It’s Okay To Be Sad.

Dad, Wendy, and Mom - Dec 1996
Dad, Wendy, and Mom – Dec 1996

March.

It’s nearing the 16-year anniversary of the train crash, which is always a time of great emotion and introspection for me. I think a lot about what life has been like for me and my family since that day, and I think about how far we’ve come. As time has passed, the loss has become easier to bear, and I’ve been able to view more clearly the blessings it carried.

I wanted to write my post about that, about blessings, but I fought for every word that I typed. It felt like I was choking. I hate that. If it’s not there, it’s just not there. I can’t force it. So, I changed direction.

Talked to my sis about it a little. She lives in the folks’ old homestead and she says she feels them there all the time. That makes it tough for her sometimes, but it is a comfort, as well. I think we’ve all moved on enough in our lives that the anniversary is not as profoundly difficult as it was. We all observe it differently, anyway. It’s a day where I do a lot of navel-gazing and thinking.

Last year, going to my friend’s wedding was the best thing that could have happened. It really helped me manage my feelings. It’s not as if I hide under the covers and sob all day like I used to, but I am still so very sad and lonely on that day. Well, to be honest, the whole month is kind of blue. With the possible exception of my birthday, I just have an underlying emptiness this time of year.

I just miss them so damned much.

I don’t want people to feel sorry for me or anything – that’s not it at all. I just feel the need to say it out loud. It’s a validation of the love and the loss and the empty space.

The whole month carries a kind of fog that descends at the end of February. I have to consciously redirect my thoughts to happier things, which often is more easily said than done. I coach myself to put on a smile and be cheerful when I feel it coming on. I talk myself through the day, a moment at a time. When I’m at work, sometimes I take a walk for a few minutes to get some fresh air and clear my head. Sometimes that works, and sometimes I end up in the bathroom stall with tears rolling down my face. That has happened more times than I care to admit.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with grief. I’m not the only one who has lost a parent, a sibling, a child, a spouse. I know you’re out there, crying silently in the dark, biting your quivering lip, wishing you could turn back time. I know you still want to hear their voices and feel their hugs. I know you steal glances at families and couples and happy strangers and your face burns with envy or regret. I know the ache that really does feel like your heart has broken in two. And whether it’s been a week, or a year, or a decade or two, it doesn’t matter — because sometimes, it feels like now and it feels like then at the same damned time.

It’s been 16 years, and I still hurt, and the depth of my grief still scares me. I’ve come to accept that it will always be there, and I’ve even come to the realization that it has done me some good, but it’s still unwelcome. I mean, come on — by this time, I’m supposed to be done with it, right?

Wrong. Five years, ten years, twenty years down the road, it’ll still be there, and I’ll still struggle with it. There is no closure. I don’t care what people say — I don’t believe it. You move on, you get past the worst of it, and your life takes a different turn. But the issue isn’t closed and it isn’t resolved. It’s unfinished, like a half-built highway overpass that looms ahead – a bridge to nowhere. There is no end.

I wrote back in October that I have sort of an inner governor that keeps me from going off the deep end and drowning in my sorrow. That’s true. But it doesn’t protect me from the heartache. Most of the time, I function at the level I’m supposed to. But sometimes, a big rolling wave crashes over me, and it’s a day or two before I can breathe again.

I miss them with every hair and bone and piece of flesh that I am.

I’m here to say that it does get better, yes. The worst passes, even when we are quite certain we won’t survive. Healing is slow, and a broken heart is never quite whole again, but I think that’s okay.

And it’s okay that sometimes I still break down in the ladies’ room, and it’s okay that my throat catches when I talk about my Daddy.

It’s okay to be emotional when you need to be.

It’s okay to be sad. It won’t last forever.

xoxo

 

 

 

A Little Bit Blue.

Funny thing about grief: it finds its own way.

It barges in sometimes, an unwanted, boorish intruder with a booming voice and bad body odor, and forces you into a confrontation. You’ve barred the door and closed the curtains and turned off the porch light, but that doesn’t matter. It’s here, and it WILL BE HEARD.

I was minding my own business this weekend, trying to find my desk under all of the stacks of mail and paper, when I found it.  The Book.  It’s a nondescript hardcover, coffee-table sized, with writing on the spine and section dividers.  It is the book that was prepared by my family’s law firm to provide personal portraits of my mother, father, and sister to people who never knew them.  It was intended to show them as special people who were loved, who were important, and who are deeply missed.  It does a pretty good job of it.  There are photographs, excerpts from our depositions and testimonial letters from family and friends.  It touches on highlights of their lives and then devotes the end of the text to their sudden deaths.

I had brought it down from the shelf a few months ago when Number Young Son had some questions about the train crash.  Having been so young at the time, neither of the boys have read the newspaper articles or seen this book.  Their knowledge of the crash has come from me and their dad. I hoped that maybe the book could fill in some of the holes and answer some of their questions.

