“I couldn’t bear it.”
But you can. You will. You will have to.
You learn how that works, the bearing. How your mind’s first defense is numbness, allowing only sharp bursts of feeling to punch through at intervals.
Your shocked heart, to save itself, bleeds love outward in every direction. You embrace strangers and let them hold you. Crying becomes just another thing that you do, like breathing or sleeping. Then it dries up completely for days. You have no control over any of this.
You learn that the condolences people fumble for, that they find so empty and inadequate, do matter. They are like a thousand little lifesavers that you cling to to keep from sinking.
You watch your mother murmur and smile to the parade of visitors, and hear on endless repeat in your head the sound of her keening from her bedroom. You watch your father, the most impervious man you know, collapse inward on himself.
You catch yourself wanting to look around and say, “Todd, you’re dead! Isn’t that crazy?” so you can both exclaim about how fucked up that is. You think about how scornful he would be of all this moping around, how he would roll his eyes at the flowers and cards and damp tissues. You think about how he would wave off the sentimentality and extract himself from the suffocating hugs.
You stand up at his funeral to speak, wondering how long you have before your legs fold up underneath you, thinking, I am here standing up at my brother’s funeral to speak; and when you open your mouth it is not a wail or a scream or a shrill peal of laughter that comes out, but your own flat and measured voice.
You think, this was not supposed to happen to my family. Not my silly, affectionate family that loves wordplay and puns, that argues philosophy over dinner, that still kisses and hugs goodnight as grown adults. Then you feel instantly selfish, because who should this ever happen to? What kind of family deserves this?
Every morning you wake up and remember again. It is not so much that your heart is broken, but that it breaks, and rebreaks, and rebreaks.
You make yourself leave the house to shop and socialize, to surround yourself with the mundane normality of life, because the distraction is a relief. Your ability to do the necessary conversation and facial expressions surprises you. You feel guilty. You feel guilty for putting on a mask and engaging with the living. You feel guilty for the occasional moments of genuine levity. You feel guilty when the mask slips and you pierce people’s happy, clueless bubbles with your private pain. A dilemma comes with every commonplace social pleasantry: How are you? How’s it going? What are you in town for? You have to lie, or you have to pierce. Again and again. You retreat.
And when the cards and phone calls and visits trail off, you pick up your stone and carry on with the hard work of grieving.
This is how it goes. This fear that you have felt inside yourself maybe from the day you were born, this unspeakable thing that you have pushed away over and over, it happens. It becomes your reality.
And you live through it.