Monday, February 2, 2009

The Abode of Grief: Fewer Hours, Condensed Time

I used to live long, wide, and spacious days.

I would often be outdoors and walking three or four miles by 6:00 a.m. I worked hard all day and well into the evening. I was a teacher, I was a graduate student, I was a church committee chair. I was often asked to do things that required advance preparation. (Will you make this quick presentation on Sunday? a friend would ask. I know it doesn't take you any time at all. Look how easy that last one was. And my eyebrows would go up. Those two minutes? At least two hours of advance writing and revising and practice. But it looked so easy, he would say. That's how it's supposed to look.)

And I had three children in college, all of whom filled my thoughts and dreams and hopes, every day, every night. When they were small I would call home three, four times a day, just to find out what they were up to. When they were in college I would glance at my watch and think, it's noon in Chicago and 1:00 in Columbus and 9:00 a.m. in Oregon. Is he in class, is he at work, is she even awake?

And I had energy for myself, and energy for God. Lots of energy for reading and writing and breakfasts with friends. Lots of space in my life for prayer and journaling. Time seemed so full and yet so expansive.

Now. Now it is nearly 9:00 am and I am just getting up. I was awake three hours ago but I knew that would make for too many hours in the day and so I went back to sleep. I will be up late into the night because I won't be able to sleep then.

Now I have to pace myself carefully. I am doing things: going to class, studying, writing papers, working with a couple of people, planning for the future. Each takes so much energy and requires so much recovery time. I forget what I've focused on within five minutes of reading or hearing it. I look at notes and say to myself: We had an entire lecture on that? I lose everything, little things and really important things. I stumble across them later and can't imagine how they landed in the place they did. I write papers and have no idea whether they bear any resemblance to what is expected. I make schedules for accomplishing things and then I stare into space.

I am still writing thank-you notes. The cost of each one is so high. Only a few lines, but each reminds me of something else ~ a relationship, an occasion in the past, someone else entirely whose claim on my time is perhaps more urgent. I did not know, before, that when I received an acknowledgment from someone for flowers or words offered in a time of sorrow, that the note itself might represent a morning's work. Or a week's.

People send me emails and cards and books and little packages. Some of the things written by certain people fill my thoughts for hours, for days. They become little prayers, flickering sources of connection to other people, to the universe, to God.

I think about my lost son all of the time, as I have for 25 years. My brain tissue has grooves worn in it, and I cannot stop thinking of someone just because he is not here at all. But his absence fills every crevice of my life and makes impossible demands on my imagination. I keep waiting for time to go backward so that we can pick up where we left off.

I think about my other children and my son's girlfriend all the time, too. I want to wrap my arms around them all and take care of them forever and in a way that will enable them to heal. What does that even mean? I have a long scar smack down the middle of my stomach, from the car accident when I was seven. (No scans in those days to reveal ruptured spleens, which I turned out not to have.) It was a distraction during my bikini days, it stretched to accomodate a twin pregnancy, and then another one, and now it looks as crumpled and faded as you might expect. I don't notice it. But this jagged scar, the one which all these young people have to carry into adult life? How much time before it fades? There is nothing clean and precise about it; all those jagged edges seem more like tentacles than boundaries.

I have been writing this piece off and on for a couple of days. Not an original thought in it. And yet, like everything else, it has sapped hours and energy. I had not realized that time and energy were so closely entertwined, and not in any way that makes sense.

(Image: Picasso's Blue Nude.)


Magdalene6127 said...

I want to ask you this: is it an expenditure of energy for which you are, in the end, grateful, or which, in the end, you regret?

Perhaps those are too polarized as options, perhaps I'm not even asking a remotely helpful question. But... I am grateful for your willingness to live in your grief so authentically here. AND i don't want you to do it if you don't feel that this is somehow a part of a process that is helpful to you.

Whatever your answer, much love is coming your way, and you continue in my prayers.

Jennifer said...

I so understnad the cost of writing thank you notes. I can still feel that heavy, heavy sadness.

Cynthia said...

I'm still writing thank you notes. I couldn't even begin for a few months. A few scribbled lines would send me to bed for hours. I'm beginning to get my energy back, but the confusion, the losing things still happens all the time.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I know this is trite, but it takes time. It never goes away. The hole of missing the loved one never really fills. But your well of energy will slowly begin to fill, and activities won't be quite so depleting. It will happen, but it can take a long, long time. Like a year or two, instead of months. Our culture is really bad about recognizing how long it does take. The best thing you can do is exactly what you're doing--listening to yourself and not hurrying it. It's so difficult to live with that much pain. Your sharing so honestly is beautiful and brave. I think of you often and send you hugs and prayers.

Gannet Girl said...

Thank you, Ruth, for your prayers and thoughts. I have read 4-7 years after the death of a child - until what? says my husband? Until what?

Judging from my father, 48 years is not long enough.

Jodie said...

I doubt you ever "get over" it. I think its a question of how long before you can live again.

And in the mean time being able to put one foot in front of the other, and intentionally breathing. Breath in, breath out, heart beat. Breath in, breath out, heart beat.

But to be able to put it in writing, raw and poetic, real and cathartic, in real time?

Do I thank you for sharing?

I am at the same time awed and moved. Your love and sorrow washes over me and for a moment I am lost in grief and longing for this son I never met, as if he were my own, unable to catch my breath.

I can't respond, for I am truly lost. How can I possibly be grateful?

And yet I am.

Kathryn J said...

As a woman with many scars, that analogy makes sense but I think scars on the heart are different and heal much more slowly.

I am walking with you, being with you across the miles, and praying with you.

Heather said...

Its not 4-7 years..its a lifetime and beyond.

I am gaining so much from your writings, sometimes your words are almost to painful to bear..but even when I weep I come away a little fuller...

much love x