Ten months and I’m no better off than a year ago. I’m not brighter or more wise. I’m not better adjusted or less sad. The big picture is no more comforting and the daily stabs are no less painful. Grief is not linear. I get that. They say that all the time. But why does it still feel like square one, as if it happened last week, yesterday, ten minutes ago?
I do not recommend going through your midlife crisis and mourning the loss of a parent at the same time. If you can avoid it, please do. If you’re nearing 40, keep a close eye on your parents. Tell them to have that mole checked, get a stress test, maybe eat a salad. Because it’s a double whammy you don’t want to deal with. Nobody should have to think about death this much, or contemplate life choices or wallow in regret. I mean, you’ll still probably have to. Just try to do it separately. Space your crises out.
I’m tired of hearing about the grief process. It’s not a process. It’s recovery. It’s adjustment. It’s learning to live without a leg. It’s adjusting to a planet with two suns. It’s not a process. It’s not a series of steps leading to an end result. When you read about grief, people make it seem like it’s this thing that you go through, and somehow get past. I’m tired of all the greeting card inspirational quotes people use to describe this peaceful place they’ve reached after working through their grief. It’s all so new age-y. It borders on the same spiritual nonsense we’ve rejected by being atheists in the first place.
Is the reality of death so unbearable that even a rationalist must turn to frilly verse and feel-good proclamations to get through it? I think maybe that’s true. I get why so many people believe. It’s so much easier. If you could talk yourself into having that missing leg again, wouldn’t you? If the vast majority of people in the world were telling you that was possible, if you just wished it so, if you just trusted them, if you just said the right words, followed the rules and gave a little every Sunday, wouldn’t you do it? What kind of mad man would refuse, would say, “No, thank you. I’d rather limp.”
Me, I guess. But I can’t imagine it any other way.
One thing that I’ve needed to admit to myself is this… When someone you love dies, your life is worse. It’s not over. It’s not unsurvivable. It’s not NOT worth living. But it’s worse. It just is. I could try to convince myself otherwise, but I wouldn’t believe it in my heart. My life is just a little bit worse now. I think admitting that takes the pressure off. I don’t think that makes me pessimistic, although others may disagree. I don’t think life is bad. I’m not hopeless. I don’t think I won’t have good days. And I think it’s important to make an effort to make the rest of my life as good as possible. I’m not giving up or anything. I want to achieve more, make more friends, make existing relationships more meaningful, take setbacks in stride, bring joy to others, appreciate the small things, be kind to myself, learn, teach, savor. I want to make the most of my slightly worse life.
Not a lot of greeting cards for that.
“As you begin the rest of your slightly worse life, I wish you peace.”
Nah. That’s not going to sell. And what would that mean, anyway? Why the hell would someone want to feel peaceful? That’s complacency. No, I think if I felt peaceful, I’d worry about myself. This is a time for restlessness. I’ve never been one to lay down when the ground shakes. I jump.
Everyone is different. If you seek peace, go for it. Give it your all. It’s just not my way. But if you’re like me, if you aren’t ready to make sense of it all, if you’re okay feeling unsettled for however long it lasts, you’re not alone. I think it’s okay not to be okay.
It’s something people don’t say…and yet of course it is. This person who made your life better is not in your life anymore, therefore your life is worse. It’s just a fact. But if you can find a way for that fact to be okay–again, it’s okay not to be okay–then maybe limping will be easier. I don’t know.
[…] https://thegrievingatheist.com/2013/06/19/limping-along/ […]
Yes, your life actually IS slightly worse. But nothing entitled you to the life you had before the loss. That’s why it’s important to live the life you have now. This is the life you will one day look back at as the better life you had before [next loss].
I absolutely agree. But trying to appreciate things as they are is its own burden. I feel myself, in moments of contentment, trying too hard to capture it for future recollection. I know too well how fragile things are, and while others see me going about things in the usual way, inside I’m imagining all of it gone.
My husband wonders why I’m so restless to go out and try new things, is frustrated by my impatience when he tells me, “Not now” or “I have a deadline” or “Maybe next year.” I want so much to live my life now, my desire to seize the day is beginning to annoy others. My mother, in her last year, tried to convince everyone to make the most of their time. “If Not Now, When?” She put that on tee shirts and notebooks and pens. I didn’t need the reminder. I’ve always felt that way. My restlessness annoyed the hell out of her when I was younger. So, you see, I am living my best life, or at least trying like crazy. I don’t want to take this time for granted. But I recognize I must also make time for stillness and reflection, for the sake of those around me, and probably to better balance my own mind.
I agree. Living your best life doesn’t mean you have to be rushing around trying the next big thing. And restless is something you are or aren’t. It’s not a character flaw.
It’s impossible NOT to take much of your life for granted. The point of carpe diem is not to spend every waking moment exulting in the greatness of being alive. I think it’s a message to spend less time worrying, less time being angry/impatient, less time dwelling in the past or the future.
I try to remember to have a moment of gratitude once a day. That’s as much as a normally engaged human can hope for.
Ten months out is not that long.
I think you write beautifully.
Laura, I just wanted to say two things. Number one, I am so very sorry about your beloved Mom. Number two, she would be incredibly proud of you; your blog is brilliant, and your “my slightly worse life” is my new favorite phrase. Thank you so much for expressing your sorrow so beautifully and sharing it with all of us.
“When someone you love dies, your life is worse. It’s not over. It’s not unsurvivable. It’s not NOT worth living. But it’s worse. It just is.”
So very true. I think of it like this… if you got a 100, then a 90 on a test, did you do badly? No, of course not! You did well either way, got an A. But did you do significantly worse? Yes. 10% worse. That’s how I see my life now, without my family. Maybe more like 30% worse. It’s still ok. And there will be things that will earn me some extra points, I think, but I will never be 100% again. I can’t be, not with parts of me missing.