“Watcha watching?” asks my imaginary raccoon, and she hops up on to the armrest of my chair.
“Hey, Critter,” I say. I reach up to scratch behind her ear, lean over and sniff her dry, dusty head, and then lay my hands back on my keyboard.
“I’m watching a clip on YouTube,” I explain. I breathe deep. The air aches in my chest. I’m watching something painful and beautiful.
Patton Oswalt is one of my favourite comedians. In this clip, he is talking to Stephen Colbert, another performer I adore. Patton is talking about his return to performing after a six-month hiatus following the sudden death of his wife.
He is talking about grief, and the process of sharing it publicly.
He is making my throat tight.
Critter watches the screen with me for a few moments, then turns to me. She tilts her head and says, “You’re trembling.”
I hadn’t noticed. But sure enough, I lifted my right hand, and it wavered. Just barely.
“Holy crap, you are fine-tuned,” I say.
“Don’t change the subject,” Critter scolded. “What’s up?”
I felt a wave of heat travel from my belly up into my tongue. My mouth felt too small, all of a sudden. Packed tight.
“Patton Oswalt,” I said. “He’s amazing.” That’s all I could get out.
Critter looked at me. Then she looked back at the video.
Patton was saying that the hardest part of coping was getting out of bed, getting out the door, and getting into the car. But once he was at a gig, and as soon as he started speaking to his audience, his pain eased.
My heart pounded, like it was trying to speak on behalf of my tied-up tongue.
He said more, like how sometimes he felt people were thinking, “How dare this guy talk about this pain?” How sometimes people responded by sharing their own stories, and their experiences flooded out of them with a depth of grief that he felt unqualified to comprehend.
“Yes,” I whispered. Critter shoved her nose under my palm until it rested on her warm cranium.
He said that in the end, the only thing that weakens the monster of grief is facing it. Naming it. Getting right down the absurd truth about it and daring to say it out loud.
I picked Critter up and hugged her to my chest. She tucked her head beneath my chin. I just held her, and swayed a little, and thought about Patton’s face. His voice. His graying hair. The light that seemed to be coming out of his skin as he spoke, utterly grounded in the truth.
Patton said that the weirdest thing about his new, warped reality, was that the conversation about grief that he had with his audience made things somehow okay for everyone.
I hugged Critter harder and cried onto her back as I whispered, “I know.”
Whether you are naturally expressive, or not so much a sharer, I think you can touch this invisible ray of warmth, too.
If you want to see beyond the veil of your grief, do something for other people. Make their world better. It won’t matter whether or not you tell anyone what you are doing or why; what matters is proving to yourself that you have power. Your pain has purpose. Your broken world has hope and beauty and light.
Do something for your kids; your grandmother; your neighbour.
Do something wider to help:
Take action. Any action. There is no act too small, as long as it is meaningful to you, and helps your crooked world sit a little more upright.
Whatever you do, know that you are not alone. Critter and I are right here with you, loving you through the dark spaces that we share, and willing the space around you to feel warm and secure tonight.