Monday, December 23, 2013

My World Hasn't Ended, Even If It Feels Like It Has

Just the other day I sat with my canine family and thought, "A week ago, I didn't know my world was about to change."

Ethan was already dead. I just didn't know it yet.

My world was still rolling along in that pre-Christmas insanity. I had gifts to buy, a meal to plan. I had a cold. Those were the things at the top of my mind -- feeling crappy and the mental to do list that I needed to work through in the remaining 10 days before Christmas.

Then the phone rang and that "to do" list didn't mean a damn thing any more.

Although this experience is singular to me, it's also universal. Unless we're sitting by the hospital bed holding someone's hand, knowing that the slowing breaths will soon stop because we've been thoroughly warned, death catches us unaware.

We don't realize the candle that is someone's life, or maybe even our own, is about to burn out. That all those to do lists that keep us moving through our days sometimes can suddenly mean nothing. And that's really a good thing. Without that to do list, there's a good chance most of us would lack the purpose that gets us through our days. I don't think Ethan had a to do list very often, and we can look around and find a lot of people like him coasting through life who somehow missed the need for purpose. Dreams aren't enough, it's the steps we take to get there that count.

For a week, my to do list was very short, unless the phone rang.

It was caring for my dogs and chickens. It was greeting the dog who comes for day care and her owner each morning (with a hug, because he's tall and solid like Ethan) and taking care of her during the day. It was dealing with my grief and the people who reached out to prop me up time and time again. It was escaping that pain when my three granddaughters arrived full of life and promise and fights and needs that couldn't be pushed to the back burner. It was an occasional shower, an infrequent meal, a lot of coffee and falling into bed when I could no longer keep my eyes open, because the last thing I wanted to do was to lie in bed with my eyes open and my mind spinning like a hamster in a wheel.

My kennel/grooming business was hitting its first lull of the year. But when the phone rang and someone wanted a dog groomed, I welcomed the distraction. For another hour I'd have something else to think about and deal with. A Bichon, or a shih t'zu, or a really dirty poodle. While many of my boarders' families have become part of my informal support group, the dogs who come just for clean and cut aren't part of that group and I didn't invite them in.

But six days out, with the funeral finally behind us, boarders were coming back for early holiday visits. Life had to take a more normal tack, whether I was ready for it or not. So by Saturday, when I went out to spend time with the dogs and let them play, from the outside at least, things looked normal.

Then I had that thought and sitting on the ground with a lap full of someone else's dog, I lost it again.

I raged at myself and God and poured my pain out in white hot tears and gasps of breath. I prayed, once again, for understanding. And once again I got an answer.

Before I go on, let me say I'm not used to hearing from God. I know there are people who in their anger and pain turn away from God, but while God and I have a really informal relationship, (generally, I don't have a lot of time to spend on my knees) I'm in regular communication. Usually it's like my stupid cell phone in which I'm forever muting myself out of the conversation and sometimes whoever I'm talking to hangs up before I can get through; I talk a lot, and I assume God is listening and has nothing to say. But I wonder if He's just muted out of the conversation. I wonder how many of us have that type of relationship, and how often we hang up before we can get a good connection and hear the response.

This week, I've not had my normal distractions, so I've left the line open and I've been surprised to so often get what I need.

When I raged to the heavens and stopped to take a breath, immediately I realized how selfish I was being..

Really, grief is a selfish, narcissistic, all consuming thing.

Yes, I'm in pain, but would I want that pain relieved by somehow rolling back the clock a few weeks and putting Ethan back into his pain? What if he'd been healthy and happy and snatched from life by some totally unexpected tragedy? Would I want him to come back to deal with the pain we all deal with in a "normal" life, just to make me feel better? Would I want him to have to feel all the heartbreak, depression, loss, and the day-to-day pains that we absorb?


So Ethan is gone. His pain is over and in all my grief, I must choose to remember that. I must frequently resurrect the vision of a smiling, glowing young man shaking free the pain of life. I must try to cling to the knowledge that while I'm hurting, he's at peace and he'd had his share of pain. Although I will let myself remember the good times, I must also remember that deep inside he was hurting in ways I never understood and that pain is finally gone.

That doesn't mean I'll be able to stop grieving. It doesn't mean that I'm not going to cry, or that sometimes I won't be knocked on my ass by the pain. But a little part of me has accepted that the grief isn't for him, it's for me, and I'm not the kind of person who can spend my life wrapped up in worrying about me.

I have a to do list, and I'm not at the top of it by any means. It's not the same list I had before, although I still need to get ready for Christmas, three little girls consume my days, and there are dogs to care for and exercise classes to get back into my routine. That to do list now includes this as well -- my navigation through goodbye and my effort to help anyone else facing the same struggle; my dream to do something to keep Ethan's drug of choice away from other kids so they can learn to live with all the pain and joy of life and make choices that won't send them down the same path.

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