For a person who spends a fair amount of time examining the workings of her own brain and then posting them on the internet, I am sometimes not very self-aware. Over the past week, I have been sleeping fitfully, trying to keep myself from eating everything in sight, and maintaining a tenuous grip on my temper, usually over things that wouldn’t bother me on a normal day. (Whatever that is.) More times than I’d like to admit, I have thought, “What is wrong with me?”
This morning I woke up early to go the gym. I grouched my way through the weights. Everything was heavy. I didn’t feel right. But I finished, and on the way home, I sat in the idling car waiting for a train, and I thought, “I wish I could go to the cemetery before I go home.” Er, what? I’m not a big cemetery visitor. Paul goes a lot more than I do, even to visit the graves on my side of the family. I batted the thought away. Even if I’d been inclined to pay attention, there really wasn’t time. The train passed. I drove on.
And burst into tears, going down a back road past fresh shoots in fields on both sides, and not much else. There was definitely no visible reason for me to be crying as I drove home at 7:30 in the morning.
Seriously, I thought, what is wrong with me?
At that moment, I realized that we are entering the teens of June.
I was going to say that what is wrong with me is that I am grieving, but that’s not true. The truth is there’s nothing wrong with me. Grief is not wrong. It’s hard, though. It’s a lot of work, and it continues to be work after you think you’re all done. So here we are again, in June, and I feel cranky and exhausted and, yes, a little bit like a motherless child. But now at least I know what’s going on.
I’ve been thinking about grief a lot lately. I know a lot of people who are grieving. If you are, especially if it’s fresh, I’d like to give you something my mother gave to me. I was sitting at her kitchen table on the worst night of my life, so weighed down I could not lift my head, and I said, “I feel like I’m never going to be happy again. Will I always feel like this?”
This is the answer she gave me: Yes. And no. There will always be times in your life when you remember this and feel this way. Right now it’s all the time. After a while, it’ll only be some of the time. After a long while, it’ll only be occasionally. Yes. This will always hurt this much. But it won’t always hurt this much all the time.
She was right. I have come to think of grief as coming like waves in the ocean. At first it’s like being taken down in rough surf; you can’t even find your feet. You might have a moment or two when you think you never will, that you’ll go under and never come up. After a while, the waves are a more measured. You can stand up. You might get knocked silly by a bad one, but you’re up again before the next one hits. After a long time, they’re mostly lapping around your toes. Maybe a big one gets you right at the knees. Say, when an anniversary approaches and you haven’t been paying attention.
This feels like a knee wave. Unlikely to take me down, now that I’m looking right at it.
So I’ll remember, this week, what my mother taught me about grief, and I’ll miss the way she looked right after she laughed.
And then the anniversary will be over, until next time.