It has been thirteen months since I lost my husband to the unfathomable darkness of depression. I know nobody would say thirteen months unless they were referring to a baby, they would just say a year but in this case the distinction seems important.
I grabbed a glass of wine after dinner tonight and came out to the deck to watch the colorful sky. It had been a hot day; there has been a heaviness to the heat the past couple of days, almost as if it was sitting on top of you. I had come home early to enjoy the sun in my backyard and almost immediately the sun vanished beneath a gray mass of clouds that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I put some shoes on and played catch with my youngest daughter until we decided to beat the rain inside as the sky hinted that there was an impending storm, possibly a good one.
We watched some TV till Morgan came home with her friend and I went upstairs to make dinner. I cannot believe I am saying this, but I made spaghetti tacos for the girls. Apparently, it was a thing on ICarly and Haley has been asking me to make them. Morgan was initially as freaked out as I was at the idea but seemed to enjoy them and Haley seemed beyond enamored by them. I opted for a stir-fry with this amazingly flavorful cauliflower rice. It just seemed like a normal day, almost an unfamiliar normal, one I truly haven’t seen in a lifetime. I did the dishes after supper, still peeking out the window occasionally to see if it had begun to rain. The rain was still holding off, and the sky beheld the same dismal color it had been earlier perhaps just a slight shade brighter. I decided to sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine and Morgan and her friend appeared and chatted a bit before going to meet another friend. At eighteen Morgan keeps busy with her crew, avoiding quiet times that make her think and feel too much on bottomless repeat. She is not ready to release the pain and sometimes I think we get so used to pain that we wrap ourselves in it like an old blanket and its Saturday night on the couch with your favorite Netflix series. It’s worn and not entirely cozy but there is a certainty to it at a time when everything feels uncertain. Tonight, she came out to the deck and we shared some laughs. She looked nice in her Halifornia Baseball Tee and I wondered for a second if it was mine because we have the same one. The sky had started to darken again just before they left but I found myself moments later staring up at it, a tiny bit confused. The sky had completely changed in a moment that I somehow missed; it was almost like a seamless day to night transition during live theatre. Somehow I blinked and missed it entirely. It was pretty in a weird sort of way, it was like the colors of the bags of cotton candy hanging on the side of the food trucks at the summer fair, the colors started to merge together, like the faces and the people that flock to the little food mobile all day to buy water and French fries. All of the sudden Haley burst out the door running into the lawn and standing on the fire pit, rambling about the sky and how she always used to stand on the fire pit in Grade 7 and take pictures of the sky. She just finished grade 8, probably one of toughest years in all her academic ones but she pulled through it and kicked its ass on the way through. I realized that I used to take a lot of the pictures of the sky as well and besides our recent vacation in the Okanagan where I dedicated time every day to stare up into the sky picking out the funny, dirty shapes in the clouds I had not been doing so. I stared at the moon and the stars at night and meditated fresh air every day of my holidays, yet it is July 30th and this is only the second time this summer that I have sat in my backyard. That feels important. It took thirteen months.
Haley and I continued to chat about the sky and take pictures of its rapidly changing color. It was not the most amazing sky I had ever seen, it wasn’t even close to being great, but it was beautiful in its unique normalness, changing quickly into moodier cotton candy colors. Almost immediately upon noticing the temperamental palette the curtain dropped abruptly leaving the evening sky draped in a deep navy velvet. I am listening to Ben Caplan crooning and sipping on a glass of red wine and kind of swaying in my seat and writing and figuring it out and sharing it with you almost simultaneously. After all we have been in this together, for a while, you and I. You have told me that sometimes my pain has been an escape from your own and that my healing makes yours seem hopeful and possible. You cry with me, remember with me, laugh with me and sit and hold space with me just as you would for your oldest, dearest friend. In most cases I am not your friend, most of you don’t even know me personally and even those of you that would say we were close if I won the lotto or became famous, you may not recognize me anymore. When I put my shattered pieces back together I had to put them back differently. I was forced too, everything was different, as am I, and sure as shitheels I am never going to be the same again.
Like I said, you are me and I am you. Our struggles are different but we both bare the scars of black nights and early mornings on no sleep. The memory fades but you remember how easily you can slip back into that hole. You are also starting to see how easily you can stop that manipulation, the lure of familiarity, and the decent into the darkness. You are starting to see that tomorrow is a new day; you get one every 24 hours. There are days that are easy and days that are hard, none of us are immune to those.
