Thursday, January 19, 2012

Life With All Its Pain And Sorrows

I came across a transcript of a radio broadcast given by Agnes in the 1950's.  It was from a series called "This I Believe." I was struck by the circumlocutory nature of the piece.  She spent a good long while proclaiming her fundamentalism and then immediately contradicting it with statements about success, anonymity and a great many other things that in the end really had little to do with anything except Agnes evading the issue of saying what she really felt or believed.  She does make mention that in her profession the "punishment for transgressions is great."  She was keenly aware that she had to color between the lines.  Every so often when you least expect it she shows you a glimmer of her real personality.  This piece was no exception to that.  She makes this statement, "I believe life with all its pain and sorrows is a beautiful, precious gift and I believe that I must strive to reproduce its beauty by holding fast to this ideal by doing my duty without regard to personal ambition.  I  believe that in the course of living a life, of embarking on a goal and the certain truths that go with honest living, after these precepts have formulated-then one must set out alone, single handedly, uncompromisingly in these tenets.  No one else can do it for you."

I have read some sorrowful things in my time most of them I wrote about myself but this paragraph breaks my heart.  It is a glimpse inside of this beautiful fragile soul that you rarely ever see.  Think about the description of life she gives as being one "with all its pain and sorrow" not one with pain and sorrow balanced by joy and love.  For her that was life , something that had to be carried, something that was a duty.  She makes no mention of joy of any sort in the essay.  It seems in her personal view of the world it was something that she lacked.  She also makes a point of saying you must live life alone, single handedly without any compromise.  Dedication can play into that but to me it reads more  like a person who saw themselves completely alone in this world and that the only person she could depend on was herself.  She actually said that "human beings are never reliable."  Every single time I read these bits and snippets I am so emotionally moved by how lonely this woman was.  I'm also amazed at what a consummate actress she was and not just before a camera , on the boards of a stage, or in front of a microphone but every moment of her life when she was in plain view of others.  I think it is in Charles Tranberg's book where it is mentioned that Agnes was on 23 out of 24 hours a day.  I wouldn't go that far but I would say without hesitation that she was never herself in front of anyone, not even her mother.  It's why there are so many contradictory statements about her personality.  I believe that Paul Gregory may have been the only living human being to see beyond her veneer to what he called "troubling parts of her personality."

What drives a person to this?  I still continue to read, theorize, take notes but I rarely get any further than the death of her sister.  Today I was reading an article by " P,. Gill White, PhD."  The article is about loss of an adult sibling and it has some views that tie in quite well with some of Agnes' behavior patterns. 

Dr. Gill talks about disenfranchised grief.  Meaning that when an adult loses a sibling they feel like society abandons them by giving all the sympathy to their parents.  They sibling is basically forced to "get over it" quickly so that they can operate as a support system for their parents.  Dr. Gill says this is one of the reasons why adult sibling loss falls into the category of "disenfranchised grief."  The bereaved sibling is made to feel guilty for grieving too long.  Society doesn't offer any support to these individuals.  Their grief and sadness is never validated and they don't get the chance to heal.  The result of this is for the sibling to "go into hiding with their feelings."  This typically results in a low grade depression which the sibling struggles with for many, many years to come.  Does this sound like anyone we know?  I surely think it does.  I know I've addressed this before but this article by Dr. Gill is so eloquent and really shines some light on the darkness of Agnes' personality.

