Man, that parfait was up too long, especially given its rather bland nature. Handy tip though – I suspect that recipe might just be the perfect crepe filling.
I can’t sleep tonight. I want to sleep, but I read a sad story and it made me cry and that made me think of other things that used to make me cry until suddenly it was 3am and I had been laying in bed for a long time holding Josh’s hand and sort of torturing myself. Lately, I’ve been getting fairly emotional, and it’s such a relief that I kind of pick at it a little bit, fascinated, as if a scab had just fallen away revealing the shiny pink skin underneath.
“Grief is a multi-faceted response to loss. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has a physical, cognitive, behavioral, social and philosophical dimensions. Common to human experience is the death of a loved one, whether it be their friend, family, or other close to them. While the terms are often used interchangeably, bereavement often refers to the state of loss, and grief to the reaction to loss.”
I am not a stranger to loss, and therefore my own grief surprises me less and less as I encounter it. In the first rough weeks after my mom died, I still laughed at jokes and TV shows that I knew were funny, but I did not cry. Other people’s tragedies could not move me individually, but only add slightly to what seemed like the already unbearable weight of the world’s losses. As the weeks went on, I moved farther and farther away from my own emotions, occasionally being slapped in the face by the sharper ones like rage, but mostly existing on a pretty rigid path. My grief would expose itself in outbursts – usually directed toward Josh, who has the rather unenviable position of being the person closest to me. But I am not a stranger to my own grief, and would usually make very rational sounding statements like “I know I am not actually upset about this thing I am screaming about, but in fact reacting to the death of my mother” only at top volume and possibly while throwing something.
Anger is very seductive and warming after spending a few weeks on the frigid path of emotionless grieving. I indulged in it about once or twice a month, less frequently as I found other ways to respect the emotions that were obviously there, working under the surface. Josh was, and is, a brick. He never left my side.
Today, or rather, yesterday (it’s still in the hour of 3 o’clock, dark of night and all that, the hour of introspection) I had trouble getting started. I was restless again. Frustrated. Hamstrung. Hands tied. Too many decisions to make, no clear place to start. I ended up working outside most of the day, burning off the restless energy in raking and trimming and sweeping and tidying, and it was a good choice. I have a goal, you see – at the end of this week, I’m emptying out the storage unit that holds my Mom’s stuff and our stuff still in boxes from the Kansas City move, and I am having an enormous garage sale. It’s all going. What isn’t sold or stolen or given away will be donated and then I can cross this major milestone off my list and we can settle in a bit more. So it’s important that the front yard be tidy, both because it gives me more room to put stuff out and because I am proud of this little place and want it to look its best.
I am not “at one” with my emotions. I tend to find myself reacting before I fully understand what it is I’m feeling. This isn’t a permanent condition – it’s definitely a side effect of grief, one that I anticipate and try to correct as it comes up. Some days I’m better at it than others. Today I was sniping at Josh as we ran some errands when it occurred to me that I was inexplicably sad and tired and hungry and thirsty all at once. Then I remembered I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink, turned and looked at Josh and before I could open my mouth to apologize he says “Dude, you haven’t eaten yet today. That means you have a free pass for thirty more minutes but if it continues I’m afraid I’m going to have to beat you.”
Then he gave me a hug. In the middle of the grocery store. I can’t play chess with this man, he’s way too good.
All day long, I raked last year’s leaves and trimmed back the ivy and occasionally I’d stop and think “I can’t believe it”, shake my head, and continue with my work. They say sometimes that it gets worse with time, harder, that it doesn’t really “sink in” until later. I think for me, that means that after the initial protective shock wears off, it might seem to others like it’s gotten worse because they might actually catch me in the middle of processing some real emotion about the whole event.
I follow a yearly cycle. I know this now – I’ve been noticing these patterns for a long time. Sometimes I used to find myself in what seemed like an inexplicable funk, only to do a quick check and realize that it was exactly a year to the day after some sad or tough event. I didn’t consciously recognize it, but my body did. People worried I would be upset on Mother’s Day, but I wasn’t in the least. Today though, I grappled with my own feelings all day long, hurt and confused and angry and very simply sad and maybe a little joyful? Is that too much? The joy comes from the emotions themselves, having them and being able to savor them, even the painful ones, this recognized sign of healing. I like that I can cry. I’m proud of myself for feeling what I’m really feeling, instead of sublimating it into something else.
