There are books aplenty about grief and loss and how to process. Essays upon essays that muse on feelings and actions and how to navigate the waves. How to learn to surf and not drown in them when someone you love is gone.

 

Beautiful prose and poetry is written about the pain and hurt and eventual sunrise at the end of it all when you accept it and see the truth that the days do indeed keep coming.

 

But no one talks about the messy parts. The gallows humour parts. The parts when you just have to laugh and cry at the ridiculousness that is real life in the middle of the disaster of loving the dead while you exist in the midst of the living.

 

No one talks about the moments that make you cringe while you’re shaking your head and thinking “why didn’t anyone tell me about THIS!’”

 

No one talks about how you will do your grocery shopping at 11:30pm, just before the store closes, so that you can avoid having to come face to face with all the people who know.

 

No one tells you how to answer the casual question of “what’s he doing after grad?” from someone who hasn’t heard that he died 6 months ago. No one tells you that you will simply lie, saying “ he’s doing great” to avoid having to explain it – again.

 

No one tells you how much you will come to hate seeing people who don’t know. Even more than you may come to hate seeing people who do.

 

No one tells you how to cancel plans, made three days before your person died. No one tells you that you will leave a movie theatre 10 minutes into the movie to send a text to the friend you forgot you made plans with for that evening. Plans made three days ago. Before. No one tells you that you’ll stand there in the lobby, holding your phone and trying to figure out how to say that you can’t make it to dinner because your son is dead and you’re watching a mindless movie with your other kids trying to do anything that makes your mind stop screaming. No one tells you that you will ever send a text saying “I can’t make dinner because my son died.” No one tells you that you will not care how rude that sounds.

 

No one tells you that you will laugh out loud when you ask your other kids what they want to do that evening, two days later, to try to pass the time and one of them says “I don’t know, just hang around? Oh, sorry, bad wording.”. No one tells you that you will laugh because the reality of his bad wording speaks to a reality that is simply unbelievable and surreal.

 

No one tells you that you will start to wonder if you have lost your mind.

 

No one tells you that you will be so angry at the funeral when someone asks why you are letting his friends see him – in an open casket – because, “don’t you know it might upset them?” Them. No one tells you that you will be alright with the fact that you don’t care who is upset.

 

No one tells you that you will look back a month later and have no idea how you’re younger child got fed and taken to school and cared for when you can’t remember doing any of it.

 

No one tells you that you will drive yourself to the morgue in city rush hour and home again and be surprised when someone asks you how you managed it – and why didn’t you ask someone to drive you! It won’t occur to you that you shouldn’t have been able to do something as normal as driving because you did it. And you don’t remember even getting in the car.

 

No one tells you about how hilarious you find it when you buckle the seatbelt around the container holding your son’s ashes in the passenger seat after it goes flying onto the floorboards when you take a hard turn out of the crematorium’s parking lot.

 

No one tells you how sad you will be on the day when, years later, you take out his shirt that you kept because it smelled like him  – and it doesn’t smell like him anymore.

 

No one tells you.

grief doesn’t merely sit.

it resides,

it burrows,

nests,

settles in,

envelopes.

 

heavy,

weighted,

ever-present,

suffocating my

lightness of being

that it has replaced.

 

once a raw

shocking stranger,

now,

a reluctantly

accepted

companion.

 

always present.

constant.

a part of,

yet no longer,

all of

my being.

 

there are still days that I don’t care

that “why” will never be answered.

i still ask it.

of you.

of the universe.

of my goddesses.

of the wind, the moon, the ocean.

i whisper it, scream it, dance with it, sleep with it.

 

there are days that i own the lie of my question.

days that i put down my crafted

protection of pretending that

i don’t know.

moments when i reach in and hold the truth

and lift it out of my shadows

where it stays curled up,

away from where it can hurt me.

 

there are days that i love you for not leaving

in silence.

days that i still hear your voice,

your answer.

screamed at me,

whispered to me, shown to me.

it was your answer and you surrendered it.

you were done carrying it.

 

there are still days that i ask though.

because there are days that it feels better

to leave the answer

floating in its gossamer vessel of nonsensical,

hidden.

because the truth in my question

is that i know the answer to “why”

and it doesn’t change the ending.

