Friday, July 25, 2014

Retreat and re-emergence

For the past decade or so Kevin and I co-taught a storytelling workshop in the Adirondack mountains with our friend Marni Gillard. It was wonderful, a chance to connect with nature, story and each other. This year I co-taught only with Marni, missing Kevin intensely the entire time. I could see him in each corner and yearned for him ferociously. It was very hard. It was also very good to return to work. To remember that I am a good teacher. That story has meaning to me and creates meaning for all of us.

I stayed on for Women's Writing Week, a retreat full of brilliant women, good classes and thoughtful language. I've written about this retreat before, but this year was different. I spent a lot of time writing, dreaming, crying and being held in community. It helped at the same time that it hurt, reminding me that I am coming home to an empty house.

On the next to the last day we found a luna moth, clinging to a lamp post. My friend Phillip sent this to me, on the symbolism of the luna moth. "They are born, they transform, they love, they die, and then are again reborn. Their cycles are short, as are our years while we are here. We are reminded to make the most of our moments and to live and love to the fullest." A new story, a new piece of meaning to add to this time in my life. Emergence, even for just a day or so.

So it is.

I am going home from the mountains to an empty house. I am heartbroken. And in that loss I am reminded over and over of the love. Always the love. The love between me and Kevin that will never cease. The love I felt from all my friends at the retreat. The love I feel for the world, in spite of my brokenness. I am reminded that we are born, live, die and continue, in love.

And in the end
the love you make
is equal to the love
you take.

 (17 weeks. I miss you with all my heart. I will continue to look for you in moths, in the light reflected  on water, in my dreams, in every breeze. I love you.)

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, July 18, 2014

How to go to sleep. A primer.

It’s hard to sleep when the one you love isn’t there. You already know that, from business trips and the occasional separate vacation. Now imagine they will never sleep by your side again. You will never hear them breathing. You will never nudge them to make the stop snoring. You will never again be able to wake them when you had a bad dream and know you don’t even have to ask for them to hold you. None of these will even be faint options, the poor choice to be regretted later. They are beyond your reach.

Imagine that.

So the question naturally arises, how do you go to sleep without them? Here, in the first of a series of  occasional instructional farcical posts, are directions. 

How to go to sleep when the one you love is dead.
  1. At first you may find sleep is your only ally. Your fatigue from the long sick nights finally has a chance to be appeased. Sleep becomes the place where you can hide and pretend none of this is happening. Like a child, you burrow into your covers and put pillows all around you, a fort against the pain of the outside world. This won’t last so enjoy it while you can.
  2. The laws of physics shift and, while you know it’s impossible, the nights become unbearably long and impossibly quiet. Perhaps the planet has tilted in some new way. You will wonder if you have gone deaf or if the voices in your head have become so loud you can hear nothing else. So you do everything you can to delay the moment when you turn out the light and you are alone in the dark.
  3. Avoidance is an excellent tool. Do laundry. Do dishes. Watch shows on tv at which you previously scoffed. Go for a walk. Go out with a friend. Do everything you can to avoid that still, silent moment when the light clicks off and all you can see is nothing.
  4. The time will come when you need to go to sleep. Some of you may choose to avoid your shared bed. That’s fine. Some will choose to remain there. That’s fine, too.
  5. Surround yourself with the things you love, that which has given comfort in the past. Your books, your journal, your tv remote. Now may be the time to find your old teddy bear and hold her as close as you can. While none of these will help, they are at least cardboard arms against the dark.
  6. Build your fort. Pillows at your side to remind you of the warmth of your love when they lay beside you. Blankets around you, swaddling as if you are being held. Whatever you need to know you are safe. Or as safe as you can be without them there.
  7. Avoid the dark until your eyes are so sandy they hurt. Then.
  8. Be brave. Turn out the light. This is your second bravest moment of the day, exceeded only by getting out of bed in the morning. Notice the shifting shadows and the soft sounds. Cry if you need to, your eyes shut tightly against the night. Talk to your beloved and beg them to be there, even if you can’t hear them answer. You don’t know for sure that they can’t hear you.
  9. Finally, after many gasping breaths, starts and stops, the light turned on and then off again, lie back. Breath. Look into the night because the night has no terrors in it now. You have already survived the worst.
  10. And wait. Eventually sleep may come. Or not.
  11. In the morning avoid the mirror. You know the smudges under your eyes already, they have become your flags of honor. Go through the day. And then finally, when it is late enough, try again.

(16 weeks. I would stop time if I could. I don’t know how. I would do anything to have you here and whole again.)

