Up until very recently I’ve been shocked at how simple my grief has been.Â I’m just sad all the time.Â There really isn’t much more to it than that–just the sadness, like a thin blanket over every day.
But recently the sadness has retreated a bit.Â I’m doing work I like, living in a nice apartment with roommates I enjoy.Â I have friends who take care of me, good food in my fridge, and sisters on speed dial.Â Good days have begun to stack one on top of another, and I feel flustered, confused by the smiles that come easily, the lightness creeping into my chest and behind my eyes.Â I sometimes catch myself in a good moment and recoil in horror.Â How can I be happy while the grief still hangs low over my head?Â How can it be that my mother is dead and I am giggling at a stupid commercial, enjoying a new book, joking with friends over beer and cookies?
I don’t expect that I’ll be sad forever, but I expected it to be weightier than this, to cling to me more steadfastly than it has.
And then, of course, there is the guilt.Â Maybe I shouldn’t be happy.Â It is, perhaps, disrespectful to clink glasses and tell dirty jokes and accidentally smear frosting on my face at a party when my mother has been dead for just over two months.
When I am feeling good, when my life seems to have steadied around me, and I am caught up in a simple moment of routine–making the bed, walking to shul, stirring a pot of soup, opening up a newspaper–that is when the sadness rushes back at me like a wave held back too long.Â There is no trigger, just the sudden ambush of grief as I try to hold myself together, get to someplace private where I can cry and then stop.
I thought it would be more gradual than this, but it’s not.Â On Sunday morning I was in the kitchen making French toast.Â The coffee maker was mewing behind me, and I stood in the middle of a parallelogram of light that came in through the window and lay like a warm yellow rug on the tile floor.Â I felt calm and happy, cracking the eggs and whisking in the milk.Â But then, for no reason, something crumpled inside me.Â The happiness just gave way.Â And there, in its place, was the cold clear sadness.Â For the rest of the day it lurked inside everything.
I was still wrestling with the sadness, trying to keep it under the surface, when I had a discussion with The Boy about going to concerts and performances during this year.Â Last night one of our favorite musicians was playing, and he wanted to take me.Â I was also invited to dance at a friend’s wedding.Â I didn’t really feel like going to either event, mostly because I couldn’t imagine pretending to be happy for very long.Â For a few minutes we talked about the rules of this year, and why they’re hard, but good for me.Â I think there’s too much back and forth this year for those true expressions of joy.
This morning on the subway I was reading a book of poems by an Irish poet named Ben Howard.Â The book is called Dark Pool, and I had paged through it once before, but the bottom of a poem called “Shutters” caught my eye today.
Where will it end, that cycle of disclosure
and closing-up, advancement and retreat?
Within the moments of your timed exposure
I see a lens preparing to be shuttered,
as though the truest movement of your heart
were systole, your truest words unuttered.
(Cross-posted at Blogging the Kaddish)