The Other Side of Grief

I went to get my eyebrows threaded the other day and it jarred a memory that made me smile. A few summers ago over an outdoor dinner next to the Hudson River, I was flirtatiously trying to convince a man I had the hots for that I wasn’t high maintenance.

“Uh, Nance, you go into the city to have your eyebrows done by a woman you found in Vogue,” he deadpanned. “The jig is up.”

God, I loved that rapport. The memory feels soothing, pleasant even. No residual sadness. No macabre. Clearly I’m coming out the other side of loss.

I know this because I can talk in retrospect now. Over a year after his death, I can admit unequivocally that for roughly half of 2012 I didn’t wear an ounce of makeup. My favorite sweatpants, the ones I won’t be seen in outside of my apartment, are worn thin. The drawstring long gone, they now droop so low on my hips that I look like I listen to hip hop. (I’m so not cool enough for that, as is evidenced by the fact that I use the word ‘cool’).

Something in me feels so strongly about writing this down and sharing it with the masses. Probably because I took readers along on the grief journey when it was fresh and raw (thank you for listening). And then later, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, I offered thoughts on How We Can Be of Comfort to the Grieving based on what I had learned.

The past month or so I’ve begun to feel like Nancy again. There is something about being in a fog of sustained, high-functioning vulnerability that makes you realize this — at every point in time someone in your life is going through something of emotional significance. So, bottom line, we should be much more patient and understanding of people a great deal more of the time.

One of the things I remember so well about the last year is a select few friends on Facebook whose lives were on an amazing upswing. They were in their own fog, the kind that comes with newfound love or blissfully growing their family. The contrast to how I was feeling was so stark that I saw their stories as a little lifeline. Regular updates on how the romance was progressing or what a miracle the new child was.

Real life is all of it, side by side, isn’t it? The person desperately trying to get pregnant mustering the strength to be happy for her friend who is expecting. The woman in the throes of divorce sharing in her brother’s joy at his wedding. The laid off high-fiving the recently promoted. The person in loss cracking a smile at the person in love.

It’s not easy. It’s just the way it is. Sometimes we are going through the motions in our lives. If we’ve cultivated quality relationships, those around us learn how to respect and back off sometimes, nurture and prod other times, as we find our way back.

I can feel my own shift now. The need to indulge sadness with certain songs has dissipated, thoughts of the person who has passed on don’t sting, and lipstick has been making a more regular appearance in the daily routine. But unquestionably there is something more significantly different about me now – a palpable depth, an almost fierce empathy, broadened faith, and heightened urgency to live well. There is also a knowledge of what can be, from profound connection to crushing blow.

Aside from working through loss, last year also brought Sandy, the storm that showed us who was boss (Hint: Not us). Control? Har-dee-har-har. Everything else seems pretty laid back after you see your town under water and your state battered and collectively praying for lights and heat.

Right now, in my tiny pocket of the world, I am going through a major life transition and you know what? I am more comfortable taking risks, focusing on what I want to do instead of what I ‘should’ do and relaxing into what my gut is telling me. Getting knocked around a little has made me more sure-footed. The inevitable anxiety is there, too, but the bouts are brief, overridden by a “what do I have to lose?” mindset and at times even a bit of an eye roll.

I can do this life thing. I can. Full out.

The other day I went to the Macy’s cosmetics counter because I’d run out of foundation. I tried a new powdered one the salesperson recommended and wound up buying it. It feels nice. And it’s easier to apply than the liquid one I had before. Sweet.

High maintenance is back, maybe taken down a fraction of a notch.

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