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One Month On

It’s been a little more than a month now since I lost my best friend, my Jiro, quite suddenly without warning one evening shortly before Christmas.  I wasn’t able to talk about it then, and I’m still not entirely certain I can, but I have observed some things about grief and bereavement in the last month that I have found interesting.  Being a writer, I feel compelled to get them down so I’ll still be able to reference them when the freshness has faded.

When your grief is public, everyone feels like they have the right (maybe even an obligation) to tell you how you should be doing it, as if we all need the same things.  As if there’s actually any way to control how it plays out.  The strangest things bring the tears, and it’s even stranger which moments you’re able to find the levity in.  Things you should easily be capable of are impossible, while more difficult tasks provide the only available relief.  Helpful suggestions hurt.  Sympathy hurts.  Apathy hurts.  Everything hurts.

But grief-pain has a unique flavor that is different from other kinds of psychic pain.  The pain of depression is one I know well.  It is (for me) a numb-aching tiredness, a heaviness, a weakness.  Sudden bereavement has caused a unique set of physiological symptoms.  Authors and poets have always described the experience of being bent double with grief, of a feeling of literal hollowness.  It was a bit of a shock to find myself actually experiencing those things.  I imagine it’s sort of like the shock of meeting a celebrity whose face you’ve been familiar with for years on the big screen as various fictional characters, and finding that they somehow, impossibly, look exactly like that in person.  It’s surreal.  Or too real.  To feel an emptiness in my middle that is not hunger, to be trying to walk along and feel myself physically incapable of standing up straight under the weight of all the sad – that’s a stereotype, a hyperbole, not a thing that could possibly happen.  Except it did.

On most days, I consider myself a highly rational person, but there is nothing rational about grief.  The more I start to feel okay, the more I want to not feel okay.  The more I want the first hard torrent back.  Because I was closer to him having been alive then?  Because it’s some kind of betrayal to be okay?  Because being okay means accepting that he is gone, moving on to a stage of my life that doesn’t have him in it?  The more moments of okayness I start having, the more I need to be anything but okay.  The part of me that is still rational would like the rest of me to stop being such a mess.  The two parts are at war.  Despite what some people who know me may think, I am a peaceful person; war doesn’t suit me.

It is also a surprise to find that, as the okay moments multiply, this doesn’t actually make any more sense of the other moments.  They still happen just as randomly and knock me down just as hard.  That doesn’t seem right.  It seems like the process of healing should include the buildup of some kind of tolerance.  I suppose it will, eventually.  I guess it’s just misleading – when you start being able to return to the regular pattern of your days, you assume that means other things are returning too.  But this process happens on its own time.

I expect I’ll be learning new things about bereavement for a while yet.

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12 thoughts on “One Month On

  1. Big hug.

    I would put that in the top three “things I learned in 2013” — grief is a physical illness. I had no clue either. The first six weeks or so after mom’s death, I felt so awful all over, like I’d had a sudden onset of arthritis after the funeral. I even had myself tested for mono because I thought it couldn’t be normal.

    • Yeah, it’s one of those things I would have been perfectly okay with remaining ignorant about. It’s good to know it does eventually subside, though.

      I also observed that, while I met with absolutely no resistance from anyone in the first week on the matter of *just how much* of a mess I was, that changed pretty quickly as time moved onward. I want to hope it’s because Jiro was “just a dog” and they really don’t get it, and that people don’t treat other kinds of bereavements that way, but as a pessimist I’m inclined to believe it’s just that humans don’t want to let other humans be sad ever. Like it’s one of those scary diseases that people are afraid to come into contact with. I really hope you haven’t experienced something similar.

      Hug right back at you.

  2. I tend to find that other people who have experienced a serious bereavement get it and those who haven’t, don’t. In a way, it makes sense. You can’t conceive of the unconceivable happening to you until it does, after which nothing is ever the same. I have some friends who, when they ask me how I am, say, well, it’s still very early days yet (approaching five months) and others, responding to the same answer, who say, well, you need to get your act together …

    I really hope people know that it’s not permissible to “it’s just a dog” to someone who has loved a dog.

    • I can report with relief that no one has actually said that to me (yet) in those words. Within the week of his loss, however, I was told that what I needed was “a puppy for Christmas.” And it sent me reeling. Would it not be seen as grossly out of bounds to suggest replacing any other kind of loved one? I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t tell a widow that what she needed was a date to her husband’s funeral. *shudder*

      • I agree it’s grossly out of bounds, but / and people are starting to try to fix my dad up now.

      • yeah — the thing is, I know what they see — someone who never lived alone his entire life who probably shouldn’t be living alone. I just also see he’s not ready, even for jokes about it. I guess they don’t see him the way I do.

      • And I guess it’s that time dilation of the adjunct griever you mentioned before. To them, it seems like it’s been longer than it it has for those closest to the loss. (Though no matter how you look at it, the week of Jiro’s death was still too early to be suggesting I needed to replace him.)

      • yeah, I don’t get how a new puppy for Christmas isn’t a painful reminder of your missing friend … people say the stupidest things.

  3. Pingback: me + grief + dad + inheritances | Me + Richard Armitage

  4. Thank you for posting this. As my mom became more and more convinced she had cancer from Thanksgiving through to last week Thursday, I started having this weird “flu” that I couldn’t pin down and couldn’t fix. Since the actual diagnosis, I’ve been feeling worse in other ways, but I’ve stopped having some of the “flu” symptoms. It’s like I’ve got permission to be emotionally freaked out and now my body can stop bearing the brunt of this alone. And I should “get” this (how I hate, hate, hate the word “should”), because I have IBS and other emotional/physical ailments; but duh, I didn’t make the connection until last week. Maybe I didn’t want to. I don’t know. I don’t have the energy to chase that white rabbit. :} But it’s good to know that this is a thing that happens to others. Somehow I feel better knowing that. And less guilty, having got away last weekend to a professional conference and had an OK time, knowing that that, too, is normal.

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