Friday, October 2, 2015

I'm Not Really Doing That Well

The weird thing about grieving is the way I can't seem to pull my brain back together.

I still catch myself staring off into space, losing minutes or even an hour and I'm not sure what exactly I was doing. I'm back at work, and yesterday I finally finished a large-ish writing project and that felt really good, but I had assumed I would finish it by 2 and I walked out the door right at four. Somewhere in there I lost two hours, and I'm not sure how or what I was doing, but I do know that my brain doesn't remember, either.

My mind is too busy trying to figure out why nothing about the last two weeks makes sense.

Dad went out into the field one morning and he never came back, and my heart and my head can't seem to put together that he's not going to come back. I'm four states away and I still wait for someone to tell me it was all a mistake, his truck is in the driveway, come back up to welcome him home.

People tell me "you seem to be doing so well with this" and what they really mean is "you are not a hysterical teary mess, so that's good" and I kind of want to laugh and tell them, I'm not doing so well at all, but thanks for not seeing through the act. I'm doing everything I can not to make other people uncomfortable.

We don't really allow people to be a mess after losing someone they love. You're not supposed to talk too much about it because it makes other people nervous and awkward. I don't come from a family prone to dramatics - I'm the dramatic one, and even I have had people tell me how stoic I am being.

Sackcloth and ashes have gone out of style. Midwesterners don't wail and rend their clothing, and I can't be reassured by knowing I can go into deep mourning for six months and everyone will understand. I'm not really one to wear all black anyway, but I look back sort of wistfully on a time when if you wore all black on the street, people only needed to look at you to know that you had lost someone, handle with care.

Everyone wants you to get back on the horse, get back into routine, go back to doing exactly what you were doing before. While work and routine is a great distraction, distracting me is all it's really doing. I still have to deal with my brain in quiet moments, and those are the worst. The grief doesn't go away with hard work or keeping busy or talking to people - it just waits, patiently, for the next time I sit still.

So I try not to sit still.

Yesterday I went back to work and sat down to work at 6:45 am and left at 4 pm, came home and picked Audra up from daycare, worked on dinner, picked up here and there and just basically went in circles. I would say to Jason, "Okay, now I'm going to sit down and be still," and then in five minutes I'd be up and moving again.

He would offer to help and I would shake my head or not even answer and just keep going. If he helps, you see, I am less busy. If I am less busy, I have to sit around remembering that my dad is dead.

If I keep busy, he's just out in the field.

It's only when I let my brain stop going in circles that I have to remember that's not true.

I know that I'm lucky to have Audra here, a toddler cyclone who needs constant attention lest she try to use my cell phone to call Thailand or happily smack at the cat. True quiet would only make things worse, in the moment. Long-term, though, I wonder if I'm just going to keep being angry for that much longer.

If I need to be a mess and just don't have the time, what does that mean for mourning?

Does the mess and the anger just wait for me to stop spinning, even if that's six months or a year from now?

One of my coworkers also lost her father, a few years ago. She took me out to lunch yesterday and I told her that an old high school friend (whose dad died recently of much the same thing as my own) had told me that everyone will tell you it gets better, but it doesn't. "It's kind of a relief," I said, "to have someone just outright tell me it's not going to be okay and it's not going to get better."

"She's right," my coworker said. "It doesn't really get better, not like that."

Yesterday, Audra waved and said "bah-bye" to her daycare ladies after her first day back. She had a great day, they told me. When I came in to get her she was in the process of slyly trying to steal a pacifier from another baby while none of the adults was looking. When I walked in and she heard my voice, she dropped her hand and turned around to give me her most innocent I'd-never-take-anything-that's-not-mine expression.

One of the daycare ladies told me how sorry she was to hear about my dad, but that I seemed to be holding up very well.

I'm not holding up at all, I wanted to reply. I'm just being propped up by motherhood because Audra needs me more than my grief does. Grief can wait and my baby can't. I'm a mess and I wish someone would let me be a mess outside as well as in, but there isn't any time and I would just be uncomfortable and close myself off anyway. My family isn't good at being emotional in public and it doesn't help anyway. I want people to ask but I want them to never ever ever bring it up. I want to talk but I also don't want to talk about it at all, and which I feel depends on who I'm around and whether or not they are Mom, my sister or my brother or Jason... or if they're the other group, which is Everyone Else in the Entire World who I want nothing more than to ignore me. I want all those things at the same time. I'm not holding up at all.

"Thanks," I said out loud, with what I'm pretty sure was a smile, and went home to make myself think about dinner instead.


  1. Oh, Katie, it is so hard. I was pretty busy, too, after my dad died. I had a one year old and later had two more children, but I also had older children, too, so I just kept being distracted. You're right, in this modern culture people expect you to get over it, but you need time to grieve and it's hard to find a place to do that.I pray that you'll be able to grieve and let the tears flow and not have to always hold it all in putting up a good front. I'd love to take you out to lunch sometime. Hope that can happen before too long.

    1. All I can say is, I'm taking a LOT of baths right now for the alone-time and quiet.

  2. but I look back sort of wistfully on a time when if you wore all black on the street, people only needed to look at you to know that you had lost someone, handle with care.

    This is indeed a wistful thing to wish. Your words are raw and truthful right now and I hope they are some what therapy. I haven't lost my dad, but my sister died nearly 11 years ago. I have learned to manage the ache better over the years, but (thankfully) it never disappears.

    1. I suppose that 'thankfully' is important - how much worse it'd be to not care at all. But I really do miss the implied dress-code of wearing all black, what it would tell people, how maybe it would have kept the store clerks in Barnes & Noble two days after my dad's death from saying "Have a great day!" It wasn't their fault, but hearing the words felt like a blow.

  3. I hope you know that here (at work), you can be a mess if you need to. I've been trying to give you the space to say or do whatever you need. I will not ask, in case you're in a moment of blessed distraction, but I can handle facing your grief if you need to fall apart. And I think I speak for all of us. Don't feel like you need to hold it together to save face here. Please don't feel like you need to do or be or say anything on our account. Just do or say or be whatever you need to in any given second.

  4. I'm so sorry. I don't really know what to say. I hope you are OK and will be thinking of you.

    1. Thanks. I probably will be - I usually am. But this is a rough way to live right now.

  5. Hi Katie, I don't comment often but I always enjoy your posts. I am so sorry - all I can say is that really, really sucks, and I hope you're able to take the time to need to mourn or to just feel whatever it is that you're feeling in that moment.

    1. Thanks. I am mostly able to get time to myself now and then, but the unfortunate reality of parenthood is that babies don't wait for you to feel okay. So I'm just kind of powering through it.


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