One of the moments that stands out in my mind with great clarity took place about a week after your funeral. A good friend had come from California to stay with me for a few days, and we ended up cleaning a little bit. She, good friend that she is, cleaned my bathroom, while I felt dusting and vacuuming might be therapeutic since it usually is for me. As I watched the vacuum going back and forth, I kept thinking, “Dan died. I was always afraid he might, and now it happened. And that’s that. I have to accept it and move forward.” I told my friend about my thinking afterwards, and she just looked at me, kind of worried, “You’re in shock, Julia. You’re still in shock.” And though the pain also came with a rawness and sharpness that could not be reasoned away like my “vacuum thoughts,” I have now come to realize- that mostly I’ve been vacuuming for about two years. Pushing forward because it was true and I had to. Underneath the surviving hum of the vacuum, the methodical movement back and forth- the overwhelming emotions: confusion, sadness, despair, longing, and even hope.
Someone who hasn’t gone through a tragic, sudden loss- might not be able to understand that shock could last for two years- but it can, and it did. And now- I wake from this hypnopompic state- and mostly what I feel – is fear. Mostly, I feel doubt. Mostly, I feel incompetent. I ask myself whether perhaps the protective grief bubble of shock I’ve been living in – that was and is, I admit, difficult to emerge from- is the comfort of God that everyone talks about. Because since your death I’ve gone through many difficult moments, made many tough decisions, and experienced gut-wrenching pain, but I’ve never worried about finances, or getting a job, or where we would live, or even if we’d be OK. And that is not because I had plenty of money, or was continually surrounded by people helping me. Since almost the beginning, I’ve heard a voice saying, “You’ll be OK. You and Audrey will be just fine.” And I have rested in this. I still feel frustration when I see well-wishers telling people like the parents of the Newtown shooting victims that they’re praying that they “may be comforted by God’s holy comfort.” Mostly because I know that they will have to suffer the pain no matter what prayers are offered. They will suffer it and feel it every day and every moment for a long, long time. But- I also wonder- as I move further from you and gain the perspective of time- if some of the shock isn’t shock, but a mystical covering of protection, the way you would hold and shield your child from the cold winds- pressed against or under your coat- muffling the sounds and adding a barrier of warmth.
I shared with a friend about a week ago that I’m disappointed in myself- in what I’ve accomplished the past two years. In a way I was likening it to May 2007 when I got laid off from my publishing job with a package- full pay/benefits through the summer. I felt like that time was a gift to be used to the fullest and this one felt similar in a strange way. My friend reminds me that I have been working hard, very hard. Thank God for friends like this. I realize she is right- I have not been on sabbatical from life. This has hardly been a hiatus.
Now, the energy that I’ve hopefully put into the work of grieving- needs to go to the work of living. There are a few more thoughts I need to put down. I would like to at least pretend that in some way, I can “wrap things up.” I know this is impossible in my real life, but in words…or wordlessness- just maybe. My writing here is starting to feel like Christmas decorations that have been left hanging far too long into January or the long-running sitcom that added a small child to the family in the 80’s or more crass, sexual jokes today. My words are tired. They have served their purpose and played their role. I know I have claimed to be rounding the bend of this blog before. It is a slow process…much like another I went through with many false starts.
The words that come into my mind when I think about ending my writing here are the beginning words of an essay I was writing shortly before you died. “I am loathe to lose this trick.” I was writing about giving up nursing, weaning Audrey. She was eighteen months old by then, and down to about one feeding before bed. Only a mother who has nursed for eighteen months multiple times a day will understand the preciousness of this bond. Audrey wouldn’t take a bottle so these feedings from birth were always mine. Often, she would fall asleep after eating- her sweaty head resting so comfortably on my breast as if it were a favorite stuffed animal. Sometimes, when she was older, she would have a little gas while feeding and our eyes would meet and we would laugh and laugh together. Often, she would use her other hand to embrace me and scratch my back gently. I nursed her as an infant through the night on and off- often not knowing when I opened my eyes if she was beside me in her bed or on top of me still. I nursed her right before she got her shots at the doctor to dull the pain and bring an extra measure of comfort. I nursed her at her first birthday party- her dohl- after she fell on her head and got her first big bruise so that I could ice it without her fussing. I nursed her to sleep when she was sick, and when she was younger- the first thing in the morning- you would get her and bring her to me. It was your job in the earlier days to burp her afterwards- remember?
When you died- I had just finally weaned her a month or so before. She too had a difficult time separating from me in this way, and it was you who had to help us by having milk ready shortly before bed time and putting her to sleep for a few nights until she got the hang of it. I couldn’t have done it without you. I had shed tears numerous “last times,” before it truly was the last- staring into her eyes, telling myself that I would at least have the chance to do it again- have this miraculous bond with another child. But that was not to be.
The milk was still present (it remains for up to a year afterwards) in July of 2010 and kept letting down as a part of the way my body was malfunctioning and expressing its grief. Everything in me seemed to want to expel the horror of the “news.” Just get it out. Make it not so. Reject it. The pins and needles one feels before feeding, I would feel many times a day as I keened.
Later, this blog- this space became the trick I needed to live. I breathed through my finger tips here. It was a tank of oxygen keeping me alive. I inhaled and exhaled these words- because I knew no other way to survive the intense pain and emotion inside. I threw them out- the words and sentences. And now here I am. For a while now, I have been “loathe to lose this trick,” and yet I know, just as with Audrey, I must. Life is not static but ever-changing. Just as I became no less a mother to Audrey when I weaned her, I become no less a griever of your loss when I stop writing. But there is time- there are seasons. There is, I suppose, also- growth.
I remember giving myself pep talks when weaning Audrey. I was her mother- I would still have my intuition. I would still understand her, still comfort her, still love her. Mothering, I already knew, was the most all-encompassing creative endeavor I’d ever strived to do, and I would find new tricks. They were yet unknown to me mostly- but I would find them. I would find new ways of loving. But the weaning was, ultimately- the beginning of separation- just like the umbilical cord that bound us together for nine months was severed. Because, our relationship would evolve and the end goal would always be to send her on her way. I would nurture her, not to dependence- but to independence. It was the first love relationship I’d had- where I found myself giving 100%- not to grow closer- but further. I think this frightened me. But now I understand- love can grow deeper- even in separation. This writing- all of these many words- have nurtured me. My love for you- has only grown deeper. It turns out separation does not mean static. The end of my writing here doesn’t mean our relationship is ended, but quite the opposite- it means it is dynamic. Evolving. Love does, it turns out, bear all things. It never ends.