Here’s the funny thing about grief (I never knew there was anything funny about grief to be honest) it always surprises you. It is not (and I repeat) NOT a one size fits all emotion. And anyone that tells you differently, well, just turn and walk the other direction cause they don’t know what they’re talking about.
At my age, I feel very confident that I know who I am, and more importantly, how I will react to certain things that life throws in my path. I am practical, I love a good challenge.. and yet I tend to be sensitive at times, (soft and gooey on the inside and all that). And of course when the situation demands it, I can be pretty tough and unrelenting. But when it comes to death, I won’t lie; I have always been terrified of it. It’s finality, the unknowing, or lack of control over one’s mortality. And I love control. Oh how I love it. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, hence the many things we cling to in this life to somehow soften the blow of what's inevitable.
So in light of watching death, actually watching someone dear to me take their last breath on earth, I have been utterly mystified by my reaction to it. In the moment, like I had always imagined, the grief was palpable, visceral even. I thought to myself, there is no way my brain can digest what I’m seeing, feeling…it’s simply too much. And yet, there was a stillness there and peace unlike anything I’ve ever seen or felt; in simple terms, an organic surrender that even I couldn’t fight; and that was this person’s unknowing gift to me. Watch this, see that I’m okay, and put the fear aside (at least for now).
And perhaps in that moment, that very monumental, surreal moment, my mind told me that it was enough to merely witness it… and yet to feel it on that profound level was simply too much. So in short, I have subconsciously (or very consciously) put it somewhere. I can see it, sitting up there on the shelf, and I know in time, I will get it down and open it and feel what comes pouring out, but for now, I will just let it inhabit that place, knowing it is somehow keeping me company, but not overwhelming me.
The interesting part in all of it is how people expect you to respond or more to the point, assume they would respond (and trust me, I’ve been guilty of this myself, always assuming what the post loss response should be) and in turn, you feel somehow defective for not responding in that precise way. Or in some cases, proud you are somehow able to hold it together. ‘Yay, look at me go, I’ve showered.’ What I do know is that grief has surprised me (and I don’t surprise easily). It’s profound presence and yet lack of feeling has shocked me to my core; it’s quietness, it’s patience, it’s ability to live inside you, and for the time being simply remain silent until it feels like screaming from the rooftops like an unhinged lunatic.
The other revelation of this journey has been the amount of laughter one can find in the most sobering of moments. I know, shocking, right? But in the pain, through the pain, there are so many moments that one (depending on the person or group of people) can see the humor in, or find things that simply are so poignant or revelatory, you can’t help but fall on the floor in hysterics. In short, an outlet is an outlet however it seeps out of you. I suppose it’s also the psyche’s way of preventing you from coming apart at the seams.
So I suppose the reality is that grief wears many masks: some loud and garish, some crippling and meek, some furious and dripping with rage… and yes, even one lurking behind a quiet, thoughtful smile… and I’m telling myself, at the moment, that it’s perfectly okay.