Grief and the B word
Please stop asking me if I'm getting better.
We measure a lot of things without leaving room for grey areas or middle ground or time. Grief is one of those things, often measured in a way that feels most comfortable for the people who aren't dealing with it: a forward-moving period of time with clear steps that eventually, hopefully has a clear end point.
Many people expect that, like with any other emotion, feeling, or reaction, grief will fade. We'll move on, and eventually it will pass so that we're "better" or "over it". But that's not always the case.
Conversations about "progress" or how I'm moving through my grief can make things even more isolating and overwhelming. Sometimes these questions pressure me to blurt out things like, "Oh goooood! I'm doing really good!" Or, "Yeah, yeah I'm going to counselling, so I'm getting better." when it's just not true.
The biggest question that this question and language makes me ask is: What does "better" even look like? If I could answer that question, what would I be measuring my answer on? I expect that I'll never feel "good" about my mom's death long-term, but does "better" exist? Does better mean not crying, crying less, or crying and being okay with it? Does better mean "accepting" my mom's death or "acknowledging" my mom's death? Does better mean having more good days than bad days? Is "getting better" something I should work on by myself or through therapy? And should I even be worrying about "getting better" right now?
Just a few scenarios to think twice about, and what to consider when it comes to how you ask what you ask:
I've been asked: "Are you feeling better?"
But when someone is grieving, the answer can be: "I dunno, maybe?" "No..." or straight up, "Dude, nah! My health is on a rollercoaster, my brain feels like a deflated balloon, I have moments where I cry, then minutes later I just want to run down the street and scream. Yesterday was hard, today I'm maybe at liiike 20%, a week ago I'm pretty sure I was at 100% because something really good happened... but now I'm back to a solid 3/10......"
Unfortunately, that puts both of us in a sticky situation. I've found myself saying "No," and feeling shame about not moving on; feeling pressure to feel better so that other people around me don't have to deal with my grief; feeling like I'm better off saying "Yes," because... it's been a while, hasn't it? And I've found the person asking can be super weirded out by that honesty, because they were just asking to ask; or they scramble to find good advice off the cuff because if I'm not better, they feel responsible for helping me get there.
I've also been asked: "Are you getting better or worse?" But when you're grieving, the answer can be: "Yesterday was better than the day before, but today is the worst I've been in months."
"How are you feeling today?" or something like "Coffee? Just wanna check in, tell me what's been hard." can often take a lot of the pressure off.
For my own situation, this is the kind of stuff that lets me sigh in relief. I legit do not know how to tell people how I'm feeling sometimes! Some days I'm not *better* but I am *managing*, and that has to be enough. And most days, it just helps to know that someone wants to listen and not judge, try to advise, or shy away from the hard stuff.
The most helpful thing I've realized — through lots of trial and error having these interactions and conversations — is that grief is not a problem > solution situation. It's often treated this way: as something to set goals for, and go to therapy for, and overcome, so that we can just move through it and be on the other side. But that's rarely how it works.
When you're grieving, you've got enough work to do to keep it together, take care of yourself, and take care of your family or friends, let alone figure out how you're going to overcome something that you've never had to face before!
If you're helping someone through this ^ situation, just consider what you can offer them other than advice or a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe there isn't a light yet, so don't feel like you need to turn it on. Just be there for the dark days or the hard times, because that's about as far ahead as some of us can plan for right now. And that's okay.