I’m a pretty strong and resilient woman. It can be hard to see me taken down, seemingly weakened and beaten, especially by this invisible and ever present sadness I carry around. My vulnerability is scary. Maybe you’ll make it hurt even more. Maybe worse, it could take you down with me. The result is the same. Condolences for cancer are easy by comparison. Grief sends even the most loving friends running for the hills. I never feel more alone than when my sorrow breaks through the surface. I often have to create my own solace, which is a lot harder than getting a strong hug from loving arms, or even a tender series of texts.
I’m strong. Except when I’m not.
Right now, I’m sitting in an airport, Chicago to be exact. My flight home has been delayed six hours and at best, assuming we do actually take off, I’ll walk in my front door around 3AM. My defenses are down. I’m exhausted, emotionally and physically, from trying to navigate this ordeal, looking for any silver lining.
Normally I roll smoothly with travel hiccups. Delays and cancellations are a part of travel. It sucks and it often can’t be avoided, so I tend to adopt a calm and accepting attitude. This is becoming harder to maintain. Imagine my grief is a bunch of taut and sloshy water balloons. And then imagine that this whole flight fiasco – the surprising cruelty of customer service reps, the disappointment of not getting home on time, the possibility of not getting home at all, my back pain from tension and crappy airport chairs, overhearing and feeling the enormous tension of my fellow passengers – is a collection of sharp pins. There goes one balloon – I start to feel sadness. The second one goes – despair sets in. Third, fourth – I start to cry a little but I keep it in check. Fifth – fully weeping in public now and can’t hold it in check. Sixth – I miss Steve. I miss knowing he’s waiting for me at home with a drink and a shoulder rub and maybe an omelet. I miss being cared for.
By the time the next few balloons are popped, I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to let me on the plane because I’m a total wreck. I’m doing my level best to sit in a corner and go unnoticed. None of this overwhelming emotion has anything to do with my predicament. The flight delay and subsequent annoyances and indignities are merely pins. Before Steve died, they had nothing to pop. They’d be annoying at best. Today, four months after Steve died, they might as well be swords in my heart.
Move on. Get over it and live your life. Eye rolls when I mention a memory of Steve. Or worse, outright ignoring my pain when it surfaces. Avoidance. Ghosting. Cruelty.
And also beauty. Not everyone is ill equipped to be kind and tender when I need them to be. I know what it takes to be present for me. When it happens, it’s a cool breeze on a hot day.
It can be hard work being in my company. I know and totally empathize. And this may be hard to believe but I am actively trying to shield people from my grief. When I feel safe and accepted, I talk about him. When mutual conversation and shared memory occurs, I might cry a little. Only a few people have seen me outright sob. Well, a few more today – my fellow citizens at gate C18.
This lack of understanding, this avoidance, and my own efforts to protect others from experiencing it are why I’m writing about this. All of this. I don’t want to hide it. It’s always there so in essence hiding it is hiding myself. If you don’t experience my sadness, you’re getting a fake me. There, I said it. If you haven’t seen it, I’m sorry. Truly. I’m scared of rejection and of cruelty. I’m scared of getting hurt. Your friendship and care is so vital to me that I’m afraid of losing it if I expose my grief to you.
That’s not how it should be, and maybe I’ve just treated these anonymous citizens of Gate C18 better than I’ve treated you. If we don’t understand how grief works, how prevalent it is, and how necessary it is, maybe we have only ourselves to blame for not sharing it more openly.
My take away for you is to think about this when you confront grief in others and in yourself. And maybe, someday it’ll be a easy to respond to as it was for me to finally write this. All it took was a six-hour flight delay, an extraordinarily nasty airline employee, and free WiFi.