The first time I experienced grief, I was nineteen years old. My brother died. I was at odds with my parents and my whole family, and though I was there with them, there was a definite rift between us. I was hurting – so deeply and entirely – but I felt so very alone through it all. I thought surely it would've been easier if I'd had a better relationship with my parents and everyone else, that we could be grieving together, that I'd have someone to talk to about how I felt who would really understand.
But now, thirteen years later and another beloved family member gone, I'm realizing something important: grief is always something you do alone. I want so desperately to sit and cry with someone else, just let the hurt exist for awhile, and not be alone. But that's not how grieving works. When everyone is together, you pretend everything is okay. You make small talk. You tell jokes. You smile. You put away the hurt, push it deep down inside so that it doesn't show, and you act like nothing has changed. Sure, you can mention it - “Gosh, it was hard to sleep last night.” But you don't actually feel anything with anyone else around.
I'm fine all day. I've decided this is a good week to deep clean my house from top to bottom, while still managing a farm full of animals and trying to be an exceptional parent. Keeping dishes washed, laundry folded, and organizing storage closets has kept my mind from wandering too far. It's the nights that are impossible. I lay down to try to sleep, and the thoughts and feelings I've been suppressing all day come flooding through my brain that isn't ready to sleep yet. It's this swarm of thoughts – happy memories, concern for my mother, gratitude, the pain of watching her take her last breath, remembering the way she used to look before she got sick, regret from having not visited more than I should have, seeing the tears on the faces of every person she loved as she opened her eyes and didn't recognize any of us, wondering what she was thinking, what she was feeling, if she even could think or feel, wondering what my uncle is doing right now at this moment, wondering if my mom is thinking all these same things, realizing what things really matter in life, wishing I'd had just one more meaningful conversation with her, remembering her yard and gardens and beautiful flowers and seeing the girls explore them, every Halloween when we made a special trip to see her with the girls in costume, wondering if she ever did forgive me for putting my parents through hell as a teenager, being angry at my whole family for being the kind of people who just don't ever feel anything.
That's what reality is. The reality that one can only experience alone, after everyone else is home an asleep and dealing with their own reality.
Grief is a very lonely thing. And you're not allowed much of it – it shouldn't last long, and while it does last it should be hidden and kept private. My husband assures me that grief lasts about a week. That means I have two more days. I'm pretty sure this sleeplessness, these swirling thoughts, they're still going to be there two days from now. I'll just have to get even better at keeping them to myself, and hiding them and moving past them and pretending I'm just fine.
I'm fine. Just fine. I promise.