October is a month of grief for me. It started in 2006, when my friend Julie died. I was newly 17, which was traumatizing enough, but it was a particularly fraught time for a number of additional reasons and then Julie died and the earth stopped spinning. My body and mind have wrapped that ache up like a broken jar, brown paper over sharp edges. I had known other people to die before Julie, but she was the first person who I loved wholly and separately from my family and I felt the loss of her love keenly. I can remember now just how it felt. After Julie there were other October deaths, so early on I began to believe that October was the month when my people die. At first I dreaded it, but over time that has changed. Of course, over time there have also been a lot more deaths and I’ve amended my former belief to the much simpler “people die”.
There has been a lot of writing about grief lately- I think because we have a lot to grieve these days, the biggest and most obvious being The State of Things. This past month I learned that there are people who look at grief with scorn and shame and it may be naive, but that surprised me. When I talk about grief I am not talking about the immediate days after a loss, when the rest of the world gets inked out and time warps and your skin hurts, though that is surely grief as well. When I talk about grief I am talking about what we all carry with us every day, the dead whom we have loved and now miss. How do you survive in a world where grief is shameful? There is sadness in grieving, yes, but there is celebration too. I don’t have the option in my belief system of imagining my loved ones cavorting together in a place of eternal light (though I can appreciate the comfort in that). Instead I imagine them where I know them to be- all together in my heart for as long as it’s still beating.
An anecdote about Julie, while she is on my mind.
I came out to Julie before anyone else in the world. I was in her classroom, after school. I don’t remember what exactly I said, but she was cleaning desks when I told her and she paused and asked me to come over to her. She pointed at a desk, where someone had written “Mrs. Caldwell is a lesbian” and said to me “I’m going to leave this one here because it’s a compliment to me”.