You Don’t Seem Sad

I was sitting in a coffee shop right after the new year, catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in years—since before Greg’s collapse, since his death. We talked about a myriad of topics—kids, weddings, work, what’s become of Greg’s old company, politics, retirement, and of course Greg. At one point she said to me, “You don’t seem sad. Are you?”

I was taken aback for a minute, a pang of guilt rippling through me. I knew she hadn’t asked the question in an accusatory way. She was just curious. But still, the love of my life hasn’t even been dead for two years—shouldn’t I still be sad?

Without much hesitation I said, “No, I don’t really feel sad anymore.” As I spoke, it was as if I just at that moment had come to know that.

I couldn’t stop thinking about her question all day long, trying to understand what had changed. I thought back to the previous month, to all of the things that had happened.

Pulling out the Christmas decorations and getting the house ready for the holidays. No, not sad.

Unwrapping Christmas ornaments, so many symbolizing a trip with Greg or a family milestone, and placing them around the tree without feeling blue.

My plane touching down in New York, checking into my hotel—the hotel Greg and I had discovered on the west side near Jon—and unpacking, full of excitement for the weekend.

Attending the bridal shower for Keely, meeting all of Jon and Keely’s friends, making my way to the rooftop bar of my hotel where surely Greg and I would have indulged in a nightcap had he been with me, all the while smiling and laughing with Keely’s parents. No tears.

Watching Jon and Keely get married on the winter solstice at the City Clerk’s office in Manhattan with a photo shoot in the rain afterwards, celebrating at lunch, toasting the couple at dinner and finding it hard to stop smiling the entire day.

Having dinner with my best friends from college—Greg’s friends too—at a restaurant in New York to celebrate her birthday and laughing all evening.

Watching Love Actually, the movie that had triggered a full-on emotional collapse into grief the year before, and only crying appropriately—you know, at seeing Emma Thompson’s heartbreak when she discovers her husband’s affair.

Enjoying Christmas Eve with my family, roasting a suckling pig, laughing with Jenny at how everyone else was grossed out by the pig’s little face, feasting, drinking my homemade limoncello, watching my sweet grandson smear food in his hair, and sensing nothing but gratitude.

Hosting a New Year’s Eve party—like Greg and I had done every year—watching the ball drop, hugging and kissing friends, and feeling nothing but excitement about the year ahead.

As I thought back about all of these events over the previous month, I was frankly surprised I hadn’t been sad at all, and didn’t really know exactly when this change had set in. I felt strong, felt like I had made it to a certain point in this journey where it was going to be easier.

*******

Two days later.

I am woken up by my sweet dog Ellie, who is obviously in some sort of distress. I quickly know something bad is happening and rush her to the emergency room. I can barely swallow as I drive, the lump in my throat growing larger by the second.

This is my “soul dog”, the one who has been with me through everything, I think while driving. Through knee and hip replacement surgeries, when my dad died, when Greg’s mom died, when my mom and brother died a week apart, and of course, when I lost Greg. She has comforted me through some of the most difficult times in my life, and the thought of losing her is more than I can bear.

I’m sad all day waiting for the diagnosis—a stomach and GI obstruction from consuming fake holly berries and floral wire from the arrangements on my front porch. I am wracked with guilt as I wait for her emergency surgery and struggle to find my balance over the next couple of days, even once I know she will survive. I can’t stop thinking forward to when she too will eventually leave me. Anticipatory grief, they call this. When you know something is going to be sad in the future, but you start grieving about it before it happens.

*******

Two days later.

My phone pings with a text from one of my best friends. “Hey, I don’t think we told you but we are on a sailing trip in St. Lucia.” This isn’t news of just any vacation, this was our trip—the one Greg and I had done three times with these two other couples. It was Greg’s very favorite vacation and St. Lucia was our first adventure. As I read her text, I’m short of breath and I feel my heart tighten. “We miss you guys—a lot,” my friend texts.

I am thinking they surely struggled to tell me they were going, that they would have known it will be hard for me to hear. “Who’s going to take over Greg’s duties?” I text back. It’s a joke, a small attempt to lighten the moment. Greg was notorious for doing very little to actually help on our sailing trips and could generally be found on the bow of the boat with headphones on enjoying the tropical scenery with a beer in his hand. I am trying to sound lighthearted, but I feel anything but, the tears welling in my eyes. That we’ll never be part of this again is all I can think about.

It’s not that I expect my friends to abandon their sailing trips—they need to go on with their lives without Greg just like I do. I know they will have sad moments on this trip, times they will tear up and toast him, remembering happier times. But knowing they are there without us is a reminder of the big part of my life that’s now gone, and I’m left feeling broken. It’s the classic kind of grief experienced after loss.

I’m so very sad that I decide to pop in to see my grandson, to try to break through the blues. I am squeezing him a little more than he’d like and holding him a little too long—he wants to run around and throw a ball—so I set him down. Later, as I open the door to leave, my heart skips a beat when he leans over to kiss me a second time, as if he can sense I need some extra attention right now.

*******

Two days later.

My Old Man, by the Zac Brown Band, comes on the radio while I’m driving. I’ve avoided listening to this song ever since it was released, not willing to let it trigger the inevitable sadness that would come from thinking too much about my kids not having their dad around anymore. Now, I give in. I listen to the song fully for perhaps the first time. I let myself cry, allow myself to once again lean into my sadness, even if just for a few minutes before wiping my eyes to head into an appointment.

*******

It has only been six days since my friend told me I didn’t seem sad, yet ironically, I spent most of these past six days quite sad. I now understand, however, that just because I wasn’t sad six days ago doesn’t mean I won’t be sad again. More importantly, just because I’m sad on some days doesn’t mean I won’t be happy again on others. Remembering that, instead of being sucked under by the inevitable sadness that will come my way, makes this journey just a little bit easier.

3 thoughts on “You Don’t Seem Sad

  1. WOW … Michele … I relate to most every word. Am I sad? Well …
    Naturally happy-go-lucky, the trigger moments are unavoidable.
    Having friends go to Santa Fe without us …. damn.
    I am so appreciative of your willingness to express your grief, your growth, your life changes.
    Your strength to get thru all this provides so many of us comfort.

    Thank you …

  2. Michele, I’m so proud of you and amazed at your insight and eloquence. I’ll always be grateful to Greg for many things and wonderful memories throughout his life, but right at the top is his love affair with you and bringing you into our lives. I hope you will continue to write and share your essays. They contain wise words for all of us and I hope you will compile them into a sequel to Poco a Poco. It would be so meaningful to me and I know many others to reread many of your thoughts and observations. And, I just love your posts about your culinary discoveries and dining adventures around the globe. Safe travels.

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