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, July 11, 2014

Cognitive dissonance; healing and betrayal

I've written before about the complexity of grief. About its twistiness, its odd intersections, its self-contradictory nature. I am living in a state of cognitive dissonance. Because grief is what it is and I am who I am, I find the nature of the dissonance changes almost daily. Some days I'm torn up because I didn't do something while he was still here, other days it's because I forgot something - do I remember the shape of his hand? It changes.

These days, most of the dissonance comes from the inescapable fact that parts of me are starting to heal. This isn't to say I won't always miss Kevin, won't always grieve him - I will - but parts of me are beginning to scab over. I am no longer always an open wound. Much of the time I feel raw and exposed, but I am aware that I've laughed. I've thought about the future in some limited way. I have had days where I didn't cry.

I can hear some of you cheering, telling me this is great. And it is. It is also beyond comprehension, cruel, an act of betrayal. Just writing it down feels like betrayal. Part of me knows without any hesitation that healing is betraying him. betraying my love for him. That part of me wants to remain suspended in this pain, in this grief, because it's a connection to him. That part of me states, quite loudly, that if I move forward, if I let the wounds crust over, I am choosing to forget him and betraying the love we have for each other (ignore the tense issues. I prefer present tense for this stuff). That part is loud, powerful and angry.

Other parts of me know differently. They tell me that I can remain connected to him, even if I heal. That the love between us is so strong that nothing can end it, not even death. That, frankly, I will never stop missing him, but it is okay to move forward (not on, never on) and it is, after all, what he would want. Wants.

These parts battle it out every day. In some ways it's interesting, stepping back and watching them fight, but mostly it's just tiring.

I know healing takes time. I know I will eventually not be this sad all the time and that this is a good thing. I know that living my life fully is the best way I can honor Kevin and it is what he wants. I know these things. Equally, I know that I have been through something traumatic and any change is frightening now. Suspension is easier, in some ways, than movement. And lastly, I know that I will change. That my feelings will ease, that I will eventually scar over and become someone new. Similar but not the same.

I just hope that new Laura never forgets this one, that she understands that healing is not betrayal, that she can be tender with us both.

(15 weeks. I love you.)

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, July 4, 2014

Time is a liar

Happy fourth of July. Last year Kevin and I spent this holiday with friends at their cookout. As we were walking home we held hands and talked about how coming to Kansas City was the right move. I still think it was the right move, though everything is different now.

Today marks 14 weeks since Kevin died. 14 weeks is both a long time and nothing.

A 14 week old fetus is about the size of a nectarine.

At 14 weeks I am beginning to really understand that he is gone. The pain is a deep, grinding thing. It's no longer constant razor blades, but it's more endemic, more inescapable. The illusions are thinner now. In some ways, I am sadder now than I was 6 or 10 weeks ago. I have begun to drift towards the middle of our bed. I wake up and move back over, wanting to leave room for him.

14 weeks into a college term, everyone is panicked about finals. 14 weeks into elementary school the kids are dreaming of their December break. It's cold enough they need to wear coats outside at recess.

At 14 weeks I find I am more able to function, though I am still utterly exhausted. I am cooking occasionally. I spend time with friends. I'm thinking about work again. I still get tired easily and have very little tolerance for crowds or even long conversations. I am still deeply internal. I am still in some amount of stasis, though I know holding still won't bring him back.

14 weeks into a new job you are starting to get your bearings, but you still worry that you'll offend your new work friends or forget some vital piece of HR knowledge.

14 weeks into grief, I still cry almost every day. I might skip a day here or there, but no longer than that. I still feel the lack of him every night and in every decision. I rarely laugh. I don't want to be forced into it, I'm not ready yet. Funny how crying and laughing use most of the same muscles.

14 weeks is just over a quarter of year. It's a fraction of a lifetime. It seems like such a long time. It seems like such a short time. 

I'm beginning to get hints from a few friends that I should decide to feel better. Decide to have a good time. Decide to move on. Grief doesn't work like that. Time is a liar when you're mourning the  love of your life. It's hard to understand both how little time and how long it has been if you haven't gone through something like this. It may even be hard to remember what it was life, if it was long enough ago.

Time has always been an elastic and confusing thing; when we're happy it moves so quickly and when we're sad or bored it becomes interminable. Our perception of time turns us into liars and the lost.

I can't believe it's been 14 weeks since I last kissed him, it doesn't feel that long. I can't believe it's been only 14 weeks since I kissed him.

I think the Victorians had it right, that it takes a good long year to be ready to be in the world again. Or maybe it doesn't. I won't know until I know. And until then, please remember that your measure of time and mine are very different right now. I am living without. Are you? If not, then please be patient and wait for me to measure my life in minutes again, instead of breaths, absence and growing distance from the one I love.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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