“There is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it,” says C.S. Lewis. When it comes down to it- yes. This is how it is. It is seeing the reflection of the top of your cello case in the frame of the wedding picture over our bed where our daughter lies sleeping- and believing it is your head for a moment. It is getting up day after day, sometimes walking very slowly by late afternoon, but getting up rather than lying down. It is regrouping, night after night after a day of appearing “normal:” after making decisions big and small- what should we have for breakfast, lunch, dinner, where should we move to, playing pretend princess and store and doctor, chatting with mothers, until by nightfall, the pain is cumulous and you can barely move around your small apartment.
My therapist, who I’ve started seeing regularly again, tells me I’m probably not allowing myself to feel the emotions anymore after I tell her that it’s strange lately how sensitive I seem to small things. I’ve always cried easily- you made fun of the way I’d be sobbing after an emotional preview in the movie theater- but lately it seems too much. I see a young man in army fatigues and tears well up. I read a children’s book to Audrey about a little girl who is adopted and, to my embarrassment, cannot make it through the book without blowing my nose and laughing, “Mommy’s crying because it’s such a sweet story…hahah.” I whimper without sound while Audrey and I watch “The Sound of Music.” My emotion needs a release, my therapist says, so I should sit by myself and just feel what I feel since I’m not comfortable sharing it in public. “It won’t take long – maybe even just a few minutes a day,” she tells me. I confess, it is hard to sit with this. But I do. Hoping it will help me to continue to function like a “normal person.” Let it out. This is real, I tell myself yet again- another time. It rushes back to me then like a movie in slow rewind, or the force of a wave when it’s on its way down after that slow rolling motion. You have died. This is real. Curse at the pin hole in the kitchen wall where you itinerary was- yet again- another time. Try to remember the way the apartment looked before you died- the way Audrey was at twenty one months. Try to remember you. Try to remember who I was then- sometimes who she was alludes me completely. Trying to put us all back there, I realize, would be like trying to dress Audrey in her clothes from 21 months, at now, almost four years old. Silly. Uncomfortable. Fruitless.
At night, also, I am a forager. Searching still for anything that might feed this seemingly insatiable appetite for a greater reality, higher truth, add basic meaning to the human predicament. I watch videos of a woman missionary in Mozambique, read articles on near-death experiences- a woman Dr. who drowned while in Chile has a new book out, a friend sends me the link to a speaker she recently heard at a writing conference- a neurosurgeon who also has a book out about his near-death experience. Videos about religious conversions and books on heaven.
My therapist reiterates that this is not a loss one gets over, but a continual loss that travels alongside me in life. It will carry on into the life we were sharing that I now live alone. Into every achievement and milestone that our daughter has with only me in the audience. I feel it when another preschool mom asks me if I plan on “growing my family” last week, or when the checkout girl at Whole Foods asks Audrey if she has any brothers or sisters and then winks and tells me she’s ready for one, or when Audrey whines that she wishes she had a sister and let’s pretend that I’m her twin sister today.
In the beginning you see, you play the role of the widow. But it’s not that you get to leave this role behind- but that you do not “play” it anymore. You are. You have become. I’m not saying this is your sole identity- but that in the beginning it is completely artificial and now it is not.
Mostly I am numb- to the flavor of food, holidays, days of the week, and the weather. But there are certain things heightened- my emotion over injustice or the poor, the unloved, orphans, and the elderly. And also – my ability to know beauty. Beautiful words that I highlight in books, my daughter’s closed eyelids and long, dark eyelashes at night while she sleeps, a ballet or a well-tended garden.
My creative writing teacher from high school, with whom I still keep in touch with, sends me a belated birthday card and ends with this, “I wish there was a magic formula to erase your pain and grief…but I don’t think there is one. What I do wish for you…to have one beautiful moment each day.”
I keep this card on my kitchen table and remind myself- one beautiful moment each day. I think I can do this.
Suffer it. Release. Regroup. Forage. One beautiful moment each day.