Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Keeping Secrets Out Loud

I have a secret.

It is an image ingrained on my eyelids; with each blink I am reminded by the vision of her face. My skin is covered by the flesh of another, yet you cannot feel it. There is a stone in each lung; huge, blocking, rough edges beginning to wear smooth with each labored breath. And yet, I stand in front of you and smile sweetly. Nod my head accordingly. Pretend I hear the words you speak.

But inside, where your eyes cannot see, my seams are coming apart. The thread unraveling. I try so hard to break the thread off with my hands but it refuses to snap. I hold on tighter and tighter, fingers gripped white, shoulders aching because I cannot catch a break. I cannot rest. Or, rather, I cannot find the time to fall apart.

Grief - traumatic or not - has been described as waves in an ocean. Some days those waves are manageable, almost compellingly soothing. There is a comfort of sorts in the gentle lull of grief. Closing your eyes and remembering a smiling face feels like the warmth of the sun touching your cheek. Remembering a funny story or a tender moment can bring a smile laced with salted tears. It is in this calmness of grief that one can easily remember their faith, can easily draw strength in creating or doing something positive in honor of their lost loved one. You find you can tolerate the frigidness of the water because it only covers your ankles. While cold, it is manageable.

But then there are the moments and days when the grief is the dangerous waves that crush spirits and end lives. Breaking waves that collapse on top of themselves; swell waves that seem cruelly never ending, destructive plunging waves so powerful they drag token objects back into the unrelenting sea just because they can. Unpredictable rogue waves that seem to come out of nowhere are probably the most lethal: no one ever sees them coming.

Those days, when the battering of grief attempts to slam me against the rocks, burying my head well into the depths of the frozen, darkened sea, it takes every ounce of energy to raise my head above the surface to take a gulp of air. I just want to stop treading water. I just need someone to throw me a life vest so I can float for a minute and catch my breath. That's all.

I've tried to schedule my breakdowns. I know they're simmering beneath the surface. One doesn't mother a child for nine years and grieve only for six months. I realize fully and completely that this is just the beginning of my grief journey. I have gotten my course schedule and I'm headed off to pick up my books... but I've got an entire semester ahead of me. I need to figure out how to find my classes, how to negotiate new teachers. I have passages to read, assignments to complete and tests to take. And then I have another semester after that.

Immense Grief is not a quick and easy process.

Probably the most ironic thing that has happened - and I don't believe ironic is the proper word - is the not-so-subtle reminder that per employment policy we are only allowed 3 days off for funeral leave. Three days to bury a child and return to work as if nothing ever happened. Three days to makes sense of it all so you can focus on spreadsheets and staff meetings. Three days is not enough. I took seven.

Seven days is not enough.

I just want regular time periods to lay on the rocks. Silent or sobbing or pounding my fists against them, before I need to jump back into the ocean and give it another go. I need to remember this for when I win the lottery and create my own business: that per policy, my grieving employees will have rock time.

I'm not asking to be handed a free pass to shirk my responsibilities. I've proposed working four 10-hour days and taking Wednesdays off; a scheduled breakdown day, if you will. It hasn't worked out. I have enough strength for two days, then I seem to fall apart. Without being able to regroup, the rest of the week just gets awful. I get to work at 7:30 and leave at 5pm. Then I have to get Brody, make dinner, do household chores, attempt to effectively parent a now sibling-less child, give baths, brush teeth, read books, tuck in. And if I stay up late to grieve - to sob, to shake my fists at God and question why my daughter? Why was this part of the plan? Surely whatever you wanted me to learn I could have learned another way. Surely You could have made another way! - - if I stay awake until the birds stop singing and the train whistle blows and the only sound is the occassional siren, in order to feel the touch of God again, hear his gentle whisper, she is well; I will help you through this - - if I stay up all night to do my grieving then I am simply too exhausted the next day from lack of sleep to do any good. (Trust me. I've been doing that. It's not working.)

I believe that if I could just have Wednesday I would be able to glimpse the roadside sign offering a grieving respite. I would be able to hold out just a little bit longer until I get there. It's like when you have to go to the bathroom really, really bad and you look out your windshield and see blocks and blocks of warehouses; you convince yourself you're not going to make it, you'll explode and it will be awful, but the second you see the glow of that 7-11 up ahead you know that you're going to be okay. You'll get there. You will make it.

I'm just asking for a chance to try and make it.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Some Things Stay The Same

Even when everything is different, some things stay completely the same. Unchanging. A well-worn security blanket of sameness, if you will. And by that, I mean Big V.

Or Matt. Because that's how we all know him now. But he was always known as Big V in my pre-10/24 posts and somehow, well, somehow this post is deserving of reverting back to Big V status.

You'll remember we were blessed to have a real Christmas Tree donated by a local company (Hugs and Thank You's, Geneva Trees!) to put by Avery's grave. This was important to me because (1) she didn't have a headstone and I was afraid I'd be talking to a random clod of snow covered earth when I'd go to visit, and (2) she had made us promise to get a real tree this year, so I was able to keep my promise.

Also, it was super cool to see how Avery's classmates, the neighborhood kids and families decorated it.

It was so beautiful I didn't want to think about taking it down. I wanted some way to remember it. I wanted something to hold on to. I mean, the decorations we kept and are all wrapped up in purple tissue paper... but I wanted something from the tree itself.

That's when I saw this:

And I was all. "it's perfect!" Except I would use Avery's name. Obviously. And include the year of her tree. I vowed to do this each and every year! I ran to Big V with my picture and said, "Look! This is what I shall do to honor and remember my loved one who has passed on!" Okay, so I may have said it differently; the point is I showed him the picture.

It hung on our calendar. I spoke of it often. I referred to it. I joked that there would be a time when we'd need to get a whole second tree in the house just for the Avery Tree Ornaments. I had a vision. We were on the same page.

Until he went to go take the tree down and forgot I wanted a slice so he had to run back out and get one so I showed him the picture again and told him to get a good slice (it didn't matter where it was from, I just wanted to make sure it was a good slice) and I showed him the picture again...

And yet he came home with this:

I'm not exactly sure what happened.

The other thing that stays the same is people keep having birthdays. This is a good thing because it means we get invited places to celebrate. Places with food. And we like food. We were recently invited to a 40th Birthday Party that is a 1920's themed Murder Mystery. One of those things where we play out a real life version of CLUE. Each guest was invited with their character bio and a description of what they would wear. Since it's been a couple years since I've participated in community theatre I thought there is no way I'm passing this up. Plus, there will be food.

Only I didn't tell Big V about it because it was supposed to be a SURPRISE 40th birthday party and Big V can't keep secrets. I didn't tell him we were invited and I didn't tell him his character was a 1920's baseball player and I didn't tell him I already ordered costumes. Because, truth be told, I also wanted to mess with him a bit.

So, when I came home from work and saw his costume arrived, I nonchalantly tossed it to him while he was reclining in front of the TV. "Here, I bought you something." I tried acting all normal and uninterested as he tore into the package, waiting for his reaction. He was gonna be like, "what the ---??"

Except he didn't do that at all. Instead he pulled out the old timey baseball uniform, held it up in front of him, smiled, and said, "Thanks! This is pretty cool!" as if it is the most natural thing in the world to be getting a baseball costume in May.

And then... guess what? He tried it on. Never once asking why I got it in the first place.

And this, right here, is exactly why I love him. Because he graciously accepts bizarre gifts without asking what I was thinking. Someone told me the other day that I wouldn't be able to do normal; I think they're right.

Note: I have since explained to Matt the purpose for the costume. He wanted to know if he could talk in an accent. I may have to forewarn the other guests.