Wednesday, January 10, 2018
I have to do this day ‘with gusto.’ In fact, that applies to every day of the whole year we are now in: 2018. My mind has been swirling with mixed feelings of resistance to write and ‘feel’ because the last month of December was about holding it together in mind and body to get through what remained of the holidays: the second Christmas and New Year without Jon. Where did he go? As of this January, he left this earth now 15 months ago, and despite my hand reaching out like into a dense fog expecting to touch him, then pulling him close with his suddenly being in my view, and wanting say, “there you are, I’ve missed you so much,” my hand instead only finds the empty chill and dampness wrapping around each of my fingers and heaviness from tired muscles straining hard just to feel something that is ‘him.’
I had another strange dream last night. Yes, he was there, in it, and it was all about him. Just to my left in the corner of my eye, tall, filled-out, I could not see him clearly, but I could tell by his shape he was wearing baggy jeans, work boots and had on some kind of coat. We were outside mowing a sprawling lawn somewhere together. Not just any lawn, the grass was such a bright, healthy green, the sun seemed to illuminate it from all angles, and it needed to be cut because it was flopped over like a continuous wave to one side. He is walking along using a regular lawn mower, making those patterned lines as he goes, but there is no sound to his work. My mower is like a an edging tool, and I’m going around the pine trees, finding the patches of grass that are outside of those patterned lines and with a sweeper-like motion, I’m brushing the grass, blending the green blades to be the same length, same color. We are together in silence. I feel him come up beside me, I am smiling at him, but keep looking ahead as he and I are working together. I can sense his gaze and it warms me to feel that familiar connection. I know he is smiling back at me. Even though I seem to be wearing baggy clothes too, with a hat, gloves, and my jacket sleeves are pushed up, I know he sees all that is underneath, that twinkle in his eyes set upon me. I don’t want to be in his way, so I turn to my right, and take a few steps over to an area that had mostly packed, bare dirt. There are pussy willow branches growing randomly with those fuzzy grey catkin buds on them coming up to about my waist’s height. I find myself now mowing both around and through them, but they don’t get cut with my tool.
As I go along, the dream shifted to my trying to remember what is buried under those sprouting branches, just below the moist ground. Something is under there, and I have forgotten, I know the plants are there to mark this special spot. With each step while continuing to use my mowing tool, frustration is building at being unable to think of what or who is there. I should just know, right? I am waiting for the memory to come to me. I just see wet, deep brown dirt in front of me now, the green grass appears like a frame around my view. I woke up at that moment, and the guilty feeling of not remembering something added to the realization of dreaming about Jon hits me. The rush of tears and my maybe not so quiet wailing from every part of me fills the darkness of my bedroom. I feel like a wounded animal unable to find shelter. There is no comfort within my reach, no dressing to stop the bleeding of my heart.
A ‘wounded animal’ is probably the best summary description of my emotional state during the recent holidays. I’m still hurting, but by putting up some defensive walls a bit to not show it, it kept my pain from spilling out like a running faucet. Deep breaths, spending more time with my kids, and gym time somehow kept me grounded. Thanksgiving of late November in Chicago was the kick-off of me making a sincere effort to being present emotionally and physically with my other grieving family members. I remember sharing my excitement about plans that have just begun this past week, reassuring my parents that my kids and I are managing ‘okay,’ and listening hard to how others are doing. The Friday of our visit was a beautiful sun-filled day. I went out for a much-needed run on the Prairie Path. I found myself laying next to Jon’s memorial brick at Elmhurst College, lovingly dedicated to him by extended family. My heart was both pounding from my run and falling to pieces as the sun burned flowing tears deep into my face.
Christmas. Boston. We are all together. At my sister-in-law’s house, her family’s dining room wall immediately caught my attention. The photo wall with a large open space, one lonely nail, I knew without needing to ask what picture was missing, why it wasn’t there, and completely understood why it wasn’t hung back up. Every single meal in this room for nearly five days, I sat staring at this spot. Where is he? Show me. He is here somewhere, right? I kept wanting to take pictures of this wall. The light played with its opportunity to run uninterrupted by sharp-cornered frames here in different ways throughout the day. It seemed alive with movement nearly every time I looked. I wanted to take pictures so I could capture the dancing light and shadows I saw, preserve with me what I see and feel beyond this dining room, and to continue thinking about who is not here. I wanted to get up out of my chair several times during many meals together with my family to do this, but I needed to do it when no one else was looking. To do this privately, so as not to offend anyone, because I don’t want to send a wrong message. I don’t want my family to think I’ve really lost it by taking pictures of blank walls, or be perceived as this is somehow wrong or bad.
