From a lower base.
Death becomes you in all sorts of ways.
As I put them to bed last night my daughters were debating the relative merits of fine versus ok. Is it better to feel fine or to feel ok? It was the emotional well-being equivalent of the few-versus-several debate that every child has at some point.
And it struck me, it struck me hard if truth be told, that my family’s happiness has been recalibrated. Not surprisingly we are operating from a lower psychological base level than we were before the death of my wife, their mother. Whilst this should not have come as any surprise I was overcome with a sudden sadness.
A few nights previously I was stroking the hair of my eldest to help her to sleep and we got to talking about how we were feeling. She started to cry softly and told me that she yearned to be happy again. I tried to reassure her by pointing out that she had been very happy recently with friends, on outings and at her birthday party. In reply she said that such event-based happiness was easy. It was the day by day default level of happiness, much lower than it should be for a bright seventeen year old, that was troubling her. I was overcome with sadness then too.
A bereavement is the emotional equivalent of an inner ear infection. Disorientating and miserable.
It is not just your happiness that is affected. It is every aspect of your psychological makeup, every element of mood and temper. Death becomes you in many ways.
Your emotional immune system is weakened. Bereavement is a retrovirus against which the subconscious can muster no antibodies.
This means that mood swings are more easily triggered than before. My family is on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise with its deflector shields down. The asteroids of daily life don't bounce off like they used to. They hit hard and it can be a struggle to keep your feet.
We are less tolerant and less interested, more likely to perceive slights, more prone to anger.
We are seabirds in a marine oil disaster. The tar that clogged our feathers in the immediate aftermath has been washed away. We look ok. We are no longer conspicuously covered in blackness. But just as the detergents that remove crude oil from feathers also remove a bird's natural waterproofing, we too are left unprotected. For the time being water does not run easily off our backs.
Our moods oscillate wildly around a lower baseline than before. I just hope that amidst the chaotic fluctuations a statistician would be able to discern a gradual upward trend line. Everyone says that time is a healer, but it would be good to see that assertion backed up by robust data.
In the meantime all we have is hope and each other.
I used to have this theory that aeroplanes were kept aloft by the collective belief of the passengers in the possibility of flight.The engines nothing more than a placebo whose only purpose was to instill confidence in those on board. That’s why altitude would decrease after turbulence. Belief would be shaken and telepathic elevation temporarily lost.
My family’s happiness is like that. We are skimming just above the tarmac just now. But if we can all believe in better maybe we can get the nose up and get this baby, my babies, back up to cruising altitude again.