Dr. Gill makes the statement that "Life changes in an instant."  It is really true if you think about it.  Life simply stops being what it was and changes without your permission into something you have to learn to cope with.
Dr. Gill gives the following as issues that must be dealt with or worked through:
  • Seeking a new identity.  "When someone has been a part of your life since their birth, your identity is based on having him or her there.  They form a part of the field or background from which you live your life, and as such, they are essential.  They make up part of the unbroken wholeness that defines who you are.  This relates to the concept of birth order.  When the first child is born he or she develops certain characteristics and talents.  Other siblings will most likely choose characteristics to develop in order to differentiate from each other.  The first child may be a star athlete, while the next sibling excels in academics.  The siblings support each other by their differences.  In doing so, siblings actually loan each other their strengths, and when one of the siblings dies, that strength is lost, and the survivors identity with it."
  • The loss of a future with the sibling. "Not only have you lost the actual person and your relationship with them, but you have lost the part they would have played in your future.  You may go on to marry, have children, buy a house, succeed or fail, and each event underlines the terrible reality that your brother or sister is not there.  Forever after, all events, no matter how wonderful, have a bittersweet flavor.  Anniversary reactions plague the surviving sibling on birthdays and holidays and other special occasions.  They may unwittingly be "acting out" the loss unless they are conscious of the date."
  • Compulsive care giving. "What prevents many bereaved siblings from an uncomplicated grief process is their desire to protect someone--perhaps their parents, spouse, or their own children.  The focus on being there for someone else helps them put their own grief process on hold.  One of the most commonly noted responses to sibling loss is that the surviving sibling learns not to fear the grief of others.  They have been there--they know what it's like so they can listen to others who are grieving.  This can be carried too far.  When bereaved siblings project their own hurt feelings on to others, and then take care of those others, it becomes counter productive.  Compulsive caregivers live on the periphery of their own existence, focusing so much energy outside of themselves that they become empty, over stressed and ultimately clinically depressed.  Often they appear brittle, speaking in short quick sentences, while they deny the underlying pain.  The unfelt feelings then become a heavy burden that prevents the sufferer from becoming their best selves."
  • Dealing with trauma. "A related issue that is particularly troubling in certain kinds of death is that of trauma.  Our minds can only process so much information at one time.  When the event is of a magnitude to create excess stimulus, it is traumatic.  When a brother or sister dies suddenly from an accident, suicide, or homicide, this is definitely too much for us to take in at once."
  • The aftermath of loss, guilt. "Guilt is a feeling that builds with time.  It appears that you feel responsible for violating some unwritten rule of society, or failing to meet your own standards of behavior.  That is the surface.  Underneath this lies the fact that we, as humans, do not like to feel  powerless or helpless.  We could not prevent our sibling's death--we were utterly powerless.  So we pretend to ourselves that if we had been there, or if we had taken some particular action, things would have been different.  Then we blame ourselves for having failed our deceased sibling.  As time passes, we examine our memories of the relationship with the deceased sibling.  We find that we failed before, not having been as kind or generous as we "should" have been; we have not lived up to our own code of behavior.  So we end up feeling even more guilty."
  • Survival guilt. "Sometimes bereaved siblings punish themselves simply for living when their brother or sister is dead.  It almost feels like a betrayal of the sibling, if we go on living.  Many bereaved siblings don't know about survival guilt, and don't believe they feel it.  And yet, they wonder why they seem to attract difficult, painful situations into their lives.  This kind of guilt can be explained with simple math.  You have 100 pounds of guilt on one side of the scale and you need to get 100 pounds of punishment on the other side to balance the scale."
  • Guilt about the death. "This kind of guilt stems from the dislike of feeling helpless.  Perhaps there was something you could have done to prevent your siblings death.  If you had done one thing different this would not have happened.  It goes on and on."
  • Violating your own code. "Sibling relationships are ambivalent by nature.  This means that we both love (sometimes) and hate (sometimes) our siblings.  Having lived with them for many years, we have fought a lot.  Thus there are many reasons to berate ourselves when they die."
This section basically describes Agnes to a tee.  She saw the world as a place of pain and sorrow.  She did her duty in terms of marrying and tolerating the violence thrust on her by her husband.  She fell from painful situation to painful situation with great alacrity.  Her whole life was governed by July 14th 1929.  She never moved past it.  She never grieved her sisters passing.  She held it inside for 45 years.  I think she felt she atoned for it by dying.  She knew she was ill years before she died and did nothing but the minimum and when she finally decided to try to live it was too late to save herself.  She died in April just 7 days or so after what would have been her sister's 67th birthday. 

Here I sit marveling still at her strength, her will, her talent and wishing in every way that I could have been there to relieve her pain, to assure her that she had every right to grieve.......what I wouldn't give for a time machine.

No comments:

Post a Comment