Robin Williams' character councils Will, who's deeply hurting, saying, "Will, it's not your fault." Will sloughs off the comment saying, "Yeah, I know, it's fine." - or something to the effect, displaying his coping method of shut down. But the councilor continues to repeat himself until Will screams, throwing his hands out to hit and push the councilor away. Then Will takes the councilor in his arms and weeps, feeling the pain and grief of his life for one of the first times ever. I won't spoil it all, but my point is, Will blamed himself for the pain in his family, and that was something he held for his whole life. The pain he experienced through his family was rarely talked about with his councilor and never talked about with anyone else. His brain had made understanding with grief of trauma in his life through blaming himself, and Will was literally about to fight his councilor, the man who'd consistently shown love and kindness to him, because the councilor threatened to change his understanding, even though he was trying to help him find a resolved, healed, forgiveness filled understanding.
So, I do have to drink the milk and think that freaking stupid thought. I do have to write out the statements I know are filled with blame and shame. I do have to talk about the death and loss of my goat. For I have to face it if I am to overcome it and live through it. Otherwise I will be stuck or shut down. I will try to make my milk last and continue drinking week old goaty milk. I will continue hurting myself through the blame of Idah's death. I will keep this cycle of blame in my life and it will continue to happen in all the other areas of my life too. (I drink down my last sips of my cereal and refill my coffee cup.)
I tear up as I write this, wrapping up and trying to conclude a topic about conclusion that truly has no way of ending... and I think about how ashamed I feel writing all this. Before I started this I had already made the choice that I would post this article for all to read (I'm someone who follows through on my word most always). Now, I think of the many different faces who've all been affected by death/loss and I feel the dread of how reading what I wrote may create a similar experience for them as I had with every spoonful of my cereal. I don't mean to force people into this wrestle, it's up to you to choose it. I'm sorry if I brought you to facing that wrestle, for I truly don't want you to hurt. Blame is a lot easier to do and accept, but I fear it's also more difficult to live with than doing the hard work of the wrestle and receiving the simple understanding from mercy and grace.
Idah you will be missed. Your death was frustrating, but even as I write this now, I can feel peace never knowing the why behind your loss. I've done my wrestle and I'll probably do it again and again. Each time I walk by that beehive I'll hear your screams for help. Each time I go to move your sister companion goat Inga, I'll miss how much your resisted walking with us. Each time I look over to the field of black berries you ate down for years, I'll be grateful for what you gave us while holding the tension of how you're no longer here. (There it is the end of my post, and now the tears come full force as I can't even read what I write, as sobs hit me. Even with all my studies on grief, each wail I let out as I feel the grief I wonder if my crying will ever end, for it's incredibly difficult to feel this... Eventually it does. Eventually I do stop sobbing. Eventually I move forward.)