As I was checking out at Target, the cashier asked, “How are you?” Without thinking, I responded, “Well, my mom died, I started a new job, and I think I forgot to put the dog in his crate before I left the house. How are you?” She stared at me, then slowly started scanning my items. I realized I had answered her standard socially acceptable greeting in a not so standard, and potentially not socially acceptable, manner. As she was scanning the Tide and Diet Coke, I thought about apologizing, but figured that might make this scene even more awkward. I paid, picked up my plastic bags, (I had forgotten my monogrammed reusable bag, because well, see above) and wished her a good afternoon.
On my way to the car I remembered a recent enjoyable article, Let’s Bring Back Mourning Clothes. Had I been wearing mourning clothes to signal that I’m two months into new normal after my Mom’s death, the scene with the Target cashier wouldn’t have been so awkward. She would have known I was grieving and not to be phased by anything I said.
The thing about grief is that each day-sometimes even each hour-is different. I’m not always sad and I’m not always questioning everything. I’m fine some days and other days I feel like I got kicked in the stomach. Grief is odd. Grief is unpredictable. And perhaps instead of hoping other people have ESP and know the right (or wrong) things to say and do, we grievers should give public service announcements so folks know our emotional Richter scale at any given time. This may not prevent folks from saying absurd yet entertaining things, but may prevent awkward interactions with innocent Target employees.
For instance, a few days after Mom died, someone said, “I know how you feel because my dog had pancreatic cancer like your mom.” Actually, you don’t know how I feel. I don’t wish cancer of any kind on any creature of any kind, but my Mom and your dog are a little different. Also, so far as I know, Mom’s pancreas was just fine. I don’t think anything will prevent such comments, so I suggest we grievers see the humor in them and appreciate that the person cared enough to attempt offering sympathy.
Perhaps modern-day mourning clothes should be created old school days of the week underwear style. Each morning (or afternoon) the griever could choose an appropriate public service announcement shirt for that day’s emotional status. Here are a few of the Modern-Day Mourning/Days of the Grief shirts I’d include in my line:
- Wanna go eat Macaroni & Cheese and pie?
- Please leave gift cards and/or candy on my desk. No questions.
- I’m actually really ok today. Please act normal around me.
- I have no idea what day it is. Remind me where to go at 2pm.
- Don’t take anything I say personally. And, I’m sorry in advance.
- I just have a lot of feelings. (Why, yes. These are pajama pants.)
- Did I return your voicemail/email/text? What did I say?
Even with the autonomy of Days of the Grief shirts, grief would still direct the unpredictable show of emotional whiplash. So it’s necessary for grievers-and those who journey with us-to be authentic, as genuine grief is a sacred hot mess of art. Grief often doesn’t make much sense because it’s uncharted territory. And being ok with allowing grief to come as it may takes way less energy than pretending to have it all together in public.