It’s been a little more than a month now since I lost my best friend, my Jiro, quite suddenly without warning one evening shortly before Christmas. I wasn’t able to talk about it then, and I’m still not entirely certain I can, but I have observed some things about grief and bereavement in the last month that I have found interesting. Being a writer, I feel compelled to get them down so I’ll still be able to reference them when the freshness has faded.
When your grief is public, everyone feels like they have the right (maybe even an obligation) to tell you how you should be doing it, as if we all need the same things. As if there’s actually any way to control how it plays out. The strangest things bring the tears, and it’s even stranger which moments you’re able to find the levity in. Things you should easily be capable of are impossible, while more difficult tasks provide the only available relief. Helpful suggestions hurt. Sympathy hurts. Apathy hurts. Everything hurts.
But grief-pain has a unique flavor that is different from other kinds of psychic pain. The pain of depression is one I know well. It is (for me) a numb-aching tiredness, a heaviness, a weakness. Sudden bereavement has caused a unique set of physiological symptoms. Authors and poets have always described the experience of being bent double with grief, of a feeling of literal hollowness. It was a bit of a shock to find myself actually experiencing those things. I imagine it’s sort of like the shock of meeting a celebrity whose face you’ve been familiar with for years on the big screen as various fictional characters, and finding that they somehow, impossibly, look exactly like that in person. It’s surreal. Or too real. To feel an emptiness in my middle that is not hunger, to be trying to walk along and feel myself physically incapable of standing up straight under the weight of all the sad – that’s a stereotype, a hyperbole, not a thing that could possibly happen. Except it did.
On most days, I consider myself a highly rational person, but there is nothing rational about grief. The more I start to feel okay, the more I want to not feel okay. The more I want the first hard torrent back. Because I was closer to him having been alive then? Because it’s some kind of betrayal to be okay? Because being okay means accepting that he is gone, moving on to a stage of my life that doesn’t have him in it? The more moments of okayness I start having, the more I need to be anything but okay. The part of me that is still rational would like the rest of me to stop being such a mess. The two parts are at war. Despite what some people who know me may think, I am a peaceful person; war doesn’t suit me.
It is also a surprise to find that, as the okay moments multiply, this doesn’t actually make any more sense of the other moments. They still happen just as randomly and knock me down just as hard. That doesn’t seem right. It seems like the process of healing should include the buildup of some kind of tolerance. I suppose it will, eventually. I guess it’s just misleading – when you start being able to return to the regular pattern of your days, you assume that means other things are returning too. But this process happens on its own time.
I expect I’ll be learning new things about bereavement for a while yet.