Doing grief

Have you ever heard of someone feeling alone in a room full of people?  That’s how it is for me sometimes.  I’ll be standing there, with the world swirling around me, and I can’t seem to hook in.  I can’t figure out how to engage.  Me.  A talker.  A connector.  An extrovert with a need to tell my story.  I can’t figure out what to say or how to say it.  So, I stand there with people.  And I feel alone.  Grief, for me, is active and passive twisted together.

I feel alone because my anchor is gone.  How silly does that sound?  How trite?  But, it’s true.  My mother, who was my anchor, is gone.  She left us, she left me, 9 years ago, and though I am so much better at handling it and I feel good so much of the time, sometimes, the movement of the world around me is no match for all the twisting inside of me.  I have to give in, I have to let myself feel it.  Normally, my emotions rotate slowly and I can prepare for what’s next.  I can brace myself.  But, recently, as they always do in January, the revolutions speed up.  I wish to slow them down again.  I wish to feel calm, to remember happy thoughts, and know that the pain, or sadness, or anger, or frustration, or hurt will go just as quickly as it’s come, but I can’t.  I feel stuck.  And alone.  

I used to think that the stages of grief were linear.  I used to think that if I could just make it to the end, I would be done and I would be “good.”  I used to be pissed at people around me who seemed to grieve better than I did.  I used to add insult to injury; compounding my pain with self-doubt and insecurities.  I still feel insecure about my grief.  I still feel like when these waves wash over me, will other people wonder when I will just get over it?  And then I wonder how to get over it.  I don’t know that I will.  I don’t know that I can.  If we’re all being honest, I don’t know that I want to.  I know if I get over it, that doesn’t mean I stop loving her, but………….I don’t know…that makes me uncomfortable too.  Honestly, I think there will always be sad days for me.  Sad times.  

A few months ago, when I was going a mile a minute and needed to talk, I picked up my phone, and then I put it down.  I wouldn’t have said it out loud at the time, but I picked it up to call my mom.  A sharp pain exploded in my heart and receded just as quickly.  I miss her.  As I sat there, staring at my phone, I wondered about her phone number… Do they recycle phone numbers?  What is the waiting period on the phone number of a dead mother?  And then since the phone debacle, I have gone down a rabbit hole of wondering.  I wonder what she would be doing now?  I wonder where she would live?  I wonder what she would think about my decision to work part time?  I wonder what kind of mother she would think I am?  I wonder if she would still make me chicken salad sandwiches with melted cheese even though I make them for my daughter now.  I wonder how she would have danced at my wedding or held my babies?   I wonder what she would say about the world, about me, about my friends, my family.  I wonder…a lot.  For me, that’s part of doing grief.

High for sure, but Low? Really?

In college, I went to see a movie with a friend.  The Story of Us starred Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer, and was mostly unremarkable, except that it gave me and my friend, Halbe, a short-hand way to check in with each other.The Story of Us  Over the course of the next years, I would run by her room, answer a phone call from her or see her on campus and one would say to the other “High, Low?”  In other words, what was the high of your day and what was the low?

I like checking in about the day with my loved ones.  My parents had a hectic schedule when I was growing up, but always wanted to know about my day.  And on Friday night, we would recap the week.  My husband and I check in with each other by ourselves and, then, with our children.  When my daughter gets in the car after school, I ask what she did, what she enjoyed, who she had fun with.  When I chat with Halbe, even now, we look for a run down of the goings-on in life.  But, I often ask about challenges in addition to the successes- with all my loved ones.  I am interested not only in the good, but, also in the frustrating, the challenges and the problems.  Why?  It sounds a little messed up…

After much didactic and practical experience in graduate school, we were finally tasked with writing a statement of professional philosophy.  After reviewing all the theories we had studied, broken down and talked about, I chose a relatively simple one to focus my philosophy around.  Nebit Sanford wrote about challenge and support.  Simply put, he wrote that if we can provide challenge and support in an appropriate balance for the student and situation we will facilitate development in that student.  In fact, he posits that challenges, given varying levels of support, will result in different developmental trajectories.  Sanford’s theory was my focus because of its truth and simplicity, but also, because of how fully I felt connected to this theory personally.  I, therefore, rely on it in my professional life, but have come to use it in my personal life.

through highs and lows...we've had some great moments

through highs and lows…we’ve had some great moments

So, lest you think that my life is just one big lab rat situation…it isn’t.  I am intentional, especially in my parenting, in trying to provide support to my children to match the challenge they are facing.  But, to me, and apparently to the writers of The Story of Us, the lows in our days also provide a goal for tomorrow.  What Halbe and I did in college, checking in about the best and most frustrating of our days, made me more mindful about challenges in general.  Were they often similar?  What could I do to change or fix the situation?  AND what could I do to support Halbe with her frustrations?

Wearing our babies in Central Park

I recently told Halbe about this post and shared with her that I ask Nina about her highs and lows…it turns out, she does the same with her daughter!  Not only does that give me warm fuzzies, but it also makes me hopeful for our daughters.  I’m hopeful that both our daughters will grow up understanding that the great in the day is great, but challenge is a part of life, and so is problem-solving through them.