I know a guy who lost his mother in high school, and he is so even-keeled and unflappable and successful, I don’t understand it. Every day, I see him in lab, and I want to ask him, “How are you so normal and functional? Do you ever dream about her? How can you live without acknowledging that she was alive and without forcing everyone else to acknowledge it too? Why have you been able to carry on as if life were normal?” It’s been about a decade for him, but I’m over four years out, and I don’t think another six will change my constant urgent need to make sure she is remembered or my sense that nothing will ever be okay again, not really. Maybe it’s just that men and women grieve differently. Maybe it’s just us, because he has always been even-keeled and unflappable, and I’ve always been the opposite.
But then I think of Derek Thompson’s article in the Atlantic after he lost his mother, when he wrote about how surprisingly easy it was to move on and be normal, with scientific studies to back up that trend of resilience, and I want to scream because why are all these people able to be normal and functional? What is wrong with me that I still have such intense spasms of grief, four years out, and I have to struggle so hard just to put one foot in front of the other?
It’s been four years, and I still dream about her all the time. Just this past week, I’ve dreamt about her every night that I could remember my dreams. In one of the dreams, we were driving around Boston on a family trip–probably because I’m going to Boston tomorrow for a conference, and it’s a place she’s never been–and I kept trying to take the perfect photo, as if I knew it wasn’t going to last and I was going to want that to hold onto. I don’t have any photos with her past the age of 16, and those photos are kind of shitty, because I was an asshole kid who didn’t like photos, and my mom didn’t like photos of herself either.
It’s been four years, and I still cry every time I am left alone too long with my thoughts. And I can’t imagine a world in which this is no longer true.
I think of people with old injuries who feel it in their bones in that same spot when it rains, and I think grief is like that. At first, just searing pain, and then it just throbs dully forever and spasms once in awhile, with varying frequencies and levels of pain depending on the person and the injury. But thinking about it this way doesn’t really make it more bearable.