Where'd You Go?


State of the Mind, September 2018 

"Where'd you go, Bernadette?" is one of my favorite books. It takes place in a residential area of Seattle where a famous architect, Bernadette, is trying to assimilate into the domesticated lifestyle of her neighbors after her daughter survived a major medical scare. She has abandoned her passion, redesigning unconventional spaces into incredible, artistic homes. And she has taken up full time motherhood, except that she's no good at it, really. Everything frightens her and she seems to be getting worse the harder she tries. Finally she disappears to Antarctica and then later emerges after rediscovering her true self. 

"Where'd you go?" is a question all the characters ask her, both literally and metaphorically. At a turning point she receives a sharply worded letter from an old friend. "You've stopped working?! Bernadettle, if you don't create, you will die." 

Or something like that. It's a great book. 

It came back to me while I was running 200's during a CrossFit workout yesterday. (Is that a lame sentence? It's the truth, but perhaps a bit gratuitous?)

'Where did you go?' I was thinking. When you stop creating, stop following your passion, and throw yourself into something else entirely...where does the "you" go? How do you get it back? What if you can't? 

A few days ago I opened my closet and felt a cold kind of darkness come up. "The lights are going out," I said, out loud, to my clothes. It was very ominous. If I were in a movie, the soundtrack would have changed just then. A slight key change, I think. (I'm not a musician.) 

I'm not going to disappear to Antarctica. I haven't disappeared. I'm still running 200's for goodness sake. But I don't write as much. And I feel ... different. Sadder.

One year ago I was in a different place than I am now. Life was not perfect but my husband was alive. And after September 25, 2018, I will have lived one year without him. I will have one year of memories without him. It will be our second Christmas, our second set of birthdays, our second seasons without our Jake. 

I remember four days after he died, I was hesitant to take any pictures on my phone because it would put more pictures between the ones I had with him, and the ones without him. I hated each day that passed, putting more time between our existences. When I hit the two-week mark, it was the longest I'd ever been away from him. In fact, it doubled our previous record. Sometimes I would look around the house, or over at his side of the bed and ask, where did you go?

Had I been a military wife, would I have been more prepared for all this time without him? Had I ever let myself sleep in another bed for more than a day or two, would all this have been so hard? 

Or was I wise to get every day and night, and every moment that I could get with him? 

September, 2017 one year ago

Nothing prepares you for this. And this month, this time right now is particularly dark for me. I know it is for others too. I feel myself slipping a little. I'm not going to disappear. I wrote this, after all. (And so far it's going extremely well, I'm sobbing over my keyboard. Progress, folks.) 

And I'm doing all the other things I'm supposed to do. Therapy. Self care. Asking for help. 

But he's still gone. On Tuesday at 5:57pm, that's when he died. That's a bit much to accept. So... it's a little dark here.

That's all. 

Sorry (I'm Not Sorry)

Writing My Grief: Days 5-14 

Continuing from my writing course, Writing My Grief, organized by author Megan Devine.

In the second week of this course we had several prompts that brought up how I feel about how other people perceive me and the way that I am grieving. It is mostly about my fears. People have given me no real reason to think that I am grieving wrongly, but these fears seep in nonetheless. I think I know why. 

Day 11: On Behaving Better

sorry-im-not-sorry-quote-1.jpg

I need to apologize. I'm not sure who to apologize to. Or what for.

Well, sorta I do.

I didn't live up to the image we had in our heads. The perfect widow. Have you ever noticed how many stupid songs there are about widows. Well, not widows specifically, but basically widows. "I would die for you." "I would have no reason to go on without out you." "Better tell the gravedigger that he better dig two."

Are you fucking kidding me? That's not how this works. You don't get to die just because your love dies. You have to keep living. Seriously. You have responsibilities. You have to pick up the kids at 5:00! The daycare closes at 5:30 and they get so sad to be the last kids there. You can't have that. So get your big girl pants on and get out of bed.

