The Weight of Words

Some words have more weight than others. This is a truth that my body did not understand until my daughter died. 

It doesn’t work the way you think it does. Growing up, your mother, or your father, or someone you trusted told you that words are just words. Brush them off, and move on, they said. I think the phrase, words will never hurt you, is one of the most dangerous falsehoods we tell our children, that we tell ourselves. I know that some words have hurt me more than the angry hands that left bruises on my arms, that have grabbed my neck. And there are words, heavily weighted words, that I would willingly give back in exchange for broken bones.  

How are you? Is the heaviest question that people ask. What do you want me to say? Do you want me to tell you about the blackness that pushes out from within my ribcage? How sometimes I think the blackness will detonate, a terrible explosion, that will shatter my bones into a thousand pieces? There are days where all I can do is lie down and wrap my arms around my chest, (barely) holding down the blackness. Other days I want to explode. I want to break myself apart, throwing my blackness across the sky, obliterating this unbearable truth. I know this is not what you want to hear, so I play my part. I say, I’m okay. And you? But these words are heavy too. It is exhausting holding the water-weighted story. 

Then the small talk, the idle chatter – I loathe this. Too many words tossed around carelessly like lumps of unformed, soft clay. It’s nearly impossible to avoid getting hit. How many children do you have? I pause. Should I say two or three? Do I want to explain to a near stranger that I have a dead daughter, and then feel embarrassed at the reaction of horror and pity? I think if I were a stronger, braver person I would not be ashamed to tell people that I am alive when my daughter is not. But I am not strong. I am not brave. 

No one asks the lightest question – how did she die? I wish people would ask me that. I can tell you how she died. I can tell you the time of her death, and that I was sleeping 400 miles away (how could she die without me knowing?) and I didn’t find out until hours later that morning. I can also tell you that I know she tried everything she could. She tried to hold her blackness down, but it was just too much. The demons were overpowering. So Eve did the only thing she thought she could do – she left on her terms. I hate the choice she made (I hate it so much!) but it was her choice. And I have to find a way to live with it. Of course, this is something that no one asks about.

So I carry the story of Eve. The story of me with her, and me without her. And the story I am supposed to hold up for everyone else. The weight of these words is heavy, they drag in the dirt behind me, holding me fast to this terrible landscape. But I’m afraid to let go. I’m afraid that without these heavy words I might become so light that I would float away from this altar I have built, that I might rise up to the sky and scatter like stardust. Then who would be here to weep and mourn for my daughter? So I remain here with these heavy words, these dark words. My hands run across them like circular flagstones that settle in the dust, and I close my eyes and dream of lightness.   

Pastel drawing of the side profile of a young white woman who is laying down. She is wearing a yellow top, and her hair is curly brown-blonde. Her eyes are closed.
A pastel, drawn by her high school friend.