A NEWLY GRIEVING PERSON (April 2012)
My mind feels splintered like a pencil I chewed on because I was nervous. Now I can taste the graphite, and there’s yellow paint between my teeth. I understand this is how it is for a newly grieving person. Anxiety, irritability, distractibility. It’s all part of the game.
I’ve done okay so far. Everybody keeps telling me how well I’m “handling it.” Like each day without a nervous breakdown is some notch in my belt. Buying into this, I’ve even become a little cocky, proud of my highly evolved coping skills. “Watch and learn,” I think to myself. “You, too, will be tested in this way. Your time will come.”
People are undone by the fact that my 60-year-old mother has died. Because of my familiarity with oncology, I’m not. Cancer doesn’t honor our chosen timelines or expectations of a long life. Cancer doesn’t give a shit what anybody wants. It doesn’t care that you exercised every day and ate cottage cheese instead of French fries. It just grows and grows. The rhabdomyosarcoma Mom had was particularly relentless.
I won’t get too puffed up with pride at everyone’s admiration of how I’m getting through this. It’s just how I’m built. I thrive in the face of crisis, though I don’t go looking for it and would do my best to avert it. When the crisis is unavoidable, I am in my element.
With Mom’s illness, there were decisions to be made, medical situations to be managed. I could do those things. Superficiality went out the window. I was comfortable with the unflinching emotional intensity. I was diplomatic but firm. I was confident, thorough, tireless.
But now it’s over. All that stimulation is gone; my sense of purpose has evaporated.
My mom died three weeks ago. I cry sometimes, usually in the presence of strangers, which is awkward but somehow makes sense. I don’t need to be strong for people I don’t know. Most often, though, I don’t cry. I walk through my days in a state of hollow expectation. Mom was dying, and it was such a profound process. It can’t just be over. I want it to be, but I don’t want it to be.
I don’t really want to do anything. I want to sleep, eat, and go shopping. These are the only things preoccupying enough to be “fun.” With the rest, I’m just going through the motions.
I’ll be glad I did when I feel better, though. I’ll be glad I “handled it well.”