I am not good at pretending. I’m not one of those people that can keep my facial cues blank or indifferent when I’m uncomfortable or shocked or irritated. I don’t say much but it’s all there written on my face and I am pretty awful at hiding it. My tribe can read me like a book and its endlessly hilarious to them when I try to keep it together and play it cool, because I am sooooo not. That’s why I am won’t pretend to be knowledgeable or all sage-like when I talk about grief. Yeah whoa, I know, that was sudden but hear me out and just maybe I can save you a year of emotional constipation.
So, it began as all the greatest of enlightenments do, on girls’ night-in… cupcakes, chocolate, laughs, facials, all the typical fare but exponentially better because my sister is an esthetician (bonus) and a dear cross-line friend was in town visiting and brought along her Zyto scan. My turn came up and OH. MY. WORD. I didn’t know this little thing picked up emotional frequencies (frequencies, right? I have no idea how this actually works) but “grief” was like off the charts, in the red, danger zoned. What in the world? I get it, my mom passed a year ago in August, but why still so intense? Shouldn’t it be, I don’t know, out of the DEFCON 1 mode, maybe into at least a 3? Like, shouldn’t I be a grief master by now gracefully floating through bouts of momentary sadness with the tragic, enduring, and angelic face of Mandy Moore in “A Walk to Remember”? Yeah, I’m not and I don’t. I’m more…. say, Shirley MacLaine in “Terms of Endearment”, “IM NOT ENJOYING THIS!!!”
“Avoiding feelings isn’t the same as protecting feelings.” -Sheryl Sandburg
But at that moment I took the whole last year into consideration and have slowly been coming to this realization that I have been doing this grief thing so completely wrong. Me, the one who reads poetry (not writes because I sound like Dr. Seuss and that’s Jennifer’s talent) and watches sad movies and reads just completely gut-wrenching, ugly cry-inducing novels. Yeah, I suck at grief. How do I know? Well to start I haven’t cried in a year. I’m talking a real cry, not one of those welling up deals that’s pretty much like a sneeze that didn’t happen. Yup, no crying. I lost my Mom, my ally, my best friend, but following her funeral I refused to cry. When I would feel a sad moment coming on, whether alone or not, I would just tense my jaw, let the physical pain pass because as I have learned, gut-wrenching is a thing. Yeah, I know, messed up. One of the most difficult things I have ever done was clean my Mother’s room after she passed. It was all there, what she was doing that day, the things she was working on, the plans, her glasses on the table, clothes on the closet door, and the trauma that eventually came to be that morning. I did it and literally forced myself not to cry. Did I expect a badge, or have something to prove? I guess it was what I thought I was supposed to do, you know buck up, soldier on. It’s like I didn’t even see that Pixar move Inside Out. Mom’s you know what I am talking about, don’t pretend that movie didn’t touch something deeply buried in you and totally make you weep when the little girl finally let herself feel all the sadness she needed to feel.
“Grief does not change you… it reveals you.” -John Green
Why am I telling you this? Because Judy Blume didn’t write a book for us on this one like she did with puberty (what the heck Judy?). But I would want the year ago me to understand things. Understand that the mind and body are unavoidably and inexplicably connected, holding in emotions of this magnitude for this long can affect things like the immune system and hormones, can cause or exacerbate issues like inflammation, migraines, aches and pains, all of which I have experienced this past year. I would want the year ago me to understand that not crying, not taking a moment to let yourself totally breakdown in the cereal aisle at the grocery store and just let waves of sorrow wash over you doesn’t make you stronger and you’re not winning grieving. I would have wanted to know that you don’t “deal” with grief as they say, you let it happen. To know the universe won’t answer the whys and doesn’t address the unfairness because I am not owed that, is something I am slowly learning too. And letting go of that is when the grief process can begin. And let me tell you friends, grief is coming to town. It doesn’t have to be your roommate, but it certainly is going to be a house guest who is not leaving until you settle your accounts. And no matter the source of the grief, a mom that was, a mom that never was, a relationship lost, the past that happened, the future that won’t be, whatever loss hurts you, grieve it. Other than ignoring it, there isn’t a wrong way, there isn’t a timeline. People eventually stop asking how you are but that doesn’t mean it’s time to tidy up your grief and tuck away in the closet like I did. You’re not wrong for grieving over a year later. This is yours, talk, meditate, yoga, write, journal, oil, create, listen, read yourself through and when you come out the other side, you will have become exactly who you were meant to be.
“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”
-Joan Didion The Year of Magical Thinking
Because I am such a sucker for a themed list of book recs, below are listed some of the reads that I have found most helpful and enlightening when dealing with loss, grief, and all those things life throws at you on a random Tuesday.
Reading Through Grief:
Wild- Cheryl Strayed (I wish I was cool enough to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to get through my grieving. Instead I ate pickle chips, binge watched Gilmore Girls, and read this book.)
The Year of Magical Thinking- Joan Didion (This a thousand times.)
Blue Nights- Joan Didion
Option B- Sheryl Sandberg (A must for those low days.)
When Breath Become Air- Paul Kalanithi (Caution: Ugly crying happens here.)
The Dead Moms Club: A Memoir about Death, Grief, and Surviving the Mother of All Losses- Kate Spencer (this is just now in my TBR pile, where was this a year ago?!)
The Harry Potter Series- J. K. Rowling (just because we all need escapism at some point and a nice reminder that no matter how bad things are, you might just be a famous wizard and not even know it yet.)