Sorry, I digress. The point is, I am not the perfect widow, and these songs are at least partially to blame. They've romanticized the idea of dying for love to a point where we've become completely irrational about what loss looks like. We all know about the "till death do us part," part. The part after that, well, it's a lot less romantic than fairy tales and songs would have you think.

But it isn't just that we have to pick up the kids and keep paying the mortgage on this house that he thought was such a great idea even though it was a squeeze when we had two incomes, let alone one. It's not just that.

It's that you GET to live, too. Not only did I not die for love, I'm actually trying to live.

So I'm sorry. But I'm not sorry, too. I won't wear black every day. It's not going to help me and it doesn't suit me.

I won't sleep next to his pillow every night. I'm going to buy a new damn pillow, the kind that I like. And I'm going to cry massive tears when I throw out the old one because this doesn't have to make any sense to anyone.

I'm going to meet someone new. And I going to keep loving my husband.

I'm going to throw parties and have fun. I'm going to take selfies and look good in them. And then later I'm going to hear our song on the radio and let out a laugh/cry because I always think that he made that song come on the radio somehow to tell me that I'm doing fine and he loves me and he's happy to see me happy. It doesn't have to be true. These are my things, I get to have them.

I don't need to prove that I'm sad, or that I'm not over it, or that I am over it. I don't need to prove that I loved him. And I certainly don't need to prove it by dragging myself further into loneliness and getting stuck in the pain, just so I can live up to some image of complete and utter sadness.

But it still matters that people know. I am sad. I am sad every single day (but not every single minute). Does that make any sense?

It matters so much that people know: I loved my husband. I love him still. He was my world, he was my person, and I was his. Nothing I do will change that. But it might not always look the way it does in the movies or those stupid songs. Will people understand that? I need them to.

It still matters to me that people talk about him. I need all the letters and all the text messages and all the phone calls. I miss my friends so much. I miss Jake's friends. I am so needy. I'm sorry.

In my heart I know that no one's opinion matters more than my own. Not even Jake's (though I have no doubt we are on the same page).

And yet still... when I open my phone, and I see a message, and it's even the slightest bit supportive, I add it like a brick in my wall of confidence. And I prepare for a message that may never come:

you aren't doing this right

you aren't sad enough

you don't honor him. 

Should that message ever come, I hope I won't say I'm sorry. I hope I will say, "you're wrong."

-hmv 4/9/18

Writing My Grief: Days 1-4

I've joined an online writing class called Writing Your Grief. It has been a great class and community, and it gives me a much-needed excuse to write daily. Today is Day 4. 

I am not going to share all my writing from this course. Some of it is too personal. It's a bit like therapy on paper. But I'll share a little, because I do that.

A brief disclaimer: the writing is not intended to be 100% accurate. Don't get all concerned about me. You all know that I'm a complicated person with deep feelings who is also very grounded and supported right now. Getting these big feelings out feels good. I hope something connects with you, too. 


Day 2:  On what you don't see

My boat is afloat on deep, deep water. 
You cannot see what lies beneath. 
You see only the boat.
And it looks fine.
So you tell me, "you're doing great."

And it's not your fault
That you can't see the stormy undercurrent that's always there
Threatening to surface at any moment and take this boat down

It's not your fault
That you want to tell me something good
So you focus on what you want to see
Because the part that is hidden is so horrifying
You're scared to go there
(Wouldn't it be great if it really wasn't there? Wouldn't it be great if I were truly "all better"?)

But you know enough not to ask
You know well enough that there is something simmering below the surface
You tell me you "can't imagine"

But you can image
You're just scared to
You know it's there
Sometimes you see it out of the corner of your eye
An errant tear, or a thousand-mile stare
And I'll bet you wonder what's going on
I'll bet you wonder
But perhaps the truth would be too terrifying
And perhaps I'd never tell you anyways
Because sharing this horror doesn't make it go away
So I just float on
Keeping my head above water
Despite everything that's pulling me down.

