On deep grief and finding the words…
By Carolyn Bardos
My relationship with language used to be sweet and easy. Thoughts came, I wrote them down, said them aloud, played around with structure, voice, and perspective. In recent years, though, certain life events have left me all but wordless, and I think I know why. I’m avoiding pain, and writers who want to write their truth have no business being pain-avoiders.
I entered the MFA writing program at Goddard in 2008 and graduated two years later. My experience at Goddard brought much welcome enlightenment into my life, and the friendships I formed there sustain me still. One year after earning my MFA, I discovered a lump in my left breast, had a biopsy, and eventually received a very unwanted phone call. Then came surgery one, surgery two, chemotherapy, surgery three, and radiation. That’s about as much “cancer story” as I care to tell.
Last June, my best friend died of sudden cardiac arrest at his job. He worked as an art teacher at a high school in Greenwich Village, a school for non-traditional students. His students were my favorite kinds of people: all colors, all genders, pierced, shorn or long-haired, tattooed, leathered and spiked. They all wanted no part of mainstream high school, and when they found themselves under the loving guidance of my friend, they found a home. My friend was a beloved teacher. At his service in the Village, his students entered with their paintings and arranged them around the funeral parlor.
My best friend and I had been utterly bound together since our first meeting on the bus to kindergarten. Our hearts and our minds wove themselves together quickly. We saved each other’s life and sanity many times. Losing him was infinitely worse than having cancer.
I have read that deep grief can diminish a person’s ability to focus. So can ADHD. So can menopause. And all this is me: a post-menopausal woman with lifelong ADHD who has been swimming in an ocean of grief for some time now.
I could think I’m royally fucked, but instead I’m giving myself all the time in the world. Time to feel (or not feel); time to do nothing; time to chart a new course for myself, a course that will not include the friend who told me for fifty-plus years, “As long as you and I are in the world, we will be OK.”
Spring has come to Vermont, finally, and I spend a lot of my time making shrines in the woods behind my house. The prisms I hang from tree branches and the daffodil bulbs that I scatter-plant are my words for now. I know myself well enough to know that I will break through my pain avoidance, and I will write in abundance again. Until then, it’s the woods for me. If I sit on a moss-covered rock long enough, quietly enough, the words will come.
Carolyn M. Bardos (Goddard MFA 2010) is a visual artist and writer living in Vermont. She is the author of Yesterday’s Daybreak, a poetry chapbook published in 2011 by Main Street Rag Publishing Company. One of her ten-minute plays was a finalist in the 2011 Manhattan Theatre Source Estrogenius Play Festival. She is also the author of Clay, a full-length play produced in Vermont in 2006, and the editor of Earthen Wonders: Hungarian Ceramics Today, published in 2000 by Lake House Books. She maintains a studio in Troy, NY, which is home also to her infant production company, BOM-2 Productions. You can find her here on Twitter: @bom2bardos.