For the first couple of weeks after Dominic left us, I couldn’t fall asleep.
It was impossible to close my eyes without a dozen awful scenes flashing behind the lids.
Silent darkness was not my friend.
Eventually exhaustion won and I could fall asleep but couldn’t stay asleep. Two or three hours in and my body had just enough rest to shake slumber and force my heart to face another day (even if the sun wasn’t up yet).
Somewhere around year three I finally settled into a pretty regular pattern of between five and six hours of solid sleep.
But for the past several months I’ve lost the rhythm and am once again struggling.
Lots of changes, lots of stress, lots of physical discomfort and lots of lists floating in my head have landed me back in sleepless territory.
I wish there was a switch I could flip that made it easy to fall and stay asleep. I wish there was a way to stop stray thoughts from invading my consciousness and my dreams. I wish I could have a solid week of solid sleep.
I know it would make everything so much easier to manage.
I’d be calmer, more focused, more energetic and more optimistic.
But it’s a vicious cycle.
I’m hoping long days of hard work in the summer sun will shift my body back to a better rhythm.
I don’t know about you, but I think of every day as a blank canvas and it’s my responsibility to paint something useful or beautiful or helpful on it.
I’m a list maker so each night before I drift off, I usually jot down 3 or 300 things I would like to do the next day.
I get up, get started and then (more often than I’d like to confess!) hit a wall.
Sometimes it’s the wall of circumstance. Things happen I didn’t expect and suddenly the hours I was going to spend cleaning the garage are spent cleaning a mess.
Sometimes it’s the wall of community. Someone calls. Or a multitude of someones call. I hate to admit it but I’m really not a fan of the telephone. Like Alexander Graham Bell, I consider it more of an inconvenience and interruption than a means of delightful connectivity. Minutes slip by and I can’t recover them.
I love my friends and family.
But I’d rather chat while we are doing something together in person than over the phone.
Sometimes it’s the wall of pain. Rheumatoid Arthritis, like all autoimmune diseases, is unpredictable. Usually I can tell in the early morning hours if my joints are going to cooperate on a given day. But sometimes they surprise me and I find that all that yard work will have to wait.
Sometimes it’s the wall of grief or sadness or longing or any of a multitude of feelings. I have gotten pretty skilled at steering clear of grief triggers when I know I have lots of things to do. I don’t listen to the songs friends post on their timelines or read too many comments on the sites for bereaved parents. But I can’t anticipate random sights, sounds or memories. I’ve been working on a room, cleaning drawers, moving stuff tucked in corners and come across a Lego man or a pellet from the air soft guns they weren’t supposed to shoot inside the house (but of course did anyway) when the boys were young. That does me in and I have to walk away.
Sometimes it’s the wall of “What difference does it make anyway?!!”This one I usually see approaching in the distance when there have been too many days and too little progress. Or a string of gray, rainy mornings. Or multiple failed attempts at fixing something. And then I throw up my hands and decide my paltry attempts at controlling my corner of the world hardly matter, so why keep doing them.
So I give in and let myself just have a day.
It doesn’t have to be a good one or a productive one or even a cheerful one. The glass can just be a glass. I don’t have to pretend it’s half-full or declare it half-empty.
And after a rest I usually remember that what I used to find impossible is now possible; what used to be hard, is often a little easier.
I am stronger and better able to carry this load.
Sorrow is no longer all I feel nor my son’s absence all I see.
And although THIS day may be lost. It’s only ONE day.
It’s perfectly OK for me to sit down with a cup of coffee, a book or a movie and let myself off the hook.
I weigh more today than I’ve weighed in ten years.
Just before Dominic graduated high school in 2008, I decided that being “fluffy” was not good for my health, not good for my joints and for the first time in my married life I had the extra energy, time and attention to work on losing weight.
I lost over fifty pounds.
Still not skinny, but definitely a much smaller version of me than had existed since I started having children.
But after Dom left us, a series of choices and out-of-my-control health issues combined to make it harder and harder to maintain the weight loss I had (fairly) effortlessly maintained for six years.
I’m scheduled to see my GP tomorrow and you know what makes me more nervous than all the bloodwork they will have to do? Stepping on the scales!
Why is is more deplorable to be fat than to be mean?
Why is it considered a greater moral failure to lug around extra pounds than to lug around a hateful heart?
I feel more like a failure because I’ve allowed pounds to creep back up on my backside than for so many other things that are so much more important.
Menopause, middle age and many sleepless nights which increase my cortisol levels have conspired to make it harder this time than last time to rid my body of excess weight.
I’m active, eat well and in limited amounts (no Twinkies or high fructose corn syrup!) but my hips refuse to get smaller.
I try hard not to blame everything on child loss.
But I’m pretty sure a significant portion of responsibility sits squarely on the fact that my heart is broken. I am exercising so much self-control every. single. day. that I don’t have any left over.
I rarely cry any more in public.
Goodness! I rarely cry any more in private.
I can return a cheery, “Have a nice day!” to any and everyone I meet.
But that means I am constantly running a tape in my head that goes something like this: “Don’t take it out on her. She has no idea. Keep smiling. People don’t know that you were about to cry just a minute ago. Don’t let that person’s ugly attitude unleash the beast inside you.”
Can I be honest here?
I’m tired of everything being hard.
I don’t know if or when I’ll lose weight (please don’t inbox me with your latest, greatest sales pitch).
I’m trying most days.