You know…. I have spent the last week or so trying to figure out why I’m so “weepy”. Meaning, quick to have tears just sitting there and having them just overwhelm me without warning and for , apparently, no reason.

Then it hits me a couple of days ago that maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with grief and an upcoming date that hurts – a date that should be a celebration of a person’s life but instead now will always be “he would have been… today” .

To clarify, I am an expert-level crafter of the state of “I am fine” until I am so not fine that I am an expert-level mess so for me to do what I did a couple evenings ago is a huge thing.

I was chatting on the phone with my sweetie and I got overwhelmed with ugh and grrr about the topic (which was a mundane one to be honest) and I started crying. For. No. Reason. According to my reason-to-cry-meter which I have (and which is perfect by the way).

And here’s the thing… instead of trying to stop or getting angry that I was losing my shit, I just said ” You know what, I’m just sad this week because of X and I’m emotional. And I’m done trying to not be sad. I just am.”

And an amazing thing happened. No, I didn’t miraculously feel better, but the heaviness of it all became different. Why? Because there was just the sadness and the heavy to feel. The weight of the ever-present push to not let it get to me or to be fine wasn’t quite so present all of sudden. Those words I spoke, “I just am.” weren’t defeat, they were acceptance.

Surrender isn’t always about giving up.

Sometimes it is simply giving in – sometimes for just a moment – and letting it be how it is. That alone makes the load a little lighter.

There was a day when

you were not there,

and then,

all of a sudden,

you were.

I looked at you and I was

overwhelmed by the sense of disbelief

of how that happened and how

It.Just.Is.

 

There was a day when

you were here,

and then,

all of a sudden,

you weren’t.

I looked for you and I was

overwhelmed by the sense of disbelief

of how that happened and how

It.Just.Is.

“I think I’m coming down with something.”

A phrase that we hear, and might say ourselves, from time to time. You know the feeling; tired, run down, maybe some sneezes and sniffles or a scratchy throat that are the unmistakable hints that you’ve caught something and you’re getting sick.

So what do you do?

If you’re like me, you start loading up on vitamin c and drinking more water. Add in a wonderful brew of garlic, ginger, lemon and honey to help battle the germs. Make sure to rest more and try to take it easy so that my body can fight off the bug that is running rampant inside my normally healthy body. I’m lucky enough to have access to a sauna and that’s always part of my arsenal of wiping out the illness. Take some time off work and get better.  In short, I turn my attention to doing whatever I can to help make myself get better as quickly as I can. It’s what we have been told we should do, need to do, for ourselves and for the most part we do. Even I do, and I’m not great at taking care of myself.

So let’s flip this from physical to mental health.

“I am burned out and done. Just done.”

A phrase – or some variation of that gets said fairly often too. Words that convey the simple fact that things are just too much right now, or that our ability to meet the mental or emotional demands on us are just not up to it. Whether it’s work stress or personal issues, whether it’s the tap out from depression, anxiety, grief, exhaustion or any myriad of mental health issues – chronic or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what we do once we have hit that point.

So what do we do? In a perfect world, you would look at what it is that’s the main issue and address it. What do you need, right that moment, to make things better? Then do that. What do you need, long term, to help yourself? Then do that. You would find support or take yourself away from what is causing you stress. You would get help in the form of counselling or medication or therapies that work for you. You would take a day off, maybe a few if you can and take time to get better.

What actually happens though?

We cough and sneeze and call in or email and say we’re sick and stay home. Everyone tells us how much they hope we get better soon and that we should rest and not push ourselves – just take it easy and get better.

 

or….

 

We don’t think we can get out of bed because of the heavy and dark depression or the anxiety that is crippling today or *insert your own version here* but we do it anyways; we get dressed in between panic attacks and sobs that ruin the makeup we’ve already had to re-do twice and we put on clothes that we feel like we can hide inside of. We pull ourselves together and we became masters at faking being “okay” or “fine, just tired” so that we don’t have to try to explain.

Or we don’t get out of bed. We call in or email and say we have a migraine or stomach flu – anything that can be gone in 24 hours so that there won’t be too many questions tomorrow when we do manage to pull ourselves together and make it to the outside world again. We become masters at lying and hiding what is really wrong.

