5 to 10; 2 in 1 & 1
5 to 10; 2 in 1. Part 1 of 7. Etiquette and Manners. After Michelle died, people persistently but politely asked me how I was doing. They would ask sheepishly, how’s it going? you guys doing ok. Is there anything we can do for you guys? People, especially friends are very caring and kind. We were very well taken care of by our community.
They care. They worry. Then they move on. For me, for my children and for my family, we are still working through it all. My wife has now been gone for long enough that etiquette and manners are now taking priority over reality. I tell these wonderful and loving people mostly what they want to hear. We are doing well. We are ok. But to you, I’ll tell you quietly that my grief is best explained by the change in crying 5, maybe 10 times a year to 5 to 10 times a day. All in private. Sitting on the edge of my bed, covering my face, sometimes crying is not even there anymore. Just despair. There have already been so many tears. Right now it’s just a void. Today just like every other day, I must get up. I have to get up. I have to take care of the kids. I have to get them to school. I have to make lunches. I have to work and the list goes on and on. Yes, I must get up.
5 to 10; 2 in 1. Part 2 of 7. “Michelle, this world is killing me.” I rise mostly in small ways. I was having a perfectly good morning. I drove off to the store and bought bacon and hash browns for L. She loves a traditional breakfast and she’s still a meat, potatoes, and bacon eater. And on comes Alison by Elvis Costello. I looked up and listened to the song and read its lyrics, and it wasn’t even close to being related to my / our situation. But the emotion and the sentiment and the loss from this song, it just crushed me. And without warning the tears came tumbling down and all of my energy disappeared. An unbearable heaviness of being… The exercise and workout didn’t happen. I finished my duties. I picked the kids up from work and swim practice. The final phone calls returned. Dinner was made and cleaned up for the kids. My appetite had already disappeared and so with it all done, the TV was turned on. I escaped inside my past and I turned off all inputs, except the TV. And I allowed myself to slowly turn off.
5 to 10; 2 in 1. Part 3 of 7. An Embrace. Is death more like a benign tumor or is it malignant? Does it break or shatter or crack us? Or even slowly kill us? Are we beyond repair? Are these thoughts and emotions actively trying to kill me? When she died, she didn’t really die — not all the way. Because she really does come back over and over and she enters my insides. She enters my ears and my eyes and “my many souls” and she won’t let go. She goes and she goes. She never stops. Many times, it feels like she is killing me. Not in any sort of way that she would ever want. She would want so much more for me. She would want me to quietly remember her and dream about her with a soft loving memory. One that caresses and holds me when I am beaten down. One that embraces me fully during my quiet private 5 to 10. An embrace like no one else. An embrace like the merging of 2 into 1. She would want that for me. She really would.
5 to 10; 2 in 1. Part 4 of 7. Scar Tissue. Oh, how I wish for such an embrace from her or from anyone really. From family or a friend. Or even a stranger. I haven’t had one since she died. And I know this is also true of my kids (and that crushes me b/c I try, at least I think I try). Michelle would just hold me as long as I needed. She would know. She would just know. It was an embrace of trust and love by both people. She would just know. That love would leave her and enter me. It would soothe me. The heart rate would slow. The breaths would become less rapid. The magic of it all was so wonderfully overwhelming. And I miss it so much. It doesn’t happen this way even with family. People try, I know they do. They really do. But such closeness and true emotional intimacy is really one of the greatest gifts one can ever receive. The loss of it… Well, it creates these powerful memories. These memories, they burn and have sharp edges, hard edges, hurting edges. These burns create brands and scars. Permanent reminders. These edges cause cuttings. Soulful cuttings, but also real ones in places people can’t see. They have been going on for most of my life, but now I have become brave with them. Part of the appeal is that these burns and cuttings heal and build up and create scar tissue. Because as we know scar tissue is strong. This scar tissue protects me from her, from the loss of her, but also keeps everything, especially her, everything that is deep inside me from escaping. It can’t get out. Nothing can get in or out, except through these layered and hidden words, which I would never dare speak to anyone. This malignancy, this death, there is no escape. Or any such escape would be so tricky and sophisticated that if it were possible, it would be way beyond my skill or intelligence (and maybe even my desire).
5 to 10; 2 in 1. Part 5 of 7. Bigness and Realness. I try so hard to make my malignancy manageable, to make it small and bounded, to isolate it. Like when life was small and simple. When Michelle and I were young and naive and full of our futures, our pediatrician used to say, small kids, small problems. Big kids, big problems. And now we have problems that have become as big as problems get. This sorrow and loss just gets bigger. A fast growing tumor. So many many times, it feels like it stretches endlessly and these little things like songs or shows or friends who I think have what we had, they are all constant reminders of how big this loss and this death is. I just want this life and even this death to be small and manageable and benign again. I want to cry 5 to 10 times a year again. I want to cry only at wonderfully sad movies and tv shows, graduations, weddings and births, and chuckle at myself in the process. Not at the bigness and realness of this loss of mine and the loss suffered by M and L and our family and close friends. It is just so big. Escape seems impossible on most days.
5 to 10; 2 in 1. Part 6 of 7. 2 in 1. Glimmers of Hope. At least there seem to be glimmers of hope now. Through the passage of time, now the crying, the breakdowns, they happen only 1 to 3 times a day; not 5 to 10. Maybe this is the progression. Maybe this is proof that death is not terminally malignant, but make no mistake, it is malignant. It is traumatic. It is horrible and terrifying. It is the worst mind-fuck anyone can experience. Maybe the trauma and the scar tissue can be broken down and absorbed and dissolved and smoothed over. And at the same time make me stronger and open to new possibilities. That I can still be whole, that we can still be 2 in 1?
5 to 10; 2 in 1. Part 7 of 7. Free Radical. I went to Spain recently. I went under the pretense of dropping my daughter and her best friend off at their Summer School Program in San Sebastian. My goal was to travel alone. To create some boundaries around the old and the past with the present and the future. To create realness and newness in the future. However hard or lonely it would be. My experience would be that of a singular person. As a 1. When I set out on my journey, it seemed like it could be exciting and full of opportunity. As it turned out, for many reasons (good and bad), my experiences and conversations during this time were only with waiters, hotel receptionists, cab drivers and museum workers. As a 54 year old man, I felt terribly awkward about striking up conversations with strangers. I only had conversations when I had questions or needed something. Or if I was lucky, when my random comments were directed and received by friendly strangers. But these conversations never blossomed. No friendships were struck. Life was almost entirely solitary, even in crowded places. The transition of traveling as a 1 created this instability and paranoia that I am now a societal free radical (who is not to be trusted, until proven otherwise). In nature, free radicals happen when oxygen in the body splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Electrons like to be in pairs, so these atoms, called free radicals, scavenge the body to seek out other electrons so they can become a pair. This causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA. I don’t want to cause damage. I want to be a positive force in this world. I want us (meaning Michelle and myself, even with her gone) to be a positive force in the world. How can we still be 2 in 1? How can I as a 1, pair with another without causing harm? Am I really just 1 now? How do I reconcile the past with the future? I remind myself, she would want me to be happy. To find that embrace again. How do I open up to others? How do I take these glimmers of hope and turn them into something new? How? How? I am struggling deeply with how and where to find these answers. It seems only in poetry is there something as romantic as 2 in 1. In real life, it seems that there is only 1. And it is utterly lonely.