But sometimes I just don’t have it in me to try. Sometimes I just want to be normal-whatever THAT is. Sometimes I just want to have one corner of life where things are easy and don’t require constant vigilance or extreme restraint. Sometimes I want to eat ALL the things and not give a hoot if it adds inches to my waist.
Even in the very first hours after the news, my brain began instructing my heart, “Now, try to be brave. Try not to disappoint people. Try to say the right thing, do the right thing and be the example you should be.”
Whatever that meant.
As I made phone calls and received concerned friends and family members I was so aware that they would take a cue from me-how much can I say, how hard can I cry, should I hug or stand back, should I talk about him or be silent lest it make the tears fall harder?
And here-almost five years later-I still feel like I need to lead the way in conversations and social encounters.
I already struggled with the sense that I was rarely able to meet everyone’s expectations before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
That’s been multiplied by a factor of at least 100 since then.
For those of you who are so self-confident or blissfully unaware, it won’t make sense but for those of you who are firstborns or “Type A” personalities you know exactly what I mean.
I cannot ignore the gap between what people need from me and what I’m able to give.
My internal dialogue is a combination of self-condemnation and pep talks to “do better”, “try harder” and “don’t give up or give in”.
But no matter how hard I try, it’s never enough.
And I need to let go of that. I need to let myself off the hook. I need to admit that some people’s expectations are unrealistic or self-serving.
But it is so. very. hard.
I have had an invisible disease for a decade that saps my energy, circumscribes my ability to do daily tasks and gifts me with chronic pain. Yet I tend to discount the impact it has on my life and try to ignore the fact it makes every. single thing more difficult.
It will be five years in April that Dominic left us. FIVE YEARS! I can barely type that. I don’t even know what to do with it.
A lifetime ago and a breath away all at the same time.
I feel like I am giving everything I have to my family, to my friends and to other folks that count on me to show up. So often it’s not enough. So often I fall short. So often I go to bed shaking my head and hoping that tomorrow is a better day and I’m a better person.
I learned early on to make do on less sleep than I really need.
Four children in six years will do that to you.
It’s not that I have a physical need for sleep these days-although there are many nights when sleep eludes me.
It’s more that I am soul weary.
Worn down in ways that sleep won’t touch. Frayed and frazzled and falling down tired.
I wake up hopeful every morning. “Today is going to be a productive, encouraging day!”
Sometimes I make it as far as lunchtime before fatigue sets in and overwhelms my good intentions.
I wish it were just a matter of extra shut eye! I wish I could crawl up in the bed for 24 hours and wake refreshed, renewed and ready to go.
But I can’t.
Sleep won’t fix what’s wrong with me.
It can help.
If I’m physically drained in addition to emotionally exhausted then that’s never a good thing. My fuse is shorter by the minute when my body is crying for rest.
Lack of sunlight, gray days and added stress from holiday preparations and obligations deepens the weariness in my bones. I feel guilty sometimes because I know my life is still full of many blessings. I really, truly do NOT take them for granted. (How could I when I know how quickly and unexpectedly they can be gone?)
Still, all the blessings in the world can’t undo this exhaustion.
I’m well aware that discouragement begets discouragement and try so very hard to strive against it. But in the end, I’m not sure I’m successful.
When I say to someone, “I’m so very tired!” they nearly always suggest a nap. Trust me, if a nap would erase this soul weariness, I’d take one every single day.
But it doesn’t, so I don’t.
Instead I go outside and breathe some fresh air, make a cup of hot tea and sit down with a good book, or just sit down and watch the Christmas lights or a candle with my cat in my lap.
That seems to help.
It resets my focus and refuels my soul.
Night closes in and I find I’ve made it through another day. <3
It would be helpful if the world could just stop for a day or a week (or a year!) when your heart is shattered by the news that one of the children you birthed into this world has suddenly left it.
But it doesn’t.
And immediately all the roles I have played for decades are overlaid by a new role: bereaved mother. Except instead of being definitive or even descriptive, this role is more like a foggy blanket that obscures and disorients me as I struggle to fulfill all the roles to which I’ve become accustomed.
Now I’m a bereaved mother AND
mother to surviving siblings,
In addition to all the challenges those various roles represent, I have a new challenge:
How can I be the person I need to be for the ones I love when I’m barely able to be any kind of person at all? How do I encourage THEM when I have to give myself a pep talk just to get out of the bed? How do I navigate my own emotional landmines and help them navigate theirs so we all arrive safely on the other side of birthdays, holidays and special occasions?
I have to admit that I have. absolutely. no. idea.
I’m trying. I don’t give up (although I want to!). I keep showing up and having conversations (even some that are one-sided as I take the brunt of another’s emotional explosion). I try to be a middleman and get first one person’s perspective and then another’s-negotiating for common ground and some kind of compromise.
But it often backfires.
No matter how hard I work at it, I can’t please everyone. And the problem with being seen as the negotiator is that if things don’t turn out well, you are the scapegoat too.
I’ll be honest. There have been more than a few days this past month I wanted to crawl up in the bed, pull the covers over my head and not answer the door or the phone.
After nearly five years of this, I’m worn down, worn out, feeling sick, feeling incompetent and feeling like no matter how hard I try it really doesn’t matter.
I know it’s not true.
But it feels that way.
And it takes another giant bolus of energy I don’t really have to drag my butt out of the bed, make a list, make phone calls, do the things that need doing and then show up, smiling, to whatever event is next.
Because that’s what wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and friends do.