“If you have ever lost a loved one, then you know exactly how it feels. And if you have not, then you cannot possibly imagine it.” -Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning
“And maybe I was coping awfully well, I don’t know. Certainly I wasn’t howling aloud or punching my fists through windows or doing any of the things I imagined people might do who felt as I did. But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking over a brackish wreck which was illuminated in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.” -Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
Two words have become permanent fixtures in my vocabulary: “fine” and “okay.” The standard response when I have moved past the socially acceptable timeframe for grieving when asked how I am doing: “I’m fine.” It is perfectly clear that this question is asked automatically and people don’t really want a response; the response should be as automatic as the question. If I responded “I’ve been to hell and back, how are you?” or “I felt like shit today” I will likely be met with a rather startled expression and uncomfortable stumbling over how to react. So I provide the nondescript “I’m fine” response. It is easier that way.
In the week or so leading up to losing Iris, when I felt deeply within my heart that something was wrong, even with no outward signs, I was a bit more specific when answering that question: “Physically, I’m fine.” Mentally, I was a wreck, so I could not even bring myself to respond that I was “fine” implying that my whole being was fine. I was only physically fine.
Immediately after losing Iris, I would respond with “I’m numb.” I could not adequately summarize the range of emotions or the feeling that life had completely steamrolled me.
In therapy, the sessions are often started with “So, how are you doing?” Here, I pause and will be much more concrete with a response such as “The week has been rough” and then go into specifics of what happened. My therapist will listen and help me identify how I am feeling. The general population does not want to hear about all of my suffering.
What is true about loss is that you only have the attention and sympathy of people around you for a brief window of time. Then they move on with their lives while you are left to pick up the pieces of your broken heart. I was unprepared for how quickly the world moved on after losing Nelle in September. It felt like the window was even smaller this time.