3/27/18 hmv

 

Day Day 5: A Letter from my friend Grief

Dear Hannah, 

I'm sorry we have come to know each other so well lately. I have really only briefly visited you before, and you've dodged me several times. Though you didn't know it. But now I'm here! I'm really, really here. And you don't have a choice, I know. 

Your good friend and mentor told you that you had a million tears to cry. That is true. I will make sure you cry those tears. It will happen whenever it needs to happen, and not always when it is convenient for you. Sorry, my dear. That's the way it works. It always has. People have tried to kick me out before. They have tried to sweep me away. I see them re-apply their make-up, force themselves to smile, go out, stay in, eat food, eat nothing. It doesn't matter. Those tears will happen. They need to get out.

I sound harsh, don't I? I have been around for ages, I know my role in this world. This difficult, heartbreaking world. I may be harsh, but I am as real as it gets. There is nothing so profound as that deep pit of sorrow that knocks you over and demands your attention. It hurts in your heart, because that is where this all comes from. That's where it started, where it hurts, and where it will heal. 

Will I ever go away? I'm afraid I don't know. Much of this depends on you, too. You already know that you can take steps to make this a little better (but I'll circle back at some point). You already know that you can go a day without crying. Why not go a week? It can happen. I have seen it.

But you can't chase me out. I've come to be with you a while. You need me. You don't want to hear that, but you need me. I will serve a purpose in your life, and you will find a space for me. That space may be smaller and smaller. It may be more and more occasional that you visit this space. But here I will be.

This is not a journey with an endpoint, so don't think of it like that. A part of your world has opened up and I've come charging in to fill that void for now. There is room for other possibilities in this space. In time, it will become clear. You will make this your own, and you will live beautifully.

3/30/18 hmv

Burning House

I came back home on New Year's Day. And I realized, after some cleaning up and walking around: this isn't home anymore. 

I had been visiting family over the holidays, then staying with friends, then finally I had to come back here. And sure, it looks nice. It is full of my stuff. And it is full of him. My missing husband. The empty hole in my life. 

This house is full of everything that will never happen. It's surrounded by a garden he will never see bloom. Its bedrooms contain children that are growing and outgrowing everything and learning things that he won't teach them. It has a queen sized bed with an incurable divot from where he sat, awake in the middle of the night, plagued with worry and illness and guilt.

I got into that bed last night, as I have done every night since losing him, alone. After some tears and some writing and finally, some sleep, I had a dream.

I dreamnt that I set a house on fire. It started with me walking into this dark house. I knew which house I needed to set on fire. And I went about it very methodically. Walking through each room and spilling lighter fluid. I took nothing with me. Walked out the front door and threw the lighter fluid back in the house behind me. The upstairs was already in flames. And I knew the fire would follow me out, but it would stop where my feet hit the ground. 

Setting this house on fire did not give me great joy. It wasn't done entirely out of anger either. It simply needed to be done, and I needed to do it. 

Later I realized that I would be caught. I tried to hide, but then realized that I couldn't. They would figure it out, and my life would get worse for a while. I'd be in jail, my kids would be without both parents for a while. And none of this was in my control. Because I couldn't NOT burn that f*cking house to the ground, and I couldn't hide either. I imagined standing before a jury of my peers and having my terrible story laid out for all to see, and owning that story, and the consequences of it, and just saying F you to the world. What else could I do? F you. F you. F you.

This morning listened to Burning House by Cam. And my heart just absolutely broke. Every single word hit me hard.

I had a dream about a burning house
You were stuck inside, couldn’t get you out
Laid beside you and I held you close
And the two of us went up in smoke
— Cam, "Burning House"

 

I really liked that song before Jake died, but it is a haunting song. It used to almost make me cry. Now it destroys me.

There's a few things like this that entered my life before loss, and have only just now come clearly into view. Like that feeling we had when Hillary lost the election and Kate McKinnon performed "Hallelujah" on Saturday Night Live the next week, and we were all like...WHOA...ok so THAT's what that crazy song was about. And all of its beauty and meaning just hit us.

It's like that.

In any case, I guess I'm going to be burning down a house. It's already on fire. I can't not.