Grief, like so many emotions, is an experience that relentlessly evades my expectations no matter the circumstances. It doesn’t matter how many times I try to “practice” a future incident or attempt to troubleshoot how I’m feeling. Grief is stubborn. Grief is creative. Grief is necessary. But goddamn… grief is a bitch.
This summer, I lost so much. In rapid succession, my life began to shatter and splinter outward in sharp, crackling edges. Let’s just say– if I’d been given a bingo card with the events of my life in 2022, I would have bet my existence there wouldn’t be a single winning bingo on it. But here I am– holding a tattered bingo card that’s been stamped so many times the ink has begun to bleed.
Grief’s gnawing, grating lament has been present for so many months now that I hardly feel it most days. But grief has found a new way to make me hear it again in the most unexpected way. This grief is like the ground after an earthquake, when the earth begins to liquify and water bubbles up through the cracks. This grief is unique, and feels decades old. And I suppose it is…
Grief, Regret, & Joy
In August 2022, after 20 long years, I was finally able to receive a total hysterectomy. I’m a trans nonbinary person with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and persistent gender dysphoria, and I have been fighting to receive this medical intervention for two thirds of my life. This victory should make me happy. It does make me happy. Indescribably happy.
But alongside this relief and joy is a dark swirling void in my chest that pulses sharply and shrieks to be heard. This void reminds me of things pushed into cages in the back of my mind.
It reminds me of 20 years of horrific and debilitating agony from large ovarian cysts that ruptured routinely throughout my life from ages 12 through 32. It reminds me of missed classes and days of work. Frantic trips to the ER. Fearful menstrual periods waiting frozen with terror for another bomb to go off inside of me. Invasive tests and stoney-faced unlistening doctors.
This insistent grief paints an uncanny and unwelcomed image of a 12 year old kid blacking out while home alone and waking up to a still-present, gut-wrenching pain that sadly wasn’t just a bad dream.
And more than anything, the black swirling void in my chest stirs and coils into a viper that reminds me that often with grief… comes rage. The viper in my chest spits out echoing reminders of betrayals and failures to protect. Of the hippocratic hypocrisy– “do no harm”. The echoes summon the memories, accompanied by the haunting grief… the rage.
“This shouldn’t happen again. It’s rare. You don’t need to worry.”
An image of a 12 year old terrified to walk down the stairs, scared to somehow set off another bomb inside. 20 years of it happening… again. And again. And again.
“Take these and it’ll stop.”
A just-barely teen cycling through half a dozen hormonal birth control medications, quickly followed by a quick succession of anti-depressants, chronic pain, and intense suicidal ideation.
“You don’t know you don’t want kids. You’re not 30 yet. What if you change your mind?”
A child, teen, then young adult begging for help from doctors, insisting that no child– even if it were wanted– is worth this daily dread. This indescribable agony that makes life seem unlivable.
“It’s just part of being a woman.”
A too-young child learning to dissociate so far outside of their body that the pain the body feels is like a flickering candle in a distant galaxy.
“Only come to the Emergency room if you’re bleeding through an entire pad.”
A young adult gasping, “I’m fine. This is normal.” while inwardly praying to either black out or die. Anything to escape the all-consuming pain that makes their vision go white.
“I’d trade you if I could.”
A confusing rage and deep, unfathomable sorrow that pools around the viper swirling inside.
Grief, Regret, and Moving Forward
I’m still not sure what to do with the gritty heaviness of this grief. This grief is dripping with poisonous rage and there’s nowhere to place it. No single person to direct it toward, demand answers from. Yet holding it inside grows challenging. How do you coil your rage around a systemic cage?
This rage is a part of my grief that I cannot lock away. Its molten heat merely melts the lock. I don’t know how to honor this anger. I don’t know how to look back at my past and tell my younger selves that they did everything right. They did nothing wrong. It wasn’t that they didn’t say the right words or do the right things. They tried so damn hard to be heard. They collected countless bruises and traumas, and they kept going anyway. They grew to be a warrior far stronger than many grown adults ever need to be, and far, far too young.
As reproductive rights continue to be challenged throughout the country, I grieve and I rage. Bodily autonomy is already denied despite documented “medical necessity.” Further barriers to medical care seem insurmountable in an already cruel and inhumane system which deliberately and callously silences minority voices.
And echoing in my mind is the question “Who defines ‘necessity’?” This question haunts me through my grief and my rage.
I look back and tell my 12 year old self…
“It was a necessity. It was a necessity for 20 years. It’s time to let yourself feel again. I am so damn proud of you, kiddo.”