The sadness didn’t come today. Grief surprises me every week — what are you, I ask out loud, as I lie on my back, surrounded by flickering candles, in my otherwise dark home office. I can feel my grief in the space with me, but I cannot pinpoint what exactly it is, cannot create a schema of the experience to file away in my brain. That’s part of what makes living with grief so hideous: the wild unknowing of it all.
But today is a strange calm sensation and I am grateful.
I’d intended to take a bath with my grief. Depending on how close we are or how closely you read the footnote at the end of last week’s column, you’ll know that I’m not the biggest fan of soaking in the tub. So many of my friends luxuriate in the bath: the heat soothes their muscles, the bubbles bring them joy, the entire experience creates a relaxed atmosphere. After my dad died, the only thing my friends gifted me more than flowers and food was bath and spa products: bath salts, bubble bath, bath bombs, scented soap, face masks, foot soaks, candles… my housemate and I cleared out a drawer in the bathroom that had previously been for communal odds and ends because I had so many new self-care related products and nowhere to store them all. The grief spa drawer, I joked. I understood my friends wanted to take care of me and they thought a good way to do that was to encourage my self-care. I understood that many people perceived baths to be a great form of self-care. Honestly, I just always get too hot or too bored.
I really meant to go through with it tonight, to run myself a bath and stew in the warm water with my grief, to see if I could maybe finally get into baths in the same way everyone else in my life is into baths, but at the last minute I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to take a bath. Then, something wonderful: I realized I simply did not have to take a bath if I didn’t want to. So I did not!
What can I do that is kind of like taking a bath but different, I thought to myself. I wanted to exist with my grief in my body, not so much in my mind. Part of my goal in these exercises, I am slowly learning, is to get away from my brain. I don’t want to think so much, I don’t want to worry so much. I just want to be. I want to feel grief prickle at my skin, course through my veins, wash over my entire nervous system. I want to release my thoughts and settle into embodiment. I want to really experience my grief, not simply formulate pretty sentences about experiencing my grief.
Last week I made myself a list of small kind things I can do when I’m feeling terrible. One item on the list is “lie on the floor.” Another item on the list is “light a candle.” Lying on the floor is sort of like taking a bath, except I actually want to lie on the floor, I thought, and that’s how I ended up cocooned in my pink velvet comforter, flat on my back against the cool hardwood, staring at the flickering shadows on the ceiling produced by the candles’ flames, feeling oddly calm with my grief. My body temperature was so well regulated; I was so relieved not to be in a bathtub.
It felt nice to have said no, even if only to myself. It was helpful to remember that I can choose what does and does not make me feel good even at a time when I feel almost exclusively bad. I am not obligated to follow a script. Grief is a tricky motherfucker. For me, for now, it takes up the whole room, so it felt correct to get out of its way and let it take up all the space. I tried not to feel guilty for not crying. I spent a lot of the past week crying. Sometimes grief is not about big sadness. Sometimes it’s just a companion that can join you whenever and wherever you decide to lie down.
[Blank] With My Grief is a weekly mini-series by me, Vanessa, about intentionally sitting with grief. Next Saturday will be the final installment and I’m not sure what we’ll be doing yet. If you’re currently experiencing big grief, please feel free to share specific activities you do with yours in the comments. I’m really fucking sorry we’re all here together.