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Friday, February 20, 2015

The Manual

Sometimes I wonder what it might have been like to have had a manual for this grief thing I'm doing, what it would be like to have one going forward. Of course, one couldn't have existed until now because no one is doing my journey but me. However, if one had existed, I wonder what that would have looked like? I assume that it would contain bullet points, simply because even short clips of information would have been too much for my brain. Maybe it would have looked something like this:

Well, you're here. I won't say "welcome" because that doesn't really suit your current situation. So, I'll just say that you're here.

-First of all, you're going to feel guilty about that. Just being here. You assume you shouldn't be. And that's ok. You'll feel that way for a long time.

-People will tell you that you aren't to blame and that you don't need to feel guilty. These are the people who love you. They're right of course, but it won't matter. You'll still feel it.

-That fire burning in your chest is all you can think about at the moment. It surprises you that it's actual, physical pain that you feel. You can point to the very spot beneath your breast where the heat is so intense that you're surprised that the skin and surrounding structures can endure it. Over time, little by little, as you scream and release pieces of the pain into the atmosphere, that burn lessens. It's never completely gone though, and down the road, there will be moments where it comes back with as much fury as the first day the fire was lit.

-It will be difficult to live in the world. People will not understand you and you will no longer understand them.

-Family will be the hardest. They are the symbol of what is missing. Of all of the people you interact with, these will be the ones whose entire families are laid before you. You will never question "why me?" with more gusto than when family is present. They will or won't understand. It means little to you now because your focus is on breathing and that fire that engulfs your lungs. You will continue the family struggle later, perhaps forever, because it's as if the earth has split and although the roads you travel may run parallel, they will never connect again. You will watch them from afar, and they you. They cannot understand you...you cannot understand them. This will have to be ok.

-Your marriage will hurt you. The person closest to you, the one who walked each awful step with you, will be the one you turn away. The sight of him will make your blood boil, and for reasons you can't even fathom. You'll discover later that this is normal. It will hurt like hell while it's happening. You won't understand it. He won't understand it.  And you'll be powerless to change it.  Somewhere along the way, something will shift and you'll realize that although you thought you'd been traveling alone for some time, it was just that you couldn't see the person walking beside you. The tears had made that impossible. He'll be there. You'll be there. Different versions of both of you, but you nevertheless. And despite the changes, when you reach for his hand, yours will still fit.

-You'll be hurt by things you don't want to affect you. You'll want to be strong enough not to turn away from the woman in the grocery store who is pushing her cart full of diapers and baby food, while trying to distract the child in front of her in the seat. But there will be times when you simply cannot smile at her. The intensity of the flame will surely outlast your desire to be social, as the old you would have been. It's ok to turn away. It won't feel ok, but it will be ok.

-You'll be asked to attend things that grief doesn't allow for. Weddings, birthday parties, showers, family dinners, and gatherings in general will simply be something you can't do. That will feel foreign to you, and may evoke anger in others, but it won't change the truth. Try to give yourself some compassion when those things come along and you can't "make" yourself go.

-You'll be asked why you can't attend. That will be difficult, simply because even having to explain why will hurt. They won't understand. You won't understand how they couldn't, and it will hurt. That will have to be ok too.

-Your kids. Right now they're breathing reminders of what was lost. Your heart breaks for them, but is too focused on its own pain to do much about that. Little by little, you'll get back to them. Friends will help. They'll step in and be the mom you can't for awhile. It's ok that you don't have the words to thank them. They already know.

-Sometimes when you think you're "done" for the day, one of your children will come back in from their beds to cry and ask tough questions. "Why didn't you fight harder?! Why did you give up?! We should have done more! Why wasn't it me instead?!" You'll answer the questions you can, and love through the ones you can't. It will break you all over again. But, when you check on her later in her bed, and the tears on her face have almost dried as she sleeps, you'll softly whisper a thank you. You'll thank her for saying the thing that screams through your mind every day. You'll thank her for causing you to say out loud, the reasons that your decisions were the most loving.

-Your children. They'll be such a source of pain, but that pain is mixed with a beauty that you honestly would have missed before. They're stronger than you could have guided them to be on your own. They're more compassionate than you could have modeled for them. They're more loving than you could have hoped. Yes, they are broken, but beautifully so. Try not to miss out on that beauty. Watch for it through the flames if you have to, but don't miss it.

-There could be a hundred bullet points here. It could go on forever. Your grief will, in one way or another. Honor the process, no matter where it takes you, and realize that there IS a manual. Its pages are out of order, its contents messy, but it does exist. You are writing it as you go...