How many times a day do you ask someone that question? How often do you really listen to the answer? When I was in high school a friend of mine when asked, "How are you?" would answer, "You don't really want to know, you are just asking to be polite." And he was right. It's really become more of an automatic thing we say than a real curiosity. If you answer anything other than fine, good, well and you? People don't know what to do with themselves.
I thought of that a lot last week when I would see people and they would ask, "How are you?" I got to the point where I would just tilt my head and give them a half smile. Then they got it. "Oh yeah...maybe not the best question." But I also know that a lot of times when people asked what they were really asking if I was holding up all right. How are you doing right now? Are you okay? Can I get you anything? Those questions were asked as well. Sometimes it was just a change in the inflection. "How are you?" "How are you?" Something that let you know they were really checking in on you right then.
And I don't blame people. When I got off of the plane I went directly to the funeral home to meet my mother and my siblings. Plane landed at noon, the appointment was at one. Just enough time to grab a large iced tea through a drive through and head over. As we sat in the conference room I looked at my two brothers and my sister and I thought, you all look like hell. The skin around my oldest brother's eyes was about the shade of an apple. My sister looked like she might have slept an hour the night before. My middle brother who shares my skin coloring (just this side of glow in the dark pale) looked almost translucent. Just the many faces of grief. I also realized that if they all looked like hell I must also. So you can't blame people for asking, "how are you?" when they see that. And because my mother raised me to not be rude I couldn't really answer, "Really really shitty, and you?" or at least I couldn't in her hearing distance. So I went with the head tilt half smile.
"Nice to meet you." That's another one that I heard a lot. Living out of town I hadn't met my sister's oldest son's wife and her two children yet. I hadn't met the minister that was going to perform my father's service, I hadn't met numerous friends of my parents. So each time we would meet I got the "nice to meet you." And of course I did the same. As I was leaving a group or they were leaving, "Nice to meet you." But it wasn't really. Every time I would meet someone I knew the only reason I was meeting them right then it was because Dad was dead. So it wasn't nice. But you still say it. Habits.
"Nice to see you again." There was that one as well. Growing up in Albuquerque and growing up in the church where Dad's service was held I saw a lot of people that I hadn't seen in years. Over twenty for most of them. And often it was, "Nice to see you again." Though most of the people that I knew, and that knew Dad would say, "Nice to see you again, I just wish it was under better circumstances." Me too...me too.
But back to How are you? I will let you all know.
Better. Last week was horrible. This week is better. I had foolishly convinced myself through the years that it wouldn't be as horrible as this when Mom or Dad died. After all I left home at 18 and have only lived in Albuquerque for 2 1/2 years since then. Most of my life I have lived away from home. I only visit every few years. When they were in better health they would visit once a year, but even that has tapered off recently. So you sort of tell yourself that yes, you know you will miss them, but it won't be that bad. Trust me, it's that bad.
On the plane from Salt Lake to Albuquerque it hit me that Dad wasn't going to be there when I went to my folk's house. That from now on it was my Mom's house. That was it. No hug from Dad. No Ayup...no Oh goody...no catching him turning off his hearing aids at family dinners. No more Dad. And I lost it. I realized that though I didn't see my dad daily or even yearly, I still took great comfort in the fact that he was there. He and my mom were still there. Now it's just my mom. And I feel her loneliness like an ache (58 years married) and I feel my siblings loss as well as my own. It's horrible. But it's better than last week. And it will keep getting better, except for the days where it's worse.
I am sleeping. Which is odd for a chronic insomniac. However I don't drift off to sleep. I slam into it like a wall. One minute I am awake the next asleep. Last night for instance I remember turning off my bedside light while Brent was finishing getting ready for bed and the next thing I remember I startled myself awake (don't you hate when you do that?) and it was dark, Brent was asleep and I have no idea how long I had been out. I am tired at odd times during the day. But that is better than last week as well when it seemed like staying awake at all was a chore.
I have stopped holding myself together. I was literally holding myself together last week. Arms wrapped around myself so tightly my forearms actually got sore. My chiropractor and my massage therapist both had their work cut out for them at the end of last week trying to unwind that mess. But now I go for long stretches where my arms are in my lap, or at my sides. Not always, I still catch myself holding on every once in awhile, but it's better.
I can say the words, "My father died recently" without bursting into the ugly cry. I couldn't do that last week. Now I just mist up a bit and then can reign it back in.
I can tell inappropriate jokes about it now. Trust me, this is a big healing step for me. If I didn't have dark humor I wouldn't have much humor at all. The first time I could use, "You have to be nice to me, my dad just died" in a darkly comic way I knew I was going to be okay. Judge me if you must...but it is how I am. You asked after all...
And I am writing about it. And tomorrow or the next day I will write about something else. And that will be a good thing. I have stories to tell about our trip to Tennessee and they were very funny when they were in my head before. I am hoping to dredge them back out. I have pictures to post. I have things to deal with. I have chores, I have errands, I have a life to lead.
So I guess that's how I am. I am moving forward. I am better. I am healing. Thanks for asking. How are you?