"How are you doing?"
"My condolences on your loss"
"I'm so sorry for your loss"
"My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family"
Well intentioned, and heartfelt phrases are said in my direction about 50 times a day at this point. They are as required a social contract as "Hello" and "How are you?" Every single one that comes builds me up, and improves my mood. What I can't describe, and what I'm acutely aware of, however, is the weariness with which I respond to these sentiments. When my father passed away, I found myself trying to respond to each outreach personally and individually, because I wanted everyone to know how much I appreciate their words. This became impossible very quickly, and so I prepared a list of stock phrases that I hand out now like candies. They are wearisome, they are cumbersome, and I hate the obligatory exchange it has become.
"Thank you, I really appreciate that" has become my standard reply. Last night while talking with a close friend, what was so refreshing was that we had a great conversation without it ever coming up. When I mentioned offhandedly that I had a lot of things on my brain, he responded with "I know that life," followed by an awkward pause, and "though not exactly. You know, my condolences, and all that." It was so honest, and it was so real. All I could do was laugh, and laugh I did, it was one of the most cathartic exchanges possible. I just want real interaction, and real conversation. People underestimate the power of laughter. You don't need to handle me with kid gloves.
So how am I?
"I'm a wreck, but I'm okay" is the closest I've been able to come to explaining where I'm at. People are incredulous at my lack of collapse. The shock they express that I can be grieving and be fully functional is weighing heavily on my mind. If you ever met my father, the first thing you learned was that no matter what he was going through, he was going to stay proactive, and he was going to keep living his life, keep accomplishing things every day. I am my father's son, and so I approach my life the exact same way. I've thrown myself into previously committed projects, I've worked on my father's estate, I go through his house planning the next steps, and I reach out to people when I need it.
In the aftermath of sad events there is a protective feeling that comes over people to ensure the sanity and happiness of those affected. The problem is that there is a weariness associated with dealing with those instincts. When 300 people are trying to protect me, I don't have time to protect myself, I can only worry about their worrying of me. It's counterproductive and exhausting. I'm here to tell you that I am the master of my own happiness. Happiness is a frame of mind. I could wallow, and grieve, and mope, and I'd be fully justified in those reactions. I would also not be truthful to myself or my father in doing so. So instead I am forging ahead. I have my bad moments, and in those moments I reach out to someone to help me get back up.
People feel helpless in these situations, I understand that. I think that is a noble feeling, because it implies the help they wish to give to those going through bad times. However I think that feeling of helplessness is important to acknowledge, because the following sentence is one of the hardest ones I have to respond to multiple times a day, "I wish I could help" or "I don't know how to help", or the worst "I just feel completely useless in this situation."
You can't actively help, and that's okay. There's no solution to this situation. My father passed away barely over a week ago, and the only way to heal that is time. Even then it's something that I'm sure will never go away. Please don't try to make it go away, that feeling is my connection to Dad. That anguish fuels me to be better every day, to keep achieving, to keep pushing onwards. That's why I haven't collapsed, that's why I'm fully functional, and that's why I'll continue to answer "I'm a wreck, but I'm okay."
Because I am okay, really.
ADDENDUM: I received a very poignant text from a friend of mine after he read this in which he made a very important point, and he's right, so I'm adding it here. There are hundreds of people coping with my father's passing in their own way, not just myself and my family, and their grief is just as real and just as important as mine:
"The only other thing I’ll say is remember that those 300 people trying to protect you are also grieving themselves, and that’s part of the reason they feel the need to be there for you, helping others process grief helps us process our own."
Photo by Danny Bristoll
(fac·to·tum | \ fak-ˈtō-təm) noun - a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities
I find myself hilarious, and I use this blog to stroke my own ego. Thanks for indulging me.