There are apparently five stages of grief:
I believe though comprehensive, there is a state of grief missing. A state that runs through most of these stages.
The Hulk (or Banner) State.
My kids love to play the game “If you were a super-hero, which super-hero would you be?”. This typically evolves into a lively debate over which super-power is the best. Each of my offspring currently believes that shape-shifting is the best possible power. I personally cannot think of a super-hero who shape-shifts, but I am wrong, apparently. As I seem to be, increasingly in most things. My view that Wonder Woman, or Captain America are worthy winners of our theoretical game, is met with eye rolls and a certain amount of disdain. Pre-Covid isolation, I may have been bothered about the lack of respect offered me and my valid opinions. Now?
Our most recent vapid discussions about super-heroes came not long after a conversation I’d been having with my brother. My strong, capable, reliable big brother. He told me that there is a sadness, a grief that lives just below his surface. “Sometimes I’m at work and I can feel it’s about to burst out!” he told me. “I have to be careful!” And, I knew exactly what he meant.
I think my brother and I are experiencing a common state, uncommonly described as The Hulk (or Banner) State.
Bear with me….
The Hulk’s big secret is unveiled towards the end of the Avengers film: He’s always angry. That’s his secret. The anger is always there. It lives just beneath his calm exterior. The “other guy” can appear at will. The slightest trigger could and does set him off.
But, good old Dr Banner has learnt to live with it. To get through day to day life. To live as others do. To blend in. Unnoticed. Normal. Functioning. Until the next inevitable trigger when he can either choose to unleash his anger, to let it out, to unshackle the beast within, or to fight with himself to keep it contained.
Both are damaging: Releasing the “other guy” could place others at risk. Cause upset. But containing it is hard work. Exhausting. Relentless. And often unsuccessful!
I feel like the Hulk. And I don’t mean enormous and green (though give me a few more weeks of isolation and enormous is going to be within grasp!). Except bubbling away beneath my normal exterior is sadness. Grief. Loss. It touches so many moments with its far-reaching, insatiable appetite. It pinches me sharply, whenever I’m at risk of becoming indifferent about its presence. Tickling me with its condescending, relentless enthusiasm. It bubbles away, gaining strength with each passing rebuttal. It is a sneaky bedfellow and catches me unawares at times. Leaving me struggling to breath. Embarrassed. Apologising awkwardly for my lack of control.
My son found me like this recently. The day I found out my father is now facing an uphill battle with stomach cancer. I crumbled beneath the weight of the sadness and fear. My body convulsing in heaving, ugly sobs. Snot and tears pouring like larva down my face.
He was shocked and probably a little scared.
I was ashamed. Momentarily.
He gave me a cuddle and slowly my “other guy” retreated.
I don’t think you ever really get over losing someone you love. Instead you learn to live with the grief. It becomes part of you. I expect the appearance of my Hulk, my “other guy” will reduce over time, that the metaphorical explosions of green muscle will become less frequent. I do believe however, that he will always be lurking and my kids are inevitably learning that grief and sadness are a part of life.
And the next time I am found – snot flowing, ugly sobbing (I am a very ugly crier!) – I will explain to them that I am like the best super-hero (never mind their shape-shifting nonsense!) – And like the Hulk, I have a weakness. A secret.
A secret that some days I keep hidden, whilst other days I cannot.
But my secret is not anger.
My secret is love.
Miss you, Mum x