Moving Forward in Grief

(W)hole in the World: Let's Get Honest About Rage

(W)hole in the World

moving forward in grief

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.

Edna St. Vincent Millay



My name is Gretchen and I am a widow who writes about grief and grieving. I never wanted this to be my niche. I used to write sketch comedy.  But life is full of surprises and best-laid plans, yes?

I’ve penned several essays and even a feature film about grief and grieving, but when my old college buddy the wonderful writer/editor, Kara Post-Kennedy asked me to start a proper column, I faltered for a long time. I have been turning away from this task. I have been hiding in freelance copyediting and web series pitches, and political protests, and 2 a.m. panic attacks about money, and back-to-school shopping and starting a new day job.

Kara is a patient lady and I have never been particularly prolific, so I tried to give myself permission to chill and figure it out.

 So yeah, it turns out I’ve been living a lie. Bear with me here.

 I sat down the other day and re-read all of my previous pieces, although honestly, I cannot watch my film one more freaking time (But you guys totally should! It’s on iTunes!).

 I realize that up until this moment (and I can feel the constriction in my throat and the tears building up behind my eyeballs, but I’m going to push through and write this) I have been passing. I have been pretending to be a person with answers, or at least a person who’s totally at peace with not having answers, which is its own kind of answer, right?  “Namaste, everyone!” “Here’s some advice for you.” “Here’s what I’ve learned.” “Here’s how I’ve come out the other side.”

To a certain extent this is the digital world we live in. People click on things they think can help them feel better, do better (although put “sex” in your title and you’ll get about 2,892 more “shares” than usual) so that’s what online magazines tend to look for. “10 Ways to Do This or That Thing Better,” “Four Ways to Improve This or That,” “How to Get Better, Think Better, Be Better.”

But it’s not just a supply and demand issue. It’s me.

If I’m going to write a regular column I am going to have to start being completely honest. I am struggling. I struggle every damn day. I fail. I literally fail every day to be the person I want to be and then I fail to forgive myself for my failures.

Here’s what I’ve been failing at lately. Rage. Cannot contain it. Cannot tamp it down.

Yesterday I got off the subway after work, determined to have a heart-to-heart with my son about my morning bus-stop-rage-fest at the utter lack of communication from his new, intimidating middle school (he just started middle school and we are both freaking out).  As I booked it 10 long humid blocks to pick him up on time from his afterschool program, I was determined never to rant and rave again.  “We are a team,” I practiced saying. “We will figure this out together.”

He would work on not being afraid to ask questions and I would work on not raising bloody hell when we don’t get the answers we need. I had it all figured out! Dozens of new leaves would be turned over.

And then I got to the aforementioned afterschool program and was instantly enraged all over again when the girl at the front desk told me that (A) they had not transferred all the information from the gazillions of forms I filled out into the central system and they almost turned away my Thursday babysitter (who I have to hire to pick up my kid because I go in late to work on Thursdays so I can go to therapy in the morning and stay late at work even though I can afford neither a therapist nor a babysitter), but luckily she just happened to remember that I’d put the babysitter’s name into the gazillion forms so they let her take him, and then this evening (B) she thought my kid was still at the playground, but maybe he was back in the classroom and if he wasn’t either of those places (he wasn’t) maybe he was in the “late room” and if he wasn’t there then gee, she was sure they’d be coming back soon from wherever they were… blah blah blah.

RAGE. RAGE. RAGE. I was off and running. Because it’s NOT FAIR.

It’s NOT FAIR that I have to do this on my own and that I can’t afford decent childcare and my wife died taking all of her co-parenting and  emotional support and ⅔ of our income with her because I have never been good at making a living and I should have nagged her more to go to the doctor when she started having symptoms and really it’s all my fault because I could have saved her life or at least made better life choices and why the hell did I ever think I could afford to have a child or handle being a mom and I was probably ruining his life and he shouldn’t ever have to feel like he has to take care of me I should be calm and serene so he can feel safe even though his other mom died and the world is full of sexual predators and school shootings and … RAGE RAGE RAGE.

“Breathe, Mom,” he says (frequently) with an amused expression on his face. God, I love that kid.

So, I am failing at the rage thing, but I want to try to be brave enough to talk about the rage thing. ‘Cause I don’t want to be that crazy-lady anymore. But you know what makes me really angry? That “Oh God, the crazy-lady is ranting and raving again” look on people’s faces.

Perhaps it reminds me of the “She must have waited too long to go to the doctor. I would never do that, so therefore I will not die young” attitude many folks gave us when my wife was first diagnosed with cancer. Because you know what? You might wait to go to the doctor. You know what else? You might have no symptoms at all and get a cancer diagnosis at a check-up. None of us is perfect enough to ensure perfect health or perfect behavior.

 Maybe if we could all manage to face each other fully in our imperfection (kind of like a reverse Namaste?) the defensiveness and fury would be easier to let go of? Maybe it would be a cinch to “choose to diffuse,” as the kids say. Or maybe we could, all of us, healthy and sick, single and married, rich and poor, grieving or not… maybe we could actually help each other slog through the manure pile and find a couple of nice daisies pushing through the shit?

 I’d like to hear your thoughts. Let’s talk about our struggles, fellow grievers. With rage and with everything else. Let’s help each other here. I mean it. Honest.

Show More

Gretchen M. Michelfeld

Gretchen M. Michelfeld is an eclectic writer, a hopeful feminist, a sheepish Mets fan and a proud mom. Her award-winning feature film AS GOOD AS YOU is available on iTunes.


  1. Thanks for this! I’m huge on transparency at the basic trust level. If you’re not being honest with yourself then you can’t be honest with anyone else.

    I let my son rage. Why shouldn’t I? Most of that time he is angry and I have to let him feel that his emotions are justified.

    Crazy isn’t it? You describe your rage as bad, but to me they are perfectly acceptable things to be outraged at. I won’t ask your age but I was born in 1980 and my whole family would stamp on me when I would get the slightest bit angry. It wasn’t my anger though, it was their own uncomfortableness with my anger that was the problem. I try (but still struggle) to allow my rage to manifest. It’s healthy! It’s why boxing was invented haha.

    Rage on! As long as you aren’t physically or emotionally damaging anyone then I’d say you’re perfectly within your rights to do so. After all, it’s you, right? Why are you telling yourself your feelings are wrong? 🙂 (something I still struggle with)

    1. Raymond, I am way way way older than you! But you are young AND right. I guess this essay is my way of starting to come to terms with these feelings so they don’t feel wrong anymore. Thank you for your feedback and I look forward to reading your blog.

      1. Good on you! I still struggle with the internal ticker. You know? When you know it’s perfectly fine to feel this way but you can’t help but feel bad for feeling it anyway.

        Really looking forward to seeing more from you! 🙂

  2. I love your essay, it’s so honest, it’s refreshing. I used to think i was the only one who raged about my life circumtances! Yes we should all stand by each other.

  3. Thank you Gretchen. We have been passing for almost five months. We pretend to live in this world which is unfair and wrong, which appears to be the same as the world that preceded our horror, but is devoid of most of the joy. I am angry that in addition to losing a brother, my daughter has broken parents. I am angry that Seamus’s nine-year-old classmates are being forced to wrap their minds around something that I find impossible to fathom. I hate this life, and yet I must show up and pretend and find joy to share with my wife and daughter, embracing something I once loved but now detest. All these beautiful memories and experiences that are pressed against and linked to a terrifying pain that I don’t believe will subside. This putrid wonderful life.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: