Full disclosure: this is a post that appeared on the Huffington Post several days ago. I wrote it quite some time ago, and in no way am I in this place anymore – I wrote this when I was feeling pretty low, and sent it off, and promptly forgot all about it, until it resurfaced on the internet. I’m actually, like — really, really great these days. But I thought I would share it here. I’m hearing from folks that they found this helpful, and I hope the same is true for my readers here.
Here is what you do when you are grieving.
You spend some time curled into tiny spaces. They are useful for this. Big, open rooms give you too much space for your wild thoughts to tangle and knot. If you curl yourself into a small place and sit there, you will ultimately feel cramped or foolish or angry enough to leave and make yourself a cup of tea.
You make yourself a cup of tea. Even if you don’t particularly like tea. Warm liquids are good when the back of your throat is burning like you’ve smoked a thousand rotten cigarettes and you can feel the weight of your mistakes trickling down into your fibers and your muscles and burrowing underneath your eyes, your breasts, your heart, your bones. You wrap your hands around the cup and you press your cheek and your eyelids to the side of the porcelain mug and you focus on what warm feels like, you remember the word ‘warm,’ you think it to yourself, quietly, because small thoughts are useful right now.
You learn to trust who you talk to. The best ones will comfort and pretend to understand even if they don’t. The best ones will understand if you want to be alone, and will understand if you change your mind about what you want. The best ones will not make you feel foolish for appearing vulnerable and weak.
Weakness and vulnerability are not the same. In case you’d forgotten. It is sometimes helpful to remember this.
You spend some time with distractions. I like drinking, and I like television, and I like sex, although that can be tricky because it is easy to mistake one particular kind of intimacy for another. Distractions are useful. Most people like distractions. Many people spend their entire lives with such beautiful, such glowing distractions. I can see why.
You think about soft things, like cotton sweatpants, and fleece blankets, and flannel sheets, and creamy pasta. You indulge. People who are grieving do not want to put on high-heeled shoes and mascara. They do not want to wear tummy-slimming pantyhose. They do not want to order salads.
You turn your brain into a film projector. You replay the movie you’ve unwittingly starred in, again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again until you think you might understand the sequence of events, if not the meaning. You replay it endlessly, at night, at breakfast, while reading, on the phone, while looking at the Internet, while picking at your nails, while shopping for toilet paper, again and again and again and again.
You remind yourself how breathing works, how sleeping works, how going to work works. You teach yourself basic lessons as if you were a child: It is time to clean up after yourself, time to take a shower, time to behave, time to leave the house today. You notice the circles under your eyes, and you buy some makeup in an inexpensive mirrored compact, and although you do not think anything of it at the time, it feels significant, when you reflect upon it later.
If you are phenomenally lucky, and I know that I am, you wake up one day to discover that you very much feel like moving your legs off the bed and placing them on the floor. You feel like lifting your head from the pillow and swiveling your torso and moving to an upright position and maybe even splashing some water on your face and brewing some coffee. You notice that you want to wear a brightly-colored sundress because it will look pretty on your skin; you discover on your commute that there are windows and doors and telephone wires and flowerpots and building placards and crumbling sidewalks that you’ve seen a thousand times but never really noticed. You watch a family in a park and you think you might start to cry, but not for any reason that can be explained, and then you are not crying, you are smiling, or maybe you are doing both, and then and then and then in a sudden release, you start to notice everything. You notice your fingertips. You notice your heartbeat. You notice your body and it all feels like your own. You notice other people. You notice everything. You wonder how you’ve never seemed to notice just how big everything is.
You start to think it is all so impossible. You start to think it’s all incredibly possible.
You start to think that maybe you’re okay.