I told you that my brother died. Three weeks today. I also told you that I’m numb, and that’s pretty much still the case, although rivulets of sadness escape my eyes from time to time — a good thing, or I might burst like a water balloon full of tears.

The numbness doesn’t mean I’m not grieving. It’s a stage of grief and is not the same thing as denial, according to a grief counselor I spoke with last week. She says it’s protecting me, which is what I was guessing.

I don’t really need a professional to tell me I’m in “the grief process.” (Doesn’t that nice, pat moniker make it all sound predictable and controllable?)

For one thing, there are the damn mirrors scattered throughout my house. I stop to gaze into them often nowadays, I guess to see if I’m still here. Or to see if there’s a huge red gash ripped across my face, or a jagged hole in my chest.

At first glance, nothing’s amiss. The facial components are all present, and I can even make the corners of my mouth go up when necessary. Like one of those grimacing theatre masks.


But look harder. The topography has changed. The lines at the sides of my mouth have become cavernous, and the small frown lines between my eyebrows now reach halfway to my hairline. My eyes are empty, as if my “self” is busy on an inside project and doesn’t have time to interact with the outside world.

This is where you have to be careful: when you are grieving, so much of your energy is busy with the inner trauma that you don’t have all your normal faculties about you.

Things to Watch Out For:

  • You may find yourself stopped at an intersection waiting for the light to change and then notice that there is no light. There’s not even a stop sign. You don’t know how long you’ve been there.
  • You’ll read a chapter in your novel (a big, fat one chosen to distract you) and the next night you won’t remember whether or not you’ve read that chapter.  You won’t even recognize the names of the characters. Or you won’t be able to find the book at all.
  • You’ll pack up your belongings after a potluck and forget to put the top on the vinegar bottle and then track brown vinegar all over the carpet at your friend’s new house. And you won’t care, because in the scheme of things, what’s a carpet?
  • You can bet that you won’t have clean socks or underwear because you forgot to do the laundry. Again. But you won’t care about that either, so that’s OK.
  • You may find yourself outraged at the woman at the gym, formerly a source of amusement, who talks incessantly about her scalp condition and her latest oils and rinses. She regularly asks your advice about what she should do, and you are dangerously close to giving her some less-than-gracious suggestions.

Speaking of Being Outraged:

Here’s something that I hope won’t happen to you, but given America’s health care system, I wouldn’t rule it out.

I dropped by my brother’s vacant house the other night to make sure the pipes weren’t freezing. I punched the blinking light on the message machine and heard several automated messages from the anesthesiology firm that recently “provided services” to my brother. They would like him to “press 2” to take a brief satisfaction survey.

I guess their records don’t show that my brother freaking DIED under their freaking anesthesia. Does not waking up count as dissatisfied? How about having your heart stop?

If my brother does not “press 3” to remove himself from the list, they will continue to try to reach him. Good luck with that.

So I cussed. Repeatedly. I felt angry and that felt good. A feeling! There’s somebody home behind those empty eyes. The feeling was gone in ten minutes, but I did feel. That’s the point. There’s been a crack in the nothingness.