Grief: Cut Out Dolls


Ah grief, old friend, you are here this morning. Lying in bed at 6am in the dark, I feel a softness in my ribs and cheat and let the tears run down my face. 

Ah grief, I have pushed you away these last few months. “No time” is not the real reason. A decision not to prioritise you is closer to the truth. 

I curl up on the couch with the mohair rug and make time.

I keep returning to one memory of us as girls playing with cardboard cut out dolls, behind the lounge room couch. The dolls had different outfits with small cardboard tabs that folded over the shoulders to keep the outfits precariously on. Changing the outfits took a lot of the time. Now a dress, now trousers and a shirt. We enjoyed the preoccupation with what to wear, a preoccupation, thankfully we both left behind as we grew up. 

This was in the St. Helen’s Road house so I would have been about five or six, you would have been four or five. In a shadowy nook behind the couch we would crouch and play for hours. It was so much - fun. I marvel now at the ease, the intimacy of creating make believe worlds, together. Two sister laughing and imagining lives for our cut out dolls, assuming that our own lives would be long and that the future was bright and in our hands. 

I am with a new friend, in a different nook, driving in her car. She asks “So where does your sister live now?” “Oh - she died. She died of breast cancer, four years ago.”

I don’t feel much at the time. That night in my sleep I hold on tight and wake up with an aching jaw. It is hard to feel - again - and to know deeply - again - that the future is not in my hands. Of course this not knowing opens up the wonders of an uncontrived life. I would rather that than the sickly ‘manifest your life’ ethos that both inflates and diminishes, misunderstands, the role of the individual. I know we are held in sticky webs of connection, which means my life is not just my own.  

I am in a dance class, one of those unstructured kinds where you can move as you like. The teacher shares about how she has been feeling stuck. It is early Spring, life impels us to move forward, but she invites us to dance the stuckness, to acknowledge the resistance to move forward. I move from my thoracic spine like a rod. I dance from the tight jaw and forearms, that want to will and make things happen and hold on.  I let the urge to hold on tight be here. By the end of the session, a layer of resistance has lifted. 

My husband is a bodywork practitioner, Structural Integration and now Integral Energetics. I lie on the massage table, his light deft touch supports a wave that wants to move in my spine. I lift and hold positions with an internal gripping, body squirming, holding then releasing. More layers lift. My spine feel fluid and I think of our childhood skipping rope, fluid and strong. 

Now on the couch, enough layers have released that rawness  emerges. I feel again the shock that you are not here. I see us holding our two cut out girls. We gave those girls such exciting adventurous lives! The little girl in me wants to write this now:

One of the cut out girls is having a good life. She has a husband and a son and a dog and lives in a nice house near parks and she teaches yoga and she likes her life a lot. The other cut out doll, well, she is resting. She looks really peaceful. She is in the drawer of the huge old dresser behind the couch. I put her in there and she is really comfortable. She is tucked in under a blanket that I knitted her.

The drawer has a brass handle that clinks when I open and close it. Sometimes I lift her out and I whisper to her some of the things I am doing and thinking and wondering. She tells me things back. I tell her all about her daughter and the things she is doing and the wonderful young woman she has become. I tell her funny little things, secret things, things that I can’t tell you because, well, they are things for only my sister to hear. 

Anahata Giri

September 2019