This morning when I woke up, surfing was heavily on my mind and at the forefront of visualized thoughts. A positive vision, I wanted to be in the ocean, wishing for it’s coating of salt and wet, I saw myself paddling out toward white caps in the distance, plunking over those waves not yet tipped with white, now building their momentum on their way to shore, to home.
Suddenly, like getting smashed with an unexpected wave, my breath is taken away as my eyes snapped open in horrid shock: Would I remember how to get up on my board? Will I, can I, do it again? Would my muscles naturally recall the steps, and honor the commitment to ride the wave? “Listo, Paulita?” is repeating over and over in my mind, the voice of one of my surfing instructors from Costa Rica, literally translated, “Ready, Paula?” Today crashes over me, and I’m dumbfounded at my inner response: How can I be ready for something I did not ask for, plan for, or ever think possible?
This past week, I’ve come to realize that in a month’s time, I have had four significant losses in succession, and of course, all of this is heaped on top of the primary loss that remains through all of it: Jon is not here, he died 38 months ago. And, the most awful thought now, is my belief that if he were here and still alive, none of these other losses would have occurred. Yes, I’m blaming my current situations and problems over the past three years on a dead man.
I will even stretch that unforgivable insult further, by saying that my own cancer and health issues emerging while he had his cancer battle, were due in part to him. Stress did that to me, along side of Repression, Angst, and Worry, their depressing quartet played a song on continuous repeat, and every time Hope asked to join, the bossy-foursome only played louder, drowning out Hope’s chance of changing the tune. How can I love him still so completely, yet feel he is the cause and source for so much pain and heartbreak, then to now?
I’m saying it out loud, because I’m twisting pinky fingers now with Anger, and encouraged by Anger’s first cousin, Disappointment. It is much easier to blame a dead person than a living one or my living self. Am I alive? I wonder if I really am. How could I be alive without him here with me? At these lowest points of current circumstances, all I can do is scream out his name, and without Jon’s answer or appearance, only the reverberated ringing in my ears from my pierced shouts is a reply.
I refuse to believe that this is all I have remaining for me in this world: more loss, a perpetual broken heart, and the sense that none of this should, or can, be real. All I ask, is for this pain to stop, to somehow be minimized, and that when I wake up the next morning, it’s not to the rush and alarm of my pounding heartbeat, followed by gasps to contain hot tears.
Doing something over and over, and having the same pitiful result, is the “definition of Insanity,” and Insanity keeps peeking in to my windows late at night. This voyeurism must be stopped. I’m keeping my windows and doors locked. How much can a person take, before it is just too much? Sorry to those who believe that God gives you what you can carry, what I carry God would never give because I believe in a kind and loving God. This pain, weight, and suffering is not from God, it’s origins are not from anything good, and the sum of it will not make me better at anything.
What it is making me, is disoriented in my own mind and conspicuously misunderstood by everyone around me. Yet, no one knows the truths I have been breathing in 24/7, nor should they want to. It’s useless to fully tell my raw thoughts and misfortunes, no one wants to hear it with an open mind or heart. If something is shared, it could come out as too much to believe or bear listening to, and I catch the “glazed look” or the retracting, slight “turn of head” in response to what I do allow others to see, small vignettes, only a flash-portions of my larger realities.
It’s too much to share any more than that to those few, to whom I’m so grateful, who will hear. Big news: it’s too much for me, also, and surprise, I’m not the only one with emotional walls. Others raise theirs immediately, sometimes higher than mine, and on top of hurt feelings, there is pushback of repeated slaps of correction like “don’t be sad,” “Jon wouldn’t want this for you,” and distorted mirrored-thinking replies of “that’s not what I would feel” or “well, I would never choose that.”
And where is the “choosing” in any of this? I certainly did not choose for Jon to die, and most significantly, neither did he. Rather, he denied death as a response to his illness, until he could no longer speak to those he loved and protected at all-cost of life, and he literally ran out of life and time. It was too-late, too-soon, for him to give the gift of imparting a survival guide roadmap to me or my kids.
Dearest Regret entered my life upon his death, surrounding me with thoughts of what I should of blatantly and shamelessly asked him. When I look for Peace now, and see her ahead on any path, Regret forcefully pushes me into a tree along the edge, and my focus immediately becomes trying to stop the bleeding from scraped skin, my flesh imbedded into gnarled bark, and if I’ve fallen, lost in untangling myself from thorny vines as time stands still.
Denial. Regret. You are no friends of mine. While I laid next to Jon in his final days, only able to rest my hand on his shoulder, you both whispered to my husband-partner, and played grab-ass with your “bff,” Cancer. You conspired and succeeded at tearing me and my family apart, and for a long time, our pools of tears were the only things keeping us touching in the wake of our own griefs. Thankful for Grace stepping in to place us hand in hand, teaching us that growing our bond of shared grief is like tending a garden: it requires a working partnership, patience, and sighing together as we admire what’s blooming in each season.
