Just One Picture

Can a person who is hurting and living with grief still laugh and feel joyful? Absolutely. Can that person cry and feel like never getting out of bed again? Absolutely.

Why is it that it’s encouraged and supported to relive and carry with us “good” memories but we are quietly (or not so quietly) nudged to let go and move on from the “bad” ones.

Take pictures of that awesome vacation and the hikes and the milestones that everyone is smiling at. Remember those times in your life blah blah blah.

But grief…loss…death? Oh dear, it’s bad to hold onto that. Don’t dwell on it. Let it go and move on with your life. Don’t let that shape how you see life now. Put it behind you and live your life.

Well guess what? All of those amazing experiences and those happy times are inside of me and helped make me who I am today – and so are all of the not so happy times in my life. Joy and hurt can exist in the same body and mind. At the same time.

Why is it ok for me to talk about a great family vacation and laugh as I remember the ridiculous events and the fun, but when I talk about how it felt to leave my son behind in an emergency psych unit, I get told that bringing it up will just make the grief last longer? Life is made up of laughter AND tears. Trust me on this one, not feeling hurt doesn’t mean that all you feel is joy. If you have lost – or pushed away – the ability to feel hurt, than what’s left is not just joy. It’s apathy and emptiness. As bad as grief can be and as badly as it can hurt, I’ll keep letting myself feel it because it means that I can also feel the swing side of it. There was too long after Willie died that I was numb. I’ve learned over the last two years that starting to feel “good” things again – happiness, love, sensuality and silliness – meant letting in the “bad” that I had been hiding away. I can’t move forward without bringing it all  with me.

Like a picture that hangs on the wall, grief is just there in my life. It isn’t the only picture on my wall and it isn’t all that my life is, like it was at first, but I know now that it will always be there.

It’s always present but I don’t always look at it or even really see it sometimes. Some days I go by and barely notice it. Other days, it’s all I can see on that wall. Its presence doesn’t affect what goes on in the room though. There are days that I cry and rage and scream there. There are other days that I laugh and make love and giggle in that room. Some days the room is quiet and mellow while some days the noise can be deafening.

My life is like that room. So much more than just one picture among the many that adorn its walls. It’s a combination of everything that’s there and all the things that will be brought in still as I experience and live my life. There’s always room for more.

Adding on and growing and with every new addition, it changes and becomes…. and is Life.

Just under the surface

There are times when it’s further under the surface. There are other times it’s so close to the surface that you can almost see it. It’s always there though. That’s the truth of the pain and the hurt. The feelings that swirl and tumble under the calm surface.

They tumble and twist, creating torrents of discord in the underneath, the unseen.

Most days now it resides down deeper than it used to live. The usual now is an easier-to-live-with place that only sometimes breaches the surface.

Usually the winds of day to day life ruffle the surface and the pain is nowhere to be seen. Most days now, even strong gusts can churn the top layers of normalcy and the hurt doesn’t quite break through. It’s taken a few years to get here but that’s the way it is most days now.

Some days though, it sits just barely concealed. Almost visible to the naked eye. Those who know it’s there can see it then. The covering is too thin to hide it. On those days, even the smallest hint of a breeze is enough to blow away the veil and let it rise up. It easily breaks free and soars into the light, unbridled and unable to be controlled. It tears apart the fabric of the carefully and slowly built stability of life now. It threatens that it will stay free, it screams at the sheer expanse of space that it has to fill; and fill it, it does.

On days like those it feels like it will never settle back into its slumber. It is hard to believe that the usual now is not those days, but rather the ones where it is deeper under the surface. Not near it and not through it. On days like those it helps to have others to hold onto and to ride out the storm with me when it feels like I’ll be blown away and maybe not come back. On days like those it’s sometimes best to face the maelstrom alone . To know that I can calm it. The power to feel its wrath and hurt and still wake the next day to see that it is in it’s usual place again. The place where, while it may give the surface shadows and ripples, it’s far enough down to live with.

fine, even.

How long can I hide?

How long can I be ok? Fine, even?

How long can I go on pretending that I believe the mask that is so easy to put on for others?

The same mask that I know isn’t really fooling me at all.

But I try.

I want to believe that the creeping memories and reminders aren’t there.

It hurts less that way.

Not really, but I tell myself that it does.

That the memories aren’t just waiting for that moment when my mind is quiet and unguarded and they can spring up and catch me.

I know how good I am at seeing them in the periphery of my mind’s eye, and turning away to elude their grasp on me in that moment.

But they haven’t been avoided, they know it and so do I.

I do, really.

I’ve played phantom with them and won this time.

But I won’t always win.

They know it and so do I.

Yet I tell myself that I am doing ok. Fine, even.

That I am so much better than this time last year.

Look at me…

I’m ok, fine even.

It’s not even on my radar as the weeks and then days come closer.

Not even one little bit.

See how ok I am? Fine, even.

As that date that I want to ignore and pretend has no meaning to me relentlessly approaches.

It’s just another month, ticking by.

His journals sit in the closet next to his remains.

I get out a towel from the linen closet and don’t see that.

Not at all.

The box with his shirt that doesn’t smell of him anymore.

Not after all this time.

None of it’s not even there to me.

Neither is this month.

The fear is there though.

The fear of not pretending.

So I let myself believe that I’m ok, fine even.

Until I can almost even believe it myself.

And I hope and I wish.

That I don’t fall to so many pieces that I can’t come back together again.

So I hold on tightly.

And I’m ok. Fine, even.


When you can dream while awake…

You know that saying, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone? Well, sometimes, you don’t really know until you get it back.

