I wrote this about two weeks ago, during the night of a snow storm. Snowy days and nights seem to be some of the hardest for me lately.
I was chatting on the phone the other night during the snow storm with a person close to both Joe and myself. Being asked about my day, I shared I was glad to have worked from home and spent time with Vienna. Then, this person asked if I was going to see a therapist and I enthusiastically said, “yes!” it’s on my to do list. The next response made me pause, a bit stunned. Picture the head cocked to the side, eyes squinted, brows a bit furrowed. The “wait what did you say” kinda face. You know the one. This person said, “Oh, so you’re doing pretty well then.” This comment mixed with the tone of voice got me. What from this short conversation made this person feel I was doing well. My attempt at a cheery voice? Saying a therapist is on the to do list? Sharing the funny things Vienna did that day hoping to spread a little laugher? And, for that matter, if the day had gone well, should I feel guilty for that?
This comment and my immediate, emotional reaction, really made me think. One, about why after hundreds of years with the saying ‘think before you speak’ people still can’t seem to actually do it and two, it seems in my short time in this grieving process society creates a damned if you do, damned if you don’t reality. The thing is, my day was really hard, as most are. Blizzards have always been my favorite. Joe and I would watch movies, eat all the comfort food and be lazy all day long. This time, he wasn’t here. We didn’t do that. Instead, I taught from home and entertained a 7 month old, while simultaneously trying to calm down my anxiety and ride out each wave of grief and nausea without totally losing it. What this person couldn’t see through the phone was the struggle to get from minute to minute from 7pm on. As I fed a fussy baby and comforted an anxiety prone 70 pound dog, I listened to this person and offered a kind, upbeat voice, because I knew that person probably needed that, too. Now, I don’t say this for praise or write this with a hero complex. I absolutely know I do not need to hide how I feel or be any other way but real. I just thought that perhaps approaching the conversation with a positive attitude I could offer some light heartedness for both of us. Instead, I was met with confusion and was told I must be doing pretty well, as if I shouldn’t be, as if that was wrong.
Could this be my overthinking, over sensitive brain talking? Sure. But this time, I don’t think it is. The truth is, that comment really triggered me. I wasn’t doing pretty well, so I got defensive. And if I had been doing well at any point of the day, I was feeling guilty for that. It made me question if I wasn’t curled up in a ball, crying hysterically and telling everyone how shitty my day was, then was I even really grieving? I realized that image is what movies, books and really, society overall, uses as the poster image of a grieving widow. And some days, that is hundred percent how it looks. But more often than not, I don’t get to have those days. I have to get up, take care of Vienna, go to work and still be a mildly functioning human. I’m numb, shocked and stunned. I’m anxious, panicky and overwhelmed. And you wanna know what else? Sometimes, I laugh. I look at a picture and cry for Joe but laugh just as hard thinking of the story behind it. I laugh with a friend or smile at a feel good story. Even as my heart seems to break over and over again each morning, there is good in this world as I’ve recently been reminded and it is ok for me, for those grieving, for anyone, to acknowledge and explore different ways to enjoy that good.
Did this person mean to trigger such a response? No. I want to believe this person had no idea the impact behind the simple statement. But that’s the thing. Our words may not move mountains but they can pierce a heart, erupting emotions. I’m not saying to walk on eggshells but I am saying to take a second to reflect on who it is you’re talking to and ask yourself how the words may be perceived. For example, if you’re chatting with someone dealing with a loss, or experiencing a challenging time in general, why don’t you let them tell you if they’re “doing pretty well” ok?