Sunday, April 25, 2010

Getting Nowhere and Liking It

Right around the time I started this blog, a friend told me that his wife was fighting cancer. Sadly, she passed away in early January and, since then, he’s been muddling through the ‘new normal’ with his two young children. This week I saw him in person for the first time since she died.

There’s a look to people who are grieving that’s hard to describe but easily recognized by everyone. He still takes up the same amount of space but seems lighter…like he’s floating outside of his body while the auto-pilot handles the social niceties. He hovers just slightly to the side of his former self. He makes people uneasy.

I asked him if he was feeling like a human again yet and he laughed. He said he couldn’t believe how much he hates work now and I laughed. We chuckled about the our new found surliness. All of this silliness made some of the other people in the room shoot me happy/panicked it’s-so-good-to-see-him-smile-again sort of looks. I’m not sure they would’ve smiled if they were within earshot.

One of them suggested that I take him to lunch, presumably to continue the ‘cheerification’ process and encourage his recovery (as if a recovery is a destination to be reached as quickly as possible).


June 2008
Church carnival beer garden, family snack break

I suppose the blond-haired, blue-eyed identical twin toddler girls who sat down next to us were cute and amusing. And that obscure pop song from the ‘60’s with our dead daughter’s name in it was an interesting choice for the suburban bar band providing the evening’s entertainment.

Luckily there was funnel cake on hand to prevent me from melting into a puddle of tears or erupting into deranged laughter (hard to tell in those days). I’m pretty sure deep-fried starch is the answer to most of the world’s problems.


April 2009
Cube farm @ unnamed government agency

My co-worker likely thought she was doing me a favor by telling me that another of our colleagues was expecting twins. I’m sure it was a courtesy to prevent my being blindsided at staff meeting or some other group event. I probably should have been appreciative but, I really just wanted to staple her mouth shut.

I don’t know what I said but I can remember that she looked a little bit like this so it probably wasn’t supportive/graceful/friendly/nice or whatever it is that people want to hear from the bereaved during these conversations.


April 2010
Conference Room – national bureaucratic meeting

“So, how are the girls?”

Girls? What girls could she possibly be asking about?

Now, in her defense, I did change jobs and move away shortly after my maternity leave but, it’s hard to believe that a woman who sat 15 feet away from me throughout my pregnancy could forget that we dropped from the plural to the singular.

So, I looked behind me to make sure she wasn’t talking to someone else and then just played it off and said that C is growing up fast.

A new member of our work circle who didn’t know me ‘before’ asked me if I had more than one.

“No, just one daughter.”

“I have 3. A daughter in college and twin girls in high school.”

“Wow, that must be interesting.”


The lunch appointment didn’t happen after all. We just sort of tagged along with the group and engaged in work-appropriate chit-chat. I’m sure some of our colleagues were disappointed by the apparent lack of coping. They're probably wondering how we'll ever cross the finish line if we don't get moving.

But there is no way to finish coping with loss.

First of all, R isn’t coming back and neither is W’s wife. It doesn’t matter if we react with tears, anger, or patience. We can’t earn them back by having just the right conversation at the salad bar or by being more considerate to our friends or by suffering or by giving up bad habits and staying upbeat.

Second, there will always be bizarre reminders and setbacks. I can imagine some distant future where my hoverboard or my flying car will make a sound just like the pump that delivered R's prostoglandin drip and my tears will stain my silver jumpsuit.

It’s forever. And there’s no getting over it or through it. All we can do is be patient and try not to get trapped underneath…and apply funnel cake as needed.


  1. I would have looked like I was reading LOLcats just now to the outside observer. This really made me laugh, TracyOC!

    The forever aspect of loss... that's the concept I'm struggling with right now. I've definitely reached the final A in DABDA, I accept that she's gone and that she not coming back. But where are the rest of the letters? What's the next bit on my grief journey? Because you're right. It just goes on and on and I'm exhausted.

  2. after iris - such an insight: "Where are the rest of my letters?" It seems like when we reach the end of the cycle another phase is just randomly regenerated. A little warning would be nice, esp. when anger is coming up in the queue.

    T - this passage is amazing:

    Second, there will always be bizarre reminders and setbacks. I can imagine some distant future where my hoverboard or my flying car will make a sound just like the pump that delivered R's prostoglandin drip and my tears will stain my silver jumpsuit.

    I bet your neighbor was grateful for your presence the other day, and for a few moments of understanding amidst the "why won't he just get better" looks of concern that I reckon he gets more often than he'd like.

    When we first started seeing a counselor back in December, I remember this enormous relief when she told us we were trying to move forward and up and away from grief too quickly. "Why are you afraid to mourn?" She asked. And I couldn't control my sobs once someone told me that they were ok. What a feeling, to have permission to stay static for just a moment and not force the auto-pilot to work so hard. T - I'm so sorry for your friend's loss. I am so glad he has you.

  3. We need another letter...maybe even another word. I should host a contest/giveaway...

  4. I meant a 'new' word, made from scratch

  5. The problem with DABDA and the utter shock of it for me is that it is not a finite 5-step process. The injustice! Forever?? Rinse and repeat ad infinitum? How does one order one's chaos and find one's way when the best maps only tell you a few of things that you might find in the landscape, but not where they are, how you will get there, how long you'll be staying and whether or not you'll be returning?