The emotions surrounding loss are complicated and disorienting. The horizon of possibility has been dramatically altered; you glance up and nothing is as it was.
Making coffee, going to class, cooking dinner, all of these tasks required such effort, so much attention. Had they always felt so hard? I couldn’t tell. Just showering and showing up was difficult.
These were just the physical tasks of being a parent, a wife, and a student. There was also my churning emotional world, full of questions and pain. I felt like a hangnail, roughly catching on the edges of life.
This exhaustion and confusion manifest itself in particular ways. Small talk and casual interactions were intolerable. A few months after Mercy’s death, I wrote,
I have little tolerance for pretense or posturing. Just being what I am in this season requires so much effort. Trying to be what I am not would be impossible. I cannot pretend that I am interested in a range of job opportunities post-MBA. I cannot muster a false smile or a forced laugh. Many times, I do not know what I want or what I am feeling…so when I do, I know that I dare not ignore the definitive impulses of my soul. “Yes, I want soup now…No, I do not want to go to that party.” There is something liberating in being able to make sense of the small decisions and emotions as the larger ones appear so unmanageable at times.
I also found myself feeling abrupt, quick to take offense, as this encounter with the Bloomington library on May 20, 2011 suggests:
I was unnaturally aggressive and frustrated with the librarians yesterday. An accrual of overdue charges from our Minnesota trip yielded an unyielding librarian. No books would be checked out to me…and no DVDs, despite the fact that the errant items were in the bin. I was then submitted to a lecture on how this would not be a problem if I just returned my materials on time. “I pay you fines for my late materials, you should be concerned about customer service!” was my stewing response.
I will provide a brief rationale for the reason that I went all the way to the supervisor level and left with a handful of comment cards after taking names. Ada had done such a good job and was so excited to get these DVDs. I, as her mother, was delighted to reward her…and here we were stymied by a bureaucracy. They could just go and scan in my books, they could wipe the account, they could even renew the materials (as I later realized online), but no one wanted to be helpful and they were inflexible even to my three-year old’s pleas.
The whole encounter, which took about ten minutes, also highlighted to me that I am operating on very thin margins. How much of my engagement with life is through the veil of grief and/or anger? What was it that made me so ticked at these clerks? Why could the encounter not roll off my shoulders the way it did for Ada (she was a trooper, barely a peep of protest over the injustice)? I didn’t really think of it at the time, but I realize that I am vulnerable and, in hindsight, there was a part of me that wanted to fume, “My child just died! Can’t you cut me some slack and just give her the d**n DVDs?”
At the time, I craved emotional resonance. I wanted Luke to tell me that the librarian was a jerk and that I had been horribly wronged. A pitchfork mob would have also comforted me.
Yet, eight years later, I sit with the question I posed: how much of my this encounter and my general engagement with life was through a veil of grief and/or anger?
For the individual that has experienced the disruptive life event, the death or the divorce or the diagnosis, the rejection or the termination, it can feel impossible to have perspective. And although my anger felt righteous, I am glad that I was paying attention, that I had enough insight to realize that all was (perhaps) not as it seemed. Perhaps the librarian was more than an incompetent imbecile. Perhaps the system wasn’t heartlessly conspiring to thwart my travel plans. And, strangely, in that “perhaps”, there was a glimmer of hope.