I am not going to talk about crying or pain in this post, I promise. I know some of that has been necessary but I also know there is only so much relentless sorrow any reader can take, and I want to apologize if my grief has hurt anyone else. My housemate and friend recently told me how helpless he felt hearing me crying in my room every night, more than a month after Alec died (I did try to be quiet, but it’s an old house). As a problem-solver he felt frustrated that no matter what he did he could not “fix” things for me. And he was right of course. There is no fixing this. But he always helped just by listening and talking with me. I always tried to make that clear, but it’s hard for the problem solvers of the world; they tend to underestimate the therapeutic value of just being a good listener. But taking care of someone who is grieving can be exhausting. You don’t know what to do or say. You can’t take away the pain. You wonder if maybe they need professional help. You worry when you find them out in the yard at night, hysterically crying in the rain. You are reminded of your own experiences with grief, past and pending.
Um, by the way, I noticed I mentioned crying twice in the first paragraph so I guess I lied a little in the first sentence. Sorry.
I realize it’s also hard for some people who have suffered a recent (or not so recent) loss to read this kind of stuff. It can be an upsetting reminder of a grief that still may be unresolved. A friend told me she started reading my last post but had to stop; it reminded her too much of her own experience losing a loved one last year. So I felt I should post something (relatively) positive next and maybe apologize in case my pain has inadvertently caused painful feelings in others. My intention was not to hurt other people, but just to give an honest voice to this process because I feel expression is the key to assimilation and indeed survival in my case. Holding it inside forever works for some people; this wasn’t going to work for me because of a variety of factors. I needed to force the cork out of the bottle. That shit isn’t always pretty.
I know my last post was probably a drag to read for anyone who cares about me. I’m sure people expected some progress after four months, not more of the same: “I am in so much pain…also pain…and more pain….nothing but pain!” But this is part of the process. I needed to confront those feelings forthrightly and not try to lock them away. I had sunk into a denial that was not going to be sustainable. I understand why my mind is trying to protect me (thank you subconscious – good lookin’ out, seriously; you are no slouch). I am afraid to face these feelings because they are vast and terrible, but face them I must. I always said I was going to take Alec with me, no matter that his physical presence is gone; I knew from the outset this would be the only feasible way I could integrate his death into the remainder of my life. Honoring my feelings is the first step in figuring out my new relationship with him, the relationship that exists after death.
Speaking of my last post, a dear friend who is much wiser than me showed me a way out of the “how can I deal with the past while mindfully staying in the present moment?” conundrum. She recently suffered her own loss and told me part of staying in the present for her means being with her feelings when they arise, whether that is crying or whatever. Well, that makes sense, and although I am still terrified of really, truly letting all that pain in – the abyss and all – it gives me a starting point for a way to be present without running from the past. This way of “being present” is different from what I had been doing: aggressively focusing on (nothing but) the moment right in front of me (blinders on, head down!). This is a coping mechanism (thanks again, subconscious, for doing your level best), but it is not a good way for me to integrate this loss into my life. I can’t pretend Alec is going to come around the corner any minute…unless in ghost form, which I probably don’t have to tell you I would welcome.
Anyway that’s enough wallowing in self-pity (at least for now). I want this blog to be helpful! Along those lines, I have planned for a while to write a post on complicated grief and how it can be distinguished from “normal grieving.” Complicated grief (also called protracted, unresolved, or traumatic grief) has characteristics of both depression and PTSD and develops when the symptoms that are normal responses to loss linger or become debilitating. There are many risk factors that make the development of this disorder, which may benefit from special treatment, more or less likely. Even if complicated grief (which is rare) does not develop, the factors associated with it can shed light on why certain losses are harder to handle. It may help someone understand why they are having so much trouble compared to someone else. I know there are many factors about losing Alec that have made this particularly unbearable for me. Those are all here in this blog spread out over many posts, but I think it will be helpful as part of my own journey to unpack those. See, I said “helpful!” Can I have a cookie? I am trying.
I would also like to share some books that have particularly helped me, among them Transcending Loss, Grieving Mindfully, and Healing after Loss. I had planned to review these in a future post in hopes they may be helpful to someone else. I have read a LOT of books on grief (maybe most of them), but these three have stood out.
So these entries are on the radar if I can keep writing enough to keep my head above water. I have so much I want to say, and I will say it, for Alec. I will create a corner of my life that is a monument to him. And it will not be full of pain forever. My love for him, still so strong, will help me, like it did when he became paralyzed, to find strength I didn’t know I had. I will find a way up and out. Repeat as necessary.
As a first step, I selected a picture of Alec to post. Anyone who has been reading knows I have not been able to go through my photos of him. But keeping in mind Deb’s cautionary tale (in the comments) about not waiting “too long,” I am going to wade in. Also blogs without photos are really boring. Photos made up so much of Alec’s Story (Part 1) and it pains me to know there will be no more. However, I do have an extensive back catalog. Deep breath. Here goes:
I chose this photo because when I think about him, and when I think about not being able to look at pictures, this one pops into my head often, because it is a favorite. I think it’s because he looks so happy, but also a lot is symbolized in this image: his triumph over paralysis; our adaptation to his lingering disability (swimming instead of running); my commitment to making sure his life remained full and happy despite his physical limitations; and the smile that made my heart melt every time. It also makes me remember how strong he got, how much he improved. He stopped using the wheelchair a month before this was taken. Eventually he did not even need that life vest. Truthfully he probably stopped needing it long before I removed it, but all things considered it was better safe than sorry, and he did not mind his vest.
This photo also makes me remember how I was at my happiest when Alec was happy, contented, and safe. Especially in the beginning I had a lot of fear and anxiety surrounding taking him swimming due to the potential dangers: off leash dogs (aggressive or playful – both posed a threat because he could reinjure himself); rocks hidden under the water, letting him swim so long he’d be too tired to make it back to the car, etc., etc. But after one of these swimming adventures, when I had him safely back home, relaxed and tired, I could finally relax myself and be truly content. My boy had safely exercised, played, and had fun. I felt proud, successful, thankful, in love. There was nothing better in the world. It was another great day.
I miss his smile so much. I used to sing “you are my sunshine,” to Alec a lot. Please don’t take my sunshine away. You see, I always knew that’s what it would be like.