This Affects EVERYTHING
The following was shared in the early days of my grief on a blog for friends and family. It’s being shared here to provide more context to my story and to remember those years of intense pain that make my story whole.
In many ways, I’ve become the go-to girl for my friends who are either experiencing loss themselves or know someone who is. On a recent trip to the Bay Area, I hung out with a friend, (let’s call him Sam) whose girlfriend just lost her Mother. We met up for breakfast one morning and chatted — me about things going on in my life, and him about how to be a good partner to his grieving girlfriend.
He’s doing an amazing job, but he still feels like he’s not doing enough. He gives her space when she wants it, and let’s her talk when she wants that. He runs her errands and understands when she cancels plans… for the one-hundredth time. He doesn’t get mad when she’s passive, or when she expects him to know exactly how she’s feeling. During one particular conversation between Sam his girlfriend she told him “Sam, you don’t get it. this. affects. EVERYTHING.”
I’ve thought of those words often since my conversation with Sam, and how painfully true they are. The death of someone you love affects everything.
It affects the way you interact with your family.
Many actions and conversations that you would normally do or have together turn towards actions of preserving the memory. Conversations often start with “hey, remember when…?” If conversations aren’t about preserving memory, then they become about symptoms and treatment of that death — symptoms of depression, sadness, helplessness, anger (I could go on), and treatment being alcohol, anxiety meds, depression meds, or if you’re my twin sister, punching brick walls.
It affects the way you interact with your friends
You suddenly become THAT friend. You know, the flake — you’ll make plans and then cancel last minute because you feel too heavy with depression to be human. Then when you do finally hang out, you never know if you’re annoyed because they’re treating you differently or if you’re thankful they’re acknowledging your tremendous loss and acting accordingly.
It affects group settings when you’re with people you know, people you don’t know, or a combination of both.
You never know if you should pretend your loss isn’t there for a night of fun and for the sake of others in the group — no one wants to be the one weighing down those good vibes– but then you feel guilty for trying to set your loss aside for one night because then it feels like you’re forgetting about the person you’re missing most.
It affects the way you interact with strangers.
I hate going to the grocery store because I dread the grocer asking, “How are you?” or “how’s your day going?”. Do I be brutally honest and make things awkward for the 2.5 seconds I’m interacting with this person, or do I lie to them and then feel like I’m lying to myself? I’ve answered both ways and am not satisfied with the results of either. Self-checkout has become my BFF.
It affects small talk.
You never know if you “get it out of the way” first or wait until it comes up later. It becomes a mind game: if the small talk is going to lead into a greater conversation of who you are then you want to talk about the person in your life who died first, as that death is the most important thing to who you are and who you’re becoming. But if you tell the person you’re talking with that your mother is dead, and the conversation doesn’t lead into a greater conversation, then you feel like an ass for making the small talk all about you. Most people can’t compare with your loss, and for them to try and talk about what they’re going through, when weighed against what you just told them, often making them feel inadequate. But if they try to carry on a conversation — which usually includes them sharing a hardship or a current stressor of theirs — then you get annoyed because they’re talking about how hard life is and you’re like dude, don’t fucking even. And then that person who thought they were going to have a nice conversation about what they do for a living feels like ass for even trying to talk about himself or herself, because, like I said, most people can’t relate. So then the next time you have a small talk conversation with someone, you choose not to start the conversation with “hey my mom’s dead so basically every question you ask me will have some connection to that”, but then the conversation turns to something deeper and you decide to tell that person about what happened to you, which is usually met with “OH MY GOD WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME THIS EARLIER?” And then you’re like I DID THIS FOR YOU! But then you start to wonder why you didn’t say something earlier, and you wish you had said something earlier because any progress you made in that conversation and relationships needs to halt, back up, and start from square one with “hey, my mom’s dead, so basically everything I just told you is affected by that.” (DO YOU SEE HOW CRAZY THIS IS!?)
Death even affects inanimate relationships, like your relationships with decisions.
Do you do this or that because you want to, or do you do that to honor the person you lost? Do you do what the person you lost would want, or do you do what is best for you? Those questions may sound easy to answer now (do what you want/ do what’s best for you) but in the moment it’s not always so definitive. Sometimes what you want is what the person you lost would want, but then sometimes you don’t know what they would want and you can’t ask them because they’re fucking dead, so you’re paralyzed by your decisions. They don’t have to be difficult decisions, either. Sometimes it’s “what do I eat today?” Do you eat eggs sunny side up because you like them that way, or scrambled because the person your death mother made them this way? Do you go to the local coffee shop with better wifi? Or to your dead one’s favorite coffee shop to get their favorite drink because you want to feel some sort of connection to them, even though you’d really appreciate the other coffee shop’s better wifi?
And then there are difficult decisions. Do you quit your job and do something else? Or do you keep your job because your dead mother was alive when you got that job, was exited for you and supported that job, and to move on from it would feel like you’re moving on with your life without the blessing from the person you lost?
This is just a taste of it; loss affects everything.
And it’s a constant and exhaustive dance with yourself, your friends, your acquaintances, your family, strangers, your community and your choices — even the easy ones!– to figure out where you stand with them and how to interact with them. One day you’re twirling and the next day you’re slow dancing. Sometimes you’re enjoying the Macarena and other days you’re on the floor sobbing because your feet are so tired. Sometimes your dance partner leaves the floor– some will waltz away slowly, and others will just stop the music, and throw down their dancing shoes because you’re too much for them to handle. When that happens, some partners will come in closer because they want to be the one you dance closest with, and other times you choose the one you dance closest with, hoping they’ll stick around long enough to see you’re a pretty good dancer, if given the chance. And sometimes (for me, many times) you find yourself lying on a cold dance floor while the disco ball above you keeps spinning and the music keeps playing. You quit. It’s easier that way, to just not dance.