Remembering the Tidal Wave

-There’s no denying that this week, the week of June 18, sucks. Maybe it always will.  Each moment of June 18, 2013…and the days leading up to it, are pounding brain in tidal waves of memory and grief this week. I’m not alone in grief; I don’t pretend to be. I don’t share these thoughts in an effort to seem important, but because these feelings are important, and we all have them. They merit expression in words, which don’t come easily for everyone.  Our stories matter. Here’s some of mine-

It’s not just remembering saying goodbye the day you died. It’s the remembrance of everything in those last days.

That final trip to the hospital, when you were discharged and assigned hospice care.  I promised to make you something good to eat when we got home. You just looked at me with those sad, blue, dolphin eyes. You smiled, slightly; I took a photo.  I didn’t know that you were saying goodbye, then. I had absolutely no idea. Not until June the 19, when I was sorting out pictures for the funeral arrangements. I looked at that photo – taken only days before – and saw your face looking back at me in that moment: brave, sad, loving, pitying.

At home, family began to arrive. Hospice gravely told us you had a few weeks, perhaps. The truth was it would only be a few days. Dad went back to the bedroom and told you, quietly, what they’d said. I heard you cry out, “I don’t want to die yet!” The loudest words you’d spoken in weeks. It broke my heart. Breaks my heart, even at this very moment; I can hear it now.

That night I screamed. And screamed. This was a nightmare I had had over and over as a small child. But was this real? Was this real? No, no, couldn’t be. It was. But it couldn’t be.

Surely I would wake up.

The next day, you went to sleep.

 Your friends and family poured in. Bringing food. Sitting in the bed next to you. Singing and praying and kissing your face as you drifted in and out of awareness.  I lay in bed with my arms around you while you slept. I tried not to cry, in case you would hear, but once I lost control. You hadn’t moved all day, until then. You moaned and lifted your hand to rub my back, softly. Small tears slipped out of the corners of your closed eyes. Later, there would be a tiny bit of dry salt there.

Don’t worry. I know how much you love me. Always have. Always will.

June 17: The night before it happened, I sat near you with my husband and my best friend. We read you poems. You seemed content, though you did not stir. Dad held your hand all night: so sweet, so vigilant.

I went to home.

He called the next morning. Early. Barely able to get the words out, he told me that you were struggling to breathe, “fish out of water,” he said.

I made it just in time, which was a miracle. Another miracle; you heard my voice and opened your eyes: looked at me, into me.

That’s how you left the world, looking into me.

Pouring your love into me, just like you always had.

I saw you leave. Saw the light go out. Saw your body empty of you. I know where you went.

No one could die better. What a hard thing, but what an honor, it was: to say goodbye like that, your eyes on mine. It’s a memory that hurts and haunts me, but I treasure it all the same. Sometimes, a lot of times, that’s the image I see when I close my eyes at night.

-People say that grief comes in waves, and they are right. That’s how it feels. Like a tidal wave. I think that the first year is the worst for most people: you never know how high the waves are going to be, when they are going to hit. It’s not that you miss someone less after the first year; it’s just that you learn to keep swimming. Life keeps happening no matter how much you feel like it should have stopped. Eventually it just becomes part of you. That doesn’t mean you forget, or that it doesn’t hurt anymore, but it becomes a different sort of thing. You learn to anticipate what might trigger it: holidays, birthday and weeks like this one: the anniversary of the loss.

It’s been 3 years now, and most days I keep swimming pretty well. But this week has – like a tidal wave – knocked me off my feet. I wasn’t expecting it, somehow. All these memories to come flooding in this strongly. It sucks – literally sucks the air out of me-sucks me down under the weight of everything. People who haven’t had this kind of loss in their lives don’t quite realize how much these waves can  feel less like sadness and more like raw horror. While I share this without a bow on top, without any dusting of sugar, I do know that it won’t always hurt like this.

Next week will be better, different, again. But I do think it’s important to acknowledge our pain when we’re in it. We feel these things  because we’ve lost something valuable–in our grief, we acknowledge the value of what we’ve lost.

As my mom always said, “It is what it is.”

Fruit and Flowers: 4th Anniversary

They say you won’t be able to sleep the night before your wedding, and that, the day of your wedding, you will be jittery and nervous.  Last night when I went to sleep, I got to thinking about how none of that had been true for me, exactly four years ago.

The night before my wedding, I was excited, but not nervous. I slept well, if little: the “little” part was only because it had been a late night visiting with family and because I had to get up early the next morning to get beautiful. I remember the strange realization that fell over me as I crawled into my childhood bed, head on “The Little Mermaid” pillowcase that my mom had put there (probably with emotions that I can only begin to understand now that I’m a mother.)

I realized that I wouldn’t be sleeping there anymore, not unless there was some special reason. My best friend and maid-of-honor was sleeping on an air mattress or something in my room, and I realized that I was – for the most part – saying goodbye to Little Mermaid pillowcases and slumber parties (I have since realized that there are some exceptions!)

It was the last of so many things I knew, with infinite firsts on the horizon.

But I slept, and slept well, maybe because I knew that it was all new for Dane, too. That’s what marriage is, in large part: loving someone enough to say, “Hey, whatever it is, this life together, I want it with you. Let’s jump into the unknown, holding hands. You are my person, and we will help each other  with all the firsts & all the lasts, too.”

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Four years later, and I know there is no one else that I’d rather be holding my hand. We are blessed to share so many things in common: creative interests, nerdy stuff, morals and values, perspectives on family and faith. We enjoy each other, though we are not perfect at all. We are also incredibly different from one another in ways that can make things challenging for us sometimes.

In the way we approach life, we couldn’t be more opposite: I’m over here clumsily juggling 20 balls in the air (and dropping some, like “oh well!”) Meanwhile, he’s in the opposite corner, slowly and carefully entering each task into a spreadsheet, thinking of the best way to get each thing done. I’m more emotional, passion-driven. He is more practical, rule-oriented.  Sometimes we step on each other’s toes.

Sometimes we also show our affection in different ways, which can mean that, sadly, we often miss what the other has done in a wholehearted effort to say, “I love you.” When we have these differences, though, we are both learning to grasp the realization that what the other was trying to say was, in fact, “I love you,” and that’s really what matters most.

We’ve been through a lot of death and a lot of change in four short years, and I think it’s made us both realize how short life is. And this year we celebrate our anniversary with our little girl.  I think she has made our hearts grow larger, so that as our love for her has grown, our love and appreciation for one another has, too. Every day I am grateful for the love that binds us. Every day I am grateful our life together.

Happy 4th Anniversary, Dane!

(Apparently, we are supposed to give each other fruit and flowers.)