Good Grief: You have to make the coffee.
When it’s Groundhog day, you have to make the coffee. Again. Again. And again.
Okay, today is some real talk. No, like REAL fucking talk. No sunshine and rainbows. No unicorns and blue skies. I felt like it was time to share what a really fucking bad grief day looks like for me. I feel like maybe I hide that a bit from the world at large sometimes. Let’s start with me telling you it ain’t pretty.
I guess there are only a few people who have witnessed the really, really low days. I am constantly working on ways for me to be more transparent and allow myself to be vulnerable. I always think if I posted some of the uglier stuff, people would freak out. The real is not always welcome in this world. But in reality, there are days when it’s a victory to plant both feet on the floor. That is not an exaggeration. I don’t like to be dramatic. But that is the truth. And, hey you out there, if you’re in that place, you have permission to do whatever you need to do to survive those days. If no one else has, I give you permission. And I hope you’re kind to yourself. I can’t say that I have always done the same.
Of course, these types of days have changed over the course of the past 15 months. In the very early stages of grief, there were days when I’d wake up awaiting the beep of the coffee machine indicating that Jeff had gotten up before me and made us a pot of coffee. As I came out of my hazy sleepiness, my brain would start to engage and try to reconcile why there is no coffee. Why there is no Jeff next to me in bed. I don’t know why my brain decided after 3 months to start fucking with me like that. I lived an entire week like a scene out of Groundhog Day. Is that the point when I actually came out of the shock of it all? I don’t know. What I do know is that I would have to tell myself OUT LOUD, “Get up. Jeff is dead. You have to make the coffee.” I had to register it, say it, and hear it out loud. Just so that there was no confusion. Anyone who knows me knows that I can be really brutal with myself. I can push myself to do things, even when every ounce of my being is fighting it tooth and nail. It’s another thing I’m working on in therapy, trust me…showing myself the kindness I try to show others.
That week of being slapped in the face each morning with my new unsolicited reality was brutal. After telling myself repeatedly that Jeff was gone and feeling the virtual punch to the gut, the ugly cry would begin. It started as a whimper and a quivering lip. Then it rolled in with a heaving chest, loud moaning, and eventually crying so hard that I snotted myself. Like the worst kind of cry that I could allow only myself to witness. And I didn’t even want to see that shit. It’s hideous.
Through the heaving sobs, I would continue with the tough love as I would unforgivingly demand, “Betsy. One foot on the floor. Now. NOW.” I was like a nun with a ruler. I have friends who have lived with depression for years and I’ve been told about that feeling of being frozen and unable to move. It can actually be physically debilitating. And even though depression and grief are not the same, there is definitely some overlap from what I’ve gathered and discussed with friends. Eventually, I was able to dip a toe out of the covers and swing it defiantly to the floor like a teenager unwillingly obeying a parent’s orders. This was followed by a heavy sigh and another heaving sob. I would finally drag myself to the kitchen to make coffee and sob loudly while I waited for the drip coffee machine to make that familiar beep.
I would still make an entire pot of coffee because that’s what I knew from 20+ years of auto-pilot. It took me nine months to break that habit. And I’d complain about how shitty the coffee tastes when you only make a partial pot. Well, I had to have something to complain about besides the obvious…
Can I be honest? I still have those days. Nowadays, they seem to be set off by some trigger that might catch me off-guard. The difference is that I’ve learned some ways to help pull myself out of the downward spiral while still allowing the space to accept and feel the sadness and loss. No way around that shit. The only way is through it, unfortunately. Things that I’ve found help me…yoga, meditation, coloring, getting lost in photography, walking outside, having social time with people that I can look forward to (an extrovert going through grief is its own little world of crazy town).
I’ve had a few pretty major breakdown days while on this trip. Of course, there are still painful pings that sting at random moments when I miss Jeff, experience something I know he’d love, or watch an old couple walk down the street hand-in-hand.
