Limping Along

by Laura

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.

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