On the flight back from London, I drift to sleep for a few minutes and then wake with a start and an audible gasp. I do it a second, and then a third, time. I hope no one is watching; it seems like a disturbing kind of way to behave, though it’s an involuntary one. This is the final remains of my one-time professional fear. I no longer hyperventilate through takeoffs and landings, but I can’t go to sleep on a flight because something in my subconscious believes that if I am not alert the plane will plummet, as if keeping it up is my job.
Getting Grief Right is the title of this piece that my friend Katie sent me yesterday; eleven months and one day after my dad died, it felt timely, though maybe anything feels timely if it satiates a thirst for comfort. Describing a woman in the throes of grief, the author (a therapist), writes: ‘She seemed to epitomize what many people would call “doing really well,” meaning someone who had experienced a loss but looked as if she was finished grieving.’
That itself was one of the rightest things I’ve read about grief: it made me think about how much of my time and energy has been taken up with behaving in a way that elicits this kind of remark. It’s a compliment, really, always a well-meaning one, but a dark one, because it renders grief into a kind of labor that can be performed successfully. When it’s a really a task as exhausting and impossible as using your mind to keep a 777 in flight.