Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Screen

I feel so fucking damaged.

That is all I keep thinking this week. It is a refrain. Damaged. So fucking damaged.

A very close friend said she had to step away from our friendship this week. I am left reeling, confused, unsure of what I did. When you first alienate someone with your grief, you say, "Perhaps it is about them." You invent stories about their decision and their issues. Then the second, then the third. And you have to start saying, "What am I doing here? How am I pushing these people away?" I am an analytical sort. I like to tinker, take things apart, and then put them back together. I have done this with my psyche, for years. And yet, this flummoxes me. I read my words, my actions, myself, and I see a selfish person, yes. A self-involved person. Someone who takes space when I need it, who asks for a friend when I need that. A year of narcissism and grief. Lucy's year. But I listened to others talk of their lives, their marriages, their troubles with success, too. This year, I have never tried to hurt a friend, never been insincere or unkind. I have not been malicious. But I recognize, there are far more ways to hurt someone than on purpose.

Sometimes I think grief is a filter for everyone's best and worst attributes. At times, I have been at peace with the death of my child, framing myself amongst a long list of suffering and bereaved mothers, immune to the "why" questions. Other times, I feel so picked on by the universe. I feel selected and punished. This grief has eradicated my brain to mouth plumbing catch. I am not afraid of alienating someone now with my grief, because I already see them as so very different than me. So I just put it out there most days. "I am sad today. Sad because my daughter is dead." I am not afraid to disagree with someone who tries to inform me of issues around loss when they themselves have not lost a child. I grasp the immediacy of my emotions, because something about them feels important now.

When others walk under this lens, it also exposes a deep part of themselves. Like airport full-body scans, the roll of birthing fat tucked under your "Not Your Daughter" jeans becomes evident to the person behind the other side of the monitor. That screen is suddenly there, whether you like it or not, when your child dies.

"Pay no attention to the man behind the screen." It scrawls across the projection people put out into the world, like the metatext of daily life.

Now, you are that man: the screener. At first, you see friends slink away, say nothing, not even a bloody "I'm sorry." You question why they aren't there. And then you notice the frame of the screen. Hidden carefully behind irreverent jokes and witty charms, you suddenly realize how afraid that person is of death and of losing their loved one. That their lack of communication isn't about you, but about them and their fear. Like the naked screen, you see all their actions, their bravado, their false arrogance, as their carefully constructed ruse to hide the total normal fear of their world crashing around them.

This was not my friend.

Yes, we have had a relationship fraught with drama. After Lucy died, months after our friendship fell apart, she came back into my life. She wrote me a letter of apology. She told me how much she wanted to grieve with me. She was not afraid, she said, of this emotion. It has been almost a year since I received that letter. It took me a while to open back up to her. Our break-up came at a bad time--my pregnancy with Lucy, a car-accident that left me with a broken collarbone and absolute fear of the mortality of my child. I blamed her, irrationally and unwittingly, on Lucy's death. The stress and strife of our friendship breaking down, and yet, the truth is, she was always one of those people with whom I could completely open up and be honest. She looked at my ugliest emotions and said they were beautiful. Slowly, I began trusting she was here, not reading my grief through her lens, but trying to love me and support me. To be my friend in a way she could not be months earlier. When I looked at her through the screen, she looked beautifully unadorned.

That screen, the full-body scan screen, it shows us so much: narcissism, resentments, grief-mongering, bravery, kindness, compassion, love. That she is walking away now feels so frightening. Part of my hesitation in letting her into my life again in the spring after Lucy died was that I couldn't bear another loss. I had lost this friend in the fall, then my father-in-law, then my daughter, then my abuelita. One more loss, I thought, would be it. If she was here, and then our friendship suffered the same fate again, I'm not sure what it would do to my trust, my vulnerability, my ability to be a good friend to anyone. I already knew what it was like to lose her once. Terribly painful and difficult, not just for me, but for my husband who endured my sleeplessness and crying.

