Monday, August 10, 2015

Explosions and Aftershocks

The title of this post sounds like a Michael Bay movie. It’s not. But if you are so inclined, imagine cars blowing up as you read this post.

It happened in the middle of a drive thru at El Pollo Loco. One second I was pondering the chicken verses pollo bowl.

The next second I was a mess.

Right there in the drive thru. I had a pain in my chest, my eyes burned, I started to cry and I remembered why I wasn’t okay.

And that is how it happens sometimes.

One minute you are fine, the next you are not.

For me, it was remembering a mundane task I used to do with someone I really cared about. And I realized I would never be doing that with them again. Ever. 

The memory punched me in the gut and then left me alone in the drive thru.

And it wasn’t just the grief that hit me in that moment. It was the feeling that I was somehow not doing it properly. That I was failing at grief. 

Whether we want to admit it or not, we put limits on people’s timelines to grieve. And when they have passed that arbitrary limit, we subtly or not so subtly remind them that their allotted time expired.

Which must mean there are a lot of people out there crying in drive thrus.

I thought I had been doing well. I was not holding things back. I had processed a lot. Cried a lot. Mourned a lot. It felt like it was time to move on. I even started to joke and dance and laugh again. I was doing everything I was supposed to do to heal.

I thought I was doing okay. And of course, I was not.

And it happens just like that. You are fine and then you are not.

Grief hits you without warning, rhyme or reason.

And it finds you in places you don’t expect.

You may be going about your day. In the grocery line at the store. At work. At school. Brushing your teeth. Trying to do something ordinary. Trying to make it through a familiar task. Trying very hard to pretend everything is normal. 

Which it isn’t.

I live in California now and am terrified of earthquakes. (Please don’t get me started on the would I rather be in a tornado/earthquake than vice versa debate.)

And something that I learned about earthquakes is that they are deadly. Real deadly. They literally rip the world apart.

And it happens to people too. Our lives get ripped apart by events and change our worlds.  

And leave us in a crumpled mess.

But you know what is sometimes more deadly then the actually earthquakes?


And they happen anytime. Anywhere. 

Same is true for grief.

You remember a silly memory. You smell a familiar smell. A song comes on the radio. Someone who looks similar walks by. Whatever the trigger, it happens.

Aftershocks: moments that catch us off guard and stop us in our tracks. 

Moments that jolt us back to the time when we were going about our day and we blinked and then the life we knew was gone.

What are we supposed to do?

The earthquake manuals tell us to duck, cover and hold on for dear life. Ride the waves of emotion. Feel the feelings. And when the shaking stops, pick yourself off and keep going. 

But beware of moving too fast.

You know that scene in a movie where someone is obviously ill or wounded. They insist they are okay and they the stand up and immediately either fall over or faint?

It is comedic relief usually. We laugh at the person who insists they are fine when they are clearly not.  I wish it were funnier in real life.

It’s not.

As my dear friend says, “Grief is terribly inconvenient.” 

Moving on too fast from pain is like standing up to fast when you have just given a lot of blood.

You are going to fall back down.

You just are.

And you have to take a few steps back again before you can go forward.

Aftershocks. Our worlds keep getting ripped apart. 

But so do other things.

Something else happened to me a few days after my incident at the Loco.

I was sitting in my car again. Listening to music. (I won’t tell you the song because it was too embarrassing. Think 80s)

And I started to cry again. Not because I was sad, but because I was so overcome with the beauty of the song. I felt like I heard it for the first time. I tilted my head back and smiled and laughed and moved in ways that would definitely catch the eyes of passing drivers.

Something else happens when we wade through the mucky waters of grief. Not sit in the sulk swamp. Or go through it walking backwards. Or try to run through it and fall flat on our face. Or pretend it never happened. Or stand up too fast.

No, I mean when you slog it out. Taking the steps to walk through it.

Every once in awhile your heart will explode.

Sometime with grief, sometime with joy.

This surprised me. In the same way I wasn’t expecting chicken to make me cry, I also wasn’t expecting music to make me weep.

But that is exactly what happened.

Sitting in the car again. Listening to a song that I loved.

I was floored at how much I loved it. I mean. I really loved it.

The heart, when broken, expands, and with it the capacity to love and to feel things more deeply. 

It blows itself wide open if you let it.

It explodes.

You can cry and scream and ache and laugh and move and smile and smirk and dance and bleed and tilt your head back.

You can see how awesome the moon looks, or the waves feel or a symphony sounds.

You can find it in the silence.

And love gets better too.

Someone the other day was telling me about their own struggles. I listened better. I cared deeper. My heart was drawn in. I was with them.

I think our hearts break to make room for more love.

I know that is Hallmark cheesy. I know it.  But it is true.

To expand, some things need to break. And shake. And get ripped apart. And explode.

And Michael Bay has nothing on that.

And if I can take any comfort in these awful aftershocks it is this.

To quote Oscar Wilde: “ We are all lying in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

And they are beautiful. 

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