It looks a little different on everyone.
I don’t wear it well.
I don’t know that any of us find it particularly flattering. I mean, they don’t call it “ugly crying” because it looks incredible.
For me, grief looks edgy, quiet, irritated, isolated, obsessive, and exhausted. It finds me drifting from room to room without a purpose, craving my bed and greasy meat, and playing too much Candy Crush. Grief makes my back and head hurt.
Think PMS with more dysregulated moods and crying.
I feel flattened. I feel like I’m dragging myself around, just trying not to lose my shit, then losing it anyway.
It’s hard to tend to my kids, but I do. It’s hard to brush my hair, but I do. It’s hard not to eat only gummy bears and wine, but I don’t. I manage to sneak some pizza and sweet and sour chicken in. It’s too hard to get my shit together and cook, so I’ve ordered out and I’m going to be cool with that.
People used to wear specific clothes, usually black, for a year- or longer!- after the death of a loved one, or black arm bands, to signal that they were in mourning.
Let that sink in- a year or longer.
And these clothes allowed others to recognize the vulnerable phase of grief, and cued them to empathize with the bereaved.
I don’t think my leopard-print leggings and dog-hair-covered hoodie are imparting the same message.
Now we get a weekend of services, maybe five days of bereavement leave from work if it was immediate family, and are expected to get on with our lives.
If you grieve for longer than that there is an unspoken theory that there is something wrong with you. Quick! Get back to posting pictures on Facebook that make life look perfect! Nothing to see here. Move along. Nothing to see. . .
People also love the notion that there are stages of grief and we march through them in a linear fashion. Let’s keep it rhythmic, tidy.
This is not to say there is no regard for dying, death and grief these days. Hospice and other support groups and counselors certainly offer empathy and understanding.
I read something the other day that compared grief to an inner wound in which we must sit, and feel it, experience the pain completely. The writer suggested that we must tend to this psychic wound as we would to an external injury.
It is the creating of this space and time in which to sit in my wound that I am finding so tricky.
I’m not quite sure what to make of my grief about Patty’s death.
Or of my grief regarding it.
When I learned she died it was shocking. Initially, it seemed that the fact I hadn’t seen her in person in years would soften the blow.
But it didn’t.
It really made it worse.
For weeks I’d been thinking about calling her. When I switched jobs, I worked in a new part of the city that took me past her office on my commute every day. I’d drive past and think, hey remember that time we went out to lunch a few years back? Has it really been that long? Gosh, I have to call Patty!
But I never did.
I missed my chance.
That’s the resounding thought, pealing like chapel bells in my head; that I missed my chance to reconnect with this person who was so special to me, a person who took one of my secrets to her grave.
That’s the wound in which I am trying to sit, in leopard-print leggings, in between making mac n cheese and going to work and walking the dog and doling out napkins and squashing sibling skirmishes.
My missed chance is my wound.
Funny thing is, I know Patty would not want me to sit in this wound. She would hate to think people were having protracted grief and missing out on the budding lilac bushes and sparkling spring mornings filled with bird song.
I can hear her voice. I can hear her voice! She says, Hey beautiful doll. It’s okay. She says it in that matter-of-fact way, her voice calm and even, tinged with a smile.
At the funereal I offered my tearful condolences to her beloved husband. He remembered being at my wedding with Patty nearly a decade ago, which might have been the last time I saw him. I let him know that Patty helped me celebrate a lot of joy in my life. “She loved you, Charlotte,” he said and wrapped his big arms around me.
I felt unworthy of that gift. There I was, crying on someone who needed my comfort and support, and he was offering me that precious gift of Patty’s love.
Fucking love, man.
It doesn’t die.
When my wound heals, I’d like to be able to accept that gift of love that connects us all regardless of distance, time, and even death.