Shedding

Detail from "Shedding Vapor"

Detail from “Shedding Vapor”

And then you cry fresh tears, because you do not miss him as much as you once did,
and giving up your grief is another kind of death.”
~Laurell K. Hamilton

This endless undoing has left me raw. I am honestly not sure what is worse: that I still miss him so, or knowing that the pain and loss I feel now, as wracking as it is, is a dim shadow of what I experienced last summer. Knowing that when this bottleneck is done, a large part of the grieving process is done, or at least as done as it ever will be. I am losing him all over again.

Last week and the early part of this week were as rough a period as I’ve had in a long time. In my dreams, he came back and we picked where we left off, planning a future together. In my nightmares, I screamed at him for all the things that hurt then and still do now. Either way, I woke gasping for breath in an airless room and an empty bed.

The anxiety came back, thrumming along the nerves. I felt hunted and trapped. I know what’s coming. I know it’s going to hurt.

All I can do is wait. This already hurts so much, how much worse can it get? Sleep has already once again become something that happens to other people.

I finished school for the semester yesterday, earning A’s in both the classes I took. I am proud of myself, and relieved it’s over, at least until summer semester starts in four weeks. I need the time to pursue art. I need the freedom to stop compressing myself into a stable box in order to function well enough to meet my obligations. I need the time and the space to let this roll out of me until I’m wrung out and empty.

So many layers to peel back. So much emotion to open myself to, to allow to run through me, to leave me clean and empty and ready for what happens next.

To help, I scheduled a spa package on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, the day before the first anniversary of his death. I’m getting the works: full-body massage, facial, manicure and pedicure.  The luxuriousness and the decadence of it is something he would have loved. He had very expensive taste, did my beautiful boy.

My spa day is also probably the only way for me to receive caring physical touch at a time when I will rather desperately need it. Sometimes that’s the way it goes, so I found another way to deal with it. Yes, I know it’s a sad commentary on my life, but I am trying very hard not to dwell on it. I start wallowing in self pity and I will really start disliking myself.

He is a part of me, always, indelible. This process, one that began the moment we laid eyes on each other, is the internal rearrangement necessary to finish making room for him in my heart, soul and mind. His physical self is gone from me, but not his heart and spirit, but the integration with mine is incomplete. I have a feeling by the time this anniversary period is over, we will have gotten there. I will be able to move on, carrying him and our love with me seamlessly.

Always.

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Haunted When The Minutes Drag

Sadness Sees You, charcoal and pastel on paper, Fumbling For Light, 2013

Sadness Sees You, charcoal and pastel on paper, Fumbling For Light, 2013

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Ye gods, these nights just won’t quit. I keep clinging to the idea that this won’t last, but damn, I’m not sure what’s going to be left of me by the time I come out the other side.

I hold together fairly well during the day, although I seem to be on the verge of tears a lot of the time. But once the sun goes down, I start to unravel.

I stare wide-eyed into the dark. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I listen to the sound of my own breathing and the ghosts inside my own head.

I hate being alone at night. I’d give almost anything to have someone’s arms to curl up in at night: for comfort, for support, for the sense of safety and security.

But that wouldn’t be fair, so I sleep alone.

I dream of him, every night for the last week. Last night it was as if he’d never died, and we were back to trying to figure out how to make our lives work together. I woke up feeling like my chest had cratered in, my head aching. I am sleeping only five to six hours a night.

Every night I struggle for air, every morning I wake feeling hungover, exhausted and in pain, both literal and figurative. My joints are aching again, my ribs tender and sore. Grief slides within the muscle, twisting and binding. It wraps the bones, invading the joints. Every night, I am being unmade.

My friend Sarah urged me to get it out on paper:

let it spill
charcoal
grab it
make a mess
get it out

So I did. I picked up some charcoal, scribbled with some white pastels, and the drawing above is the result. It is only the second time I’ve ever created art from an emotional place, and the first time I think I nailed it perfectly. The eye is open just a hair too wide: startled, staring, haunted. Disbelief and pain.

I am a little startled at the result, actually. But I feel a little better, and I’m hoping against hope I won’t dream tonight.

I still have 22 nights to go.

Game Plan

It is a pretty good indicator of how fragmented my mind and attention are getting that I completely forgot that by this time next month, I will be a published poet. Who the hell forgets something like that?

