April is a difficult month for me. My dad passed away in April, three years ago now. And so April is a twisted mess of memories. Memories of poignant moments with my dad and with my family. Traumatic memories as he neared and reached death. Memories of people who were deeply present for me and the lingering pain inflicted by those who were not.
As I share my deepest grief with those I trust most, I hear words of wisdom and sympathy. I have heard most of the words and sentiments before. The words are not trite or cliche (this isn’t a time that I would open myself up to people who would tend towards platitudes), but the words are also not new. I find myself wishing there were something new someone could say to me, something else profound that would give me an unworn place to stand as the waves of grief wash over me.
But reality continues to be reality, what is once true continues to be true, what can’t be known (on this side of heaven) continues to be unknown. There’s not much new I can learn about the grief as I experience it.
What I have realized these past few weeks, however, is that I am learning to recognize the grief (and its symptoms). I know quite a bit about how it affects me, especially how it impacts every area of my daily life. In other words, I’m learning the patterns of when I “can’t even.”
I “can’t even” is one of those colloquial phrases people have started using lately, mostly on the internet. Like all sayings that catch on, some people think it’s really annoying. But I kind of like it. There are plenty of times I hear someone say or see someone post something so ridiculous that I am rendered speechless.
But that’s not really how I mean it here. I mean “can’t even” as in being so emotionally full that I can’t even deal with ordinary parts of life (both life generally and in specific parts of my own life).
When it’s this time of year, my tolerance gets really low. My tolerance for being around people… any people. My tolerance for being in new situations. My tolerance for pushing myself in any sense of the word–to exercise, to clean my house, to respond to e-mails.
So, the one new thing I am learning is to anticipate what I need to do to get through this time. That means doing the bare minimum–essentially, doing my job, and devoting my diminished reserves of energy to time spent with my students. It means that when the idea of stepping foot out of my house makes me want to scream, staying in and doing Pilates in my living room instead of trying to go out to exercise. It means letting myself rest or sleep when I am tired. It means letting go of false “shoulds” even when it means others will be disappointed (or that I will be disappointed in myself).
It’s really hard to let go of those things. When I’m already in a diminished state, it’s really hard to gain the perspective to realize what’s going on with me, much less to shift direction (or to stop momentum in any direction altogether). That’s why I’m writing this now, when I am realizing these patterns, to help me for next time. And I hope in some way my writing it helps you–or helps you to help someone else.