To me, this wall actually says what we all may have shared this Christmas: his absence being seen, felt and heard because we are all without, and that, in itself, made him the ‘most present’ person in these holidays. And I need to say, what ever you do my wonderful sister-in-law, please don’t hang the picture back up till you want or need to. Mom and Dad, thank you for bearing with me when you saw my mind and body stare at that empty space unable to be reached by the living and other sounds around me. When I allowed my eyes to focus on this space, my entire energy brought forward unexpected memories of random things, pieces of a good life had with the love of my life and father of my two children. The shadows that flickered on this wall were like tiny glimmers of who I want to have smiling back at me and I waited impatiently for some special message to appear. I had to take a short video, because the dancing light added with the music and voices was like watching a performance, I needed to see it again and again.
So now the New Year has begun, and my life seems to have taken a new turn on my route. Even if now I don’t see the point of it all, I’m going on and making choices and living whatever this life will be. I am hoping it’s not a lengthy-circuitous-type one, but somehow more of a purposeful-Ikigai-type one. You see, throughout 2017, I had practiced leaning in to my grief, and in doing so, I have removed fear of doing impossible things. I’m finding my way now by having let in what I fear most: all that sadness and aloneness of my loss, nearly nothing else could be more frightening to me. Words come out of my mouth that Before would not be spoken, actions I make now that Before would be overthought or delayed. The dark side of acknowledging any new accomplishments from any of this though, is saying that because he died, these things are happening and somehow I should now ‘count my blessings’ for ‘good things’ that might come. NEVER will I do that, or believe that good will come from this very bad thing of his death. If I could have Jon back from the dead instead, if I could go back to that Before a long time ago, before cancer entered my world, I would choose to be in that reality instead of all of whatever ‘this’ is. Fact: He was taken from me, Jon would have never, ever, left me otherwise.
THIS existence now After, is hard to describe. I have allowed myself to ‘let-in’ people and ‘make-real’ interesting things that result in my difficulty speaking in a concise sentence of saying exactly who I am and what I’m doing. I’m most like a rambling countryside that has a different horizon-line in each direction you look. So when asked a simple question, the answer that comes out of my mouth travels far and wide, whereas other people might just say a simple “yes” or “no.” What I do know, is that I’m not sitting in some comfortable chair of life looking at everyone passing me by. I have no fucking chair. I’m standing and constantly moving, in the form of cycling, running, surfing, thinking mercilessly in the attempt to figure out where I’m going now in After.
My kids gave me a book of poetry aptly titled “a beautiful composition of broken” by r.h. Sin, and I’ve been flipping through its pages. My eyes fell on this particular poem as having meaning to me in my current state. It also speaks to my past, and offers a glimpse of things to come.
be loud, no silence.
find your strength
find the courage
reclaim your voice
and say what you need
do not be silent
be entirely you
I want to offer you an invitation. Would you like to join me on my journey? As I go, would you choose to follow along with me and see where life takes me now? I make uncomfortable decisions every day, I’m putting myself at risk of failure at every turn. I have an unknown end-point and I don’t fit in some one-size, fits-all box. If you can deal with that, then continue to read my grief blog, The Glog, and find me wherever I am. Hopefully, more of my time will be spent on a bike, within reason of course because I’m a mom of two teenagers first. Now, for the next three months, I chose to be in Working Out Loud group to focus on some specific goals. I even chose one word to be my guiding sprit to embrace this year: Face. I will Face, overcome, and work through tasks I avoid or have not made time to do. I will be a Face representing the grief community, putting myself out there in the form of planning a bike ride to do the entire 3,000 miles of the East Coast Greenway over several years. And I will Face each of you, allowing you to see where my journey takes me. Thank you for being a part of it. ~Paula