Thursday, January 21, 2010

Someone else's shoes.

An acquaintance of mine, with two children, just lost her husband to a long illness. When we first met there was so much that I recognized in her eyes - the concern, the exhaustion, the strength and the sadness. I remember seeing her one day, and she had told me her husband was in the hospital, again, and with resignation she shook her head and said "It's always something." I knew that sentiment all too well - feeling as though we were caught in the constant swell of a wave - nudged toward the shore but just as we could feel the sand beneath our feet we were dragged back out again, barely catching our breaths, treading water. Tragically, they too lost the battle. Though I have suffered similar circumstance, I am at a loss for words - and the frustration of not having anything of comfort to say saddens me to no end. But I know there is no way that I can console her. Her loss is profound and there is no "up" side.

What I want to say has much more to do with survival. I've suggested she just focus on getting herself to the next hour. To the next evening, then the next morning and so on and so on. I want to warn her that the world will look even more harsh, even more cruel. It will be even more painful to be in public, seeing the world go through its motions unaware of her loss. Sounds become a drone, people will seem out of touch and blatantly insensitive. Days will pass like dreams, waking moments will be nightmares. Most likely she will resent having to work, because nothing seems important when a life has slipped through your fingers, escaped hold of your heart. Almost everything will seem meaningless.

I am happy for her that she has two children for whom she must live. For no other reason she must hold on. And I would tell her to let those two blessings be her guiding light. I would warn her to leave herself alone. To let herself weep when she needs to weep whether it's at the bank or in bed. To let herself indulge in whatever soothes the aches - be it lying in bed, avoiding people or ignoring the mail. I would tell her to cling to her children, love them even more fiercely, eat, try to sleep and do it all over the next day. I would say don't make lists unless it helps you, don't say "I should...", just let yourself be. Let your body be. Let your heart be. Let your mind drift. I would suggest she allow her engine to slow down. When you take care of someone with a severe illness you are in constant motion, you do and you do and you do. And it feels as though that's barely enough so you push and you push and you push. And when you lose that person your mind and body will need months to unwind, and you will unravel in a way that leaves you feeling unsure, unsteady and doubtful of your abilities. I would tell her she's beginning a new uphill battle.

I would also say that although the journey is torturous, it is worth it.

I hated telling myself "you are fortunate to be alive" - because in the early days you are numb to that blessing. In my case, I loved Alan almost more than myself. When someone so dear to you is gone, life seems unimaginable without them. Though I knew I owed it to Alan to embrace what I was so lucky (and I think it is sheer luck) to have, for some time it seemed like a sentence, not a gift. Deep down I am sure that this woman knows life is a gift but for now it probably just feels cruel. I continue to have moments every day where I grapple with the unfairness of it all.

Being sixteen months "out" at times doesn't feel any better than one month out. In fact at times it is worse. I am still plagued with flashbacks and I am tormented by the "what ifs". I replay moments over and over in my mind and they continue to choke me mid breath and fill my eyes with tears. But I recognize that I have a purpose so I try not to linger too long on thoughts as they drift in the dark, and I try to focus on what I have, what Alan gave me, what Lily gives me. I recognize that I am needed and that I am so very fortunate. That is what I'd urge this woman to focus on - she is the center of her children's universe, and they, hers. So if she can just grab hold of that love, no matter how painful, perhaps in a year she'll be closer to where I am now. I know my life is richer having known Alan and I hope, at some point, that this woman allows herself to dwell on the beautiful memories she has of her husband - she will need those to pull her through the days. And when she shares them with her children, they will be lifted up as well and together, they won't move on, but they will move forward, slowly, but surely.

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