About Last Thursday’s Post

The fact that I feel the need to explain last Thursday’s post probably says more about me than I want it to, but—even knowing that’s the case—here I am anyway.

Last Thursday, the first day of September, kinda got to me in a way that nothing else has recently. Earlier in the week Lisa and I had the “It’s probably best not to listen to Emmylou Harris or The Rising until after D Day and 9/11 pass to prevent as much melancholy as possible in the coming days” conversation. I was totally on board. The anniversary of my diagnosis (which is this coming Thursday) often makes me moody, and my memories of September 11 (even though I was fortunately at a far remove from the actual events) still make me quite sad. The combination of a lackluster diabetes year and a round-number anniversary of the attacks were boding ill.

Strange as it sounds, listening to sad music usually cheers me up. I have my hour-or-so when I listen to Emmylou or Tracy Chapman or Gillian Welch, and I emote, and it’s done. I see that I’m not alone in sadness, that it’s possible to find a kind of beauty in transcending it, and that there’s a limit. I feel the flame of sorrow, remember that I’m alive and have no real reason to be unhappy now, and get on with living my life. I’m not much for having a cleansing cry; coming up to the brink, getting misty while knowing I could go over if I wanted to, and pulling myself back, that’s usually a good enough stand-in for the real thing on those rare times when it strikes me that I could cry.

But I’m wise enough to know this about the blues: Sometimes when you got ‘em, there ain’t no bottom, there ain’t no end. Hence my Emmylou moratorium until (at least) the 12th. Real pain—the knowledge that my sorrow from the sudden loss of my stepfather was mirrored and magnified for tens of thousands of people in one day on 9/11—is not something to toy with. It’s why I never watched any of the news footage on the day of the attacks and why I am trying to avoid all of the memorial shows that are planned for TV in the coming days. Grieving—for me, at least—is never truly over. It’s never the same or as intense as at the outset, but it’s still a powerful, occasionally overwhelming force.

What I should have known was that Patty Griffin would touch the same nerve in me as my other favorite singers. There it was, that one particular song, starting to play just before I drove into the office complex at 7:00AM, the one that usually stands my hair on end because of its beauty and power and unfolding tragedy. Any other day would probably have been fine, but something about Thursday the First was different. I listened about fifteen seconds longer than I should have, and in the space between when I turned off the car and when I arrived at the first landing in the stairs, I wondered whether I was going to make it to my office before tears started.

I just barely did, but I don’t think I would have fooled anyone walking by who saw me staring out my open blinds that I was (or had been) doing anything other than wiping away fat teardrops and trying to hold in the heaves of sorrow that were ready to burst out. It was like nothing I had felt in more than a decade, as if I had been transported back to an earlier part of my life. As if a package of grief had gotten lost and shown up years late without losing any of its power.

It was the damnedest thing.

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4 Responses to About Last Thursday’s Post

  1. Jess says:

    jeff, thank you so much for sharing. this is a powerful post. sounds like you’ve got a lot to deal with right now.

    emotions like to sneak up on us when we’re least prepared for it. music is a powerful force in my life too. i lost one of my best friends almost ten years ago, and the music i listened to after she died still makes me think of her when i hear it.

    i will be thinking of you in the coming days. remember you are not alone.

  2. Jeff Mather says:

    Thanks for your sympathy, Jess.

    I just want everyone to know that I’m okay. In fact, I’m not really a sad person, though these two posts—as well as one coming up in a few days—might be unconvincing on that score. Seriously, I’m fine. :^)

    It occurred to me, while I was talking to Mom yesterday about the other post, that I left out a critical detail in the story above: Why did I post the poem at all? I’m usually such a private person with my emotions. (Not that I’m a very different person in public than in private. . . . “Reserved” might be the best word for it. I guess I am an Iowan, after all.)

    A different poem by Kathleen Sheeder Bonnano came back to me during a short walk around the office campus in the mid-morning. It was a walk I took because I felt that I was once again going to lose it, and being outside in the warm sunshine usually cheers me. My hope was that naming my pain would acknowledge it, contain it, and perhaps let me get past it and on with my day. That poem wasn’t available online, but another one from the same book—albeit a darker, less hopeful poem—captured my mood at the time even better.

    And I did feel better afterward. And I do feel better now, too.

  3. Nancy Patrick says:

    I’m glad you posted the poem “Death Barged In” by Kathleen Sheeder Bonnano. The poem is superbly written and understood by those who have experienced deep wrenching grief. I am glad you were able to share with others your pain, to acknowledge your grief, but also to embrace that grief.

    Love you and you’re always in my thoughts….



  4. Dennis Mather says:

    I just want you to know that someday our tears will be given back to us in the form of a trophy.

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