I don’t know.
A short list of how you behave in grief
I wish I could write a small primer for the next person who experiences this. Hand it to them, hug them with my infamous enveloping hugs and walk away. It’s very hard to maneuver. This. Particularly some sort of traumatic loss. If I had had time spent anticipating her dying I think this would feel different. Not less, only not as hard edged. I get it now that something major happened to me. I still have the paper my therapist gave me on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stage of Grief. I unfold it and fold it and stick in my glove compartment and carry it around in my bra. I read it and crumble it up and then smooth it out and try and look at it like an expedition I’m going on. Only it’s a shitty trip up or down the mountain. It’s not glamourous. There are no roadside attractions you’d want to visit.
I research complicated grief. It’s a recently recognized condition that occurs in about 7% of bereaved people. It’s a disorder and I get worried I have it. But then I can find moments of joy and I can actually understand that my mother is gone. She is on the other side of somewhere and I can’t touch her anymore. I can pull myself out of this depressive pit and seek joy still. I know I can. It just doesn’t stay afloat. I drift. It’s worrisome for people to know what’s normal. What the fuck is normal? We are only repeating these motions we know. We are only doing what we know. And here where we live, we are completely removed from death. We are only a living society. We are alive and beautiful and fast. We do not acknowledge death. We run away from it. We shut our eyes.
No one taught me how to die yet.
No one taught me how to live after someone dies.
Some things I know 180 days after
You may feel disconnected from yourself and life feels like a music video all slowed down. I feel like I am a photograph with gaussian blur. I felt for a bit that I looked different. Maybe I still feel that. Sometimes I want to call you up and ask you if I look blurry. If my face is still the face you loved?
You may act out and be angry AF and some of you may self-sabotage. People pull their darkness up and over them like a security blanket. The parts you hide away most of the time could possibly come out to play in grief. And it can be shameful and it’s difficult to remind yourself lovingly that this is not who you are. Not all the time.
The world could feel hostile and uninviting and places that once were of great comfort could be triggering. Crowds. Your childhood home. Your favorite bar. A person. It’s sad and confusing. You pep talk the shit out yourself but nothing changes.
You will cry in public and at the most inopportune times.
You will carry this fear around. You are so tender. You are white hot with love. You will learn to pull yourself together immediately. You learn.
And you will pick and choose the people who make you feel good and who are safe havens. This could be hard for other people in your life to accept. This could be hard for those people to accept too. Some people just feel good. So fucking good. Some people remind you so much of her.
You will wonder when you are going to be the person you used to be. You will ask your friends when this will happen and they will feed you and hold you and lie to you. They don’t know either. Or they will tell you the only truth they know. You are different now. But they may not grasp just how different it feels to you. How you want to unzip your skin and step out into the light. Shake yourself clean. You want to rebuild an exact replica of the person you were before this. Before that. You draw an imaginary line in the sand with your toe.
You will want everything to be ok with you and the world. You will want to tell everyone you love that you love them. Pay off any debts. Walk around like an alcoholic in AA. You ask for forgiveness. It is currency now. You are on borrowed time. You worry about yourself and everyone else. You want to live harder and faster and be bold with your love. Only not everyone is ready for that. They want you to laugh like you used to. They want you to be practical. They want to not be afraid of you. You are fragile and it scares them. It scares you more.
You will have to become patient. And it feels like it will kill you.
I have more to say. But I’ve said so much. I always do. I just need you to know that me being able to write it down is saving me. Me imagining you over there in your cozy chair or on your barstool or you at work or you on your bed late at night is comforting. You reading this and being a part of my journey is how I am able to make sense of this beautiful, terrible life.
