Having grief in your life on this level is walking a path filled with land mines. I think I am navigating my way through pretty well when wham! one blows up in my face.
I’ve been told lately by a number of people that have NOT been by my side during the last 10 months that I “look better”, I “sound better” , that I “appear to be doing better.” I am taken aback. Their comments are meant to encourage me I am sure. Instead they make me want to punch them in the face.
The conundrum is that I don’t know why I feel that way. These people obviously have only seen me in passing, they have not squatted here in the trenches with me as some others have. I’m not sure exactly what they mean and maybe they don’t either.
But here is how I take it:
I appreciate the fact that you may think that you have been thinking about me every day. Unless you tell me, I don’t know. I know how scattered I have been in the past with good intentions. It’s okay, really. It is impossible to maintain that sort of link without great concerted effort. You are basing your observations of me on random casual occurrences. They are no measure by which to gain information.
I guess I don’t make you as uncomfortable any more because I have adjusted my mask and you can’t see the seam where the mask starts and I begin.
You think grieving is like an illness that I will eventually recover from or else perish. I will not recover and when I perish it will go with me.
I would prefer to be the judge of how I am doing. I am not asking for you to gauge my progress. Your comments concerning how I am doing only underscore how hard I am having to work to keep up appearances and it is a lot of work. It makes me unsteady when you comment and it is a lot of work to stay steady.
I can hear the strain in your voice, or the look in your eyes when I approach so I go into gear to put you at your ease. Now at your ease you feel comfortable and say things like , “well you are looking better.” I want to say, “not really, this is all an act for you, because I know you couldn’t bare to be with me if I showed you how I am really feeling.”
The shell is thin and can crack at any moment.
If you are really interested, just for the record, there is not a day without tears. Not one day. Not one single day.
Some days don’t get started till noon.
You cannot imagine how I feel. That is a safe thing for you to say to me. It is not possible for you to imagine, because pain is something we avoid and seek medication to stop.
I can’t even explain why some things become land mines. Sitting at a table with friends and they begin to talk about their children (as they should) and they mention what they are doing or the adventures they will undertake. The voice in your head says in a dull monotone – and your child will never have that opportunity.
Someone says in their state of exhaustion “I feel brain dead.”
I see a plaid shirt. A plaid shirt for goodness sake in a store. It looks like something he would wear and I have to get out of the place before I suffocate.
I don’t think it is about growing a thicker skin, or compartmentalizing. The fact is that maybe for me and some others we cling to our grief because it is part of the connection now that we have with our beloved.
Here is the latest analogy I have come up with. We had our driveway repaved. For twenty years there has been a three inch step down from the front walk to the driveway. The pavement is thicker now and there is about a half inch difference between the sidewalk and driveway. It is almost level with each other. The first time I walked out I was jolted. I had prepared to step down and the step didn’t exist. I did that a number of times, I was so used to the way it used to be. I think about it now. I remind myself when I take the dogs out so that I don’t jar myself. You wouldn’t think something that small could jar you that much.
I had my son in my life for over 29 years. From the first time I felt him move till the last time when he could move no more. Every day I wake and prepare for the crushing reality that I will not see him. I will not get to hear his voice. It takes a lot of preparation.
So if you see me and I am smiling and laughing, please don’t draw attention to it. Just join in and take it for what it is worth. If it makes you feel better then good, but keep it to yourself. Those of us who live with grief and laugh often feel disloyal to our loved one. How dare we have fun.
For me to not laugh would be disloyal to my son, to my daughter who misses her brother so much. Laughter is one thing my husband I have shared for 35 years. When I laugh I think of him too and the many things he found absurd and funny.
Better. . .well who knows what that is really. Please understand, I don’t want to reprimand you. Truth is if you make me uncomfortable enough, I will avoid you so you don’t have to worry. But if I choose to be around you and you try to be around me please just relax and understand you can’t make me feel better. You can’t “make” me do anything. And if you think I am better, maybe it is you who are better in learning how to empathize.