This past year has been unparalleled in my memory as far as natural disasters and unnatural tragedies. I’ve wondered a lot if the universe is trying to “punish” the human race (ha-can you guess my religious upbringing?).
I feel like I’ve spent the past year in heartbroken sympathy for others. Too many people experienced the loss of loved ones (including pets) and most of these losses have been sudden and unexpected. I can’t say that I know their pain. Without a doubt though, I know that the pain they are experiencing is so deep that they can’t put it into words (which is very frustrating). I also know that these losses have already changed them and will continue to transform and shape them from the moment of their losses forward. I can’t do or say anything that will help them or heal them. Just recently, someone who had experienced such a loss over the Thanksgiving holiday asked me, “This will get better, right? Things will go back to normal?”
I don’t know. I am only an expert in my own grief. But I’m fairly certain that things never go back to “normal”. We never “bounce back” or “get over it” or even “get past it”. But we can and we do move through. We are not the same people. But we are still people and the people we’ve become don’t have to necessarily be broken forever.
Recently, Jake’s sister sent me some older photos she had found of the three of us. We were having fun, smiling, and being goofy. The unexpected pictures took my breath away. My memories of Jake are so shrouded, so ingrained in those last days and moments. The pictures she sent me reminded me of all the goodness, happiness, fun and love that was Jake. It wasn’t like I forgot that. Just that the memories of the end have been blocking all those years before it. Now I picture those bad memories as a tangled, sticky, thorny mess with all of Jake’s greatness waiting on the other side. Sometimes I can take a flying leap over that mess. Sometimes I have to force myself to walk through it slowly, maybe even crawl. It hurts, but I know I need to get to the other side. It still hurts over there, but its a very different kind of pain. The important thing is that on the other side, I smile and laugh at the memories, rather than curl up in the fetal position , immobilized by sadness.
My life has been filled with loss. I lost a good friend at the age of twelve. Since then, I’ve attended more wakes and funerals than I try to count. However, it wasn’t until several years ago that it actually hit me that death means gone. Gone. My mother’s best friend, who has been a big part of my life ever since I can remember, passed away. I flew across the country to visit her one last time. I remember where I was when I got the message that she had passed. All of a sudden, death didn’t make any sense to me. I had just been with her. Where did she go? How does that even happen? How is someone here one minute and actually not here the next. Forever. It may sound silly, but it wasn’t until we lost her that I actually, truly started to think about death and how final it is.
I live with the loss of Jake. Every single minute. Frequently, I feel a jolt of “Wait a minute. He was just here. How? What? I don’t get it. Where did he go?” My home is filled with pictures of Jake, but sometimes one catches my eye and I can’t stop staring at it. My brain starts spinning, trying to grasp the reality that he was actually here. Then all of a sudden he wasn’t. It doesn’t make sense to me.
I think that everybody has read some sort of analogous comparison of grief with waves in the ocean. Some are small and you can float over them. Some are huge and they come at you, unprepared, and knock you down for a bit. I’m a terrible swimmer and those giant waves that knocked me down scared the crap out of me. They still do.
Recently, I gathered up the courage to bring my kids to an “open play” at the gymnastics place where everything happened. From the phone call in the parking lot to hiding in a closet waiting for the police to call me back to my beautiful stranger who drove me into Seattle and dropped me at the doors of the emergency room. My whole body shook as I parked the car. Once inside, I noticed the closet door was open and I could see inside, almost like I was watching myself in there, pacing the floor and checking my phone as it slipped from my hands repeatedly because it was hot and I was sweating. My beautiful stranger was behind the desk, checking people in. It was stinking hard. My body’s visceral response was something I had no control over. I sat beside a group of parents who also had kids playing in the gym. I had this urge to scream out “DON’T YOU PEOPLE KNOW THAT THE LAST TIME I WAS HERE MY HUSBAND KILLED HIMSELF!” I felt like I couldn’t breathe. But, I surprised myself that day. I didn’t scream out. I didn’t run out of the building like a bat out of hell. I shed a few tears, but didn’t curl up into a ball on the floor, heaving and sobbing. When I got the kids back in the car, I took a deep breath and thought to myself “Wow. I just did that. That was courageous and strong! Good job Kristen.”
For so long, I’ve been lost and kind of…missing(?)…from my life. While I’ve been wondering “How am I going to do this?”, I didn’t even realize that I have been doing this. While I’ve been stuck in my head feeling sorry and angry for my kids, I’ve also been parenting children with special needs. I recognize that some things that used to be a big deal in the BEFORE, no longer seem important to me. I try to problem solve, rather than being caught up inside the problem itself.
Check me out people! I am in a continuous and dynamic state of moving through. It’s okay if I become exhausted in the sticky, thorny, tangled mess and have to stop and hang out for a bit. I have this new and constantly developing sense of my courage and persistence, so I’m pretty sure I eventually will continue forging through.