- Bruce Banner, The Avengers
I was reminded again this morning why I gave up watching Today. I found, on a regular basis, the morning program was making me angry or sad or simply irritated by this country's fixation on the stupid and shallow. If it's not Joy Bauer telling me, for the zillionth time, not to drink diet soda, it's Ann Curry making me uncomfortable with her overly earnest questioning style.
This morning, I turned it on just in time to hear a report on Mary Richardson Kennedy, the late wife of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Mary committed suicide last week. By all accounts, she suffered with depression and addiction for years. She and RFK Jr have been separated and RFK filed for divorce in December 2010.
Then this from the reporter: "Kennedy watchers say the Richardson family feels Robert Kennedy didn't do enough to help Mary. And photos like this of Kennedy and actress Cheryl Hines, the two reportedly dating, didn't help."
Oh my God, seriously? Cheryl Hines, this is not your fault. Don't let any assholes on Today make you think otherwise.
Then some old man, whose name they didn't bother putting on the screen, said, "Mary's sisters say if Mary hadn't met Robert Kennedy, she would probably still be alive."
If you "google" stories about the funeral, which Robert Kennedy did not attend, you find quotes from unnamed sources saying Mary didn't have a history of depression, that this is Robert's fault, that "we didn't know her that way."
And here's the thing, "friends": No, you didn't know her that way. And you don't know when she would have died had she not met Robert Kennedy. It could have been sooner. Playing the "what if" game gets you nowhere. I tried it. What if I hadn't met Charles? We wouldn't have our children and how can I now imagine a world without them? What if I'd left him at the right time? When would that have been? What if I'd driven him to rehab just one more time, third time's the charm? What if I'd never been born?
People constantly shock me with their insistence that everything there is to know about a person is right on the surface, always on display for the world to see. Or that they know what goes on behind closed doors between two people in a marriage.
I can say, for a fact, that innumerable people were shocked when my ex-husband committed suicide. "Was he depressed?" people asked me.
He was a drug addict. He'd been fired from his job. He didn't have a place to live. He was broke and in debt. Yes, he was having a hard time.
Oh, he made you laugh? He seemed OK when you ran into him at the gas station?
Well, sure, that's all you need to know then.
After Charles died, someone messaged me and said, "I've been thinking about you. I looked on Facebook and I'm glad to see you're doing OK."
Really? I looked OK on Facebook? I'm so glad because at night I was imagining myself committing suicide in the garage where Charles died. Oh, you didn't see that status update? Because why the fuck would I put that as my status update?
I know I sound angry. I've been going through a phase lately. I think, perhaps, it's the way I mentally pull myself out of a depression. It gives me a boost of energy, even if it's the energy of a green-skinned beast. Recently, someone made a comment about me making peace with Charles's death. Underneath this comment, there was the sound of a ticking clock. I know people who can't make peace with insignificant bull shit that happened to them in high school twenty years ago, but somehow I should be completely at peace with something that happened less than three years ago in the place where I live.
The complicated truth of the matter is that when my children celebrate their birthdays each May, I feel angry that their father isn't here. I feel sad that Charles doesn't get to take Jacob to get his driver's license. I feel happy that I am here to give the driving lessons, to see Kate and Jacob grow into amazing people. And I also accept it. I can feel all those things simultaneously.
Emotion is a one-stop shop. You can toss all of the available products into your basket at once: a loaf of sadness, a jar of denial, a can of whoop-ass.
Anger is part of the grieving process. It comes and goes. No one likes it. They want to shame you for it.
According to their chatty friends, Mary Kennedy's family is angry. I don't want to shame them for it. It's natural. Some of that anger may help them get through this horrible time. Anger has energy. It is nearly impossible to lie in bed and cry when you are angry.
The difference between us is probably only that my favorite target for my anger is myself and a dead man and a God I'm not sure I believe in. I am the RFK of this situation, the one who didn't do enough, who left an addict who couldn't sober up, who selfishly tried to move on with her life, who committed the serious crime of wanting to be happy.
What people need to know is that the five stages of grief are not stages. Everyone should stop believing that lie. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who came up with this theory even said that these stages are not complete or chronological. They do not happen in a nice, neat order. I'm in denial. Now I'm angry. Now I'm bargaining. Now I'm depressed. Now I accept it all. Yea me. I sure hope I did all this in a time frame acceptable to society at large.
If you don't really understand grief, just understand this: Stop putting those sort of crap expectations on your friends.
Your friend might be angry today and then tomorrow she might be depressed and the next day she might be fine, happily going about her chores. That one day of being fine does not mean she gives up her right to express outrage over what is undeniably the most horrendous, unfair tragedy of her and her children's lives.
A friend posted this to her Facebook page today and it beautifully expresses what is at the heart of the expectations we place on people. We love them and we want them to be happy and we wish desperately we could repair the damage they have suffered: "When you can't mend what is broken at the center of a friend's life, you learn a deeper truth; how to accept the unacceptable and, however slowly, move along together." ~ Catherine Calver
When I first went to counseling, I talked about something cruel someone said to me. My counselor said, "If you need a mental punching bag for awhile, let it be her."
Sometimes that's what you need. Sometimes you need a small player who does not matter at all in your life story to be the target of your rage.
You figure out pretty quickly who you give a damn about and who can suck it. You also figure out who you can call (for me it's my mom) when you need to cry about something you've cried about a hundred times already or you need to rant about the fools and assholes of the world. Because you can accept the wound, certainly you can, but it doesn't mean that wound doesn't still bleed.
I think it's terribly sad that there is a reported rift between these two families because there are children involved. It will do those children no good whatsoever to have half their family members blaming their father for something that is not his fault.
I'm always amazed when people blame a husband or wife of an addict and say he or she didn't do enough to help the person. Seriously? I'd love to meet all these people who have the secret for helping addicts. I sometimes want to ask these self-righteous folks to imagine what they could do that would make them deserve the weight of blame for someone else's suicide. Cheating? Yikes, watch out. There's a ton of cheaters out there. Lying? Spending too much money?
What if your worst crime is leaving someone who uses drugs and won't stop? Being incapable of working the magic spell that makes an addict sober? Moving on with your life after years of a painful marriage? How dare you do things to save yourself from being the one who chose the Hemingway solution. You should have done more to help this other person.
But it's not true. You can do all you can, but you also must put the oxygen mask on yourself first.
I hope that Mary's family will grow to understand that one man cannot carry the weight of that blame. It's a tragedy. Mary, like her friend on Today said, was battling demons. Sometimes those demons win.
You can get good and pissed off about it. You should because it's awful and wrong. You can be angry that your thousands upon thousands of prayers weren't answered. But try to direct your anger at things and people who don't matter a bit in the grand scheme of things, like the Kardashians or Snooki's literary agent.
Try to offer love and forgiveness to the people who are working their way through this new, broken world with you, the people who actually do matter.
On good days, you will wake up and feel less like an enormous, discolored version of yourself knocking airplanes out of the sky. You will feel mild-mannered and your demeanor will be socially acceptable. You will be Bruce Banner. You can accomplish great things.
And no one really has to know that beneath your calm surface, there is an enormous green rage monster waiting to get out.