Why? Because making a call and saying “I’m not okay today. I’m not well and it’s not my body that’s the problem.” is not something that we know how to do. It’s also not something that we know how to hear and respond to either. That’s okay though because the only way things will change is if we start changing them after we admit that there is something that needs changing.

So today I did something I never do. Today I called in “sick” and didn’t lie about why. I said I was taking a mental health day and that I was just simply burned out and needed a day to rest and recharge and get my head screwed on straight. You know what? The reply was “good for you, do what you need to.”. Yes, I was nervous about being that honest but I also know that I need to start walking the talk about getting rid of stigma if I really mean it – and I do. Yes, I do realize that I am incredibly lucky that I can do that and that not all of us can. Not everyone has time off available and not everyone works in an environment that you could say those words and not worry about how it will affect your job security. But if you do, and can, please do it when you need to. It’s the only way that taking care of our mental health will start being seen as just as normal and necessary as taking care of our physical health.

They rest inside me, deeply, persistent in their demands for release.

Monsters of thoughts and emotions that are dark with the density they possess.

The weight of them suffocating me lately.

The days fly by in a flurry of avoidance and boundaries of sanity.

The evening hours tick grossly by – second by second with the heaviness of it all.

The monsters – the thoughts – the emotions – form into words, and then sentences in my mind.

Filling volumes of expression that careen around inside of me.

They exhaust me so deeply there that I have nothing left with which to give them voice.

So they continue their dance inside of me.

Ever faster and more frantic they dance to their drums.

Boundaried only by the confines of my weariness.

By my inability to let them find footing and leap outward in the words that they demand be written.

They draw in all the energy I have, consuming it entirely.

All the energy that it would take for me to set them free.

So they stay where they are.

Thunderous in the silence they create.

Trying to make sense of the swirling, spiralling mind that is mine right now. The near constant feeling of things being not right as I search for what will make it all ok.

 

I am fighting to both hold on and to let go at the same time and it isn’t working. Holding on , how do I keep it all together when every day the yearning to just fall apart becomes stronger? Not just a yearning but a need it feels like. Knowing at my deepest level that what I need is to fall apart, to not hold it all together anymore. To just once admit – to myself more than anyone else – that I am not ok and that I am not in control. That I haven’t been for just over four years. Knowing that to let go is the only way that I am going to come back from this edge. The edge that I’m barely balanced on right now. All the time though fighting to not give in to what feels like failure if I do let go. My sense of self so entwined with being strong and independent that to let that veneer crack is unspeakable to me. The rare times that it is released, it is almost immediately sealed back up again. A moment of surrender slammed closed with “I’m ok, I’ll be ok” through the tears as I take deep breaths and tell myself silently to pull my shit together. The fear of knowing that even when I have leaned on someone else for those moments, nothing is actually fixed for long anyways. The well of feelings that hurt and scream inside of me just fills back up again. Happening without exception every time, until my mind yells at me “See, there’s no point in letting it out! Shore up the barricade better this time and bury it more deeply this time.” The pain laughing at my stupidity at thinking that it could be healed.

 

How do I stop the feelings that whisper inside of me? The feelings that get so dark and so huge sometimes that their shadows block out all of the light. The feelings that are heavy and weigh me down with self-doubt and fear, insecurities and hesitation. Feelings that have stolen the lightness of being that I so desperately miss in my life. How do I unshackle them and lift them off so that I can dance and play and explore and live? How do I leave those behind and find the “me” that I know is still there. She’s still there, I know she is, too tired and too weak to fight is how she feels right now, but still there.
I don’t have answers tonight. I can’t see them through the shadows. The fear that the darkness has taken what I need to find scares me. The fear that I won’t find me again, in those shadows, is what screams inside my head. My biggest fear right now though is that the few people in my life that can see past my shadows and are holding my hand to guide me, give up and walk away. I know that they won’t and that I can trust that, but the fear is there, and on nights like this, it plays in the shadows loudly.

the need to control and order and make “perfect” screams inside my head

 

it’s a fight and a drive, both feeding off of each other

 

the urge to find order and rightness trumps everything else right now

 

life spins and my thirst for alignment and structure is paramount

 

the breaking point is passed

 

i clean, organize, make right , put in order

 

nothing is left unturned, untouched

 

and yet it’s not enough

 

not tonight

 

the thirst for more is too much to put to bed

 

recent nights, it’s been put under wraps, muffled but not silenced

 

quieted and sated, a reprieve found

 

yet tonight it claws and scratches

 

demanding attention

 

requiring to be heard and attended to.