I walk on my lunch hour at work and I am lucky to live in a city with a large urban parks trail system surrounding our river valley. I have become a creature of habit and I take the same route 5 days a week finishing with a ladder. Every day I climb the ladder. When I first started I had to catch my breath several times and then I just stopped halfway through to suck in some air and then as time passed I made it closer to the top without a pause. Some days now I don’t stop at all and some days I stop out of habit. Some days are just hard, unexpectedly, as if I cannot get enough breath into my lungs and the air feels like a massive weight sitting on my chest. I have no explanation except for sometimes life is unexpectedly hard.
I realized that very day that I have been climbing for what seems like forever and it seems like I start over at the beginning every single day. The beauty in that is that I do, I start over every day. Nothing is permanent, no feeling of despair or hopelessness or heaviness that threatens to suck you in. Joy is not permanent either; it weaves in and out of our lives, knitting our memories into stunning tapestries. The magic happens when we realize that we choose how we feel in every single moment and we can chase the bleak shadows deeper and deeper into a pit of desolation or we can follow the wonder, the pleasure and delight as it unites our memories with the sunrise and launches our hopes into the sky to land on the brightest star. Our inner world is married to our outer world and what we give our attention to sets our intention. If our intention is to seek and create a life filled with joy and to meet the highest version of ourselves, if we continue to make that choice in every moment, commit to that climb, the universe will feed on that energy like a hungry traveler and lead us and guide us and move obstacles out of our way.
We are not alone. We are never alone. Just as you and I share in our most difficult struggles and laugh together during times of joy, the universe; the birds, bees, mountains, ocean and trees move simultaneously in a hypnotic dance to produce love, joy, creativity and gratitude in our lives. When that awareness is present I believe anything is possible.
There are times in the last year that I believed life was merciless, torturing me and feeding on my agony like a vulture but a very wise man told me that Kirk would heal through my healing and that one thing has been everything really. My husband spent a great deal of his life in pain, unable to achieve the peace he desired. If I chose to sit in the blackness would I keep him there with me?
Acceptance is vital. There are so many things in our lives that can be changed that we nonchalantly accept but we fight so damn hard against the mountains that are impossible to move. We use all of our strength fighting battles that cannot be won while laying our swords down during the most important of all crusades, the fight for our lives.
I realized one day that Kirk was not going to join me in that pit of despair but his spirit along with so many loving and kind people was offering me a hand to pull me out, I just had to grab unto it every single time I started to fall. The hand was always there, it would always be extended. I choose to fall or climb, that realization has been profound.
In those early days I believed that if I allowed my self to heal that I wouldn’t feel Kirk with me anymore, that he would sense that I no longer needed him and his presence would quickly fade away. I sought some guidance and I depended a great deal on faith and trust and what I learned was that as I continue to heal not only are my memories more vivid but my awareness of his existence in my life is unmistakable. Our souls are eternal and I am confident that he will encourage me always. I know he will be with me no matter what but when I find myself in a dreary place I imagine him sitting there with me saying “C’mon pissy pants, snap out of it!” he much preferred fun Michelle, who doesn’t?
It is those times when I feel happy and free that I feel him the most. I was at a concert last week and I had so much fun and danced non stop. I felt surrounded by his love and approval and I feel like, without earthly limbs I dance for him. When I love and laugh and dance, he does the same, just as when I cry and sit around in my jammies eating endless carbs and feeling like crap, so does he. There is an amazing amount of freedom in knowing that I am guided and supported, always, I just need to continue to climb.
I finally realized that it is not about the view from the top.
Grief is an unimaginable journey, but it is not something to get to the top of. I don’t think you ever stop grieving someone you love but I do believe it changes shape, it cloaks you in a weighty and gloomy sadness but over time instead of wearing it like armor you gracefully drape it over you like an elegant shawl made of courage.
The top just seems final, like a place where you stop learning and I feel like I have a lifetime of learning to do. Death has taught so much about love and living but it feels like there would never be an end to what I could learn about my purpose here in this astonishingly big but enigmatically small world.
Every day, all day, it is a journey, it is a climb.
I feel like slowly, grace and healing is making its way through my house and the last couple of days it has planted itself in my backyard. I can’t even believe how absently I was ready to accept that there would no longer be laughter back there, no welcoming the sun or bathing in moonlight. It is amazing the things that we will accept when we have the power to change them.
How ironic that it was a perfectly normal day that seemed so extraordinary in my heart.
Our journeys are unique to us but often they intersect at the crossroads and we lean on and learn from each other. Shared wisdom and vulnerability is significant and valuable to healing and growth.
Sometimes the first step is the most important part of the journey.
“There’s no glory in climbing a mountain if all you want to do is get to the top. It’s experiencing the climb itself- in all its moments of revelation, heartbreak and fatigue-that has to be the goal.”