That’s right, this is for the pros; the people who lost kids a few years ago, maybe even 30 years ago. You’ve gotten pretty good at the whole grief thing. You go on vacations. You go out to restaurants and the only thing on your mind is whether or not you want to order an appetizer or just get right to it. You have a couple glasses of wine and the conversation doesn’t turn into a puddle of tears about how you’ve failed your lost child. You move through your days with your child always in your pocket. While before it felt like a giant jumble of keys in your front pocket that stabbed your thigh every time you walked, now it’s a smooth-yet-overfilled wallet in your back pocket. You can always feel it, but you can sit down comfortably and if you had the chance to take it out of your pocket, you wouldn’t.
There’s always the little things that still get us. Currently, for me, it’s the new Julia Roberts movie. Her daughter dies. I’ve seen the preview a few times already while in the theater to watch something else. It hurts to see a child die, even in a movie. But while that’s probably the biggest thing that rattles me, the part that really nails it in is how they made Julia Roberts look after she lost a child. I don’t think they had any idea how right on that was. Hair semi-combed, no makeup, washed out face, aged 10 years, all rolled up with a serious ‘no fucks given’ attitude.
I had to see the preview a couple of times to notice that was me. It’s been me for 2 1/2 years now. I spent so much time and effort trying to make my daughter OK and trying to get some normalcy back into my life, that a lot of other shit just went out the window. I’d routinely leave the house to drop my daughter off at school without ever looking into the mirror. Teeth unbrushed, hair uncombed and the previous day’s mascara camping out under my eyes was just a regular morning for me. And it wasn’t that I was just too busy and I didn’t realize it. I sincerely didn’t care. If you think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I just wasn’t far enough up on the pyramid to be able to give a shit on that level.
I sat at this level for a good while. I needed to be there and I don’t think I had the wherewithal to even know what was missing. Also, when you spend so much time trying to be OK, you often aren’t paying attention to the parts of you that are still plenty fucked up.
For the people who have been grieving for a long time, my question for you is: What areas of your life are you still fucked up?
I’ve already told you about my lack of hygiene in the mornings, but I’ve got a few other fucked up things happening concurrently. One of them is that I can’t ride in the car with my husband without being in a panic. I’m convinced we’re going to die in a car crash. I gasp and yell “Watch Out!!!” when I think a car is getting too close to us in the other lane. I jam on imaginary breaks any time he has to stop short. I’m a real treat to ride with.
Things are better now, but I spent at least 9 months thinking about death all the time. Any time I made plans to do something fun, the thought would be followed by, “I hope I’m still alive by then.” When people would talk about their kids graduating college I still think, “I hope my kids live long enough to go to college/get married/have a family.” Those thoughts are as automatic as breathing to me, and I hate it. I’ve developed some special mind tricks to get me out of that thinking, but at the end of the day, there are no guarantees, so there isn’t anything solid for me to convince myself that the worst won’t happen.
It’s comforting to speak to people who have lost a child because there are so many emotions and experiences we have in common. Grief is an extremely individual experience, but it’s also really generic at the same time. My second question for my long-time grievers is: Would you be interested in chatting with other people who have been grieving a good while? What would you ask? What would be comforting to hear?
For a long time I’ve been toying with the idea of having a few people over at my house to discuss grief. I would make it a once a month occurrence, have a couple of topic questions and just see where it goes. I never went to a Compassionate Friends meeting because it never worked with my schedule (and if you don’t know what Compassionate Friends is, click on that link). I was also afraid of who would be there and what state it would leave me in. I joined a few Facebook pages that left me wrecked. No one had any hope. I can’t live that way. If I run my own meeting, I can guarantee there will be some hope. I never get a lot of comments on my blog, but, anyone have any thoughts?
Alright, I need to go take a shower. You know, the whole hygiene thing.
Showered or unshowered you’ve always provided your family with light and hope. Also, I think you husband (me) might have to work on his driving!
Thanks for what you wrote. I lost my 30 year old daughter sept 11 2015. You put into words some basics better than I could have. I need to not only maintain some hope but actually feel some happiness. I get the hygiene thing and what doesn’t matter. My house and yard totally didn’t. Good thing we live surrounded by woods!! I have a great husband and son. But to truly enjoy after such a huge loss?? I try. I don’t even know who I am anymore. I really don’t. I’m willing to try just about anything. It was cute what your husband replied. Very sweet.
Thank you so very much for your comment. I can tell you that, being 6 years in, I do feel true joy. Things can still get hard and for me, the anxiety of what else is to come will never go away. My natural penchant for worry makes this even worse. But the joy is there. Feel free to message me anytime.