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Bargaining With Grief

Pia Sieroty Spector is a 3rd generation Californian. At age 18, she abandoned the smoggy Los Angeles sprawl for Northern California where she studied architectural history at UC Santa Cruz. She then ventured to the humid and mysterious south where she studied, traveled abroad and received a Masters in Art History from Emory University. She headed back to L.A. for a three year visit which enabled her to work in her field, marry in her faith and, upon mutual agreement, head back north to make a home, two stellar daughters and a full life in the River City.

Twenty-seven years later, Pia is the executive director of Bread of Life Center, a facilitator at Writing as Transformative Art and a published poet who is now focused on the art of creative nonfiction. She is also a lover of all things delicious: language, food, wine, art, people and travel.

In an attempt to traffic in a story rooted in insight rather than fear, I give you this:

No one likes to grieve. Grief is like anxiety; it lingers in the gut, it increases and decreases rapidly, tears come at odd times — each hour is punctuated by not knowing when the tears, the fear or the desperation will rise again. Grief looks a lot like labor, out of control but worth bargaining with. Grief makes you a beggar — silently you beg, then beg again, begging the waves to come in longer intervals of one another next time, knowing that enough next times will add up and equal out to the birth of confidence, order, control, lighter days.

I learned this hard grief lesson when my 22-year-old college boyfriend was killed by a drunk driver. The details in order are — driving his old Volvo north on Highway 5 to Oregon for his best friend’s wedding, drunk driver crossed the line, everyone is dead, a 2:00 am call and then the dirty, awful realization that nothing will ever be the same again. Left. Gone. Done. Complete. Over.

And that day, those series of days, changed me forever. I cried from a place so deep inside of me. I didn’t know I had that kind of depth or that a well of unending  tears lived inside me, that there was no off at the spigot.

And what I had known with him was goodness and happiness and freedom and beauty and more freedom and so many firsts — the wind in my face as we drove the asphalt hills above San Francisco in his Dad’s convertible, holding hands, pizza and beer and lazy days, and skinny dipping and everything that felt good and new and pure, too good to be real. Those were the five young, tumultuous, sometimes stupid years we were each other’s person.

And then emptiness and confusion for a long, long time. Some bargaining with God, too. And then his parents, our visits and our connection and our silence, our no words about the past, I was there as the connector.

I eventually made it to firmly grounded; it must have been my resilience, my passion for the life I was supposed to have.

And then a marriage and two daughters and a haunting fear every time we drove a long distance, when they became drivers, when they planned and took road trips, more than just worry, it was muscle memory; I didn’t want to bargain with grief again.

And then the divorce from the marriage moored in anxiety and sadness. There was no grief stage, just many terror stages, a long dance of relief stage and a this is what happiness feels like stage.

The author, Pia, peering over her boyfriend's right shoulder. Pia is wearing glasses. Her boyfriend is also wearing glasses, a green sweater with the red collar of his shirt showing at the top

And then boyfriend stage, again. And the parallels between this man and that college boy in geography and generosity, freedom and creativity and his ability to make the world a soft place. In the same amount of five years, so many of the same feelings — firsts, adventures, conversations in fun and unfamiliar surroundings, my family, his words of wisdom, he is my person. And then the unraveling, can’t catch the thread, can’t catch my breath, can’t feel his need or his want and then choices and decisions and then the words tumbled out and tears followed, the spigot is on again, and grief has grabbed me. It’s been tossing around in my gut for several days now, nothing will quell it. I’m dizzy, and I’m bargaining so hard, and sleep is elusive or fitful, and I’m birthing another life baby and thinking I am way too old for this .. and I want it all my way.

This panic, it is muscle memory. It is all about the echo of the past being so strong in the present. And, it’s about my person … I keep losing my person.

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