Grief is super weird. And so is the month of October, at least for me.
On the one hand, the incredibly basic autumn-loving pumpkin-everything-consuming side of me has always been in love with the weather and the overall aesthetic. October is my late brother’s birthday month, which is always a strange mix of wistful and fond and missing him. There’s also a much darker side which is remembering October 2009 specifically.
My grandfather died in April 2009, followed by the one-two punch of my brother in 2009 at the age of 22. I went back to work almost right away after the funeral, a fast paced-job at a mega church. I kind of coasted on adrenaline for the next few months, and right about the time October hit I began to fall into a deep depression. Or maybe depression is the wrong word–probably it was just the normal grief I had been pushing aside final would not be held back any more.
At that point I hadn’t gotten any help or counseling and because of a number of factors that I won’t get into, there was no freedom or flexibility to start grieving then. I know there were people that cared about me, but in my day-to-day reality I found myself completely alone on the front lines of grief and despair. There are few things more isolating than walking through a sea of happy-clappy carrying a black hole inside. Plus, I wasn’t really on speaking terms with God by that point either, and which also scared me. October is when I went into survival mode, making every effort keep the darkness at bay long enough to drag myself to work.
Survival mode is ugly, and I found comfort in many unexpected places. I share this because some people imagine grief in a kind of one-size-fits all scene that belongs on a Hallmark channel movie where someone says “it’s cancer” while soft music plays. Grief is not that. And no one grieves the same. And people who grieve need the freedom to grieve in their own timeline. And you can’t put it on people who grieve to reach out to you for help, because half the time standing up and putting their pants on in the morning is the biggest victory of the day.
So buckle up…. we’re revisiting the pit that was the Autumn 2009, and it’s about to get weird.
5. My High School Musical Pandora Station
Yep. A far departure from my normal indie-folk playlist, the High School Musical station featured heavily Disney Channel stars like Hannah Montana, occasionally throwing in some classic Disney as well. It was just upbeat and soulless enough to be the perfect musical anesthetic to plug into my ears moments after arriving at work, and basically for any block of time that I did not need to interact with people.
4. The WB Show Angel
This was another extreme departure for me. I generally don’t like Sci-Fi or those monster/vampire shows. I think I watched the pilot because I like David Boreanaz from Bones, but something clicked, and I binged that show before binging was a thing. When I ran out of online episodes I bought DVD sets. I think there was something about a strong, protector figure who was unable to die that made me feel strangely safe in my tail-spin.
3. Hip Hop Dance
The temple of dance that was Studio 310 is much larger story, but signing up for hip hop through Montgomery County Recreation center led me to Studio 310 just over a month after my brother died. My dance background had been ballet as a child and teen, followed by tap and jazz in college, with a smattering of musical theater throughout. Hip hop loosened me up, empowered me, and connected me with an amazing community of strong women that would eventually become dear friends over the years.
2. Late Night Comedy
Jimmy Fallon, old school SNL, Chelsea Handler, the latter being another off-brand choice. Anything and everything that would make me laugh. In hindsight as a writer, I see this as a helpful and formative time, because while I don’t have aspirations to be a comedy writer, it reconnected me to a writerly side of my brain that had been dormant. I also understand more full how people find comedy in the midst of pain.
1. Tim Keller’s post- September 11 Sermon
One day around that time I went nuts and took off work and drove to New York to visit a dear friend. That trip was healing on many levels, but at one point she casually mentioned a sermon she had heard at her church by her pastor, Tim Keller. It was on something practical like money or friendships or I probably wouldn’t have listened to it, but after hearing it when I returned home I looked around his website for other sermons. It had been years since I had heard a sermon without an earpiece in my ear for work, and there was something genuine and thoughtful in his sermon that made me trust him. I found his sermon from the Sunday after Sept 11, and gave it a listen mostly out of curiosity, and the entire service was included, hymns, liturgy and all. Let’s be honest that was probably my gateway drug to becoming a Presbyterian, also a story for another time.
He preached on the story of Lazarus dying where Jesus famously weeps, just before raising Lazarus from the dead. He described Lazarus’s sister who falls at the feet of Jesus weeping and she says, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” And I recognized myself. If there were ever a character in the Bible I could relate to, it was the face-planted weeping one demanding to know where Jesus was when her brother died. And the glorious moments that came after is that she could look up into the face of Jesus to see him also weeping. Not asking why she doesn’t have it together. Not throwing “God works all things for good” in her face. But weeping at her pain.
And that’s why #1 on this list was a game changer.