The Pain A Smile Can Bring

Hiding behind a mask of what they want to see.  The mask portrays a strong smiling girl,the furthest thing from me.  Behind the mask this girl is far from strong, crumbling on the inside and trapped in a world gone wrong.  Her every thought tainted by the memories that remain.  Nothing can save her now or take away the pain.  Looking in the mirror crying because she hates whats’staring back.  All she sees is imperfections and an empty heart of black.  The words echoing in her mind broken beyond repair and wishing to break down, to fall, but to catch her: no ones there.  She feels as though theres no release so the pain, it lingers and understanding lies just beyond the desperation of her reaching fingers.  The mask she wears is slipping until she can hide no more.  This unbearable hell she calls her life dealt with behind closed doors.
~~ Author Unknown


I came across this poem a few months ago and I wish I could give credit where credit is due, but unfortunately “author unknown” doesn’t give me much to work off of.  It has stuck with me.  I have read it repetitively since I found it.  I find myself in these words, I see my reality.  I couldn’t even bring myself to fix any grammatical or punctuation errors because I found myself so drawn to the words.  Yes, I know pointing out grammar and punctuation shows the ESL teacher that I am.  But all that aside, I couldn’t have written this any better.  The truth, the pain, the torture, and the reality behind these words rings true to me every second of every day.  I’m sure it does to anyone who finds themselves drowning under imaginable grief.

I never imagined that a smile could be so difficult.  A smile is the most natural thing for anyone to do.  The first smile a new baby gives its loving parents is a natural reaction, but is treated as a momentous occasion.  What we take away from someone’s smile is pure joy, true happiness, and a real expression of emotion.  I have come to realize we take it for granted.  We take someone’s smile at face value, no pun intended, because we are so content to see their smile that we don’t realize what lurks below the surface.  People don’t stop to question if it is real.  People don’t care.  As long as we give them what makes them more comfortable then all can go on.  But what is that smile masking?

Zach, since we lost you I can barely choke out a smile.  I won’t deny that it doesn’t happen.  It does.  I catch myself cracking a smile or laugh once in a while.  But what is so harshly different over the last year is that the very second the smile appears, I instantly feel a brutally harsh stab of pain, of guilt, of sadness wash over me.  The smile only ends up bringing more pain even if for the second it is a natural reaction.  I don’t know what it is.  Guilt?  An undeserving feeling?  An inability to appreciate joy?  I have no idea.  All I know is how I feel and the pain that floods over me any time I catch myself smiling.

It is a mask.  We all wear masks, but I have realized that when grieving masks become a vital necessity.  No one truly wants to see the pain we feel inside.  People want to see me at work functioning, contributing to small talk, laughing at their jokes, sympathetic to their stresses, able to participate in conversation.  My friends want me to be part of their lives, to laugh at our old jokes, to see the humor in life.  My family wants me to function better, enjoy my time with them, appreciate our moments together.  They want to see me smile.  I am sure it is partly because they want to see me doing better, but I also know it has a lot to do with making them feel more comfortable.  I know I’ve talked about this before, but it is something of focus for me lately and I can’t seem to shake it.

Zach, I guess this became more of a pressing issue when I spent over an hour on Skype on a video chat with my niece and nephew the other day.  These are the two people in the entire world that I love more than life itself.  After losing you, they are all I have left.  I always say they gave me my heart back when I needed it most, they taught me how to love again, and they were honestly the only people I truly loved until I met you.  These two beautiful little souls are my whole world and their little lives brought me to a point where I was ready to meet you, fall in love with you, and begin a life with you.  Kiana and Zachary are still my entire world, I am still a devoted aunt, and would gladly lay my life down for them.  But since we lost you, I can’t bring myself to muster the same amount of joy I once did.  The entire conversation was filled with their excited stories about their new teachers, upcoming birthdays, and silly things they’ve done recently.  They would tell me stories and my eyes would well up with tears, I would have to choke back sobs, and force myself to pull it together.  I smiled.  I laughed with them.  I loved their stories.  But every time I smiled, the pain instantly came back.  How am I supposed to go on, supposed to cope in real life, or supposed to crack a “real” smile if I can’t even do it with them?

I fear a true smile is forever lost to me.

This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy moments with my family, friends, co-workers.  I do.  To the best of my ability…. I do.  But it never quite seems real or if it does then the very next second it just hurts.  I wonder if that will ever come back.  Will it ever not hurt to smile?  Will it ever not hurt to experience a moment of joy without you?  Will everything always be dealt with behind closed doors?

Sent to me by my amazing friend Jordana this week who came across it and was thinking of me.  Felt it fitting to include today.


3 comments on “The Pain A Smile Can Bring

  1. Jordana says:

    I’m glad you liked the quote I sent you, but I hope it’s not taken to imply that you’re only strong if you can get up and smile the next morning. You are strong for faking a smile, for smiling and feeling guilty for it, for smiling and meaning it, and anything else. You are strong for crying last night. I admire your ability to get up in the morning and fake a smile, and I pray for the day that you’re not faking it, but until then, you do whatever it takes to get you through this in a way that works for you.

  2. Lauren says:

    I’m sorry to say it, but I think that a lot of what you are feeling in regards to those few and fleeting smiles you have is guilt. I’ve read that guilt is a big part of loss. Guilt from the first time you feel happiness after you lose someone to many times after that. It probably feels like a betrayal. It probably feels as though you aren’t being true to the one you loved so much. You might be thinking “how dare me, how dare I be happy when I can no longer be with the one I love. When he’s gone. I should be suffering everyday.” I know those are strong feelings to overcome even if I can’t completely empathize with them. I know it must feel impossible.

    All I can say is something trite and surely cliched. Zach would have wanted you to smile. I know he loved you for your happiness because it’s one of the things I love most about you. You were always the life of the party, so easy to talk to, making friends at every turn. You always had a smile on your face when I brought up the silliest memories of our childhood. You always eased people around you with your easy going manner and bright, huge, never ending smile.

    I know it’s different now. I don’t know if it can ever be the same. The times I have seen you I could see the difference in your smile. As though it didn’t quite reach your eyes. It was half a smile put on for those around you, and maybe you did feel brief moments of pleasure, but it always disappeared quicker than I remember.

    I hope someday you can bring back that smile I remember. I miss it, but I understand its absence. I know Zach, wherever he may be, desperately misses it too. I hope one day you can give it back to both of us….no matter how long it may take. We’ll both wait for it. It’s worth it. 🙂

  3. Kathy says:

    Wow, what an incredible poem. Thank you for sharing. And thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings too. I hope you can find a true smile, to be able to smile without hurting. You deserve that from life. Truly. I understand how you feel, in my own way, because of the loss I experienced.

    I wrote this several months ago:

    The words came pouring out of me one day. I started writing and couldn’t stop until I had finished the poem and it read the way I wanted it to. I’m not sure how much I’ve changed from what I wrote in this poem almost 9 months ago. I want to change. I am taking small steps to keep moving forward. One step forward. Sometimes a few back. But then I move forward again. Thinking of you. Take care.

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