March 7, 2014
Everyone kindly tells you to take time for yourself, to grieve. An allowance that may not have been given the same sensitivity in years past, when miscarriage was a silent burden women must bear alone. I know I am blessed to have been given a “handle with care” stamp on my forehead and I will not take that for granted. But even with the permission and space to grieve, no one gives you an instruction manual. There are no recommendations about how to act and what to do. So you watch yourself carefully, wondering what to do with your hands and whether you’ve accomplished this thing called “grief.”
I don’t think this is uncommon. Ten years ago when I was a junior in college, the mother of a friend of mine from high school was tragically killed in a car crash. And though we hadn’t stayed terribly close since we graduated, I called my friend up to check on her after the funeral. At first we made awkward small talk about surfacey things like the snow and final exams but eventually we eased into how she was doing with the loss of her mother. She asked me, “When your dad died, how long did it take you to get over it?”
Her voice was shaky and I could tell there was no selfishness behind her question, even when using words like “get over it.” She was in over her head and she just wanted some measure of how long it would feel like she was drowning. I found her question a bit amusing, though not in the laughing sort of way. Because it had been eight years since my dad had passed and I still had days where I felt stricken by grief. I told her that and realized it wasn’t helpful information. What I should have said is, it will fade with time and that time will be different for everyone.
Nearly five weeks ago now, I received news that plunged me down below the water line again. So, following the advice from everyone and their mother to “take time for myself,” I took a couple days off work that happened to back up to a furlough day, a weekend and a holiday – giving me six days to grieve however I felt necessary. This took the form of doctor’s visits and phone calls and filling the spaces with mindless entertainment. Gorging myself on crime-scene shows that solved all the apparent problems within the allotted hour time slot (which probably didn’t help my already anxiety-prone mind).
One week later I found myself back at work. The first day was rather unproductive as I had a steady stream of friends stopping in to give their support, which lead to much-too-long personal conversations during work hours. I felt bad “taking time to grieve” on the tax payers dime, but I wasn’t sure the first day back could be managed any other way. So I looked at the sign I have next to my computer that says, “Let whatever you did today be enough,” and I said ok.
For the most part, distraction is good. And I found the daily challenges of work to be refreshing in comparison to hours of laying around. I guess, there was necessary time to help my body heal after surgery. However the lack of purpose began to sink in about day five and the physical act of standing up and getting your blood flowing again reminds you that you are still in fact alive. At work I had to-do lists and emails to answer, easy things to tick off and feel important. A little white lie that was necessary for survival.
But after work, in the emptiness of my house, the clouds rolled in. I would lie on the couch and cry from the minute I got home. Not sobby tears, but leaky tears. I would wish for the hours between dinner and bed to blink by so I could just sleep. Grieving was exhausting. I’m guessing this is depression talk. But I didn’t feel depressed – I have before and it wasn’t the same. I just felt broken, so needy and weak. Like a Christmas ornament mended with Elmer’s glue.
I know time is not something you should wish away. It is a non-renewable resource that gives me pain when I consider the day when I will have to say goodbye to another person I love. Love that makes me want to make myself small and curl up in my husband’s shirt pocket so I can be close to his heart all day long. It’s not sane love. It’s irrational and frightening. I only feel it mildly on normal days. But in these days of mourning, I feel it so deeply that my heart aches. How can we feel the depth of love and depth of loss so equally in one singular moment? I feel like I might be going mad with this feeling. Yet it’s also the buoy that keeps my head above water.
Watching endless hours of TV is not a sustainable method of grief. So eventually I went to the bookstore to look for a book on miscarriage. Perhaps a “how-to” survival guide for beginners. At the back of the children’s section, in the same row as the pregnancy books I had perused just a few weeks before, was a tiny section on “grief and loss.” There were three books about miscarriage on the shelf and they were nestled among titles like, What happened to Grandma and Dealing with Divorce. I picked up one and leafed through its pages. The chapter titles encapsulated a woman who had to battle in silence, alone. While I know this was a story many women had lived, it wasn’t my story and it didn’t seem applicable. So I placed the book back on the shelf and walked away. Making a mental note to write a strongly-worded email to the store manager about their less-than-helpful selection and pretty callous location choice for books of that nature.
Instead of a book on miscarriage, I left the store with a book on faith by Anne Lamott. She is an author that has always intrigued me, especially as an f-bomb dropping, feminist, liberal Christian. I didn’t know she was these things at first. At first she was an author that gave me courage to be a writer. In her book Bird by Bird, she taught me to face my fears of being honest in my writing. A bravery I didn’t know that I had, but have been actively using in my recent years as a writer. In the face of no other choices, I found her book Traveling Mercies and decided it’d have to do. I had been wanting to read more of her work anyway.
Have you ever read a book and wondered if it was written just for you? You find yourself uttering things like, yes and mmm hmm every other paragraph. You are taking notes and underlining quotes to remember. Anne Lamott talked of grief and pain, of children and joy. Her stories were honest and angry but still managed to end on a note of hope. And on page 68, she looked me right in the eyes as if to say, I know honey. I’ve been there.
“All those years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately. But what I’ve discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it.”
All this laying around, avoiding my grief in sleep and mindless television was not going to work. And time wasn’t going to magically make it all disappear. I had to be willing to feel the pain in order to heal from it. I wasn’t quite sure what this looked like, but I knew it had to be different from what I had tried. I began to think of the things I had been avoiding. Things that make me cry, things that make me feel alive. And I made a point to start feeling these things again.
It started with walking into our guest room and picking up the baby blanket my mother had crocheted us and burying my face in it. Smelling its lack of baby smell. Breathing in, Let. Breathing out, Go. It continued with letting myself cry when I saw a pregnant woman or a precious tiny baby. It was awkward. I slipped into bathrooms and sat on the toilet with my head in my hands. Yes, that was you just a few weeks ago. Yes, this really sucks. Yes, you wanted that and it was taken away. Yes.
Last week it came in the form of watching Whitney Houston music videos on repeat. Feeling the drama of her live performances, chuckling at the ridiculousness of her eighties attire. I watched her perform at the Grammys, holding hands with CeCe Winans (making me remember the slumber party in eighth grade in which my best friends and I stood on the couches and sang Count on Me at the tops of our lungs), and singing a drugged-out, too-thin version of Exhale in which she still managed to be the biggest diva on the stage. The beauty of her voice and words of her songs made me weep. And weeping felt good. Especially with a sound track.
I could write a book called Healing your Heart with Houston and they could put it on the shelf right next to the book about Grandma dying. It’d probably sell ten copies and I’d get all kinds of compliments about my honesty. But it probably wouldn’t give anyone any more of a clue about what it means to grieve than when they first began. Because that’s just it, grief isn’t defined by specifics. Rather for me, it is a lot like labor. A concerted effort of feeling. You breathe in a memory, a song, the feeling of loss, disappointment, or joy and you exhale acceptance. Eventually, on the other side, you find the birth of hope. Not just the forced sentiment, but the real upward impetus.
And one day, while listening to the song Bridge Over Troubled Water for the umpteenth time, you finally hear the words.
Sail on silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
And you weep with joy because you realize you’re no longer under water.
© 2014 D. Willson