Sometimes when your worst fears are realized, you are left in a place of emancipation: freedom from the fear of losing your closest friends. Here I am. But what is left of me? Where once I was an exposed heart, absorbing the suffering of others; suddenly I am a person with a heart two sizes too small.

I try desperately hard to not write about people who read this space, even though it can mean leaving out large, important parts of my life. She used to read here. And I feel terrible writing of this, though I do not think she has read my blog in a long time. I am still going to omit the details of our exchange. I can only say that I have never felt so gravely misunderstood.  I wanted to see her simply naked on that screen, and yet, I cannot trust that what I saw, or now see, is the truth of our friendship.

I am reminded of this quote:
This is where tenderness comes in. When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut doors and feel resentful or we can touch on that throbbing quality.... There is definitely something tender and throbbing about groundlessness.

Pema Chödrön
Nothing is working. Things are shaky. I feel groundless, and yet, today, somewhat free, tender and throbbing. Sometimes someone's lack of trust has nothing to do with your trustworthiness. For now, I am feeling on the verge of something great, a revelation of importance. I have set up a mirror on the other side of the screen, trying to find my hidden bombs.


  1. I am so sorry to hear about your friend. I have noticed that my grief has changed many of my friendships in both positive and negative ways. I too feel damaged and just yesterday I was saying in my head that I felt broken.

    Thanks for sharing that quote. I enjoy reading articles that Pema has written. xx

  2. just sending hugs your way.

    met a man at a grief conference once. we talked about this kind of thing. he said simply, "grief will change your address book for sure." not sure it is really narcissism as much as it is actualizing who we are in the wake of grief.

    and often when people see that i really am a woman with death at her kitchen table - always - they get scared. even the people who've been around awhile. it's like they thought "time will heal all wounds" and expected if they hung around a year or so, eventually, they'd come to lunch and death wouldn't be sitting in the chair across from them. they just had no concept of truly living with death for the rest of your life.

    yes, tenderness is called for. tender with self that hurts afterward. tender with thoughts for them and gently as possible letting them go their way. it is one of the losses upon loss that i think is minimized. people don't realize that we deal with this long term. the abyss between "wanted" and "is". anyway...

  3. I like what Kara above said about the address book: ain't that the truth.

    The problem with grief is: it changes you for sure, but often shifts. You can feel one thing for a few months, and then another, and then something completely different. And when you emerge a year or two (or three) later with grief "integrated" into who you are and your daily life, something extremely similar yet a bit altered -- like a Picasso, I like to think -- from what you were. You know, the eyes kinda moved down and the nose over.

    And I've found the friends I've kept are the ones who can adapt to these shifts and respond. I'm not saying it's easy, but it can be done and there are people out there who make it seem effortless. And I've decided these are the people I want to spend my time with, not the people who are still three shifts behind, getting frustrated and fed up with who I am now and even what happened in the first place. It's hard enough to pull myself forward without having to pull these people along with me.

    I hope you have others who can help you fill this void and make you less lonely, Angie. It's a crappy side effect to this grief business, really.

  4. There are so very few people out there who can really let the focus be off of themselves. Grief really shows that.

    I'm sorry, Angie. This sucks.

  5. I am so sorry Angie. I am sending you love.

  6. Oh Angie, I'm sorry. So sorry.

  7. my address book has changed for sure. i've lost many friends who weren't able to be there and i've had to let go of. loss upon loss. and losing a good friend, who you've opened your heart up to, that is painful. yet it sounds like you are growing and learning in your experience of this groundlessness and that is a gift.


  8. oops...that last comment was from me...

  9. Great post. People are so scared of their shit, that it's hard for them to deal with another person's. That is so true. I so appreciate you are going through this, as I am too. I am trying not to let fear get in the way of the work I am doing through grief. It is shaky, it is groundless, it is not here, not there. I do know that what we have is here and now, and to deal with what is... What a quote from Pema Chodron!

  10. So sorry Angie.

    Someone said to me once "It's not about you Soph, it's about them" and I think about this a lot. I think its probably true in this case too.

    I'm sorry that you're hurting. When people who have been there for you suddenly aren't it sucks.

