Grieving is a little like getting and staying sober; there are moments you think the worst is behind you, but then the breeze blows a little different and hits your face just right and you’re back in the trenches, wondering what hit you and why it had to hurt so hard. And spring is a tough time of year for me; it’s the loss of my grandmother—12 years on April 14—and the memories of a burgeoning romance with Jack and there are the blooms on the trees and lovers who feel more compelled to walk hand-in-hand as it’s less important to bundle up and keep your love bundled up with you, keeping things warm and toasty. Love in the winter is inside work, more hot cocoa and streaming classic B&W films on Netflix, less picnics on the lakefront and bike rides and first kisses that resist fading into obscurity less easily than the last ones.
And even though the weather in Chicago is erratic, at best, these days, spring is upon us and I’m struck both by the astringency of loss and a profound awareness that this is as good as it gets today. It was better in the past and—grace willing—it’ll be better some day soon or late, but today it’s the presence of an absence of a shape that keeps morphing into whatever I can find that seems will fit: food, sleep, movies, television, kitty snuggles, sugar, caffeine, magnesium tablets, ice-water, sun-tea, isolation, a feigned happiness. No matter how far I come along—in sobriety, in missing Jack, in wanting my Gammy—it’s always a sucker punch that leaves me wondering why it isn’t far enough. I’m acutely aware the things I’ve lost are never coming back and I don’t feel the need to bargain or offer up a big “fuck you!” to the universe, but I am still left wondering Why me?
The truth is that it doesn’t matter why it’s me. All that matters is that I keep moving forward, finding the courage and grace and a dram of dignity to keep breathing and conscientiously putting one foot in front of the other. Some days moving forward can also mean treading water; when dealing with grief, even millimeters count. Today’s one of those days I’m dealing in millimeters, staying in bed most of the day watching The United States of Tara—the Neil character (played by my recent obsession, Patton Oswalt, whose name itself has always conjured up images of a purple Nick Jr. octopus) reminds me of Jack so much I’m devastated each time he leaves the screen—and eating carefully portioned junk food and listening to the saddest album I own: a double LP of Joan Baez singing Bob Dylan songs. Because if that romance could end after such beauty put into the universe, then I can take things less personally. People have loved more deeply and lost more profoundly than I have—obviously, given the short time Jack and I had together—and have continued to move forward, some by millimeters and others by miles, and managed to be the people they were meant to be, no longer necessarily devastated by loss but definitely carrying the marks of that pain. At some point, I think, the marks are there to remind us how strong we are and how much we were loved and were able to love back. Yet: some days, love really is just a four-letter word.