One of these meltdowns involved a head-to-head battle with facebook memories. You know, I’ve developed an intense love/hate relationship with them. I seriously considered turning them off for awhile because sometimes they cut SO deeply. But then I just couldn’t stand doing that. It felt like I was muting a huge part of my life that included a lot of really happy times and good memories. With the happiness comes the pain. It’s LaVita é Bella. The good and the bad that make up life.
Facebook memories popped up with a video featuring Jeff and Jane the goat at Reves de Moutons, one of our favorite places in the world. It made my smile. It felt like a happy memory I wanted to enjoy and share. It was all good. Sunshine and rainbows, right?
I watched it twice. And then it was 5 times. And then it was 15 times. Just so I could hear Jeff’s voice and hear myself cackling like a lunatic in the background. All of a sudden I felt the dark cloud roll in and reliving that happy memory morphed into something entirely different. I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of loss and pain. A desperation came over me that produced a sheer state of panic as I started grasping at straws, digging through facebook memories to see what other happy memories I could dig up. You know, basically on a hunt to collect other slices of happiness from the past that I could us to torture myself and fuel the grief fire. The panic that overwhelms me in these moments is a very strange thing. It’s like I can feel the sand slipping through my fingers and I am desperately trying to catch it all. My brain goes into hyperdrive to collect and preserve memories that I am afraid might slip away forever.
The pace became more frantic as I searched deeper for more memories and moments. I started to well up. And then I got that lump in my throat. I was fighting it, but I was definitely losing that battle. There is a reason I control my world and environment on days when I know I have to get shit done or be there for other people, personally or professionally. Because of this moment. And then it all came crashing down around me. Uncontrollable sobbing. The ugly cry. The whimpering. The snotting myself. I end up crying myself back to sleep. I wake up three hours later, crying the moment I opened my eyes, but now I’ve got big puffy red eyes. I got up to take a shower, hoping that would help. It didn’t. I had a cup of coffee which my roommate made me. Didn’t help. I put on mascara. Didn’t help. I knew this one was going to take a lot more umph to get through.
I was having one of those grief days when I couldn’t even talk about how I’m feeling. I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. I thanked my roomie for the offer to chat. I put out a distress text to a friend who also offered to listen. I just didn’t know what to say today to anyone, including myself.
Fresh air. That’s what I needed. I decided to get out of the apartment and go to the beach. I thought that maybe I would journal. Or maybe I’d just stare out at the sea blankly and just vacantly exist for a little while. Or maybe I’d have a beer (don’t fucking judge). I donned my biggest pair of sunglasses and found a quiet corner at Mythos cafe, overlooking Firule beach in Split. I listened to the chirping cicadas. I stared at the sea. I counted sailboats. I let the waves of pain wash in and out. I hate them, but I know I can’t really control them and I can’t run away from them. They’re still a part of the path I have to travel through grief. Nothing like crying in public, especially in paradise. Yep, nailed it. I sat and looked through images from my trip and I journaled a bit. I tried to allow myself to find the pretty things in this world I live in. I’m alive and I have to remind myself of that in these times when I feel like I’m being ripped in two.
I watched a storm coming across the sea, working its way towards the beach. Well, of course it’s going to rain today. Fuck me. And I’m going to be the asshole wearing my dark sunglasses in the middle of a storm. Great. And the rain makes me cranky and sad. It’s always been that way, but more so on a bummer day for me nowadays.
I had made a new friend earlier in the week who is also a caretaker personality type. He just showed up at the cafe because he knew I was there. He simply sat there and kept me company. Didn’t say a word. And most importantly, he didn’t make me explain my red puffy eyes or ask why I was wearing my sunglasses in the rain. And he gets extra points for ordering me a beer when it was noon. Now that’s a friend. LOL.
Eventually, the tidal wave subsided and I moved through the storminess and the sun came out again. And I have to remind myself yet again that just because there’s a cloud in the sky, it doesn’t mean that it has to hide the sun.