• author
    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • August 12, 2013 in Columnists

    Grieving like a child was my path to healing

    You said move on, where do I go?
    Katy Perry

    When my brother, my only sibling, was taken by AIDS on March 10, 1994 at the age of 35 and I miscarried my long-awaited, desparately wanted unborn son just two months later, I thought I would not survive.

    I’d hardly had the easiest of lives.  Abuse had sent me to the streets at age 15, the streets had sent me to a juvenile institution at age 16 where seven months of terror and cruelty gave me a lifetime of PTSD.  I married at 17 because a married woman is an adult and out of the reach of the authorities; the moment I said “I will,” I was no longer a ward of the court.  I was no longer a ward of anything.  I ran from my home state and immediately failed at that marriage.  At that point, it seemed like there were few moments where I was not in agony.   I honestly did not think that the pain of being an unloved, disliked, bullied child could not be topped.

    I was wrong.

    I found out I was pregnant seven days after my brother died.  I had wondered and now it was real – the only good thing to come of a time of agony I had never expected.  I’d grieved for my brother on the installment plan from the moment he told me he was HIV positive right up to the last days when I was only just reluctantly letting go of hope.

    How I loved that baby, nestled sweetly inside my body.  I couldn’t stop working or I would have had no health insurance, but I came home from my part-time position and went straight to bed where I curled around my belly, telling him how much I loved him, how we would nurse and play and snuggle in this bed and how I would do everything I could to help him grown into a healthy, happy, kindhearted man.

    Mid-May I felt two sharp tugs in my belly – short, hard and painful – and I knew he was gone.

    I only thought I knew pain when Steve died.  I called his answering machine just to hear his voice until his partner changed the message.

    I didn’t know pain.  I was so crazed with grief when my brother died that I got lost in the town where I had lived for 21 years.  When I lost my child, I lost all heart and soul.  I had children to live for, a partner to remain for, so I really never considered ending it, but I thought perhaps I would never be happy again.  Ever.

    Somehow I had gotten to the age of 37 without ever having lost anyone I didn’t expect to lose, like grandparents.  I had never learned – had never had cause to learn – the skill of grief.

    I found my grieving spot in the front yard, in the ugliest and most comfortable chair, where I watched the walnut leaves swim gently against the blue sky and gazed mindlessly at the gauzy insects lit in their mating dance by the brilliant sunshine and I let myself percolate.

    How do people survive grief?  Who survives it best?  It certainly isn’t a grownup.  We’re terrible at it, controlled as we are by the influences of adulthood in this society.  We’re expected to grieve decorously and quickly.  If we aren’t “over it” in a week, a month, a season, there’s something wrong with us.  The process of folding, spindling and mutilating ourselves into the narrow shape of social expectation leaves us with horrific scars, often unable to move emotionally for years, if ever.

    No, the people who grieve the best are little kids.  If grownups leave their grieving process well enough alone and just love them through it, little kids come out the other side pretty much in one piece.

    So how do little kids grieve?

    • They cry really really hard whenever they need to, up to and including full-throated roars of rage and anguish.
    • They get kisses and hugs from those they love and trust, whenever and wherever they need them, with no embarassment or hesitation.
    • When it all becomes too much, they drop out of the whole damned thing and play, because they need the break and they know perfectly well it will all still be there waiting for them.

    Little kids do these three things naturally, like the lovely little mammals they are, and they come out with a permanent cache of sadness, but still, relatively unscarred.  They move on.  They find joy again.  They are not stuck in an endless cycle of grieving, like the ghost in the room where the loved one died who lives that moment of loss over and over again.  They come out as whole as any of us can when a piece of our heart has gone missing.

    So I resolved to grieve like a little kid, and that’s just exactly what I did.  I made noise.  I howled and wailed as much as I needed.  I got kisses and hugs from husband and friends at any given moment.  I didn’t exactly play, but I sat under that walnut tree in that hideous chair and I blew soap bubbles and watched my grocery-store pinwheel spin round and round as the sun flashed on its holographic sparkles.  And, little by little, I felt better.

    I was reflecting to my daughter, a wise woman born, if ever there was one, that I was not sure that I could be happy again if I was to lose her.  She replied, “Mother, and would you be pleased if I was never happy again if I  lost you?”  Honestly, she’s right an unseemly amount of the time, but right she is.  It’s important that, as part of this clean, honest and childlike grieving process, you aim yourself at regaining happiness.  It’s important.  It’s what your loved one would have wanted for you.

