Are We Done Grieving Yet?
See, the thing is, grief doesn’t just stop because the news moves on to a different story. It doesn’t end when people stop bringing lasagnes, or when you go back to work, or when you put away your funeral pants.
Sorry, but it’s frustrating like that. I know.
Talking to someone about their grief is uncomfortable and always inconveniently timed. It’s like periods: it makes people sweaty, not everyone is going through it when you are, and when undammed the messiness of it makes people avert their eyes.
Well, I summon the power of the Always Super Plus Sport tampon with trademarked LeakGuard braid to absorb all of this mess, because I want to talk about it.
It doesn’t have a time limit.
There are way more resources out there that have better things to say than I ever will about what it means to process a loss, and how tertiary friends like me can carry this just like anyone else can. There are websites and books and poems and TED talks about how the stages of grief are actually a misnomer, and how this series of processes isn’t linear, but perhaps a spiral.
That’s not what has been running through my head, though. It’s the rumination about the tragedy that has me hoping that my friends will text and ask me if I’m ok.
Have you ever been stuck on a thought you know isn’t helpful (say, for example, “Did they suffer?”), and you’re too embarrassed to actually say it out loud, which makes you think about it that much more?
Asking for a friend…
Grief is isolating in that way. No matter where we are in proximity to the ground zero of a loss, these things can still keep us up at night questioning everything. And it’s the thing that long after the hearses are washed and put away, and after all of the drinks are had in people’s honors, and after we all head home away from each other, we’re left with on our own to seemingly fend off the world.
One of my oldest friends just recently went through the type of loss that I can not possibly imagine, and I certainly won’t ask you to. I called her the other day for a tri-monthly check-in, as one does, whilst I was aggressively* microwaving my white chicken chili at my office.
*I say aggressively, because I hate interacting with people at the office, and if I bring in a pungent lunch, everyone will talk about me behind my back and leave me in peace to watch NASA documentaries at my desk in peace the way the baby Jesus intended.
I asked my friend how she was, then immediately took it back because that’s a dumb question. Honesty is always a good policy when talking to the bereaved. I asked her how her grief was treating her, to which she responded, “Super shittacular.”
I love this woman.
She also told me that you can buy an urn on Amazon.
Wading through the bog of loss has no rules, because it has no effs to give. It can take your breath away, or it can make you sob in line at Target. It can make you explode at the other people in your life that aren’t in the trenches with you. It can also make you laugh.
Take me and my grief, for example.
If you’re like me, when you’re in pain and anxious, you’ll find yourself thinking and saying THE dumbest stuff in line at a wake.
Awkward and genuinely inappropriate things I think waiting in line at a wake:
I could have worn jeans?
Is it rude to ask the doorman if it’s an open casket?
How many complimentary mints are too many?
Shake hands with the shoulder grab making it the “Two Handed Sincere Special”, or ass-out hug?
What do I look like from the back kneeling?
If I go pee, will the person behind me hold my spot?
Is it a requirement for funeral homes to look like everyone’s grandmother’s living room? Like is it on the certification?
Awkward things I have actually said out loud (for the most part) at a wake:
“Oh my God! What are you doing here?”
“Very flowery in here...hope my allergies don’t flare up!” <insert playful, yet unwanted elbow jab to the ribs here.>
“And also with you.”
“I hope you’re eating...er...I mean, drinking….water...carefully...taking care of yourself...uh...take care…..”
“I am Erica Leathem, of the Troy Leathems...Sister of Kellie, Daughter of Patrificus and Anneulus, currently of the realm of the hamlet of the Washington Park area of Downtown Troyshire”
In related news, at the bottom of this page, you can unsubscribe from me as a person. Highly recommended.
The other thing grief can do (and this is the one we have to really watch out for), is push people away. Sometimes it’s the grief we’re wearing as a winter pelt that freaks wary souls out, and sometimes grief is standing behind us like Patrick Swayze in Ghost keeping people at arm’s length because we don’t know how to possibly let them any closer while we’re molding the sexy pottery of despair.
Reaching out is vulnerable work. Reaching out when you don’t know what to say, and you are sick of sounding like a broken record, and a warped one at that, is even worse.
There is a high risk/reward ratio when saying, “I think I need to talk.” Adding the complication of grief makes that vulnerability feel like sliding naked down a cheese grater.
But here’s the thing, it turns out that connection is the cure for everything. It’s science.
<As an aside: Let me help all of those that may have a friend closer to the loss zone than you: reach out to your person. If they have been brave enough to use the sentence, “This has been really hard,” send a freaking text every day and just say, “I don’t have anything to say, just thinking of you.” Don’t say, “Oh I know how you feel.” No you don’t. But even that is better than nothing. Nothing has turned me off from a friendship faster than finding empty text boxes from people I thought I could lean on. Just get over your own awkwardness or your thoughts of what this process should be, and drop a freaking line already. Jesus.>
Connection is the WiFi password - and in those cases of folks that are not quick to open up, the telegraph wire - to the Wild West of your isolation.
This process is exhausting and confusing and just plain sad. It’s ok that you don’t know which end is up, and it’s ok if you hate everyone right now. And it’s ok if you need some radical self care just to keep yourself afloat. Me too, man.
I won’t boss you around, but what I can say is that in my own tiny world, I’ve had to actually type out, “I’m not sure what I need, but I don’t feel like me, and I need to just sort of filibuster for a second to relieve some pressure in my brain.” Doing that while someone you trust is looking at you can jump-start some pretty dark places in your mind. I promise.
In the meantime, if you’re closer to the center of that “Shittacular” ground zero, and you’re desperate for connection, but not that sappy bullshit way people want to do it with their head tilted to the side and sort of moaning, “Aww this must be so hard,” then do something else.
Try inviting those tried and true pals over and having a “Bad Luck Pot Luck” with all of the casseroles people show up with. If you’re the friend, show up with Chinese food and watch a funny show for half an hour. Hasn’t this person talked you off a ledge a thousand times? It’s the least you can do.
Make cliches a drinking game. Every time Erica says something borderline offensive out of pure awkwardness, take a shot of Fireball.
Just do me a favor, give yourself a break.
Things do change. I can’t promise things will get easier or less painful, but it changes for sure. There will be a morning that you can put pants on without forgetting underwear first. There will be an afternoon that you don’t cry just because it’s below 68 degrees out. You will be able to listen to that song again, I swear.
Give yourself what you need, and the time you need to do it in.
And get yourself a couple of people who will look at you and be brave enough to say, “This really sucks, and I’m going to hold on tight as you ride this wave.”