I was looking at a photo of myself today....a selfie I took for an online featured artist opportunity. I took it in my bedroom (I'm learning to say 'my' now) with one of my drawings.
I suddenly saw the 69 year old me.
Not that there is anything wrong with how I look. More of the question of I don't know when
that happened. When did I become 'old'?
Mind you, in my mind I am anything but. I surely must still be only 50.....right?!
But the evidence in the photo points to someone who looks oddly like a cross between my mother's mouth and my father's eyes and the one person who never saw my aging as anything but beautiful and natural, including the lines on my face and the stretch marks on my belly....which he called beautiful because I carried children there.....that person is gone from this plane of reality.
When David died everything went sideways
My heart sank into the middle of my being and I knew that he was gone even though my mind could not possibly comprehend that. My body knew he was dead. I had watched him go and felt that physical link sever as he sighed out of existence.
Now, a year later, I can see that I have been in shock. I have been in shock for a year. Nobody tells you that you are in shock......however, you can somehow safely assume it in more cogent moments.
The absolute silence that is left behind when the one person who knew you better than anyone else is gone, is like what I imagine a black hole to be....an insatiable void that swallows everything. There is no light and no sound and no tether to which you can tie yourself. You drift into that nothingness and every moment is either hellishly long or gone before you can blink.
I had a difficult time stringing together sentences. If you let me ramble and tell stories, I could pick up the threads and follow myself from point A to point B. Otherwise my mind was off, drifting in the void...searching for something solid and familiar.
I never knew what a panic attack was until one day when I was preparing to leave to lead a workshop. I was gathering my things by the front door when suddenly my heart began to race. It beat against my ribs like a bird tearing it's wings trying to escape a cage. My hands began to shake... I still have a slight tremor to this day....but this was more violent. I sat down and slowed my breathing. I wondered if I would need to call emergency services...but after a few minutes it passed.....leaving me bewildered.
The second time I was driving back from a rehearsal in Chicago. Fourth of July weekend traffic was bumper to bumper and there was nowhere to exit the highway. The rising of a crackling energy started to swell in my chest...and my hands began to tremble on the wheel. I felt as though a wave was about to swallow me and I quickly realized that I was not only a danger to myself...but to others as well. I remembered the advice of Megan DeVine, author of "It's OK That You're Not OK" : When your grief is larger than your environment, you need something to bring you fully into the moment. I began to list words to each letter of the alphabet, then names and flowers and animals. I arrived home in one piece and collapsed onto the living room floor....sobbing and shaking....certain that should I die there...no one would know or care.
Fear was driving me at a breakneck speed into a future that it had no idea whether that was true or not...but felt pretty certain that my fate was tied to dying alone from grief....laying on my floor. I was not coherent in my thinking but knew I needed help. I managed to pull myself up to email (not call) but email my dear friend and therapist to ask her to contact me. Then I texted another friend asking for some support. He was in the City himself and especially because I was texting, he had no idea of the emotional fingernails I was hanging by. He said he would reach out when he arrived home. A short time later my phone rang and it was yet another friend and upon hearing my shaking voice and sniffing back of tears offered to come over. I told her 'Ok' and that the door was unlocked and I did at least have pants on...a weak attempt at humor like David might have managed. She brought food and cut it up for me and sat with me and reminded me that if roles were reversed...David would likely be on the couch under his black leather jacket (it truly was his way for years when his ego would crash), that jacket that his brother had been gifted when David felt the need for hiding himself was past and gone. She kept me afloat until the worst had passed. Bless her!
Sometimes I would be overcome in a store. The phrase "No more. Never again." would begin to rumble in me and once again the sensation of absolute groundlessness would have me trembling or frozen. I would have to bring my logical self back on line to remind me to move on before someone came to 'help' me and find me incoherent.
Driving home from anywhere meant driving home to an empty house that screamed David's absence. The feeling was one of having been scooped out in the middle....a massive hole in the middle of me that felt like, as Paul Simon said: "Everybody sees you're blown apart. Everybody sees the wind blow."
It was 'fear'. Fear had me closing windows and doors and locking them, even when I was home. It had me setting the security alarm every night when that only used to happen if we were gone from home. Fear had so many scenarios set up to terrify me with and screamed so loudly at me that I could hear nothing but the voice of Fear. I remembered something about telling emotions to take a seat. That the voices of the various feelings and the thoughts they brought could be met if we are willing to listen to the gifts they offer and not merely the raw and unfiltered emotional goo. So I told Fear that I truly wanted to hear what it had to say....but when it insisted on screaming at me that I could not. So at last I sat down and listened.
Fear wants to keep us safe. That is all it wanted for me....to keep me safe. I made certain that I had an emergency list with a group of people who would have keys and be able to be called upon. Fear wanted me to have my will in order and medical directives in place. It wanted me to ask friends to check on me once or twice a week.
I listened. I was amazed at how much quieter Fear was. Having been heard about what it felt were the most pressing issues...it spoke less often and with thoughts that were easier to question the validity of. Shadow unmet will sweep us into torment.
Now a year has passed. David's first "Transitional Birth Day" we dubbed it as friends gathered to have ceremony and ritual for the anniversary of his death.
Sometimes days will go by without tears or anxiety or the constancy of his 'not here'-ness.
Someone asked me recently if I had ever just fallen apart in all of this grieving....like for days....not functional....suggesting that maybe I needed to let myself either do that or 'lay it down' for a while....that I had earned some respite.
"What do those options look like?" I wondered to myself.
Falling on the floor?
Drive a car?
Find a reason to do anything except the barest minimum of keeping bills paid and pants on?
Lay it down?????!!!!!????:
Meaning somehow I DON'T think about David?
Go to dinner or breakfast or lunch with friends?
Go on a date? (yes....a date)
Play my guitar? (and cry through most of what I play)
Fold clothes? (clean ones)
Sometimes 10 minutes of staring at my yard is respite.
Sometimes listening to a friend tell me about 'their' life is respite.
Sometimes a night's sleep helped by half a xanax when there has been little sleep for days is respite.
The truth is....my life is still punctuated with thousands of little losses...even as the pain is beginning to soften somewhat.....I've done everything from fall apart to laying it down to precious moments of respite.....and still....
the truth is Everything Has Changed.....
including the face in the mirror....
What do you think now David?
Now that sideways is how my life is being lived.....?????