I want this terrible year to end
but then I don’t because that seems wasteful
especially as I feel my 7-year-old
play footsie with me under the table
at this very moment in time
I am writing down life
his skin so soft it feels unreal
and my house is warm and I am in a body that
works so well
like a machine
or at least a small appliance
and I wake up each day
and I have people who love me
even though I am half terrible
but my mind feels unattached
suspended above me
it works less well I guess
it thinks about the ways the world
pushes up against you
how things get gone
I am not sure how we keep doing this
over and over
until we are the one to go
i started wearing a watch the summer you died
after a whole life of not looking at my wrist
time is a fast train and
what if i'm learning
how to measure it
for the first time
this terrible summer is almost over
and all of the beauty that lived in it will live under this
the taste in my mouth
i really don't get this whole thing
i am different now
once you looked at me and told me I was trouble and you could tell there was something brewing all around me and I laughed that laugh you can't forget the one that you could hear in a crowd and I told you it was true that you knew me all the way around
that no one got me like you did get me
then you got gone
and i think that the summer is almost over
people are wrapping up
the night comes
you can imagine leaves dropping soon
I will set my watch to it
we take in air and don’t even notice
we’re driving around or watching movies or sitting at little desks just breathing
we are on airplanes going back and forth to places we don’t even like
we are pushing grocery carts into the evening
maybe when we run we feel it
or when we do yoga because the teacher says to pay attention
or when we are heartbroken and our lungs are bricks that weigh us down
we can hardly climb stairs or laugh
we cannot yell
blood pumps fast through us all the time
we are hot on the inside
yeah sometimes we don’t realize that we are alive
we are so wild
little animals with terrible sadness
and our hearts beat 100,000 times a day
i think about food and sex and rock and roll
and the way you looked at me that one time when you told me the truth
i think about the how i want my heart to beat you a song
once i put my tongue on your neck and felt your heartbeat pound against me
i know you remember that too
it was weird
it lasted a long time
i would let you do anything to me
I am constantly trying to remember to be on purpose and matter of fact with my heart.
I make a fist and squeeze it.
I open my fist and wave to you across the room.
You are surrounded by light from a window.
There is a small spark.
I am aware of my air.
I pant for you.
It’s hard to see your name every single day in my google chat list. I want to click it. It’s like a little itch. I want to tell you things like I saw your daughter on the street the other day and she didn’t see me but I saw her and she was so beautiful. Her face looks like yours. The way she walked. Everything. I want to tell you that I am crazy and I drink too much wine. I want to tell you that life is the same but so very different since you went away. I think there is a marked line in the dirt of life right now. Before that happened. After that happened. You are goddamn important to this whole thing. I want to tell you that. I want to tell you that. I want to tell you that everything is interconnected. I know it now.
I drive fast on the highway and sometimes I swear I see your name on the exit signs.
All big and bold. There are whole conversations that I replay in my mind. We talk about things like the future. Food. The way a song lyric attaches itself to the inside of ears. You laugh that big laugh that shows all of your teeth and I count down all the days you could possibly have left.
I am slowly getting used to you not sending me texts.
I pretend that you are on holiday. I look for postcards in the mail.
I see you inside of my computer and once at the market, I thought you were in the produce section.
There she is I thought.
Look at her finger those melons.
It was a woman who looked nothing like you when she turned around.
I ask my 6-year-old if he thinks I am crazy.
He shakes his head and his hazel eyes are sincere.
This is the summer he sees his mother unwind.
I go the gym and ride the stationary bike on the random hill setting. I do this for 45 mins and I listen to dirty rap. Sweat is a river in my pants. Sometimes I raise my hands above my head like an athlete would do to stretch. I try and get my sadness to drain to the floor. To fall out of my body. Get it out of your body I whisper to myself.
It doesn’t budge.
Sometimes I just don’t trust anything at all.
Like we’re all standing on lace.
It’s delicate to the point of almost being funny.
I tell myself that I am a tiger.
I am strong and fierce and this thing under the surface of me is going to go away.
This pit of my stomach to level out.
We wave at each other from across the street.
The sun gives halos.
You see me.
Everything is like it once was.
I am walking around my well-manicured neighborhood looking for others.
People like me. But there are no middle-aged women dragging grief like a blanket down the sidewalk. There are only people on porches who are laughing and the sun is shining. There are families walking with toddlers in wagons and they are tan and beautiful. I am the only one who has drank two cold beers at in the middle of the day. I am dressed like a teen goth. I look like my sadness. I am my sadness.
I don’t call my friends because this feels very awkward and something that should be done in private.
This feels like I can’t get it all the way out of me.
I am sure the librarian silently judges me from my stack of reserved self-help books that I pick up. I have known this person for a long time. Familiar strangers. And she knows I am fucked up by all of the books I reserve. Feminist theory books touching diet books touching poetry collections and now this. I am ready to read words that will make me less afraid of everything. I want to be bulletproof. Strong again. I want you not to be dead. I look the librarian in the eye like I love her. Her green eyes look away. People don’t like it when you want them. I want her. Like I want her to take me in her arms and hold me and tell me she knows everything will be ok. In the middle of the library. Where every story has ever been told. Where anything is possible.