“So how ya doin?”
I’m never sure how to answer that question. Should I really tell the truth or should I just tell whoever asked me what they want to hear? (Spoiler alert: I wrote this when I was in a crappy mood, so apologies in advance.)
One of the most difficult things among so many terribly difficult things about grief is that the person who grieves, the person in pain, particularly the person in the worst type of pain (and really, any pain is the worst kind of pain when it’s your pain), almost always has to wear a mask.
I’m not talking about in the beginning, when that’s impossible and no one expects you to. In the beginning, you have no control of your emotions and you couldn’t hide them even if you wanted to. In the beginning, people couldn’t be more empathetic and kinder, not just your friends but almost everyone you encounter. Total strangers are understanding and supportive. In the beginning, you see the very best in people.
As time wears on, however, things change on both sides of the grief conversation. The griever (moi) is still in severe pain, but feels like he/she is inflicting his/her heartache on a friend or loved one. So we tend to shut the hell up or, even worse, pretend we’re getting along just fine. Cut to Dick Van Dyke singing “Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face!”
And for the most part, your friends and relatives are more than happy to go along with this deception. They’re relieved to hear this hopeful news because they love you and only want the best for you, and also because talking about this sad stuff is incredibly uncomfortable and nobody is any good at it. It’s easier to just talk about whatever you usually talk about—Are you watching Watchmen? Did you catch the end of the 49ers–Saints game? You must see Knives Out! And let’s just say that talking about your dead kid is generally not one of those things.
It’s also important to note that your friends have, more or less, moved on from your tragedy, and rightfully so! That’s just the way life works; everyone has their own crap to deal with. Yet at the same time, they’re also aware and respectful that we’re still in the worst shit in the history of shit, so we tacitly make a deal.
This is when we slip on our mask and enter the world of make-believe. We tell you that we’re hanging in there. We tell you that we’re doing the best we can. We say that we’re taking it one day at a time and that we’re not crying as much as we used to. My go-to is “I’m not terrible,” which for me is the highest level of good, and that’s on a good day.
So yes, I’m hanging in there, but only by a thread. I’m doing the best I can, but that doesn’t alleviate the pain. I’m taking it one day at a time, but many of those days are pretty much a nightmare. I’m not crying as much, but when I do it still hurts like fuck. “I’m not terrible,” but I am miserable and haven’t had many good days since we lost Rob.
I have to wear an extra-special mask with Zach, Caryn and Maura. The last thing I want to do is make any of them feel worse than they already feel. Sure, we talk about Rob sometimes, but we mainly stay on the surface because we know there’s a world of shit that can bubble up at any moment.
After some time (let’s say 10 months or so), the griever (that would be me again) really has no one to talk to about his loss (present company excluded). You can maybe get a few words in edgewise at grief group, and you could chat about it with your shrink for 50 minutes a week, and that’s if you don’t have any other more pressing problems to discuss, which seems crazy, but it’s true because life has to go on for us too.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We all must go through grief alone. It’s ultimately a solo act, somewhere between crying, praying and mental masturbation.
I know I felt like this six months ago and I also know that I keep saying how I expect things to get better, and then to get worse, and so on and so forth, but there are some days (this being one of them) when it all just gets to be so fucking exhausting.
So at the end of the day, when I take off my superhero mask and am no longer feeling particularly extraordinary, I just close my eyes so I can be with Rob.
“So how ya doin?” he’ll ask.
“Just fine now,” I’ll say.