  11. I'm sorry you're going through this - especially after making the decision to let someone back into your life.

    I've been struggling with the friend thing. I know they don't say anything because they don't understand but I think if they can't even make an effort to approach the subject, why bother spending time with them. It's going to be a fake encounter.

    Someone asked me the other day 'So what've you been up to?' like I'm just on holiday.

    It's coming up 3 months and I sense some 'friends' becoming inpatient and not understanding that I'm still apprehensive about going out. Not understanding that there's not much else in my life except my grief. Wanting me 'back to normal'.

    Again, I'm sorry.

  12. Luckily, I'd already burnt my bridges and my address book long before any of it happened.

    Luckily for me, I mean. But also, I suppose, luckily for them.

  13. I guess I don't deal well with "hurt" I move right to anger and feel that one simply must be better off without a friend like this.

  14. I too loved Kara's comment. My address book is drastically altered and I too have death sitting at my dinner table. I know some are perplexed by that, even though it has been more than a year now.
    I have a post just like this I could write. But I don't have the balls. My friend in question does still read my blog, I believe, so I just can't do it. I want to email her as well, but I can't seem to put my fingers to the keys. I know if I did though, I might not stop and the words might not be pretty. But then I think, what's the point anyway? I've been banging my head up against a brick wall for months on end. Some people just don't get it. And never will. Sounds like your friend doesn't get it either. And I guess can you blame them? If they haven't lived this hell, how could they possibly know.
    Lucky them.
    Love you, Ang.

  15. I'm sorry about your friend and I know where you are coming from here. Kenny and I were talking about moods and happiness etc. just this morning and he said, "Linds, I think you've just had so much crazy, bad shit happen in your life, that it takes a lot to get you terribly happy or terribly sad. You walk around kind of blah."

  16. Yup, my address book is looking a little on the skinny side these days (That is such a lovely description Kara) and I also find myself wondering what I did, uncertain.

    I'm so sorry Angie. It seems so unfair, that there should be a loss like this compounding your grief.

    Here's to shakiness, groundlessness and tenderness. Perhaps they are just necessary accompaniments to one another? x

  17. i am sorry that this has happened for you. Makes me sad to read it. You just don't need that. Sending you love xx

  18. Jeez that is the last thing you need. Relationships are such a struggle in this baby loss world. There has been more friction in the last 8 months of my life than ever before. I get it.
    Hugs to you xxoo

  19. I read this first thing this morning, and I've thought about it and you all day, and I'm still trying to come up with an answer. Something, anything.

    and I think that we both know the truth - there's nothing to say.

    I'm sorry. You deserved better.

  20. ((hugs))
    I cannot understand, I cannot explain either. It has sometimes made me so angry, these so-called friends. It had made me look harder in the mirror, questioned myself harder, beat myself up, fantasized about beating them up.
    In the end, I just keep reminding myself, nothing is permanent, nothing is permanent.
    I am sorry you had to go through this, Angie. Much love to you. xo

  21. I love this - "grief will change your address book for sure." It's true. It definitely did for me. I lost someone who I was so close to purely because neither one of us could get out from under our own grief (her father died the day before I lost one of boys) and now, we can't reconnect. C is in a different place.

    But in the interest of trying to fulfill my resolution, I'm going to be positive and say this, grief changed my address book in a good way too. I have coffee every Friday with someone I met because our blogs and our boys. As much as I mourn the loss of my old friend, I cherish this new relationship so much.

    It's also made the people who chose to stick out our friendship that much more valuable and it's made me look at their character in terms of our interactions during this time. I often wonder, was this relationship with C really what I thought it was? Is that narcissism to think that I need a person to contribute something meaningful to our relationship and right now, I'm going to take more than I can give? I don't know. I don't know if that makes sense or not. It's hurt me to lose my relationship with C but I wonder, before I lost the boys, had I already lost C and just didn't know it and now I'm so self-involved that I've come to the realization that C hasn't been there for me in a while?

  22. I am so terribly sorry. Sending you peace.


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