It is impossible to think of a single “worst thing” about my separation from Alec; there are so many. However one of the worst things has surely been my inability to write. At first I could not even write in my journal. I have come back around to journaling in the last couple weeks, but first I had to let go of my expectations for coherence. I started off gradually, first scribbling in a plain composition notebook, where I knew I would feel less pressure than if I wrote in an actual journal. What is this pressure and why do I put it on myself? I don’t know; I only know I was blocked from writing down my feelings. Once I started to write again I could almost literally feel the therapeutic value of getting the twisted tangle of thoughts and emotions out of my head and onto paper. It functions – much like crying – as a sort of emptying process, if only temporarily.
Despite my return to journaling (always a sporadic habit at best, I picked it up again only recently as a coping mechanism when Alec became sick), I have been unable to write a blog post. I had this idea for a new blog: Alec’s Story, Pt. 2, in essence. I don’t remember if I already mentioned it, and I can’t go back and read my old blog posts now. I can’t even think about him too much or look at pictures without crying. Yes, two months later. It’s not that Alec is not on my mind. Oh, he is. Every minute of every day, he is there. But like the sun, I can’t look directly at this. I have to shield my eyes, only glance at the edges. Is there something wrong with me? I don’t think so. I know I have only begun my grief journey, a journey which will not be “finished” until I join Alec, wherever he may be. And that’s okay.
There is also nothing wrong with people who grieve differently than me. The way we experience grief is a reflection of many factors, including our relationship to the deceased loved one, the circumstances surrounding the death, our personal history of loss, psychological factors and coping mechanisms, available sources of social support, additional life stresses, and cultural background, among others. People who are able to integrate a loss into their lives more quickly did not necessarily love less (despite the adage that says the depth of our pain is equal to the depth of our love), just as someone who takes longer with this process is not necessarily having a pathological response. Everyone copes with grief differently; however, in cases of profound loss, there may be more universals than differences.
Tangent. My mind does not stay in one place very long these days. Anyway, I had this idea for a new blog. I wanted to write, yet I found myself silent. On paper that is. Inside my head is a very busy place. With all of the thoughts and emotions and experiences surrounding the loss accumulating, I thought I would have no problem coming up with topics about which to write. Maybe I could help someone who is going through something similar and thinks they are going crazy (trust me, in all likelihood you’re not… all the books back me up on this one). Maybe I would help myself. I found when Alec was sick, my blog was a lifeline of sorts. Thanks to the kind people who followed his story, I felt like I had a virtual community around me. Although I didn’t think I could write while going through that terrible time, somehow the act of writing, of recording, had therapeutic value. I thought after Alec died I could continue to write about things like the presence of absence and a million other topics having to do with losing a loved one. I thought it would help me stay connected to Alec, and maybe help me heal. But I haven’t been able to do it. Until now.
Lately, I have been going on a lot of long hikes in the woods, and on these hikes I try to quiet my mind. But my brain is very uncooperative (I try not to criticize – “Brain, will you SHUT UP??” – and instead let the thoughts arise and wait for them to drift away without judgment. That is what I am working on, anyway. Just like everything, it is easier said than done). When the incessant mental chatter would finally die down, I often found myself composing blog posts in my head. Ah ha, I would think. That’s what it is like; this is what I want to say. But I would promptly come home and forget everything I wanted to say. That is part of what it’s been like. So many thoughts and emotions coming and going, swirling overhead, resistant to capture or categorization. A jumbled mess.
So this is my attempt to break my silence. I am trying to corral my unruly grief and write about it, and in so doing begin to perhaps weave some meaning out of this loss. In a culture that has no time for grief, I am going to take my time. Because I loved him beyond words, and everything still hurts. I should maybe mention this post is not meant to be an example of me capturing or categorizing anything. This is just me throwing out random post #1, in hopes the next will be easier. That is what happened with my journal; I forced myself to write one day, and the next entry came easier, and I felt like there was maybe just a little bit more space in my lungs, at least for a time.
Writing is not for everyone. But the lesson holds: find something that makes you feel this way and try to do it. Simple but true. Some people have an artistic outlet. For others it might be physical activity, or meditation. Exercise was always my go-to activity to beat depression before losing Ali. It was the one thing that always worked in the past to make me feel better when I was seriously down or in the throes of anxiety. But this time, although I am still exercising regularly, it has not had the same ameliorative effect on my mood. Even our personal antidotes can change over time, as everything does (one of the many lessons I have been trying to internalize is the concept of impermanence).
Lastly, I don’t even do this consciously but I am aware that I feel pressure to write, like somehow I am denying Alec by not writing about this. I know it’s not true, but many of us have “crazy” thoughts when grieving (see above – this does not mean you are crazy). I also have a tendency to be very self-critical, so I have been trying to be compassionate with myself and say, “It’s okay. You will write again when the time is right. There is no rush.” But then again, maybe the internal pressure comes from some part of me that knows writing will be therapeutic. Despite the fact that I don’t know what I am saying or what this post is about (other than me tentatively dipping my toe back into the well of words), I can feel my chest loosening a little from writing something down. Just a little, but maybe that is enough for right now.
The real reason I am posting this is that today (10/10/10) would have been Alec’s 10th birthday. I had planned to put together a photo slideshow and I gave myself today as a “deadline.” Two months ago, October 10th seemed far enough away that I would have plenty of time. Yet here I am, and I have not even been able to look at his pictures. I felt like a failure and anxiety was gnawing at me all week until a friend told me it was okay to wait…that although there will always be tears, I should do this when I can also smile along with the tears; that it should be a celebration. Somehow her words lifted a burden I didn’t even know was on my shoulders. I wanted to post something special for his birthday, and instead here’s what you get. But it’s a start. And while I miss him every minute of every day, the days leading up to his birthday have been harder for me, just as the books all predicted (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, seasons changing, etc. can all be grief triggers). I don’t have a lot of social support so these books have been invaluable. I am also a hyper-reflexive and analytical person, so I have been acting as my own therapist, along with the books. Wow, typing that I realize part of why it is so busy in my head! And why it has been so hard to write down.
I think that is probably enough randomness for one post. But on this day that should have been a joyful celebration, like it was last year, I offer my sincere if bumbling attempt to continue the story, because I love Alec with every fiber of my being, and because love does not end with death. Happy Birthday, sweetie. Oh, how I wish you were still here with me.