Well, I do.

Decanto Poetry Magazine

Grief's Chaos, Eye Detail

Grief’s Chaos, Eye Detail

I can feel the regression speeding up, sliding further back into that dark place. I spent last night having nightmares that featured a lot of arguing with Dustin. I can’t remember what the arguments were about, or the things I accused him of. The things I blamed him for. For so many aching nights, for so many icy mornings, for so many tears.

In my dreams, I betrayed the strength he was always so proud of me for.

Then I came to in a bed that just gets bigger and colder every morning I wake up in it. My entire self is being pulled taut, the pressure building inside, the rage and the anger and the pain as present and as sharp as they ever were. I am condensing, can see hell rising in my eyes in the mirror.

Maybe there’s something wrong with me because I welcome the regression, welcome the chance to just give myself up to it so I can come out the other side sooner, and stronger.

And, frankly, because I miss him so much, and this is one of the few ways I can still feel close to him.

Everything I learned about surrender I learned from Dustin.

This weekend, I am going to make some good strong hot tea. I am going to curl up in bed with a cat. I am going to read “The Year Of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion and I am going to cry and cry and cry until I am exhausted and numb. I will stare sightless at the wall the way I did in the bad old days, but this time, I will sleep. All the time.

Yes.

The Art of Drowning

You’ll bury your sorrow
Deep in the sea,
But sea tides aren’t tamed
That easily–
There will come a tomorrow
When you weep for me

The breaking of waves on a long shore,
In the grey morning the slow fall of rain,
Oh love remember, remember me.
~”Rachel’s Song” by Guy Gavriel Kay, from “The Summer Tree”

If the last few months have taught me anything, it’s the futility of dodging memory.

I had hoped that I was finally beginning to heal, that the wounds were stitching shut. That I had become, in a sudden burst of optimism, possibly capable of finding a way through to something new, of being open to new blossoming in my life. That I still had the courage that Dustin had inspired in me. That I could move on.

What a load of bullshit. There are no shortcuts. There are no easy ways out, no early parole.

The first anniversary of Dustin’s death is bearing down on me, coming next month on May 26. Already I can feel the tides of grief pulling at me, winding tendrils cutting like wire as they wrap around bone. It’s a water torture exorcism as I’m wracked by the ghosts of the past, the could haves and should haves, our lost future as suffocating as dense fog.

I need you like I need air to breathe.

I can’t breathe around it. My lungs are full of sand-again-the burning pressure has returned.

I’ve had offers of help. Tell me what you need. I don’t know!

I have no idea how to make this hurt less. I have no idea how to ask for help, because I don’t know what will help. All I have are gritted teeth and burning lungs and so very far to go. I can’t outrun it, I don’t even want to try. All I know how to do is to just be in it, to give myself up to it. To drown in the short term so there might be a chance that I’ll be whole in the long.

This is a very solitary process, heartbreakingly so. I can talk about it until my limited air runs out, but in the end, I’m the one left alone in the dark, staring down the void. Asking someone to keep me company in the dark…I don’t know how to deal with that. I’m afraid it would be a distraction. I know it would be, because it requires a witnessing, a physical presence. All other forms of communication require words, and there are no words for this.

Grief cannot be rationalized. I can’t think my way through this, or around it. Grief is an experience both visceral and emotional; it is not a thought process. Which means, of course, the only way over it is to experience it. To sit in it like a stone in the river. To dissolve into it, to flow.

To be like water.

“Be Like Water” From “A Pefect Dream” by Sarah Fimm

Posthumous Guest

Tonight I stumbled across a letter written by Richard Feynman to his deceased wife 16 months after her passing and sealed until his own death in 1988. For obvious reasons, the letter resonated with me, and poignantly illustrates why I write my own letters here. I include it here in its entirety, via Letters of Note

October 17, 1946

D’Arline,

I adore you, sweetheart.

I know how much you like to hear that — but I don’t only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.

It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.

But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you.

I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector. Can’t I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the “idea-woman” and general instigator of all our wild adventures.

When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn’t have worried. Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.

I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don’t want to be in my way. I’ll bet you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.

My darling wife, I do adore you.

I love my wife. My wife is dead.

Rich.

PS Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don’t know your new address.

