I know what I’m doing. I’m nothing if not predictable when I grieve.
The insomnia returns first, then my normally impressive appetite departs. I withdraw, needing time and solitude to process. I put off discussing the loss with my best friend because once I do, it will be real.
I cry in private. Tears may well up when I’m with friends but I’ll force them away, unwilling to be the girl crying at the bar, in the airport, in church.
People ask how I’m doing and I say, “I’m in shock. We’re all still in shock.” I can’t make sense of my aunt’s unexpected death.
I check in on my cousins and get updates from my mom. We speak the same language and bear similar memories; I need not pause to give back story while I coax my feelings out. But they are back in Illinois while I am here and I am taken aback by the alone-ness.
My family and I, we’ve lost more than our fair share of loved ones this past decade. It never gets easier but I do know myself. I know how to mourn. What I do not know is how to let other people in on the process.
I don’t know how to let people love me while I grieve.
An email or a text comes through and I don’t know how to respond. I crave community while fearing it. I’m relieved I haven’t been in town to go to church; I don’t think I can bear the call to worship, the mingling of souls.
My brain is broken right now, leaving me quiet. Never one for small talk, this is all too deep and painful to bring into dinner conversation. I’d rather listen to you, my default. Only I don’t have the capacity to advise others and though I know you don’t expect it of me, these clipped wings of mine are cumbersome.
I can’t adjust to these changes.
I can’t adjust. Or I won’t adjust?
I’m a social worker by training, a caregiver by nature. It’s easier for me to give than receive, though I know the benefits of letting others be strong for us when we are weak.
I ask for prayer, I say I’m in shock and share little snippets of what Aunt Sue meant to me. That’s it. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said “I can’t go there right now.” Maybe it’s self-preservation or what I needed in the moment. I tell myself it’s enough but I know I’m robbing people of the opportunity to love on me.
Last week I visited a friend in Austin. We spent some time with her older brother. He talked about the difference between transparency and vulnerability, noting, “transparency is admitting weakness, vulnerability is admitting need.”
I am transparent but vulnerability has long been my struggle. It comes down to this: I rarely know what I need and I don’t want to be an imposition on my friends.
A part of me doesn’t want to ask, in that lovely passive-aggressive “they should know what I need” way. Truthfully, I’m afraid to let anyone but a select few all the way in to my grief and despair.
My INFJ heart mystifies even me. How can I let others into the depths? How can I exchange internal processing and tied-with-a-bow conclusions for unformed thoughts and mercurial emotions?
I don’t give my friends enough credit. It’s as if I think they’ll change their mind about me at any second. As if this dark grieving version of myself doesn’t merit their attention.
My friends are nothing but kind. They tell me they want to be there for me. They ask what they can do. But my default continues to be, “thank you, I’m fine, keep us in your prayers.”
I want someone to come over with a bottle of red for an uninterrupted hour. I want to dawdle over a piece of cake and talk about nothing and everything. I don’t want platitudes or wrinkled brows over my choice of words. I don’t want to explain myself to strangers or invite sympathy. I want friends who will journey with me.
I’m afraid to say these things. Afraid no one will take me up on it, afraid someone will. Afraid to voice my real feelings.
Is it selfishness or pride? Is this everyone’s default in seasons of grief?
I have been burned in the past. I offered up my past struggle with depression, only to be dismissed. I went to lean on a friend after another loved one died, only to find they’d disappeared. Others simply couldn’t handle the “strong one” not being strong.
Right now I need solitude to recharge. Four weekends away have depleted me and I have not had time to truly mourn the loss of my dear aunt. I’m challenging myself not to let this be an excuse to withdraw. Respite is good, but let’s toe the line before the hermitage.
I don’t know what else I need. I don’t. Some of my friends might, however.
Perhaps it starts there. A few tentative words, a handful of Kleenex, and the faith that the ones who love me will love me still. Weak and broken, yet still me.