1. I am a human, and humans rarely get it right. I journal occasionally, and one of the things I wrote down as a goal a couple of months before my mom passed was, “Treat family better (call often, visit more, send gifts).” It is perfectionism that most often stands between me and a relationship with anyone, especially family. I think, “I shouldn’t call, because I am in a bad mood.” I think, “I shouldn’t call, because I don’t know what to say, and I don’t want there to be an awkward silence.” My last visit with my mom was a good one, but I didn’t know it would be my last. She told me stories about her life that I had never heard. We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. Still, when I heard the news, I wished it had been more. I wished I had called her regularly, even though I did not know what to say, because I did not wish to burden her with my problems. And that is what my life is – it is a lot of problems that I have no idea how to solve.
The idea that humans rarely (if ever) get it right is not an excuse to abandon a sense of responsibility and decency toward others, but it can be a reminder to forgive oneself in times when one falls dreadfully short of behaving in a manner that is satisfying in retrospect. Part of the human condition is that many times, we only see what is right in front of us instead of the whole picture. Sometimes, we cannot put things into perspective until something happens to give us that perspective. And right about now, I hate being a human.
2. I learned who my true friends are. It does not matter where one is from or how one was raised – certain emotions are universal: happiness, sadness, boredom, love, grief. One can learn a lot about another person by how they respond to these emotions, especially in others. One positive aspect of grief is that it brings up a purity of kindness and love in those who are sympathetic to and understand it. The kindness of people can sometimes drive me to tears, and this is what I experienced through those who made efforts to be there for me. This experience showed me that I was significant to those who had never seemed to notice me before, but it also showed me that some of the people I consider important do not consider me important in return. In these people, I sensed none of that kindness, no concern, and some of them did not even express condolences or acknowledge what happened at all.
This does not mean I wish to enact some vengeance upon those who were not there for me. The best way I can describe my feeling is a void where once I held care and love for these people. They no longer feel important to me. There is no anger, no sadness, only apathy.
3. I am bad at telling others the truth about how I am. Everyone probably experiences this. When we go into school or work in the morning, people ask, “How are you?” We learn early on to say, “Fine,” or something of that nature, even when we are far from fine. When one is honest and says, “I feel awful,” the other person might feel annoyed that their question was answered honestly, and they might feel obligated to listen to why. This experience transcends professional and superficial relationships for me, however. A close friend of mine was on the phone with me while I was at the grocery store shortly after I got back from a trip to settle my mom’s affairs, and he said, “Don’t be afraid to call if you feel lonely.” I answered, “Nah, I am perfect.” The words escaped me before I truly considered them. They came of a need to resist anyone’s interpretation of my more vulnerable feelings.
The truth is, I hate to lean on anyone. I hate to admit that I have a problem, that I feel shadows and emptiness, that I feel nothing will ever be right again. I know these are feelings, and feelings pass, but that knowing does not help while I am going through them. This knowing makes me feel hesitant to express these feelings at all. Emotional intelligence can be a gift, but it can also be a terrible curse.
4. It is normal to want nothing to do with anyone who is not family or a close friend, for a time. I was getting my hair trimmed after my trip home, and my stylist was trying to make small talk with me, as they do. “Are you off work today?” I only nodded yes, keeping that I was on bereavement leave to myself. I knew her intention was to be kind. I want to be able to go back to normal life, to talking about ordinary, unimportant things, but what I bear inside is so heavy. Small talk feels too small at this time. Silence seems much more fitting, and it is the only thing that can soothe this ache in my soul for right now. I do not want to worry about whether people think I am rude. If they are unaware of what has happened, I have no desire to make them aware. I have no desire to be around those who are not in the know, either, not because I hold any grudge against them, or hate people, but because I have no energy for it.
5. Grief can cause you to do stupid things, or act in ways you normally would not. Self-forgiveness has always been important, but perhaps not as important as it is right now. I did and said some things. I acted a fool. I let my guard down with people, and now I regret it. When someone’s passing is sudden, as my mom’s was, the feelings can come hard and fast. But sometimes they sneak up on you, and you say or do something, but don’t know why until later. When you have difficulty expressing feelings, as I do, they pour out of you in other ways. Maybe you do ten vodka shots and confess your love to someone who has rejected you multiple times, or maybe you fall into a habit of binge eating. Maybe you sleep with people you don’t really want to sleep with, or you do all the above.
Slow down. Forgive yourself. Ask yourself if you’re running from something. Maybe that something is a feeling. Repeat this process as many times as necessary. Seek help – even if it is not the talk therapy type, even if it is getting a massage, eating wholesome food, or going on a hike. Whenever you feel the urge to engage in something destructive or make a bad decision, go back to these things that bring you back to yourself. Make a list of things that make you feel more you, and keep it on hand for when those harmful impulses come to your mind.
It can be difficult to believe, when grief is at its peak, that anything will ever get better. So I won’t say that, but I will say this: you still have your hope, and you still have your gifts. Use them for yourself. You deserve it.