Sunday, September 6, 2009

Status Check

The morning after I got home from West Virginia, still wrung out from a horrible day of travel, little sleep and sick, quite literally, with grief, a dear friend came to see us and told us about another man he knows who lost a child. That man had shared something someone told him, which is that the process of moving forward from a loss like ours was done in twos. You get through the first two minutes, then the first two hours, the first two weeks, two months and then finally two years. After about two years, the story goes, you can begin to feel whole again. Greg and I clung to that story like a life raft; it gave us something to aim for. A point on the horizon where this nightmare might finally be behind us.

At the two month point, my friend asked me how I was doing. Unfortunately, at that point, the answer had to be: not that well. We were still waiting on the death certificate at that point, and so I think we lacked a sense of closure. He was a little surprised, I think he thought it was a magic formula that all people would follow. What I've learned, however, is that grief is messy and it impacts everyone individually. A million different nuances impact how you will react to a loss as opposed to how I do. So, for us to expect that our grieving would be tied up into neat little increments of twos was naive. But, the overall premise has some validity, if the timeline doesn't quite hold up. Time heals all wounds, isn't that what they say?

I noticed it on Friday morning. As I was getting ready for work, it suddenly struck me that I felt a little different. A little less raw. It's the only word I can think of to describe it. For me, the initial shock of the loss was like being shot. Not that I really know what being shot is like. But, it hit me with a force and then left me with this horrible, sharp pain that went with me wherever I went. I would get up in the morning and do what I absolutely had to do (no more), but that pain was always there. Suddenly, on Friday, that pain felt different. Again, the best way I know to describe it is like a gunshot wound. Now that wound seems to have been sutured up, and I'm suffering the dull, throbbing pain of someone recovering from surgery, as opposed to bright, white hot blinding pain of a new wound. I still feel pain, and a constant pain, but it's been blunted a bit.

You would think that would be a comfort to me. However, I found myself missing Kelsey terribly on Friday. At first I couldn't figure out what had prompted that. Nothing had happened that reminded me of her more so than happens every day. No one had said anything or done anything that triggered it. Finally, fairly late at night, it came to me. I was afraid. I was afraid of this new, less sharp pain because it might mean I was capable of forgetting her. I'm not saying that is a particular rational viewpoint, but often times fear is not rational.

With this new self-realization, I began actually paying attention to some things about myself, as opposed to walking around like a zombie half the time. I have noticed in the last couple of days that my sense of direction, already weak at best, is completely gone. I keep almost driving by exits or turns to places I've been going to for years. Some of that is that I tend to get lost in the weight of my own thoughts, but some of it, I realized, is that everything just looks different to me. I have no idea why that is, but it is. My perception of things, both new and very familiar to me is not the same and almost always to the detriment of the place. I like the bookstore less. I like sitting on my back porch less. I liked the moonlight less during the last full moon. I still like storms, though. Those are still awe inspiring.

I had already noticed that my immune system took a hit. I find that I succumb to whatever is going around more easily now and shake it off with a lot more effort. I've had a sinus thing going on for a while now and, even with antibiotics, it's sticking around. I had that violent stomach virus before that. I tire easily, but don't sleep well. I did some volunteer work with Marissa yesterday that was pretty physical. We worked outdoors at a local animal shelter pulling weeds in their beds. In the past, something like that would wear me out, but would not have been an agony at the time. I could barely handle it. Granted, I'm not getting younger. But, I was surprised at myself. I did labor like that for hours in my own yard until the heat drove me away from it just this past May. I would venture to say Greg is the same way. He's had to take a few sick days since returning to work. I would have hoped that, with the advent of this new, less intense level of grief, I would recover a little more and regain some stamina. Unfortunately, after yesterday, I have to say that remains to be seen.

When I look at myself in the mirror I see someone who is pale and old. I look as tired as I feel. Never a beauty and never particularly interested in some of the beauty tricks most of my contemporaries use (Botox being a favorite), I looked my age before June 20. Now I look older. I wonder in passing if all of this has taken years off my life. I look at my mother, with her disheveled hair, wearing a bib to eat, getting mad at her neighbor because she wandered off with her purple beanie baby bear (try saying that three times fast) and find myself not particularly saddened at that thought. I would, however, like to look alive in the meantime. Maybe I'll have to cave and get something injected somewhere. I'm still thinking that one over.

In short, life has changed for me. I know that it will never be the same. Whether I can find some joy or even a level of contentment somewhere down the road remains to be seen. I do know now that I will eventually feel differently than I do now. I wonder if I'll ever feel completely whole. I wonder if, like an old war wound, eventually it will only hurt when the weather changes, or if I will always feel some level of ache. I think it's a good sign that I'm curious.

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