Initially in loss, the people around us gather. Then time is up and the people scatter, going back to their lives, leaving the one in loss to wander their sorrow looking for where the old life went. It appears to be a timing thing. I heard the unspoken rule of grief’s mores. The world will comfort me for a certain amount of time. When this invisible timer goes off, we are finished. I could speak of my losses for a certain period and then some underlying message in conversation said, “Let’s talk about something else.” Nothing overt needed to be said.

Benjamin June 13 GatherSociety says we have this much time to wait for you. After that, we must go on. And if you want to belong, to stay in the herd, you must go on, too.

But I didn’t want to go where they were going. I needed to go a different direction. Their moving on was not where I belonged. I needed to move into my sorrow, feel what I needed to feel, do what I needed to do, be who I needed to be. And the subtle message I received was “if you don’t move on, you do not belong with us.”

The message was clear – we’re finished. But I was not finished. I was just beginning. The endless unfolding of living with loss had begun. I had to follow wherever it led and it was leading me away from the herd.

I understand. It is my sorrow, not theirs. They did not need to go where I needed to go. And actually, they couldn’t go where I needed to go. I had to walk to the fringes of the world around me to go deep in the world within me.

Loss has many layers and directions. I grieved the ones that died. I grieved the one I was. I grieved the relationships that changed. And I grieved living in a world I no longer knew.

So, society and I parted ways. I still lived in its midst, but the distance continued to drift us in different directions. We spoke the same language from different hearts. Our common words took on different meanings.

Like the word cantaloupe. A simple word. A word we all have a shared definition. But to the world around me, cantaloupe is a melon, something to eat. To the world within me, cantaloupe was Matt’s favorite food at the end of his life. When he could eat nothing else, he ate cantaloupe. Cantaloupe to the world is not cantaloupe to me. It means I no longer can hold my child.

A long time ago I read a research study about a community of monkeys. In the hierarchy of the group, there were those that were on the fringes. Some were anti-social, some mentally unstable, some just a little bit off. The humans slowly took the monkeys on the fringes out of the group. What happened was the group became endangered. The fringe monkeys were the ones who were extremely sensitive to their surroundings. They were the ones that couldn’t sleep at night. They were the ones that warned the group of impending attack. The ones on the outskirts of their society were actually the protectors of the group.

Benjamin June 13 LayersI was in the depths of my grief when I read this study. I was on the outskirts of the world that had turned us away. Lydia, Matt and Bryan’s HIV had separated us from the herd during a time of hysteria and intolerance. I knew well the unwritten exclusionary clauses of a society that was driven by fear and hatred. To this day I see hysteria, intolerance, fear and hatred for those assigned to the fringes of our society. I truly believe the discarded in our world are the ones that we need the most.

And this includes those living in loss that have been confined to the fringes. So many people live in secret sorrow.

Somebody brings a cantaloupe to a picnic. I walk past it without an external expression, but in my interior world I am holding the last vestiges of my child. Who, in a time of fun and laughter, wants to hear what I am feeling and what we went through? And I wouldn’t want to share it anyway. It is not the time nor place. But that is my point. We are not in the same time nor the same place.

My life is out of context often with the world around me. I have learned to accept that there is a part of me that just doesn’t belong. But that part of me belongs to the larger context of life. It belongs here because I am here.

Perhaps I am one of the ones that lives on the fringes for the sake of the group. Maybe we are here to go deeper in the expanse of life through the tragedy of loss. Maybe, just maybe, I can be there for the next one that finds themself in a world they longer know, and let them know there is a much bigger world than what’s out there. It’s in here. We’re in here.


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