After I lost my dad, friends and family sent me literature to read, whether they were articles, books or even short little quotes. Some resonated with me, some we’re a little too “it-gets-better!!!!” for my taste. One friend sent a quote that likened experiencing grief to trying to stay afloat in the ocean. Sometimes, there are huge, crashing waves that suck you under and you wonder whether or not you’re going to make it out unscathed. Other times, the waves are manageable, and you’re able to swim through. Lately, for some reason, I am reflecting on the first time these “waves” were something I deeply felt.
During the month of October of 2015, 2 months after losing my dad, my husband and I had particularly jam-packed weekends full of family events, work and plans with friends. Under normal circumstances, I find overly eventful weekends unpleasant. Under these circumstances, I found this unmanageable. The last weekend of that October, however, I had a panic attack. It is worth noting that I’ve had one and only one before, and that was the night my sister called me to tell me what had happened. I was uncomfortable being around people, even my family. I wanted so desperately to be alone, in my room, under the covers. I can tell you with complete confidence that social anxiety has never (and I mean never) been a problem of mine. On one Saturday afternoon, in the midst of our crazy weekend, I started to, for lack of a better term, freak out. I got incredibly hot, my hands were quivering, and I could not catch my breath. It felt like I was filled with rage. I wanted my dad. I wanted him to tell me everything will be fine, like he always did.
Like these waves, my stability ebbs and flows. When you’re grieving, you’re not sure which version of yourself you’re going to get. You don’t know what’s going to set you off, and you don’t who’ll be there to see it. I try incredibly hard to never take my personal problems out on anyone at work; that is something my dad taught me. Leave it at the door. I don’t ever want my colleagues to see this side of me. But they will — I know they will. And it’s extremely embarrassing! Navigating change is always challenging, and it’s even more challenging when your constant source of companionship and support isn’t there to cheer you on anymore.
Perhaps that’s what the next New York Times bestselling book about grief should outline — how hideously embarrassing it is to have a complete and utter meltdown (like a toddler) for no apparent reason. I wish someone told me about feeling embarrassed throughout grief. Sure, everyone says “you have nothing to be ashamed of!” when you cry. And yet, when the tears start flowing, it’s interesting to watch who truly means that and who gets so uncomfortable, they stop checking in on you.