 

it hungers for

 

what’s been put off over and over again

 

the yearning

 

whispering to me what it needs

 

needs, not wants

 

the need that will only crave more

 

the longer it’s not fed

 

so I relent

 

i give in and loose the binds that hold

 

freedom of release flows and it is what’s needed

 

fed

 

I think we hit a point in life where we stop dreaming. We give up the sitting and wondering and fantasizing of “what if” and “maybe someday” or even the “some day I will…”. We get caught up with practical and realistic and being reasonable of what we should, and can, expect out of life.

When I was 16 I sat in my living room with a friend and an atlas open on the floor and we marked out the route we would take after graduation. The countries we wanted to see and travel and all the places that we would visit. For weeks we would plan and discuss and dream. There were times that I thought it might not happen but I believed it would. Really believed it. Then life curved off the path of that choosing. A year and a half later I was getting married and a year and half after that I was having my first son and that atlas was firmly tucked away in my bookshelf.

The next 20 years saw a lot of changes and a lot of moves and that atlas always got packed up and moved along with me though. Everytime I took it off the shelf to pack it, I would open it up and trace the marker lines on the maps and get a little more sad that I wasn’t going to get to see those places and experience what I wanted to. What was happening was a slow and very steady creeping of surrendering. Giving up. Letting the little doubt grow and take hold until even looking at the cover of that atlas made me melancholy about what wasn’t going to be.

Life was busy and full and I loved it. Raising my kids and working and volunteering kept me so busy that dreams took a seat so far removed from “real life” that they ceased to exist anymore for me.

Then came a point that I started to realize that without those dreams, life was becoming heavy and dark in some way – especially at a time that it should have been lighter. The boys were getting older and a marriage that wasn’t right was over and it was time to sit and take a hard look at what I wanted and what was needed. So the small dreams started. Maybe a weekend trip with my boys. Someplace realistic still but a dream all the same. So a plan was made and we did it. It felt good to see that maybe there was that elusive thing still there – hope – hope that a dream can come to fruition.

Then life took a sidestep again. This time, a big enough slam to knock me off the track completely.

A decision to rebuild life and move forward in a new direction and in a new city brought me to packing again. This time, I picked up that atlas – the book with the dreams I had had for 25 years – dreams that no matter how unattainable they felt, always sat there deep inside of me, a small sliver of “maybe some day” always there. I picked up that atlas and there was no sliver of “maybe some day” left. It was just gone. Defeated and gone. After packing that atlas around for almost 25 years, I threw it out.

The last three and a half years have seen me have days of starting to dream again, starting to think of “maybe some day” – but it has always been so short lived as to be almost not there. Those moments have been met with such grief and mourning of the loss of belief and hope that anything could come to pass that it was too hurtful to even think of dreaming.

Moments here and there of plan making or looking forward always hit hard inside my head of a practical response of why bother dreaming when it isn’t going to happen anyways. Like the game of what would you do if you won a million dollars, I was at the point of who cares – it’s pointless conjecture and the reality is what you have and where you are is it. So stop dreaming. Friends would make small talk and we would sit and say “where would you go if you could go anywhere?” and my internal response was always why bother answering – it won’t happen and it’ just torture to dream when it won’t happen anyways. Simple.

The last few months though something has started to shift. Spending time with a special someone who is helping me remember what it’s like to dream and fantasize and think “what if”. Even if it is just silly and will never come to pass most likely – it’s still fun and it still makes me smile – if I let it. This weekend, an hour spent together, curled up dreaming and thinking and letting imaginations and wishes run wild for a bit, that feeling so long forgotten, and so good to feel again. So good to dream again. And who knows, maybe someday…it’s been too long since I’ve thought that and let myself believe it. Feels good.