grieving on a jet plane

Grieving is such challenging work. Tomorrow marks six weeks since we buried our mother. I can feel some people groaning, shifting uncomfortably at that.

So you’re still having feelings about that? Do we have to talk about it? 

Yes. Yes, we do. Or at least *I* do. Because it’s not over. There is no such thing as over. Grief doesn’t end, it just becomes part of your life, a part that you somehow manage to fit in with the other parts.

In fact, this is probably where it all becomes more difficult. Granted, the hurt is not as raw anymore, the wound is not wide open and fresh. You are not gutted the way you were in those first moments, when trying to find the air to fill your lungs was almost impossible, when you were flayed and unable to see any light past your anguish. The hurt has mellowed somewhat and is settling slowly and deliberately into every fiber of you, like the bits inside a snow globe languidly coming to rest. The ache descends upon your heart, burrows in, gets comfortable. It will be there for the rest of your existence. Sure, it will wane at times, and you might even go for whole stretches of hours or days at this point without feeling that gnawing sorrow in your soul. But it is there permanently and perpetually, the soft glow of your agony shining delicately on everything that you experience.

This is the period that is marked by so many people who have never traversed the unimaginably confounding territory of true loss being unwittingly insensitive to where you are in your mourning. You just aren’t yourself, they might say. I wish you would laugh more. You’re trying so hard, and if only you could express that it is truly a personal victory to manage the simple act of getting out of bed, bathing yourself, and maintaining some semblance of normalcy. If only you could convey how utterly draining it is to just exist at this point.

It’s not their fault, our loved ones. They’re scared for us, they want the best for us, they desperately desire our happiness. They would pull down the moon and the stars and all of the heavens to see us return to the bright and unbroken person they knew before this loss. But we won’t. Not ever. It is truly impossible to return to the place we were, the person we were, before we sustained such great tragedy. All the books about grief talk about the “new normal”, but they fail to take into account how to help the people who care about us understand that the person who they knew, that person who was untouched by deep and abstruse grief, will never be exactly the same.

Right now I find that it is especially difficult for me to be exposed to the positive elements of the lives of others. Just got a new car? Had a baby? Got married? Got engaged? Got a promotion? Bought a house? Got a great job? Got into grad school? Taking a wicked awesome vacation? Stay the fuck away from me. I want nothing to do with it, can’t abide it, can’t feel joy for others right now. I feel it, that joy that flickers very lightly, there under the deep and impenetrable rubble of my heartbreak. But I can’t do anything with it, can’t access it and make it useful. It is so shrouded in the bitterness of my loss that it might as well not exist at all.

What’s worse is that I can’t commiserate with others, either, because except for being exactly where I am, it is hard for me to imagine that anything at all is difficult. Lost your job? Boyfriend dumped you? Feeling overworked? Struggling with depression? Case of the Mondays? Okay, well, did your mom die? No? Then get the fuck over it. Bereavement has rendered me almost entirely without compassion. This will pass, and I know it will. Ultimately, it will manifest as a very specific brand of compassion, one that is unmatched, especially in those who have not suffered great loss. But for now, I linger in this state of self-absorption, this place where I want to be left completely alone, free of justifications and explanations, free of the unbridled happiness of those who are not motherless or fatherless.

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