I am feeling fabulous. I am having the time of my life: starring in my first play in LA, guest starring on a great TV show at the same time, talking to the writer about making the play I am doing into a screenplay, my husband is on a great TV show, we have wonderful friends, family, life -- I feel on top of the world. Maybe I can have it all.
My Dad comes to visit. He complains of a backache. I take him to my fabulous massage therapist (who is even covered by health insurance), he is revitalized and we think nothing of it.
A week later, I am flying back to NYC to sleep in his hospital room for a few days before I bury him. He is 55. It's less than two weeks from diagnosis to death. Surprise!
From the moment my Dad died, from the moment I found out there was the possibility of his dying, there were many surprises -- years after, minutes after. The moments I was okay were as surprising as the ones that I wasn't.
Making it through the eulogy without losing it. And then the guilt I felt about it. Surprise! What kind of daughter are you -- you spoke so eloquently?! I was surprised, okay shocked, by my brain's ability to find something wrong with every way I was doing grief.
Joyful moments, sad moments, what a roller coaster ride grief provided.
It was the most universal, and yet specific, experience of my life up until that moment. (My daughter's birth had a similar effect years later -- ahh life & death, eh?) No one can tell you what to expect or can offer a guide to grief. Because every relationship is so unique, no two people grieve the same way. And you have no idea how you are going to grieve till you are grieving.
The surprise of fear, the deep bottomless fear, that asks "Will I be a depressed mess forever?Will I ever be happy again?" Yes. Then the surprise of guilt the first time I was.
The surprise of having him still with me: his smell, the feel of his hand in mine, our secret squeeze, the way the hair grew out of his ears and tickled me when we hugged, the way he unconsciously bit his fingers, and the guilty look on his face when I caught him. The surprise of his laughter in my head -- and the fear that I'll forget it.
Surprise: the pain when he is not there the day my daughter is born, the most joyful day of my life. The surprise and guilt for feeling a moments mourning on this day of so much joy. Jesus, guilt is so wrapped up in this, isn't it? Who knew? Another surprise.
The surprise of the first time having sex after grief. That it was fierce and animal, and not tender and with tears. Surprise.
Grief -- The passion of it, the pain of it, the love of it, the surprise of it.
Almost 10 years later now, I am still startled by how easily grief can sneak under my skin. I am in a kicking class at the gym, the kind of class that plays Gaga, Rihanna, okay maybe some Jewel, too. For some reason, Patricia chooses Frank Sinatra for the cool down today, then George Winston.
I am immediately slammed by memories. The memories of being in the back of a car on the way to the Berkshires with my Dad, pretending to sleep, but actually watching the stars through the sunroof of the Saab. Memories of feeling that I am in the safest place on earth. Back in the class tears are streaming, regardless of how much as I try to contain them. I try the stealthy cry: no grimace, relax the face, let them fall and no one will notice. Surprise!
I learned that the only way to walk through life was with compassion -- for myself, for the world and especially for my family. Compassion for strangers who have no idea what is going on with me and surprise me with a honk when I can't move my car at a green light because I can't see through my tears. Another song that knocks the wind out of me, sends me somewhere else and leaves me breathless.
I have learned to breathe. Just like at a surprise party for you, you have to take that next breath (if you don't, you have a panic attack and that would be a big bummer for all your friends throwing you the party). I let it in. I welcomed it. Like an old friend.
I started studying Buddhism. Pema Chodron saved my ass. Now Mark Nepo joins her. I have my team.
I created my film so no one would ever feel alone in his or her grief. So people would have a tool, a tangible tool to help them feel like whatever they are feeling is okay.
Okay, really, to expel the surprise factor, to 'demystify' grief.
I hope it helps millions. I know it helped a ton already. I have hugged so many people at film festivals, seen grown men cry for what they have told me is the first time since their wives died. I have heard so many courageous stories of how people walked through their own fears and surprises.
But it hasn't taken the surprise out. Maybe it helped me accept it more -- make friends with it. Hallo, old friend. Ya got me! Again.
My daughter loves to be surprised. And she loves to surprise me. She loves to create games where either one or both of us are surprised, or go away, and then come back. And she loves to play them over and over, and over again.The combo is familiar. Go away. Come back. Surprise!
She is only two. I better get used to this. Maybe she is doing the same thing I am: demystifying it. Or maybe she is teaching me.
Play the game. Go for the ride. See where it takes me. Breathe it in and laugh in its face.
For more information about "SPEED GRIEVING," the film Alysia discusses in this article, and to purchase a copy please go to: www.speedgrieving.org & visit our facebook fan page and become a fan! www.facebook.com/SpeedGrieving