It didn't look the same on me; the way it did in pictures. The lonely girl, staring out of the rain soaked window; hair in the perfect messy bun, curled into an over-sized sweater. It didn't feel like the perfect filter had been placed over my view; there was no soft lighting or blurred lines. Instead, it was sharp edges and harsh reflections, my own sadness being sliced into a never-ending loop replaying it all right back at me. And even though we share everything with everyone - updating the world on our life as we live it - it felt like failure, and the shame kept my sadness a secret.
I felt trapped, without a cage keeping me in. I knew that somewhere the light was brighter and my hands wouldn't shake and my voice would be heard, but I didn't know my way there. I didn't have the energy to "pick myself up" or "be brave enough to try." I couldn't even return text messages, or answer when my kids called. I would stand at the kitchen sink, staring at the dishes piled high, smelling the rotting of food left scraped on them days before, and then just walk away. The excitement that used to drive me and motivate my actions took the slightest turn, feeling more like pressured anxiety, bursting just under my skin, with nowhere to go. Because I was going nowhere. I was consumed, and buried in grief.
It wasn't just the loss of him, although in so many ways it was completely that. Of course, I missed his laugh, and the way he would pronounce "love" with just the hint of an accent, making it sound slow and lazy. Indulgent. But even more than the awareness that the smell of him was fading, I felt the absence of the life that was to be. The heaviness of what had been taken from me was crushing. To be empty and suffocated all at once - that is how I would describe grief. To have the future erased, and not know what will take the place of what once was so perfectly clear. To realize, I didn't really care if anything ever does.
We are asked over and over again, "What can I do?" And I think they mean it. I mean it when I ask. We all want to help each other, and we all want to make sure that those we love know just how hard we love them. But for me to get the courage to answer that question honestly, I had to have already decided to try. I had already moved through enough to decide not to allow the grief to consume me.
As a society, we are repeatedly asking the questions, trying to help, expressing our concerns. We say that feeling the pain and the grief of loss is normal. But we don't actually talk about the grief itself. We don't explain the truth of sadness. So I didn't know how to answer the questions. I didn't think that my pain was the same as everyone else's. I thought it was less than, or more. Uglier or louder or harder for others to look at. I heard the surprise in their voices when they told me they had no idea I had been feeling that way. I felt like I had to make everyone else feel better about me being sad.
I know that no one can offer a map, or provide the perfect recipe. Navigating grief and sadness is solitary - tailored to each of us. But I do know that it isn't rare. I felt better when I stopped telling myself that I had to offer the solution to anyone asking the question. I learned that the sadness in their eyes would slowly heal, as my sadness slowly healed. And that my grief wasn't contagious; I didn't have to manage my symptoms so that no one else caught it. I had decided my feelings would not define me as a person forever, and yet I still had to accept that they would sculpt me into a more detailed, intricate version of who I am. I realized that I am loved. Sometimes, the way others love me is by being a reflection of my current state. I don't need to apologize for myself, to myself, or to anyone else. Clinging to sadness, doesn't keep the memories close. I think I believed that at first. Feeling my feelings, and let them pass through, is all that I need to do. My memories will always be close, they are part of me. Grief is not the memory, it is the burn that comes when the promise of more memories is ripped away. But the burns will heal. The grief does fade. My scars won't ever look the same as anyone else's, so sometimes it is hard to see that their scars exist too. I am learning to trust that they do.