On the other side…

…of June 18th. Made it. Another anniversary of the ones I’ve loved and lost, remembered, and mourned has passed.

The days leading up to the 18th have an increasing sense of dread, as the memories rise closer to the surface than they are at other times of the year. It’s a bit of a relief to get past the 18th again, though the desire to pause and remember on this day for me is strong.

I went for a long walk the other day, and odd thoughts popped into my head as I remembered the time years ago when my loved ones died:

  • Dr. Resident (can’t remember his real name) coming in to tell us there was no hope. He hated giving bad news…that was clear…his awkwardness had a sweetness and compassion to it that I’ll always remember. I’ll also remember his fly was open…an odd thing to remember, but just as gales of laughter can dissolve into tears, it actually works the other way around. As Dr. Resident would come in and out of the room, we would notice that it was still open (nothing obscene, but just the concept is embaressing) and our tears would be interrupted with tense giggles. Thank you, Dr. for those inadvertent moments of comic relief. It kept me from going over the edge of despair at a time when I had things I needed to get done.
  • I remembered the physical ache in my chest, that I couldn’t figure out. Was it a pressure that felt like it was going to explode? Or implode? Or perhaps both? Grief hurts…not just emotionally, but in a real way.
  • I recall the way my brain got fuzzy and stopped working like it usually did. I remember having trouble being interested in anything. I couldn’t focus or concentrate. Thinking that usually came easy now seemed impossible. I remember wondering if I seriously was losing my mind. Was I ever going to be able to function? I couldn’t read…well, I could read, but the words and paragraphs didn’t come together to make sense, and I would reread it, hoping I could do it. I remember starting with the Reader’s Digest…seeing if I could do 2 pages at a time, and slowly working my way back up.
  • I remember the loss of purpose, and aimlessness I had after my loss. What was the point of anything? I scrambled ridiculously to recapture some meaning, to fill this enormous hole in some way, however inadequately…I decided I would try something new. One afternoon, wonton soup became my mission in life. Only I didn’t have bok choy like the recipe called for. I didn’t know about bok choy, had never used it, and the nearby store didn’t have it. I became frantic to track down bok choy, needing to get this soup ready, like it was the last big task in life. In a ways that is only now quite funny, that wonton soup became something so significant—a frantic need to feel a little less out of control, to have something go right, to have something go well—the wonton soup was completed! I haven’t made it since.
  • I remember that weeks after, someone made a joke and I laughed. The first time, a gut splitting peal of laughter that was a genuine response to something that hit my funny bone. And then I stopped and cried, and felt terrible, irrational guilt. How could I ever enjoy something when 2 that I cared so much about were dead? And I began to figure out how I would reconcile a life that continued even those the lives of those I loved did not.
  • I remember my prayer for months and years after…asking, in advance, for God’s understanding that when I hit those pearly gates, there were 2 that I was going to make a beeline for, to give them a hug. Only after that, would I approach my Maker. I assume God will be compassionate and “get it”

I can function on the 18th of June now…have been able to for some years. I compartmentalize, knowing very much it is the day, but putting it off to the side while I meet with people experiencing their own struggles, and witness the bravery of my clients. I can do good work. I make phone calls, write notes, respond to emails—I think genuinely able to engage with the tasks of the day, thought the day’s significance is never far away. The flowers Melanie has put on my desk remind me she hasn’t forgotten either. I get an email or two of those who remember with me…and then the time comes when I can turn my full attention to the importance of the day.

Yesterday, as I do every year, I went to the florist to purchase flowers for the grave, I struggled, as I always do each year, to maintain my composure. I’d rather not distress the florist by dissolving into tears, so I work to have a balance allowing myself to acknowledge the sadness that necessitates this purchase and distracting myself when tears threaten to spill over.

The sky wept with me as I spent time graveside, remembering what was, and wishing for what might have been. Asking myselfs all the “what ifs” that I do every year, and wishing it were different. It felt right that it was raining.

And I woke up this morning and it was the 19th of June. Made it. The loss is still there, but the usual layer of scar tissue is back over it. Places to go, people to see. I am OK.

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