Modus Operandi

I am going to be paying this price for the rest of my life. I guess I may as well get on with it.
~My first clear thought the morning of May 27, 2012

The first few weeks were all about survival. The tidal pulls of grief and anger, rage and pain, were too much to fight through; my only goal was to exist long enough for the pulls to weaken. I didn’t even need a place to stand; that was asking too much. I huddled and clung and gritted my teeth, and in the end, it was enough.

I felt, at that time, that my life had no point. Our goals had been joint – without him, I felt directionless. I didn’t have any faith or hope that the situation would change, but at the time, I didn’t care. Goals and directions and purposes in life were for other people; I was in full-blown survival mode, and I didn’t give a good goddamn about tomorrow when getting through today was not a guarantee.

For better or worse, survival mode was something I was already disturbingly good at. Through my life, I developed the ability to assess a situation and ruthlessly discard any extraneous emotion or consideration in favor of getting through the matter at hand. I would panic and regret later, provided there was a later. The price for this ability, predictably, is very high. Spend enough time in survival mode, and feeling anything at all would be something I had to relearn. In this case, I did what I had to: I gave myself up to it. I did not try to plan a future, to map any sort of course through the grieving process. I didn’t try to run from it, put it off, deny it. I let it swallow me whole, trusting that somehow, there would be enough of me left to be worth saving, someday. He always thought I was brave. How could I let him down by becoming a coward now?

People noticed. I looked exactly like what I was: haunted. No one could see me and not realize something was wrong – horribly, horribly wrong. I hated looking at myself in the mirror, seeing the tortured blankness in my eyes. My normal method of suppression and pretending everything was fine was not going to fly this time, so I didn’t even try. More importantly, he deserved better than that. He deserved to be mourned openly and honestly. I wasn’t ashamed to love him, and I would not be ashamed to mourn him. He mattered, no matter how much he thought he didn’t.

So. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. The five stages of grief, as set forth by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler. Often misunderstood as a series of clearly defined, discrete stages, the reality, at least for me, was closer to being tossed into an industrial clothes dryer full of rocks. On my worst days, I can be all of them inside of an hour, and the emotional toll is excrucitating. I can be a noxious welter inside: relieved he wasn’t hurting anymore; anger at anyone and everyone, the injustice of it all; convinced my life will be devoid of meaningful relationships, that I have lost my last chance at love. The what-if’s still haunt me at night. Why didn’t he do this? Do that? Why didn’t I try harder, do something differently? How did neither of us see it coming? Where was I supposed to go? What was I supposed to do now? He was the other half of my soul, and a soul bleed requires a lot more than a bandaid.

I avoided my bed as much as possible; the memories of the times we had spent together there were tearing me apart. We had given each other so much, opened ourselves to an intimacy and passion neither of us had imagined existed. That place had been hallowed ground, and now it was as haunted as my eyes. I would take my nightly cocktail of Benedryl and Tylenol PM and whatever else I thought would make me sleepy, and then try to stay awake through the drowsiness, fighting it until I quite literally stumbled to bed. Some nights I pushed it too far and was unable to even take my contacts out, or I would take too much, and my skin would start to jump and crawl.

To say his loss has left a gap in my life is an understatement. Even now, I feel as if someone has blown a hole straight through me, and functioning around it feels like building a house on top of a sinkhole. This grief is vast, and deep, an ocean of loss. Normally, after a breakup, I would begin dating fairly soon; I understood there would be someone else to enjoy life with. I don’t feel that way now, and certainly didn’t in those initial weeks. The idea of dating again still turns my stomach. There is no one that can fill the void he’s left, and there is already a part of me who has becomed resigned to becoming a crazy cat lady.

What Kubler-Ross and Kessler neglected to mention is that grief doesn’t go away. I still miss everyone I’ve ever lost; this loss is no different, if orders of magnitude more traumatic. There is a part of me that belongs to him, and only him, and always will. He knew that. When he left, he took my heart with him, and left me with his, the biggest, most generous heart I’d ever known. He taught me how to love and trust without fear, that unconditional acceptance was even possible. I don’t know know that I gave him even half of what he gave me, but I gave him all I had.

More importantly, I don’t know how go on, living and loving like a whole human being. I am not whole, and don’t know if I ever will be.