For weeks, I’ve tried to find the words to describe how I am.
“How are you?” someone will ask; a question so simple, and yet, so loaded at the same time.
Most of the time, I say that I’m “okay,” unsure of how I’m supposed to explain to others how I truly feel.
Drowning. Suffocating. Struggling. Really struggling. And, I’m angry. Really, really, angry to an almost illogical point. My beautiful baby brother was taken from this world at the age of 19 and I am goddamn angry.
How do you tell people that?
“Well, actually, I feel like shit.”
But, it’s rare that I’ll disclose how I’m really doing if someone asks. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that we live in a world very, very uncomfortable with things that are uncomfortable. The looming stigma that still exists around mental illness in the year 2017 is a direct example of this.
And so, as someone who has experienced mental illness previously, and has experienced this discomfort in others firsthand, it is no surprise that grief is also one of these things, one of these discomforts that creates discomfort in other people.
It’s been three months and thirteen days since my brother died and his absence looms over my head every second of every day. I feel like someone’s taken my heart, ran over it with a truck, thrown it through a blender, and then sloppily chucked it back in my chest, as if to say, “Oh shit, sorry, did you need this thing again?”
I think one of the hardest things for me is that my brother’s death is at the forefront of my mind, my day, my every action – all of the time. It’s been three months, yes, but in a weird, twisted way, it feels as if no time has passed at all. Like I’ve been living in this sort of hell where days go on and on and blend together into one large block of time. There’s no sign that things will come to some sort of halt, or that some sort of sign will arise that I’m moving forward, somehow. I still catch myself in moments of grief so surreal and so raw and so shocking that the pain grips my chest and I openly, audibly sob as I mourn for what was, what could have been.
And it’s hard for me to grasp that, for others, their lives are normal, in a sense. When mine seems to have been forcibly shaken and stirred and not into some fabulous martini (goddammit), but into this broken mess that I’m supposed to somehow piece back together, surrounded by a world that is uncomfortable with how messy I am, and how achingly sad I feel.
Author Meghan O’Rourke describes the difficulty of grieving in a society that tries its best to be comfortable and supportive with the bereaved but often, fails miserably in a wonderful piece about the loneliness of grief after losing her mother:
“Since my mother’s death, I have been in grief. I walk down the street; I answer my phone; I brush my hair; I manage, at times, to look like a normal person, but I don’t feel normal… But it is more than that. I feel not just that I am but that the world around me is deeply unprepared to deal with grief. Nearly every day I get e-mails from people who write: ‘I hope you’re doing well.’ It’s a kind sentiment, and yet sometimes it angers me. I am not OK. Nor do I find much relief in the well-meant refrain that at least my mother is “no longer suffering.” Mainly, I feel one thing: My mother is dead, and I want her back. I really want her back—sometimes so intensely that I don’t even want to heal. At least, not yet.”
These words resonate with me in such a way. Because I’m not normal, not right now. And I haven’t been. I don’t know when I’ll be normal, or okay. Nothing I do feels normal, even simple things, like making my bed, or god forbid, attempting to write a paper. Because grief has created a sort of fog around my brain. It’s in my every thought, every action, every word. It’s become such a part of my daily routine that it’s hard to remember how things were, how I felt on a daily basis, before my brother lost his life. I think of him almost every second of every day. And those times that my mind does slip, and then I come back to him, and I remember that he’s gone… my heart rips itself open once more.
And right now, I’m struggling with feeling that my grief is so present, and so raw, and so real in every aspect of my being, and others – people I love, they don’t know this. Or they know, but they don’t remember. Or they don’t ask, they avoid.
And part of me gets angry because, should I need to tell them? Do I need to remind them that I’m grieving? That I’m so deeply entrenched in this process, still? Should I let them know that, frankly, they should care more about my well-being? That they shouldn’t make snide comments about “wanting to die” because they have a long day of work ahead of them or an assignment to finish because I’m here in the goddamn center of a looming cloud of grief in which I’m reminded each and every day that my brother is no longer on this earth?
Should I NEED to remind others that I’m still grieving? What the hell is wrong with me?
This, this is anger. This is the anger of grieving. The whole thing feels astoundingly unfair, and I am angry.
I need to remind myself that people are unsure of how to deal with grief. And if they see this anger, that sure as hell isn’t going to make things any easier for them. And it doesn’t make it any easier on me when I sit and try to judge how I’m doing, or how I’m acting, or how I am reacting to others.
When people ask how I am, and I don’t know how to answer – this is a conditioned response, a side effect of living in a society that gives a very clear message about grief:
We know your grief is uncomfortable, but we’re uncomfortable with your grief.
Well, I’m uncomfortable with my grief, too. And I’m trying to remind myself that just because others may be uncomfortable with my grief doesn’t mean that I need to be LESS comfortable because I’m worried about how others will react to my grief.
So yes, I am struggling. I miss my beautiful brother with every part of my being. And I wish that I knew the right things to tell other people about what I need, or how to help other people in their lives who may be grieving. I’m not sure I can provide that right now. Maybe someday.
So please, if you know someone grieving, or hurting, or struggling in any way, remember that while their grief, their struggle, their sadness and aching might make you uncomfortable… they’re not comfortable either. They feel awful and sad and angry and sometimes, they aren’t quite sure how they feel, or what they need.
But they’re human, like you. And empathy breeds empathy. And facing discomfort head-on can feel a hell of a lot better than pretending it isn’t there.