The Slope

I wish that I could quantify loss. Recently, a friend asked me how the pain of losing my spouse compared to losing other people in my family (brother, mother-in-law, grandparents, uncle, cousin…). I had a difficult time answering. A spouse definitely impacts your sense of normalcy the most. They’re tied to your present and your future so closely that without them, it feels like your present and future are disappearing. And losing Gregg feels worse. But it’s not that any loss is necessarily worse than another. They’re just different.

But those nuances are hard to explain. How can you really put into words what loss feels like and then compare it to something else? How can you even begin to measure it? “Yup, that’s a 2 pounder, gonna be a bitch to get out of bed for at least 3 weeks,” or “Ding, ding, we have a winner at 3’7″ tall!” It just doesn’t work like that.

But wouldn’t it be nice? Like, to be able to have a measuring system that we could all understand? So that when you lose that dead-end job, you could remember that this is only an ounce of pain, not the 10-pound weight you felt last last year. An ounce is nothing. But really, an ounce isn’t nothing. An ounce of pain is still painful. Even if we could measure it, loss is loss. Pain is pain. Whatever people are feeling, they feel it deeply. I read a quote once, somewhere, by someone (I can’t remember those very important details, shocker) that said something about how you can drown in 7 feet of water or you can drown in 30- either way, you still drowned. Whatever we’re going through, it’s shitty all the way around. It’s not necessary or even useful to quantify it.

I have this really noble, righteous side of me that truly believes this. Once I went to a forum focused on the transgenerational trauma of people of color. The people who spoke used words like “grief” and “loss” and “pain.” I instantly felt connected to them, though their pain was different from mine. I couldn’t understand what it’s like to be a person of color because I’m not a person of color, but I could understand the feelings they were describing and I felt for them. And grief is such a huge part of the human experience. There have been many, many other times where it has been the thing that connects me to other humans, the thing that makes me feel alive. And that Christ-like side of me is brave in those moments and embraces that part of what binds us together as human beings, even when it hurts.

But then there’s this other, more cynical side of me that’s like, “Reeeallllly? IS loss, loss? IS pain, pain?” That’s also the whiny, resentful side of me. She’s kind of a bitch, to be honest. It’s the side of me that cringes when people say they know how I feel because their husband’s sister died 26 years ago. The side of me that can’t feel empathy for people whose hardest experience in life was their dog dying. The side of me that, when faced with a group of women talking about how it feels like their spouse died because he’s a different person after addiction, I can’t connect with them because all I want to do is throat punch someone. I don’t like this part of me, but sometimes it’s there. It’s cold, and closed-off, and angry, and lonely. And it is what it is. And maybe I need that side for some reason. It has less patience for superficial human interactions or relationships. And that I consider a good thing.     

If we could quantify loss- if we could find it’s deviation from the mean, calculate its mass, figure out its velocity- we would be able to predict outcomes. We’ve gotten so good at that. Humans can predict all kinds of outcomes, sometimes perfectly. If we could predict the outcomes of loss, we could find the peak points. We could adjust according to the impact. We could plan for the highs and the lows and the distance we have to go. And that’s why quantifying it is so appealing, because the uncertainty of grief is so. damn. scary. You can be doing fine one minute and start spiraling the next. The waves are uneven and unpredictable and it feels like a drunken toddler pirate is steering this ship. How do we know if we’ll ever be okay? If we just had a y=mx+b for our loss, we could plug everything in and see a neat little line. Straight, controlled, and predictable. Not zigzag, messy, and complicated-able. Not totally disappearing in some parts. Because that is what loss feels like. It’s all over the page, with no rules to follow to keep it on course. And sometimes the line is more predictable, and sometimes there’s less slope, but it’s never perfectly straight. Ever.

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