Opportunities to explore my grief continue to present themselves in my life at unexpected times. When my friend, who is an actress, invited me to a reading of a play she was starring in, I jumped at the chance. “Of course! I’d love to go!” Then my friend informed me with a little hesitation that the play, Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, is about a mother who is grieving the loss of her child. Knowing that I lost my first-born to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome four years ago, she understood if I did not feel up to attending. But I wanted to go. Previously studying the grief process in college and then living it through my own personal journey, I often feel drawn to these opportunities rather than repelled. There is some fear of the emotions, and yet at the same time, a craving for them as well, because it allows me to reflect on my son, Ty. Life is busy enough that grief often needs to be scheduled in.
So I agreed to attend, and I asked my husband, Dan, to come with me. I anticipated that he would have a difficult time being there. Unlike me, he does not seek out opportunities to grieve. He is very selective when he decides to step into the grief world, and those times are minimal. That difference in the way we grieve has been there since the beginning and we have learned to maneuver our marriage around it. But I wanted him there. Maybe it was selfish. Maybe it was the thought that it might be good for him. Whatever my reasoning, he accepted the invitation.
This was my first time attending a reading. The room and stage were small. Intimate. There were limited props and costumes, yet we quickly gathered a sense for each character and how differently the mother, father, sister, and grandmother of the four-year-old son (who died in an accident) dealt with life eight months later. There was comedy and laughter, yet each scene also contained sobering moments that explored the wide range of emotions that accompany grief: guilt, anger, awkwardness, lack of surety, hopelessness…. The final scene before intermission became explosive and climactic. Everything leading up to this point suggested how differently the husband and wife grieved, and suddenly, in an emotional conflict, their personal grieving worlds collide. Their needs are not the same. Their methods for handling their son’s death clash, causing a rift that seems irreparable. As part of the audience, Dan and I felt the intensity of this scene reminding us of the loss of control and hopelessness in our own lives four years ago–a period of time that, during this scene, suddenly slammed into our chests as raw as if it were yesterday.
My heart pounded but the tears didn’t come. I was thinking. Processing it all. Remembering all the pain, questions, and doubts of that horrendous time. Still, I could distinguish the scene before me as a play and, perhaps it was my experience working in therapy or the writer in me, but I was interested to see the character development and resolution–even though I knew resolution over losing a child could only go so far. But I’d seen Dan wiping tears from his eyes and he continued to do so, his face reddening with emotions. My heart felt heavy. I felt responsible for putting him in this position, in a place where I knew he didn’t really want to step foot. I did want to stay until the end. I wanted–almost needed–to have some kind of conclusion after watching the dramatic argument unfold before us. But it wasn’t fair to Dan, and I did what I knew he would offer to do for me if the circumstances switched. I asked if he wanted to leave. He did.
We took a minute of intermission to say goodbye to my friend, complimenting her on her phenomenal acting. “You are amazing,” Dan said with a hug. “That’s why we have to go.” I hope she takes that only as the greatest compliment. When I hugged her, my tears finally flooded and I shared a moment of grief with her that our relationship had not quite breached before. That is what seeking opportunities to grieve can do. They open moments of understanding that would otherwise be missed.
I wanted to talk to Dan as we walked to our car. I wanted to hear how he was feeling, what he was thinking. I wanted to process the play out loud. But he politely asked if we could talk about it later. I felt mildly disappointed, but knew our differences in grieving are still there. And that’s ok. Neither method is more right than the other. I learned early on that as much as my husband and I love each other, and as huge of a role as he played in my survival during that first year, it’s important to have other outlets and other resources to lean on, too.
My friend let me borrow the script to Rabbit Hole. The most insightful words of all come from the grandmother, Nat, who also lost a son years ago. In response to her daughter’s question, This feeling. Does it ever go away? Nat says,
No. I don’t think it does. Not for me, it hasn’t…It changes though…The weight of it, I guess. At some point it becomes bearable. It turns into something you can crawl out from under. And carry around–like a brick in your pocket. And you forget it every once in a while, but then you reach in for whatever reason and there it is: “Oh right. That.” Which can be awful. But not all the time. Sometimes it’s kinda…Not that you like it exactly, but it’s what you have instead of your son, so you don’t wanna let go of it either. So you carry it around. And it doesn’t go away, which is…Fine…Actually.