Experiencing that this week with a book. Ever since Willie died, I have had a struggle with reading. For the first year, I very literally could not read more than a paragraph – and even that was a challenge – while retaining the information. Books were an impossibility. Magazines became picture books to me; flipping pages, scanning insipid articles and picking out phrases to gather the content. Online articles I would start reading only to flick off of within a few seconds. Reading for pleasure; the joy of picking up a book and disappearing, gone.

All of my life I have been a reader. Plunk me down in a used book store or a library and I am in my happy place. Like a child in front of a sundae buffet whose eyes are bigger than its tummy, my thirst for books was greater than any reasonable amount of time I had to read. I kept (and keep) a list of books to read, authors to peruse and subjects to hunt down. I have an open note in my phone that is constantly added to for just that purpose. Suffice to say, I love to read. Loved. Love.

About a year ago I started trying to start reading again. Short stories, old ones that I had read before and that I knew I enjoyed… authors that I knew had a knack for drawing me in within those first pages. Making it easy on myself. It worked somewhat. I could make it through a story of a few pages in length. Usually having to re-read paragraphs here and there, but getting by. But the novels I tried… I’m not even sure how many books I took out from the library, renewed, renewed again…. finally returned, mostly unread. With each one, getting more and more disappointed that my escape and retreat was gone it felt like.

Then a couple of months ago, I finished a book. It wasn’t great and I had to really push myself and to be honest, I skimmed through a lot of it. But I finished it. That alone made me smile. I started reading a new book. As usual, the first few pages, my brain jumped all over again. I have a running background of chatter and visuals and just everything that is a constant since Willie died. It’s like a game of ping pong gone haywire with extra balls and bouncy walls. Usually I can dilute it with focus and attention on a “must-do” but reading for pleasure doesn’t rank up there so… the mind skitters and jumps and hides in corners while my eyes try to relay the words to the brain and have it all make sense… is there any wonder it doesn’t click together?

I pushed through, a couple of pages here, a couple there over a week or so. Then it caught. I was sitting and thinking that I couldn’t wait to find out what happened. I actually *wanted* to pick up the book and read.

It has been so long since I’ve felt that urgency while reading. The all-consuming I can’t wait until I get pick up that book and be back inside that story…the feeling while reading that my eyes can’t move fast enough to get the words to my mind to bring them to life and create the visions… to be the fly on the wall drinking in the unfolding, developing tale until it’s done … skimming the sentences to get them in then forcing myself to slow and savour…wanting it to come to fruition and climax yet so desperately not wanting it to ever end because it’s SO good….

So, enough writing for tonight… I have 70 pages left to read in that book and I can bang that off before I sleep…who needs sleep anyways, when I can dream awake in the pages of my book.

For what won’t be

There is a sentiment that says that to mourn for what you never had is pointless. That grief for losing something that never was is just ridiculous self-inflicted misery. I’ve had people, over the last few years since Willie died, tell me that sadness over what he could have been or who he would have been is just useless cruelty to myself. That mourning over what never was is just inflicting unnecessary pain on myself.

But ask any parent who has lost a child, no matter what age, and the simplicity of it is… what is your child but the potential of who they will be?

When a child dies, you lose not only who and what they are but you also lose the promise, the potential, the “someday”. It’s not fantasy grief, it’s real and tangible. It’s not wallowing and drawing out the pain by imagining what you lost…it’s experiencing the very fact that there will be no realization of who that child will become.

As I was hiking and talking with one of Willie’s brothers this past weekend it struck me how much I love being with him. What a truly neat and interesting young man he is. His sense of humour and his tangents of conversation that make me roar with laughter or groan and roll my eyes at him. I thought back to when he was a baby and toddler…what he was like as a little boy and as a teenager, not too many years ago. I looked back and I remembered thinking “I wonder what he’ll be like?”. Now I know. He’s awesome. As is his older brother and his other younger brother.

So I mourn for what will never be. I think back and remember. I hold close to me the other parents who I know who grieve for the potential person their child will never grow to become. Because that’s part of who they are…who they would have become… who they are now, still with us. Always.

the “now what?” date

With remembering anniversary dates with regards to losing Willie, the big ones tend to hit loud. The day he died, the day after when I saw him in the morgue, the next day when we went to the funeral home to make arrangements, the day of his service … All dates that are remembered and that, as they come around every year now, hurt with the pain that those dates carry.

But there’s another date. A date that is quieter in its hurt. a date that anyone who has lost someone integral and a part of their daily life knows.

It’s the day after it all. It’s the day after the final service or memorial. The day that you wake up and the quiet awareness is there inside of you that asks the question “now what?”

The shock is still so present that You don’t recognize that date then or even a year or two after. It’s the day that there isn’t any more details to deal with or plans to make or things to plan. It’s the day that life, for everyone else mostly, starts to return to “normal”. It’s that date that you look back on eventually as the day that you were truly stumbling.

I remember waking that day and looking out the window as I had been for hours everyday and wondering what I was supposed to do. And not knowing the answer. How do you live your life from “before” now? How do you out together the puzzle pieces when you’ve never seen what the picture is supposed to be?

So you start trying. False starts and steps forward and huge careening slides back. You wake up every day and just do.

Today, February 9th is that date for me. A day that I realized today is a day that sits a little differently for me. Not a date that screams of his death but a day that whispers to me of the loss of him. A day that speaks to the reality of how it is … Now. After the shock, after the disbelief and the rawness. A day that in some ways is more sad in how quiet it is. Maybe because it’s a day that solidifies the finality and the unavoidable reality of what has happened. A day to reflect on the “now what”.