I thought about it in bed tonight, still clutching Josh’s hand while he slept, and thought back to this time last year and what I was doing and how I was feeling. It was almost too much, once I remembered – here’s an entry almost a year to the day, and it’s not nearly as honest as I wish I it was. I was in a bad place this time last year. I had just visited Josh and just been to Havasu with Mom and we were settling in to the period I now think of as The Wait. I didn’t know when I would see Josh again, I didn’t know when my Mom was going to die, only that it was going to happen, and I was already worn out. I was terrified and depressed and fairly unaware of it, aware enough to censor my journal but not my memories of that period. This time last year, I did not go an hour without checking Mom anxiously. I tried not to let on too much. My aunt was staying with us and it made an enormous difference, and my other aunt was on top of all of Mom’s medical care, and when I think about how it might have been if I hadn’t had them I have to quickly try not to think about it at all.
Secretly, I gave myself a year. Not a year to “grieve and get over it”, because you don’t get over it, you assimilate it and it becomes a part of you and you move on through life, a little more polished or roughed up, a different shape altogether sometimes. No, I gave myself a year for the worst of it – a year to fuck up a bit, a year to not be entirely on top of things, a year to get through the wall I knew would be thrown up the second she died and only relieved when I could honestly face up to the fact that she was gone. You might think that I’m patting myself on the back for good “grief planning” but I already told you I know my grief well, and I learned this from experience. When my aunt Cathy died eleven years ago, I didn’t cry about it for five years. I spent five years willfully and knowingly lying to myself because I couldn’t face it and it didn’t make any sense to me and I couldn’t find any way around the shocking and horrible reality of her dying and death.
I had been living with Josh for over two years before I finally looked up one day and burst into tears and spent about two days in bed, heartbroken over the fact that my aunt wasn’t just gone, she was dead. Josh was mystified. So was I. I had been telling myself I was over it, but how could I have been over it when I would hardly acknowledge it had happened?
This time, I knew better. And oh, I wish it could be simpler, of course – that I could wail and gnash my teeth, tear my hair and rend my garments. Get a really good Biblical grief going on. Get out all the rage and confusion and heartache all at once then pick up the pieces and move forward into some new kind of life without a mother, spent and empty, waiting to be filled up. It’s not easy to give myself the freedom to grieve. I did a pretty good job of not compounding my early grief with guilt – it’s easy to slip into, that habit of turning on myself. It’s an egotistical response – if I can make it somehow my fault, even partially, I can feel like blame has been placed and it makes it almost seem sensible. Logical. The few times I caught my thoughts turning in that direction I stopped and refused it. I refused to feel guilty. I did the best I could and of course it wasn’t perfect, but I was there. I didn’t leave her alone. You would not believe how many times I have repeated that thought in my head, over and over. I didn’t leave her alone. I promised I wouldn’t and I didn’t and there have been many dark moments when that was what I was holding on to.
So yeah, it’s been hard to give myself this gift of a year of acceptance and understanding. I’m ten months into it, and I’m starting to recognize just how much healing has taken place already. There is still a ways to go, but for right now there is something satisfying about feeling as if I’m back in the flow of human experience, laughing real laughter and crying frivolously over fairy tales. Like I’m so in touch with my emotions I can afford to have extra.
Oh, the title – this entry was meant to be something different at the start, a little musing about all the caterpillars in our garden that are dripping from the eaves and eating Spring away from my beloved plants. Some of them turn into crane flies – those winged long-legged bugs that clumsily float around lights at night. I kept telling Josh they were mosquito eaters, but he’s learned to ask Google and discovered that they’re ephemerata, crane flies, that they don’t eat anything after they reach adulthood because they only live for 24 hours, long enough to mate then die. The cat adores them because they are easy prey. I myself don’t feel one way or another about them, except that I might have lied about their mosquito eating prowess so that Josh would leave them alone and just let them bumble crazily around the lamps for awhile. Why the hell not? Life is short. Find the brightest light you can and beat yourself to hell against it if it makes you happy, little bugs.
(Just as I typed that, a small crane fly batted against my monitor, the only light in this room. Nice timing, my friend).