Today was good. Like, “I backed into a spot between two cars in a parking garage at 7:30 in the morning” kind of good. Like “my train ran express from Worcester to Boston” kind of good. Like “I got on that train ten minutes before it was scheduled to leave” kind of good.
I just assumed I’d feel really shitty all day. Because it’s my grandma’s birthday. The first one since she died last summer. But instead, everything went right. The sun was out. I had a green juice. I had productive conversations.
Grief is like love in that no one really cares about or understands it except for the person experiencing it. We all say that we are so sorry for you or so happy for you, but I don’t think we mean either of those things, not really.
I think we say we are happy for people who are in love because we are really relieved that they are not alone (and it isn’t our responsibility), relieved that they have a support system (that isn’t us), relieved that maybe they have an interesting story about how they met their significant other (because maybe there’s hope for us). But beyond that, we don’t really care, do we?
In turn, when it comes to grief, we are sorry for someone’s loss because we feel sorry for all the people in our own lives that we have not yet lost but know that we someday will, or because we remember the people we already lost and someone else’s grief triggers that personal sorrow-memory. Which is different from being “sorry for” someone’s loss. Is that sympathy? I don’t quite get it, I know, but I don’t quite think that’s it, and if that’s it, it doesn’t seem real.
I know I said that today was good and it doesn’t quite sound like it here, but I really did and I do mean it. The sun was out, I was early for my obligations, and conversations came easily. But in the background was my grandma’s absence and flitting memories of visiting her grave for the first time since the funeral, which I did last week, and the discomfiting acceptance that I will never again send her flowers and that I have hours upon hours of interviews recorded with her that I do not have the mental stamina to listen to yet.
Yet every time something went astonishingly, uncharacteristically right for me today, I thought of her, and I thanked her, out loud, and everything was flat. And it made me think of multigenerational epic novels and how we are tethered to the people — and especially, the women, I think — who raised us, in ways that we can’t possibly ever be tied to anyone else.
But the other weird thing about this grief is that sometimes it can drive you to joy. Because even if you can’t communicate, you know that those women you’ve lost would be proud of you, not just for making the train early or for parking your car in an impossible situation, but for feeling that happiness at all. For having those victories. Because those women who raised you taught you to believe that you deserved to feel happy — they treated happiness like the end goal, trained you how to find it in express trains and obligable small talk with strangers, if you had to. And you try to take that with you into your daily life, although it’s really goddamn hard to be that optimistic at every turn. But then it falls into place for one entire morning and you remember that they told you that you deserved this all the time. And here we are.