Of course I had to open it.  I just thumbed through it, pausing to read a few lines here and there.  The tears welled up and spilled, and my throat was tight, but it was more of a release than anything else.  Reading those heartfelt words about my Pa, my Momma and my goofy sister made me cry good tears.  But even those tears just drip into the void.

I’ve done that ‘grief work.’  Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy — it’s not. It’s horrible, brutal, cruel, painful, exhausting, punishing work.  It’s as tiring as hard physical labor. It drains every last bit of energy, spirit, ambition, and hope right out of you. It robs you; it takes you down to the raw nubs of your most naked inner self and leaves you with nothing.  I have spent way too much time there, thanks.  No need to go back.  These days, I have a sort of inner governor that kicks in when the going gets rough – it keeps me from the deep end of that drowning pool.

But that is not to say that I don’t mourn.  Believe me, I miss my parents with every cell in my body.  I miss my sister the same way.  I ache for their voices and yearn to be wrapped in their hugs. But fifteen years after the fact, the jagged edges have been worn smooth.  The peaks and valleys are there and the road is still bumpy in spots, but I’m no longer picking splinters out of my heart.  My sadness is a still, deep well.

So when I saw an item shared on my Facebook feed, a link to a post entitled Mourning My Mom, Before and After Facebook, I had to read it.  The author talked about how different it might have been had Facebook been around when her mother passed away in 2002.  I won’t summarize it here — you can read for yourself — but she made some great points and made me think about how we mourn and how people offer comfort.

I could write at length about my grief and mourning.  I could, but I can’t.  I can’t, because I still have some kind of block that prevents me, like that governor inside, from taking it too far. Self-preservation, I suppose. But that can be so frustrating, when I know that each time I write about it, talk about it, and read about it, it gets a little easier for me.  I really want to scream and holler and throw things and Get It All Out. Then I would feel so much better, right?

That’s a myth, though.  A pipe dream.  I could never get it all out.  It’s part of me now, and it’s changed me.

In the article, the author says, But grief is illogical. It never feels resolved.  She’s right about that.  I want to spit every time I hear someone use the term ‘closure.’  Like you can close the door on that part of your life, and it’s done.  Pfft.  Maybe there are people who can, but I haven’t met one.  I can’t close that door because there’s a big boot stuck in it.  Grief, that paragon of perfect timing, is not about to be shut behind that door.  It is going to show up unannounced and unwelcome, for the rest of my life.  When you least expect it, expect it.

I’m no expert.  I’m not here to tell anyone how it’s done.  I’m not here to wear my loss like a medal or trot it out as a trump card at the pity party.  It’s fact, and it’s my life.  Even my siblings, who had the same loss I had, don’t experience the same mourning in the same way.  I don’t want to carry it around as an excuse for what I do or don’t do.  In reality, it’s there; sometimes I spend time thinking about it, but most times I don’t.  When it was new and fresh and ugly, there was a part of me that wanted everyone to know, so they could understand the person pretending to be me.  I wanted justification.  I wanted reasons.  I wanted something.  Anything.

So I guess this is rather a pointless post.  I’m blue now, but it won’t last forever. I’ll pause and reflect and savor warm memories of the way Momma pushed up her glasses and how she answered the phone in her sing-song voice; how my Pa would perch on the stool in the dining room, peeling apples for the pies she made; and the taste of Wendy’s World-Famous Potato Salad.  I’ll wipe some tears and bite my lip.  I’ll think about what could have been.  I’ll wish I could wake up from this bad dream that’s lasted fifteen years.

And then I’ll be thankful to be as far down this road as I am, and I’ll pray I don’t have to walk that stretch again.

Thanks for listening.

 

 

photo credit perfect_hexagon

Everyone Has a Story – Here is Mine.

Saluki on 3.15.13 passes 3.15.99 crash site.

Amtrak Saluki passes March 15, 1999 crash site on March 15, 2013. Inset: memorial plaque.

 

“Take a deep breath,” she said.

Just over two years ago, my friend Bobbi Emel asked if I would be interested in guest posting for her website, The Bounce Blog.  Bobbi’s blog is a great resource for personal development and a great read, as well: she’s a psychotherapist in Los Altos, CA, who specializes in helping people cope with grief, stress, and anxiety.  I guarantee you’ll find something interesting and helpful there.

Bobbi and I are childhood friends, and when we reconnected through Facebook a few years back, we were able to catch up on the years in between.  When she asked me if I’d like to share my grief story on her blog, I was honored to do so.  So here is my story.

The article is called, Resilience: “Sometimes Life Hands You a New Normal.”

More here on Wikipedia.

 

photo credit Buddahbless  (Imagine my surprise to find this very photograph.)