Updated: Jan 10, 2020
When did we decide that being honest about our feelings was unforgivable? With ourselves, with others ... why are we so threatened when someone expresses an emotion other than the plastic brand of happiness we've all been sold as the "American dream"?
Since I lost Ev, I have people constantly telling me how to feel. I should feel better, I should feel grateful, I should feel happy. If not now, then someday. These are the emotional goals I've been given: better, grateful, happy. This is within the spectrum of what makes others comfortable.
I definitely should not feel offended, or hurt, or angry. I can be sad, within reason. Depressed is taking it too far, there's a pill for that. Melancholy is more tolerable. Disappointment, sorrow, shame, despair—well, that's just plain awkward. Rage is borderline criminal. And fear ... fear is the one that hollows out our insides and nests there against our will. It's the one no one wants to admit to.
My emotional landscape has never been a monoculture. But I realize how much I was trying to swallow the one-feeling-fits-all prototype before my daughter died, before my heart was ripped from my chest and disassembled before my eyes. Now, all I do is feel all day long. A hundred thousand shades of feeling. A kaleidoscope of sharp and pointy emotions all trying to edge each other out, vying for my constant attention, leaving me nauseous and dazed. And none of them are on the "nice" list.
But every single one is a remnant of us, of she and I, of who we were together. Every single one is a reverberation of her life and my love for her. They are priceless to me because they are the bridge between her heart and mine. I cannot speak to her and have her speak back. I cannot hold her, stroke her hair, look her in the eye. I don't get to relate to my daughter in the ways I once did, in the ways people all over the planet take for granted as they do with their living children. When you are mother to a dead child, you relate to them through memory, through emotion. I cannot reach out and touch Evelyn, but I can feel the vacancy within me where she was, and that draws out the longing, and the longing brings the sorrow, and the sorrow turns into the rage, and the rage begets confusion, and on and on they go in an endless spiral spun between us.
That's why I can't reject any of the emotions this grief has born in me. When you ask me to feel better instead of bad, to feel grateful instead of angry, to feel happy instead of devastated, you are asking me to reject the fabric of being my daughter and I wove together. You are asking me to reject who she was and how she lived and how that life touched this world and changed me irrevocably. You are asking me to shut pieces of her—pieces of us—out. The only pieces I have left. I will never, never do that.
It's not that I don't feel good, or grateful, or even happy. But I will never feel only good, or grateful, or happy again. And the truth is, I never really did and neither do you. But we don't admit to that. We pretend we are only the bits we like, shiny like new pennies, and we repress the rest, the misshapen, gangly parts that don't play nice with others. But I don't have the luxury of pretending anymore. I am basically a walking open wound. I am only the misshapen, gangly parts now. The rest was blown away when I stepped into her room on a Wednesday morning in August and found her gone.
You can't imagine the self control it takes not to shriek at people, not to snarl like a cornered cat, feral and angry at the world for existing. They think they're helping has become my mantra. And it's not your fault that you don't know what it is, what it really is, to have your soul crushed inside of you like flower petals through a meat grinder, to have demands made of you when you're two beats away from sucking on a tailpipe, to have people lob their opinions and expectations and misguided advice at you like you're some kind of public shooting range. All while your heart bleeds out and your fractured mind reels and your body curls in on itself.
Please, please don't tell anyone anywhere how to feel ever. Emotions are not something we can control, only choices. Emotions are not the enemy. They have a purpose, a function—one you'll never learn if you don't give them room to breathe, all of them. But especially don't dictate to a bereaved mother what her heart is allowed to say to her as it tries desperately to hold on to the child she just lost. Every feeling she has is a vital thread in the cord that connects her to her child. She will not unravel that cord to suit you, and it is unthinkable that you would ask her to.