The great thing about a local shop is that I don't have to drive there.
The not-so-great thing about a local shop is that I will most likely bump into someone who knows me. It's been six months, and I've muscled up the courage to shuffle out of the house for some basic supplies.
Today, it's the worst possible combination of a near-stranger. I bump into someone who knows me at professional remove. His name is Jules and he's a nice guy. He knows me enough to tap me on the shoulder in the queue, but not enough to know about my daughter.
“Hey man," he says, with a wide smile. "I haven't seen you in a bit. What's going on?”
And so I tell him.
“Well, I guess I've been step-by-stepping it just to try and stay sane... An approximation of it, anyway.”
I’m guessing he wasn’t expecting that.
“It was only the other day that I realised I could even live through my daughter's death. I wasn't suicidal. It’s just that grief hits you in a way where everything beyond a certain point becomes opaque. And that point is actually very near, you know?. I realise I have almost no vision for what happens next. …Not even lunch. What are you having? Give me some hints.”
We're not talking business or computer networks. He looks sideways for the exit and appears off-balance. I press home my advantage.
“See - you, who are not in the grips of grief, are a completely different species to me right now. You are aware of what you have 'going on'. You have several plans in your mind. You have longer-range stuff that you need to think about more specifically and you make time to think about that stuff because it is a forward narrative to give your life shape and meaning.
I found grief robs you of that. In amongst everything else, it is a profound state of motivationlessness.
(Sorry for that bit of spittle I fired at you there. Should I reach out and wipe it off, or just pretend it didn't happen?).
I got stuck in some very tight thinking that spirals in on itself, revolving around one certain fact and one certain event. Everything outside that gets o-b-l-i-t-e-r-a-t-e-d. But, you know, I think the spiral might be starting to loosen now. I believe I am coming back to a larger idea of myself. I can actually picture living again.”
Jules is still staring at me, waiting for the answer to his question.
“…Oh, you know, I’m. Breathing.”
Almost the same thing, really.
“So, are you still with the company?,” Jules asks.
“I went back to my corporate gig in May 2014, shortly after the funeral and found that not only was the effort of being motivated and energetic utterly beyond me, the mental agility required for the job was gone. Couldn't even reliably count coins to make change at the shops, let alone lead people in a competitive, business environment. Coming back to 3,000 emails is one thing. Coming back to 3,000 emails when all your priorities are blown out of the water is something else. You couldn't find the amount of care I had with an electron microscope. …I quit. It wasn't even a decision.”
I’ve left him waiting again.
“No. No, I’m not. I left them after 11 long years. Life took a bit of a turn for me and the family this year.”
He smiles. Points at my clothes. “Trading the suit for the DIY. You have done well. I'm jealous.”
I smile, “Yeah. I get that a lot.”
I don’t have the energy for anything else, besides I’m worried about ruining his day.
Nick is a Sydneysider and currently reconsidering most aspects of his professional life after being a radio personality and corporate animal for the last 20 years. He is a proud husband and father of two children. One living and one not. You can follow Nick on his blog http://largegreyarea.blogspot.com/