    It’s what you would want for them.  Right?

    This is dedicated to everyone who has or will ever grieve, but particularly for those who have been captured by it.  Big hugs and nose smoochies…

    • This resonates with me Maya as I lost my best friend of 42 years in 1998. I loved and laughed and threw her a 50th birthday party after her death (we planned it before) and had all her friends share stories. A day of love, joy, laughter and sorrow. She was very loved and i honor our friendship every day. Beautiful writing.

        • Maya North

        • August 12, 2013 at 7:59 pm
        • Reply

        I can only just imagine this anguish. Society makes a huge fuss over the grief of family but completely invalidates the incredible pain of losing a friend who was like the other half of your heart. It’s time we recognize all loves of all sorts as true relationship and give honor to all of them. I can only be glad you had her in your life and she knew without doubt exactly how much you cherished her.

    • perfection. you make me swoon. i love you. period.

        • Maya North

        • August 12, 2013 at 7:59 pm
        • Reply

        Amy Angel, my love my love. Soul deep. Ocean wide.

      • Sarah

      • August 12, 2013 at 1:56 pm
      • Reply

      This piece resonates with me also. I lost my mom in the midst of a tumultuous pregnancy and was left an adult orphan at 31. I feel so fortunate I was able to grieve at my own pace and that I had support. All a grieving person needs is a big tight hug at the most random I times. You write so eloquently about the unimaginable pain the merry-go-round of grief brings. Thanks!

        • Maya North

        • August 12, 2013 at 8:04 pm
        • Reply

        Oh, Sarah, there is no good age to be orphaned. I lost my mother 5 years and 1 day exactly after my brother died — I’m just so grateful my father is still here. My husband was an amazing source of hugs, starting from just after we found out the baby was dead. He drove to the clinic like a torpedo and literally ran up the stairs to find me. Then he did the one thing I needed most of all. He pulled me tightly to his chest and let me shriek out my anguish in full voice but so nobody else in that place could hear me. He’s been a prime source of my hugs for 28 years now and when it all rises up again — and it does — I know I can go to him and he will wrap me up in his arms and take me home. Big hugs and nose smoochies…

      • Heather Lee Alani

      • August 12, 2013 at 9:30 pm
      • Reply

      I lost my first child Maya. I understand that pain. I almost died a young nineteen year old from hemorrhaging and had no medical insurance. A nice Pakistan doctor took care of me, yelling when the hospital tried to send me home, I would not make it through the night. When I came home from the hospital, I fell to my knees. The didn’t recognize the piercing screams that were echoing into the night sky. Yes, weep. I will always weep. Today, I weep for your pain. Sweet soul, Maya. Everything worthwhile is born in pain. Life, character,and soul rebirth. Weeping is the polishing of ones pain, eventually, a diamond is born. Thank you for sharing your own pain and acknowledging the importance of letting yourself mourn.

        • Maya North

        • August 16, 2013 at 7:16 pm
        • Reply

        Love, if we do not mourn, we do not get up again. Or we harden into something that cannot again be fully human. Nineteen years later, I can still be brought to my knees by it and I never expect that to change, but do I feel the fully joy of life? Oh yes. And deeply. I grieve for your baby and for your mother’s hurting heart. <3

      • jo

      • August 14, 2013 at 11:35 pm
      • Reply

      captured i am…thank you for this

        • Maya North

        • August 16, 2013 at 7:19 pm
        • Reply

        I know, love. You know my heart on this — I still weep, too. I love you. Hugs whenever I can deliver them and also virtually. Call on me at will. <3

    • This touches me Maya. In writing my memoir, I had to come to terms all over again with my gay ex-husband’s death from AIDS. Thanks for the wisdom.

        • Maya North

        • August 16, 2013 at 7:17 pm
        • Reply

        I have read your exquisite memoir and it resonated on so many levels. He might have been gay and your ex, but he remained one of the great loves of your life. There’s a place in our hearts that never quite lets go. I have a room in my heart for my brother where I can still hear him laugh. Hugs…

    • Brilliant! Cathartic! I adore you for sharing this!

    Leave a Comment