My friend, a pastor of many years and talents, told me something. Wisdom strongly spoken in soft words. Repeated a minimum of three times. Three times I remember in the intense aftermath of Tony’s death. Each time sitting on our front stoop in widow’s black. Away from despair’s chaos. Smashing the phone against my right ear. As if I cannot hear.
My friend said I will experience both sorrow and joy during grief’s extended stay. Capable of two contrary moods even in this condition. Frozen sensations in emotion and body holding court in my shallow breath. Sorrow and joy breaking free from time to time. Occurring in oscillation within seconds of each other. My feelings running a curving, switch back mountain path. Driving lost on a series of one-ways. Playing one of my sons’ video games. Grief holding sorrow and joy close in a paradox of extremes.
He was right. In the beginning sorrow dug deep. Joy jumped high. To the outer limits of these internal experiences. As if using mind altering substances. A more intense version of the coffee-caffeine-red-wine cycle of my twenties.
Glimmers of joy or a wave of feeling good or even slightly good hit. I felt relief. Sort of like having a really bad headache, finding pain reliever, popping two in my mouth. Fifteen minutes later sensing an easing of contracting muscles.
In grief not lasting. A few minutes later, maybe even seconds, spinning down again. Accelerating back toward the starting point. Returning to a frozen dark hole. Believing I couldn’t feel good right now. Or ever again. Tony gone. Soul pining. Sons’ in pain. Extended family gasping. Who was I to feel good even for a few stolen moments?
Guilt sprouting from a flash of transient relief. A flash unrecognizable at first. Relief already foreign in just a few days’ time. A stranger in pain’s palette. Joy’s occasional visit yo-yoing my heart through an old-fashioned clothes wringer. Squeezed back and forth. Cranked up and down. Wrung in and out.
Fleeting waves occurring while driving. Bringing harmful distraction to a new height. Alone always. My inner self allowed out in the closeness of my car. With only the music blaring. The same song over and over again for months. From a CD found in Tony’s car. Cranked the moment Paul pealed out the door on school days. Squashed seconds before he climbed back in hungry and tired.
Guilt in living. Not saving. Not dying. Here loving two precious children. Closer to men than boys. Finding flashes of our family’s future hidden here and there. Momentary smiles. A shared laugh. Whispered, I love you’s.
Me, often walking wooded paths alone. Step by step. Accepting crunchy, fallen leaves sweeping across my sauntering feet. Fall’s sunshine spilling on my upturned, searching face. Listening to the gurgle of a running stream heading toward winter.
A myth, my guilt was. One of trauma’s many. A way of making sense of an incomprehensible day. My brain getting it wrong. Needing a new draft of the story. Or two or three. Rewrites occurring weekly in my therapist’s office. Sitting on her sagging, puffy, brown couch. The tick-buzz of the EMDR machine keeping time with my slowly, healing heart.
Acknowledging after a time I need fleeting moments of relief. If I am to survive Tony’s sudden, trauma-laced, death. Allowing tenacity’s strength to return. Reemerge. Live into widowhood with love from before and now. Choosing life as Moses tells the Israelites. For my children’s sake. For mine as well. Finding strength to continue. Rebuild. Thrive.
Certain my late, EMDR-trained, husband approves. Pushing me to do so through mountains of molecules separating life from death. Grief’s guilt for me, an evil. Like all evils, not easily eradicated. Exorcised out again and again in the light of God’s new day. Sorrow, in time, becoming momentary. Bowing to the light. Night passing into morning. Joy strengthening. Joy exchanging places with sorrow. Joy here to stay.
EMDR: Short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. A healing technique trained clinicians use with survivors of life’s many traumas.
Deuteronomy 30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live (NRSV).”
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.