Sometimes, I feel like life after major, traumatic death is a lot like tending a garden that’s on its way out. You have to dig up all the stuff that rotted–pull it apart and put it to bed. Then, you start planting seeds–and a lot of them die or just don’t thrive. You add some seedlings, too, because it’s easier to have help, often. You water your little garden and add some yummy stuff to the soil from time to time. And you start seeing everything growing. And you finally feel like–maybe–this new garden is going to rival the one you had before. From time to time, you find a hidden gem–a survivor from that old garden. And you treasure it and try to keep it alive.
There are weeds, too. Sometimes, it can feel like you’re constantly pulling at them. And then, all of a sudden, something catches you off-guard. Maybe it’s a shitty cold snap that wipes out all your precious darlings. Maybe it’s some crappy mold. Or birds. Something.
You get the idea.
I shared in a previous post that October-January is my grief season. It begins with my father’s birthday in early October and ends with the anniversary of Mama’s death on Christmas Eve.
My father died when I was six–29 years ago. My Mama died when I was 26. This year will be my 9th year without her. It still feels crazy to think I’m still grieving both of them–in vastly different ways. There are other deaths and anniversaries mixed in with my grief season, but–for the most part–this time of my life is about my parents–and just simply coping with the fact that they are no longer here.
While the loss of my father set me up for a lifetime of dysfunction in all kinds of ways, for the most part, I’m alright with the stuff related to him. I think of him, often. I miss him, often. But mostly, my grief FOR him is manageable. The hard part of that grief is feeling the loss of who I should have been and trying to right the course of what I inherited in my life because of how death was treated during my childhood. Every single day, I learn how to exist in this world as a human being. Every day, I make an active choice to be a vulnerable, whole person when I was only ever taught to be the exact opposite. Things that should be easy and simple are hand-wringing exercises for me. Sometimes, it makes me angry. Sometimes, it makes me cry. Most of the time, I just accept that it exists, try to learn from it, and try to change patterns that have existed in me for 29 years. It is incredibly difficult and affects every single thing in my life. But it is my life, so I deal.
Mama’s death is harder. So much harder. For the most part, I grieved her death well. If there is such a thing. I worked hard to be vulnerable and stay open. I expressed my pain and sorrow. I found tools to help me. I’ve leaned on others for support. But I’m still me, and it’s still hard for me to do certain things. And my brain just doesn’t always cooperate.
In the beginning–as unimaginably difficult as it was–it was also sorta easier. I had zero filters. I had few boundaries. My emotions were so huge that I had no choice but to express them honestly. I struggled back then with controlling it…with knowing who I should share things with. I failed at that. I shared everything, all the time, with anyone who would listen. It bit me pretty hard. I learned that not everyone has earned the right to hear my story–which is not the easiest thing for me to accept, as someone who writes.
As I got through the grief, I started feeling more like myself. And suddenly, sometimes, I’d find these big pockets of joy–joy I never had before because I was this other person who didn’t feel things. Life got brighter as I got more authentic. I started finding new things to cherish about myself–along with challenging things to work on. But these things were all me being me–so I loved all of it.
I am often completely unaware of things that exist inside me. I am prone to unconscious numbing out–disassociation. It was how I learned to cope as a child, and sometimes, it still happens. The hard part is that it makes it difficult to accept happiness. When I’m bopping along, happy–for the most part…when I’ve gone months without crying…it’s hard to trust it. Am I actually happy? Or am I just stuffing my grief somewhere?
It used to drive me crazy. I’d overthink every emotion–analyze it to death. And, then, I started realizing that I couldn’t do that anymore–though it’s still my instinct. For the most part, I just embrace what I feel as I’m able to feel it. But then, the bad emotions hit–and blindside me–and then I end up wondering what the Hell just happened. Not to control it so much anymore, but really just to understand myself better.
Grief doesn’t get better. It changes. It transforms. But it always exists. It doesn’t matter how happy I am. Some part of every version of me has grief on piggyback. Sometimes, it makes happy even better. But mostly, it’s just a reminder of my life. I can’t escape it. But I have learned to, mostly, make friends with it.
But I still, often, wish it’d go away. I hate that dates on calendars influence my mood. I hate that it’s so easy to abuse myself simply because it’s October.
This past week fits my MO so perfectly–and now–looking back at it–I see it for what it was: a grief torrent. I had no idea I was grieving. I felt okay. I was too busy to notice it had arrived. But there it was in my insomnia. In my workaholism. In my considerable emotional eating. In forgetting to drink water and compromising on meds–rescheduling appointments.
Last night, around this same time, I bawled like I did the day she died. It came out of nowhere. One minute, I was laying down in bed–trying to sleep. The next, I can’t breathe and my heart’s in my throat. And the ache to just hear her voice just one time came back–just like the day it happened. I cried as quietly as I could, but I pretty much lost it. It startled me.
It’s been a long time. I don’t have breakdowns much anymore. It’s been months and months. And certainly, not without clear reasons. Nothing bad had happened. Life is actually pretty good. Nothing reminded me of her. It just suckerpunched me.
I had a hard time sleeping. When I finally passed out, I had Mama dreams. If I could remember them, I’d bet they were heartbreaking. But, thankfully, I was spared. Morning came too soon, and all my previous busy melted away to calm. Which made the grief expand. It was an unnecessarily difficult day. And I let myself live there…didn’t try to control it or make it better. I just let it be. And I told people I was hurting. In the safe ways that social networks allow. I let my needy cats–who always seem to know when I need hugs–love on me all day long.
I fell asleep early tonight. Woke up at 2:30 am. And there it was again. Tonight, I didn’t wail. I got up, got a snack since I was starving, and wrote this. I cried a little, but mostly–I feel normal. My heart isn’t so heavy. There’s just the ever-present always of her not being here. Which is still hard, but something I live with every day.
It just is.
The anniversary of the second worst day of my life is on Monday.
I see my therapist and my naturopath on Friday. I’ve thought about trying to visit her–or maybe him–this weekend. But I don’t know if things are open. So, I’ll probably just go home this weekend–to that place that knew them, where every corner holds a memory of them. Still.
On Sunday, I start a class on vulnerability. I’m going to try to get back to self-care this weekend, too. All of this reminds me of how essential it is–and perhaps–this grief attack was brought on by it. Which came first? Ya know?
In a strange way, I don’t mind the grief anymore. I used to fight it so much. But it feels appropriate. It feels like it’s part of me, and that observing it is honoring them. Because how lucky was I to have them for all the time I did? Six years seems like a blink–now at 35–but it’s really a whole galaxy. Despite the losses, I am still one of the more lucky people on this planet.