Friday, December 27, 2013

I Cry Every Day

I cry every day.

People ask me how I'm doing, careful about the question as if I were fatally ill, not someone still struggling with death. They know an honest answer won't be good, but they ask because they care although they may mentally cringe at what I may say, or at even asking the question. It's not just me who doesn't know how I'm supposed to act, it's all the world around me that doesn't know how to treat me.

I know at some level that it would be easier in so many ways to just quit. To wear the same clothes day after day, to sleep on the sofa with the TV muttering its distractions, to totally forgo life and just allow the grief to consume me. But while the grief occasionally swallows me whole for long minutes of time, I can't do that. Even though the addiction often wouldn't let Ethan think of anything except himself and getting high, I know the boy/man that I loved and who loved me would not want me to do that.

So I try to go on, not as though nothing had changed, but as though I were OK, because most of the time I am.

But I cry every day. Not just once, but repeatedly in moments when I find myself with nothing else that needs to be done, or when I sit quietly for too long and my mind begins to pull up fragments of memories, like a squirrel digging for acorns in the leaves.

There's a big hole in my heart, but you cannot see it and a doctor would probably never miss it unless he asked the right question. Then my heart would stutter along as it seems to do periodically throughout the day, a pulse that has nothing to do with the pace of my body, but with the faltering of the breath in my chest, the sudden streaming of tears down my face.

My clothes still seem to fit, although I think I've eaten three good meals in the last week and a half. I eat when I need to fix a food for someone else, or when someone else prepares food, because although I'm hungry, there is nothing that I want. Food is a wonderful idea, but one I only manage to embrace about once a day. My diet is mostly coffee. I need lots of coffee to wake me up in the morning, when daylight is a long way off but my eyes are open and so I must begin my day. Then more coffee after lunch to keep me awake with the girls, to be sure that I don't nap and sacrifice sleeping at night to the exhaustion that sometimes threatens me at 2 p.m. I usually manage to eat a little dinner, when my husband is home and the girls are ready to eat as well -- their appetites unimpacted by the grief that fills me. After the girls leave, I begin chasing sleep with the same zeal that I use all day to avoid it. Alcohol helps. A glass or two of wine and my eyelids are heavy and I can turn off the television and escape my reality for a few hours.

I try to convince myself that I need to exercise, to drink the quarts of water that I used to consume every day, and that to get moving and embrace old routines will make me feel better. But those things just don't seem important right now. I'm not going to feel good, so why bother? The disrupted schedule of the back to back holidays means I have to be self motivated, and right now I'm just not.

But aside from the liquid diet and my general apathy toward a lot of things, I think I'm doing OK. I'm feeding dogs and chickens and the cat and rabbit and gathering eggs. When the girls are here and going strong, I'm pulled from the brink of whatever pit of gloom may be threatening me and carried by their energy. When the sun is warm and the wind doesn't blow too hard, I want to be outdoors and moving with the dogs(it just isn't the season for much of that).

Most of the time I can keep my grief simmering in a pot on the back burner, but there are moments when I'm alone that the pot boils over and for just a little while it's really messy. I'll be coasting along doing OK and some random thought of Ethan will pop into my head, quickly followed by the bone-shriveling reality that he's gone -- not just mad and not speaking, not just out of minutes on his cell phone, not just high and not in the mood to talk -- gone from my life for whatever remains of it.

When I sorted his video games one last time before donating them to the local homeless shelter, I touched his treasures and my heart broke. Then I felt something in the side pocket of the gym bag where they were stored and pulled out a toothbrush and half a tube of toothpaste and that pushed me over the edge. The little losses and reminders, the bits of him that will always be part of me are sometimes just too much.

In those moments, I understand the despair that sends mothers to emergency rooms or drives them to lock themselves away from the world. In those seconds, I grasp how people lose the will to go on and are beaten down by grief. In those minutes, I'm often huddled with dogs who are not always my own and who lick the tears from my face and press against me with warm bodies, sensing some pain they do not understand but seek to ease. In those times, once I'm able to breathe again and trying to pull my head above water, I turn to prayer or the words of the songs that echo in my head to comfort me.

My prayer is often an angry one filled with questions and pain. On Christmas morning, however, I managed to thank God not only for the gift of his Son but for the 23-year gift of my own. Because despite all the pain and the fact that I do not like how the story of Ethan's earthly life ended, he was a gift that I might not have been given and I have to remind myself of that sometimes. I'm struggling to find acceptance and it comes in brief moments of clarity that I cling to when the tears come back again.

Perhaps, with the passage of more time, this wound will be less tender and the tears won't come quite so often. I won't start my day with this self-imposed therapy session where I often rip the scab from whatever healing I've managed and poke at the weeping pain beneath. Or perhaps, the scab will gradually be replaced with tender flesh and a scar that I'll touch gently forever. But right now I know I'm going to cry and working my way through it in words seems to help me wade out of the pit when I fall in. It gives me something to cling to, to remember. It's a free therapy session where the prompt isn't a psychologist's questions, but a blank screen.

If you ask, "How are you?" The answer is that I think I'm doing as well as I could be. The fact that I hold it together doesn't mean it's not even more awful than I imagined, it just means I don't see any other option.

And although you will probably never see me do it, I cry every day.