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I felt like I was trying to figure out how to manage life with a fractured soul and a damaged mind. I wasn’t me anymore and it seemed that me wasn’t coming back. That incredibly high-octane woman I’d been, the one who’d gotten a PhD at age 24, who had never had to write down a message or a calendar event her whole life, the woman who’d raised five kids while building a national writing career — she was gone. My brain was mush. I couldn’t remember things that happened ten seconds ago, let alone ten years ago. I felt emotionally unstable, a sensation that had never happened to me before, and was my new constant. This is why I wanted so much to “get through” the grief, so I could go back to being me. Only that never has ended up happening.

Maybe it’s unfair to blame a lot of these problems on grief, but they have persisted since Mercy’s death. The inability to remember my schedule, forgetting things on the grocery list, losing names and faces of people I once would have recalled instantly, the easy ability to memorize quotes, even the ability to remember my own children’s most hated foods. All of those things are gone now. So when I say I’m a broken person, that’s why. Losing an arm seemed like it would have been easier than all of that. All the things I’d relied on all my life to make me superwoman left with Mercy’s death. And what did I get in the place of all that?

Compassion to the point of being paralyzed with shared pain.

Deep insecurities about God, my own mothering, and the afterlife.

Uncertainty about any truths I’ve ever known or thought I knew.

Patience to sit in silence.

The ability to not do anything for long stretches of time.

In some ways, I value these things. But old Mette didn’t value them. She was resentful of them being thrust upon her. She wanted herself back. Of course she did. She had done so many great things.

But old Mette was snowed in by grief and it was just so hard to explain it to anyone. She, who had always had the words for things, was often unable to explain any of this except in ways that were offensive to her own tribe. Curse words, mostly. Once upon a time, I’d been one of those people who subscribed to the idea that if you cursed a lot, it was because you didn’t have a big enough vocabulary to express yourself in other ways. And also that you were inappropriately angry about a whole series of things you should have better control over.

What new Mette says to that now: Fuck it!

Sometimes people say to me, well at least you didn’t give up.

But the point here is that I did give up. Over and over again. I gave up on trying to make myself back into the person I had been. I give up every day on doing all the things I used to be able to do. I give up on judging myself for that. And this is beautiful and human of me, this giving up.

The point here isn’t to take out our wounds and measure them to see whose is worse. The point is that every loss is unique. Every person will deal with it in their own way. And the idea that we point to certain people and say — oh, look how they’re dealing with their loss so well? That tells us less about the person dealing with the loss and more about the person pointing. And those who judge people who “deal well with loss” according to their own measures of what is useful to them and what makes them less uncomfortable, well, there is a lot of selfishness in that.

If you think grieving people are selfish, yes, they are. If you’re one of those selfish grieving people. Congratulations! You won the lottery! You get permission to forever be changed, to not be yourself, to not be good anymore.

You get to complain about stupid things. You get to slow down and be stupid for a little while. You get to not make sense of the world anymore. And you also get to tell people to mind their own business and that they don’t understand shit about what you’re going through.

Swear.

Be angry.

Shut the door or slam down the phone.

Start books and don’t finish them.

Shout at the television.

Get too much sleep.

Drink and cry too much to make other people comfortable.

Live and hate that you’re still living.

Written by

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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