It's Saturday August 23rd at 4:46 am and I am either unable or unwilling to sleep. In an hour and a half it will be the eight month anniversary of my brother's death. Until I realize that his brain steam actually herniated in New York, so I guess it's really in a half an hour. I muse about the idea of walking down to watch the sun rise on by the lake and give myself a moment of solace after a never ending night. I can't sleep because I came home tonight knowing I needed a grief night. I've spent the last eight months effectively running from it and exactly a month ago today, it has caught up with me. It has effectively chased away happiness for the time being and forestalled progress. There are moments I truly believe myself to be happy, and for all intents and purposes I am. But tonight is not one of them as I wear his sweatshirt despite the humidity because it still smells like him. I worry about the time when it will only start to smell like me, and I refuse to wash it. The scent of him brings tears to my eyes and he seems so present, so not far away, and that closeness exacerbates his distance.
I fell asleep on the couch quite early tonight to find myself dreaming about busying my way around the apartment preparing for bed and the weekend ahead. In my dream he's here visiting, just by himself, to spend time with me before school starts. In the dream there's a loud noise on my back deck and I remember looking down the hall to make sure Andy was still safely sleeping on the couch, in that protective older sister way, before going to check to make sure everything is okay. In the dream he'd turned on the television and was listening to music. I remember telling him to turn it down. The dream was so simple, so natural, so normal. So devoid of what my life represents right now. When I wake up I don't immediately recollect the dream. I convince myself to crawl into bed and know it will be difficult to fall back asleep when the thought hits me and I begin audibly saying to myself, "He was sleeping on the couch, he was sleeping on the couch, he was sleeping on the couch." I don't realize why those words make me so upset until the memory of that night coming home at 3am to find him NOT sleeping on the couch, the TV on with the cable box off for some strange reason, in that moment, made me think of a flat line heart monitor. I turned to call him to make sure he was okay or find out if he needed a ride home and stopped myself saying "he's a big boy now I'm sure he's asleep on someone's couch, he'll be home in the morning." In fact at that point he was. But it wasn't him who arrived home in the morning, it was a trooper and I laid in my bed full well knowing what had happened trying not to leave my room because that would make it not be real, trying to ignore the sounds of my mother screaming. Until finally Geoff came in my room and said I needed to get up. He's not asleep on the couch.
I spend this endless night reading of all things "The Year of Magical Thinking", about a woman who loses her husband and spends the next year pathologically bargaining with death, almost waiting for the person to come home.
"From Bereavement: Reactions, Consequences, and Care, complied in 1984 by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, I learned for example that the most frequent immediate responses to death were shock, numbness, and a sense of disbelief: 'Subjectively, survivors may feel like they are wrapped in a cocoon or blanked; to others, they may look as though they are holding up well. Because the reality of death has not yet penetrated awareness, survivors can appear to be quite accepting of the loss.'"
I on the other hand responded with vomiting at the moment where for the first time me placing my hand in his I did not feel him squeeze back at my voice, when the doctors told us he was gone and I already knew. I ran to the bathroom and threw up until my bile ducts could no longer produce. I collapsed on the floor outside the ICU begging for Geoff to hurry up and get there and wrap me up in his arms so that I could have the strength to rise up to help be the planner so that I could spare my parents some of the grief. There was a job to be done. There was a job to be done then, and there has been a job to be done every moment since then until a month ago. I had to return to work, I had to be functional, I had to seem normal and strong, I had to find a new job, I had to be good at that new job, I had to plan and help with the golf tournament. My cocoon of disbelief was in actuality one of telling myself if I kept doing he wouldn't actually be gone. Now there's nothing left to do.
Emily Post's 1922 book of etiquette:
" Persons under the shock of genuine affliction are not only upset mentally but are all unbalanced physically. No matter how calm and controlled they seemingly may be, no one can under such circumstances be normal. Their disturbed circulation makes them cold, their distress makes them unstrung, sleepless. Persons they normally like, they often turn from. No one should ever be forced upon those in grief, and all over-emotional people, no matter how near or dear, should be barred absolutely. Although the knowledge that their friends love them and sorrow for them is a great solace, the nearest afflicted must be protected from any one or anything which is likely to overstrain nerves already at the threatening point, and none have the right to feel hurt if they are told they can neither be of use or be received. At such a time, to some people companionship is a comfort, others shrink from their dearest friends"
I have tended toward the latter. Seemingly calm and controlled but shrinking from their dearest friends and in certain cases sending some unerringly away. I recognize that some of this is the fear of need. Need begets dependence which begets disappointment which begets unimaginable pain. I learned young to only need myself, because in the end that's really all we have. My mother has frequently asked, "How are you doing so okay? I worry who's there to hold you when you meltdown." I responded there was no one and I was fine. I became good at running from the meltdowns. And good in the instance where I caved and did meltdown. I took long showers, listened to certain songs on repeat:
A river of tangled string
you are unraveling
and no one else seems to mind.
You keep it to yourself, stay numb and act fine.
You wear the truth under your sole, like a pebble
it makes you limp and sway
but it will out someday.
Take it from me it is no use
washing your hands so often they are clean and cracked.
You never get your old skin back
once you have loved like that
you're a river of tangled string...
He is inside you, he loved your marrow.
You think you could cut him out with a knife
if you went deep enough
I don't think so.
Maybe sing him back to living
'cause he might rise like a snake in a basket
or he may close his eyes
and wait till his life is a full-fledged casket, floating on
a river of tangled string...
I allowed myself one person to hold me in only one meltdown. He rose to the occasion thankfully, it however terrified him. I don't necessarily blame him, a piece of me regrets it. A piece of me is grateful that it later demonstrated his emotive inadequacy. Nothing terrifies me, my best friend is born out of this same moment years ago in the reverse direction. I am not broken and am assured that if it hasn't broken me yet it's not going to. I am also assured that those overwhelmed by it don't serve any purpose in my life.
Today on my lunch break I walked to the doctors office for the EKG she scheduled for me. I'm unsure why she scheduled it for me but as I laid on the table in my cocoon. Shirt ripped untenderly over my breasts I wondered if the technician could tell from the scan that my heart was broken. It still appeared to be beating. Maybe the doctor knew it was broken and she ordered the test for confirmation. That does not so much concern me. The part that concerns me is this: the anniversaries are getting harder not easier. I couldn't for the longest time figure out why that is until this:
"Philippe Aries, in a series of lectures he delivered at Johns Hopkins in 1973 and later published as Western Attitudes toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present, noted that beginning about 1930 there had been in most Western countries and particularly in the United States a revolution in accepted attitudes toward death. 'Death,' he wrote, 'so omnipresent in the past that it was familiar, would be effaced, would disappear. It would become shameful and forbidden.'"
It has taken me 8 months to allow myself to mourn. Gratefully I can still say, "It's been about six months". I am as thus allowed to feel the way I feel about this to a certain extent. But what happens when it's not "about six months ago"? What happens when it's a year ago, or five years ago, or my wedding day? I will not be nearly as entitled to feel this way then. I recently met a woman at work who's brother died when she was 13. It still brings her to tears. I even found myself lessening her pain because mine is more ripe. I'm now coming to accept that the pain will always be there. That he will always be notably absent in my life, and that on my wedding day he won't be there standing next to my to be husband, he won't be there in the way I want him to be, but he will still be there. And it will make me cry. And I'm going to have to learn to be okay with that. That moment is not now. For now I will walk down to the lake and watch the sunrise.