The day after my beloved stepdad died, I left town on a train.
I’d been planning for months to do some writing in isolation, and so I happened to flee home less than a day after I got the news.
I did get a lot of writing done that week, but I also wandered the strange streets feeling very very weird. Irritation and discomfort were my most reliable companions, and I never got in my groove while I was there. Never experienced flow.
I complained about this in an audio message to my friend, whining that I couldn’t quite get the trip to work for me. It was almost as though I forgot I had just lost a parent, as the change of scenery spread another layer of surreality over the already-dreamlike grief haze.
She replied to my various conundrums, “That makes sense.”
It made sense that I wasn’t particularly creative, it made sense that I wasn’t vibing with the city, it made sense that I was annoyed and uncomfortable.
Oh yeah, I thought, that IS how grief works…but for some reason I wasn’t putting two and two together; or, rather, I wasn’t linking the thousands of disparate emotions arguing in my mind with the unpredictable force of loss.
A few days later, I found myself inordinately stressed about some recent weight gain, no doubt a distraction from the much more significant transition I was slogging through.
Since starting my OCD medication, my brain has flourished like a clementine orchard in Tuscany but my body has changed shape, making her an unfamiliar home for me. Clothes that once gave me a comforting hug now squish and pinch, and the number on the scale is a little shock every time I see it (so I’ve quit looking!).
Another friend of mine had noticed her own body changes as of late, and I was asking her for advice on accepting the new blobs and jeans size.
She reminded me that the human body is supposed to evolve quickly to changing conditions: Mine was no doubt gratefully responding to a more balanced brain, and possibly still adjusting to the weightlifting hobby I started six months ago.
“It makes sense!”
It makes sense that human evolution would kick in strong and adapt my physical form to the changes in hormones in my brain. It makes sense that a novel way of exercising warps the body in all sorts of novel interesting ways. It makes sense that bodies expand react to safety, happiness, aging, winter, and strength. Oh and cookies! All good things.
Thus, “It makes sense” became my personal motto for the season, and my three favorite words.
If my old skirt is tight, it makes sense.
Sudden bout of insomnia? Makes sense.
Inexplicable rage? Probably explicable after all.
In the past few years, there’s been a lot of conclusive research that self-compassion actually leads to more accountability, not less. We take responsibility for our feelings and reactions only after we’ve soothed the confusion or shame around them. Otherwise, we’re acting from an open wound: never a good idea.
So when we’re in a lot of pain, or we’ve made a mistake, or we are simply pinched by our old clothes, patting our own heads and saying “It makes all the sense in the world” will carry us through with some grace.
These words also remind me of the inevitability—the natural-ness—of my reactions and feelings.
I was out for mimosas the other day with my mom and we were talking about her own journey of grief thus far. In the few days and weeks after losing a loved one, sometimes there is so much activity (funeral to plan! texts to write! flowers to find vases for! casseroles to consume!) that the emotions don’t have space to begin flooding the body. It’s as though each administrative task or phone call is another levee holding back the big river of grief.
But, of course, the river finds a way to trickle in. My mom was telling me about a day when she came home from an errand and the house felt so empty and quiet. Then, she went on a walk to the park, and in the gloom of midwinter, it too was empty and quiet. “Well this is depressing,” she concluded.
“Were you really sad?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she answered. “But that’s going to happen.”
What she said was a cousin of “That makes sense.” Of course, those days will happen. It’s inevitable. But it takes a broad perspective of life and a lot of matured self-compassion to acknowledge that sadness is going to happen, and therefore it’s also going to step back. Inevitably. In and out and in and out it will go, and that makes sense.
Something I say to comfort both myself and others when any of us has made a mistake is to say “Anyone would have done the same thing in your position.”
And it’s true every time, because anyone with your reasoning, your amount of information, and your tendencies would have done the same thing! I always appreciate “Anyone would feel that way” or “Everyone has done that” whenever I’m beginning a shame spiral for one reason or another.
You accidentally tweeted from the company account your ranking of the Real Housewives? We’ve all been there.
You sent the text to your crush instead of your mom, complete with an “I love you so much!!!!!”? Anyone would have done the same thing.
You feel jealous of your friend because makes money from advertising hair gummies on her Instagram even though you wouldn’t do that but you sort of wish you did? Anyone would feel that way.
You forgot the meeting because you’re in a grief haze? That makes sense.
You feel really really really really really overwhelmingly sad today? That’s going to happen.
Whenever life doesn’t make sense, our feelings do.
And the only way to allow for them to fully move through our bodies before they visit someone else is to acknowledge their presence: You make sense to me, you little sadness tourist. Anyone would feel this way when visited by you.
To let myself be rocked by inevitable waves but also stay afloat: this is the emotional work of my life. And a good hearty “That makes sense” is a reliable lifejacket.
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Fun stuff coming up!
I'M COMING TO DC! I cannot wait to chat with Timothy Goodman (one of my favorite people) about his new book, I Always Think It’s Forever, at Kramerbooks (one of my favorite bookstores) in DC (one of my favorite cities)! February 7th at 7pm :)
RETREAT ALERT! My dear friend Ruthie Lindsey and I will be leading a retreat called Becoming Your Own Best Friend over March 3-5 at Kripalu, which is a magical retreat center in Western Massachusetts (near the border of New York). I hear it has the best food ever. We would be so thrilled to see you there!!
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What are your most comforting words right now? If you picked a word or phrase for 2023, is it coming in handy? Have you used a mantra to move through grief? LEMME KNOW!
Mari, I don't know how you do it but somehow you send exactly what I need to hear exactly when I need to hear it. I lost a beloved pet on Christmas after 14 years together and a couple of months of confusing health issues which, in hindsight, I wonder if she could have survived if I'd handled them differently. Your recent newsletters have resonated so deeply.
My grief mantra right now is "hold onto it gently." I have come to think of the guilt and the sorrow as sharp things that I will have to carry with me for the rest of my life, and if I grasp them too tightly it is so painful. If I hold onto them gently, I can carry them with me without so much pain.
Thank you for sharing so openly. Sending you strength and grace as you continue on your own journey. Whatever sharp things you might be carrying, hold on to them gently.
I love this: “You make sense to me, you little sadness tourist.”