I've been struggling to flesh out the marketing section of my book proposal, and so my editor offered up the following question: "When you were first grieving the loss of your brother, what do you wish you'd had?"
It was a heavy question, one that left me brain dead for a minute or two. I'd mostly wished I had my brother back. But after I'd had some time to think about it, I remembered the Elizabeth McCracken quote I've mentioned here before, and I thought yes, what I'd really wanted was a banner over my head that let everyone know what had happened, so I wouldn't have to say it out loud: My Brother Hanged Himself.
That isn't exactly a marketing campaign in the making. (Although would people buy t-shirts that advertised their secret pain? God, could you imagine if everyone put it out there, just for one day? We might actually achieve world peace.) But it got me thinking about the intensely solitary experience of grief, and how much mourning has changed in this country. In the 19th century widows wore black for two years. Men wore black armbands to signify grieving well into the 20th century. People were not expected to attend parties or social events. When did this change into a day or two of bereavement leave from work and the encouragement to try and make life as "normal" as possible?
I learned a couple of things after my brother died. One of them was that my life was never going to be the same, and that trying to live as though it was felt like a sham. It seems to me like the restrictions on mourners of yesteryear took that into consideration. People dressed differently when they were grieving, they behaved differently, because they were different. Of course this overlooks the solace and needed break from grieving that a party or gathering can provide. And maybe some people do feel most comfortable trying to keep their routines unchanged.
But me, I would have worn the shit out of a black veil.
These thoughts are, of course, at the forefront of my mind as I mourn my dog. Like a friend of mine said, a fresh loss can trigger feelings about an older one. What I'm remembering most about grieving my brother is how lost for words I was, how much I wished I had something else--like a full-length black dress--to do the talking.
What surprises me is that I feel the same way today.
Losing your dog is not supposed to be like losing your brother--but for me it is. Loss is loss. Grief is grief. Love is love. I'm not sure I'm eccentric enough to bring back Victorian mourning (though the hipsters might do it for me), so this time I'll have to weave an aching ring of emptiness with words to wear on my metaphorical sleeve.