The Upside Down

For the past 7 months, I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe what living with this kind of grief is like. If you’re a mother or father, I know you’ve imagined what losing a child is like. I know you’ve seen it play out in your head, the accident or illness that takes your child’s life unexpectedly and then the aftermath. I know you’ve visualized what it’s like to hold your child lifeless in your arms, knowing that you will never see their bright eyes again or hear that sweet, sweet voice. I know because once, I was that mother. I, too, envisioned what losing a child would be like – long before I knew that it would indeed happen to me.

What you probably visualized is the acute grief – the shock, the horror, the anger, the disbelief that comes immediately after the loss. You’ve imagined wailing, gasping, screaming, staying in bed all day, not eating, not talking to anyone, ceasing to function for a time. Maybe you thought that all days would be like that until one day you woke up and were “better.”

That’s not grief. That’s not grief at all. Yes, it may be the early days, but once that first shock is past, grief is something else entirely.

Grief is walking around with a piece of you missing. It’s a hole in the center of things.  It’s not wailing and sobbing every moment of the day. It’s getting up and doing the things that need to be done – feeding your children, cooking dinner, doing the laundry, walking the dog. It’s doing all of it with a lingering gray cloud at the periphery of your vision. No matter how beautiful the day is, there always seem to be clouds.

It’s like living in the Upside Down. Everything is in its place. You go about your life like normal. You do the “normal” things that you’re supposed to do. But darkness surrounds you. There is something off-kilter about the world. You always feel that wrongness deep in your bones, down to the very marrow.

See now, I’ve brushed up against the truth of life. I’ve seen behind the curtain. The wizard is just a wizened little old man with no magic. We’re all fragile, inches from death at any time. We feel grandiose. We feel safe. We are not.

I don’t wail every day. I don’t tear out my hair. I quietly go about my life. I live in the face of staggering loss. I have to, because there is no alternative. And yet, nothing is right. Grief at this stage feels like a shocking numbness.  It’s an out-of-body experience. It’s a desire to stay in bed and sleep for hours – until the clock passes noon. It’s floating above yourself and feeling no true joy, no true happiness, nothing but a blankness, a yearning for the days to pass until you too can go through that curtain.

Grief is nothing like you think.

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