But what do I do now? I am faced with the growing madness of freshly rippled loss. If there is no reprieve now in my view, how am I to move forward? Is that even a direction, and how many dimensions of this universe are there, for crying out loud?! My mind is trapped in sideways, and worse yet, I fear going backwards. I’m like a tiny mouse, discovered by the shrieking house owner who is swatting at me with a corn broom: I’m running back and forth along the baseboard, desperately seeking an opening leading to safety behind the wall. And it needs saying, if I were a mouse, I would much prefer a field with unmowed grasses, tall trees, and songbirds, just like Sander Farm Preserve.
Do you ever wonder why I’m so consumed with cycling, exercise, and the outdoors? Because each takes me somewhere, places in actual existence in this physical world where, otherwise, my mind cannot seem to go or imagine. I move forward many miles on a bike, my route is what I make it, and even if I’m only following along, it is the freedom I feel of full-immersion into what “going forward” is really like, and should be, all painted in a palette of the season or sculpted into bumpy or smooth terrain forms.
Unfortunately, my exercise has been at a bare minimum in the past couple of months. Ever since the Iceman Cometh Challenge race, and especially so in the past month. So many situations required my focus, energy, and time, I had none left just for me. Dog walking and dog care replaced my personal self-care. Last Thursday, eight days ago, I said goodbye to my chosen companions. I dearly miss those sweet dogs.
This past week has been a catching up and a slow integration back to activity with self-care as a priority. Tears flow when they need to, there are moments of feeling overwhelmed with sadness. It could be a memory, a song, talking with my kids. I’m needing to drink more water to stay hydrated. Monday included a 4-mile run in early evening. I knew I would need a flashlight of some sort, as I started just after 5pm, and chose to carry my bike light that is usually mounted to my bike handlebars.
Monday’s running route was the “4-corners,” just as it sounds: a big square, sidewalks only, and a bit over 4-miles. Even though I’m familiar with the path and there are street lights to guide most of the way, there are dark stretches of sidewalk and my night vision is abysmal at best. Still, I tried to wait until it was absolutely necessary to turn the light on. I seem to be stubborn at accepting help, even from a simple flashlight.
However, safety on any run is a must. So at first, when crossing intersections to make myself more visible to cars, I’m sweeping and shining the light across the ground like a paint brush on the pavement in the direction I’m going, and feeling like most everything else in my life, I’m attempting to “Bob Ross it,” but my trees aren’t happy ones, they’re just trees. After turning at the second corner, darkness falls and my light must remain on without my little on-off swishy, painting games.
Running at night requires a constant adjustment of balancing what I see versus what I feel: I see in front and below me flat, empty nothingness, my skin senses temperature and subtle changes in the wind causing goosebumps, meanwhile my feet have become a Hans Christian Anderson tale as twin Princesses, sensing every bit of grit or crack on the ground. Even in my heightened state, I don’t trust myself, it feels like I’m stepping off a lake dock sans moonlight, so my light is shown down to where I think it’s needed most: at my feet to help see my way.
As I continued this run, nearly at the third corner now, I found that pointing the light downward is bringing on a headache and not really helping me see what’s coming up. The light is too bright and harsh, it’s moving erratically in jerky back-and-forth spasms, and I can’t seem to hold it steady in either hand. I then raised the light, slightly to illuminate just a wee-bit further ahead, about 10 feet, and as I ran on to the fourth corner, found a more comfortable position to hold it.
Every stride, my arms swinging in pendulum form, I discovered myself testing how far ahead I could shine the light by raising it gradually, just a bit more. Was there such a thing as too far, and at what point seemed far enough? As my experiment continued, funny, the farther ahead it was directed, the light seemed to become softer, more gradated to include a wider view of the path, and the light was steady with no shaking.
In the final incline, the fourth corner and finish in sight, it suddenly hits me: because I’m looking at all of my current situations at once and so intensely, not giving myself time to heal or pause, it’s causing me to focus very deeply just on the overwhelming pain itself. If I at least try to look ahead, even just a bit, to soften pain and to seek kindness somewhere or someplace, all of this may be more bearable. That does not mean I can or will ignore what is right in front of me at my feet. It means that by looking up and torward an unknown future at any distance, near or far, while at the same time being exactly where I am, knowing this is where I’m at right now, but with each step to where I’m going, it will be different, and somehow, just a bit better.
So, is my dealing with new loss as easy as holding a flashlight just a little higher and looking farther ahead? The not so simple answer: maybe. Through all of this, Love is holding me together. And what is Love anyway, is it a kindness or a burden? I will always choose it as a kindness, and now I choose to add Forgiveness, Compassion, and Trust to our table for four. Together we will have a good conversation.
Surfing has, once again, popped into my mind. And again, I’m hearing my surf instructor’s voice mixed with the hum of breaking waves. This time, my body is laying on my surfboard, hands gripping each side, my eyes and board aimed at the shoreline. Turning my head behind to my right, I see it, and it’s coming. I know exactly what to do now, and my hands dig deep into the water, paddling with full intent, it’s time to match the speed of the coming wave.
It catches up to me, I feel the lift and rise underneath, prompting me to take this wave. I know it’s mine. Hands flat on waxed board, “Listo, Paulita?!” my toes are now gripped and set. “Lavántate ahora!” One movement, left foot pulled through and planted, the rest of me just flows to standing position. My weight and all I carry are with the wave now, gliding, beautiful surfing, riding to shore. Ready or not, I will get up now. ~P.