Good grief

I just realized my hair looks redder than Corey’s in this picture. Dang Polaroid Land Camera.

The best of humanity comes out when you’re facing the loss of a beloved family member many years before you should. I’ve heard from so many people, from all over the place and from across the political and social spectrum, who have been praying and sending love and positivity to our family, and I am so grateful for that.

The worst also comes out in those who are not content unless they’re complaining and/or making others miserable. At this point, those people aren’t worth arguing with, even though it’s hard not to when they call you a misogynist (yeah, dude, the definition of that word is not what you believe it is).

Geez. And when a friend defended me, he called her a misogynist too, apparently thinking it meant “complainer.” Sigh.

My brother Corey passed peacefully Friday evening, and has been reunited with his son David, our parents (I’m betting Mama smacked him upside the head for being so stubborn) and our grandparents, with whom I’m betting many stories are being shared. Nurses and a chaplain were with him in the end, since we couldn’t be.

My family and I have been gobsmacked by the support we’ve received from relatives, friends, and total strangers, and in the process have found that we’re all related in some sense; as I told a fellow writer and friend, we’re one big family. Many in Alma and elsewhere will long remember how kind, funny and genuine Corey was. If he counted you among his circle of family and friends, you knew how lucky you were. I’ve heard so many stories of Corey’s kind acts and of how much the town of Alma loves him and the Pizza Parlour. There’s even a T-shirt fundraiser for Carletta, his longtime love and one of the sweetest people I know (who’s stuck with this family whether she wants it or not because we love her), who is out of a job along with the rest of the Pizza Parlour employees (long and infuriating story I won’t get into), to deal with final expenses.

If you loved Corey and want to help pay final expenses and keep Carletta afloat for a bit, you can buy this T-shirt from Mountainburg, Ark.-based Whimsically Wakely (click on the “T-shirt fundraiser” link just up there in the text. Image from Whimsically Wakely.

Corey and I had our differences at times, but we never lost our love for each other. No matter what, he was always my youngest big brother, the one I could always count on for a laugh, especially when it came to one of his telemarketer stories (I wonder just how many he made cry …). Now he’s gone, and I and everyone else who knew and loved him have to go on. It still doesn’t seem real.

Being on Facebook has helped (at least it’s good for something), though I’ve had to take breaks to give myself a little time to weep, and it helped on Sunday afternoon when I finally logged back in after a day and a half away and saw a quote from Francis Weller about grief on a friend’s timeline.

I can still hear his laugh.

Weller, a psychotherapist and author of “The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief,” said in a 2015 interview with Tim McKee for The Sun: “For thousands of years we were nourished by being members of a community, gathering around the fire, hearing the stories of the elders, feeling supported during times of loss and grief, offering gratitude, singing together, sharing meals at night and our dreams in the morning.”

In a way, that’s how Facebook has functioned for me in the past several weeks, as I connected with more people who knew and loved my brother and have been comforted by so many from throughout my life and Corey’s, as well as people I’ve never met who have been touched by his story. I’ve still been working, partially to keep my sanity, such as it is, even though that’s not necessarily the healthiest thing to do, according to Weller.

“In traditional cultures people were often given at least a year to digest a major loss,” he told McKee. “In ancient Scandinavia it was common to spend a prolonged period ‘living in the ashes.’ Not much was expected of you while you did the essential work of transforming sorrow into something of value to the community. The Jewish tradition observes a year of mourning filled with observances and rituals to help the grieving stay connected to their sorrow and not let it drift away. Most people today might get a week of bereavement leave, at best, and then everything should be fine. In this culture we display a compulsive avoidance of difficult matters and an obsession with distraction. Because we cannot acknowledge our grief, we’re forced to stay on the surface of life.”

Corey front and center where he should be, this time with the bros and cousins Timmy and Teresa (holding an obnoxiously adorable me) at Nanny and Grandpa’s old house on the “corner” (it was really a curve).

The Weller quote that caught my attention on Facebook is from that interview with McKee: “The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other, and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.”

I endeavor to embrace just that attitude with my grief. While I mourn, I’m heartened by the fact that Corey was in my life for so long, and that so many people were touched by his kindness and humor.

Weller calls bringing grief into the open a “sacred duty”: “It’s our moral obligation to stay engaged. A heart that does not somehow deal with grief turns hard and becomes unresponsive to the joys and sorrows of the world. Then our communities become cold, our children go unprotected, our environment can be pillaged for the good of the few. Only if we learn to grieve can we keep our hearts responsive and do the difficult work of restoring and repairing the world.”

Kevin, Mitch and Corey at a past Thanksgiving gathering.

I think we’ve seen more than enough in the past several years of what happens when communities turn cold, when they no longer see the value in accepting those who are different from them, or in working together for the common good. It’s divided too many of us for no good reason.

But we all have grief. It’s our response to that grief and that of others that shows who we are and, ultimately, who our friends really are.

There is no timeline on grief. I’ll mourn my mom probably till the day I die, as I will my Grandpa Grover and just about every other person truly dear to me. My grief for my brother will last a long time as well, because he was so dear to me and so many others.

He reminds me so much of Daddy and Grandpa. Photo from Karen Molthan-Looper’s Facebook page.

Pastor and author John Pavlovitz first came to my attention several years ago in his writings about grief and the growth that comes from it. “Grief doesn’t just visit you for a horrible yet temporary holiday. It moves in, puts down roots—and it never leaves,” he wrote in a 2015 blog entry. “Yes, as time passes, eventually the tidal waves subside for longer periods, but they inevitably come crashing in again without notice, when you are least prepared.”

It’s at those moments that you feel closest to those you lost, he says. “These tragic times are somehow oddly comforting even as they kick you in the gut. And it is this odd healing sadness which I’ll carry for the remainder of my days; that nexus between total devastation and gradual restoration. It is the way your love outlives your loved one.”

So yes, I’ll grieve probably until I die because Corey will always be in my heart.

Love. Grief. Healing. It’s part of being human.

Corey is beloved by those who knew him, and customers became family. That’s just the kind of person he was.