In the Cave

How are you holding up? What are you up to?

I’m in bed.

The short response worries me. Not good, I’m guessing.

It’s too much. It’s all just too much.

It is too much. For anyone to handle on their own. Can you talk to me? Tell me what’s in your head? On your heart?

I wish you were closer.

Me, too. You need a physical presence.

I do. Friendship incarnate.

I’m trying to find words. I’m not not answering.

Don’t worry about having words. I know the feelings.

I’m in bed in the dark, in jeans and a sweater and a belt,
because I was fine and then I wasn’t.

Everything about me is tired. Please don’t go.

I won’t. I never do.

That’s true. You never do.

I think it’s trauma.

It is trauma.

It doesn’t seem to be depression or even sadness. That’s the dichotomy in my mind. The confusion. Asking myself why I feel this way. But I think I know the answer.

It’s the events. I remember them perfectly. It’s the ER and the flu test and the prognosis and the promises. It’s like I have to drive through an intersection where my life changed forever. It’s the awareness of where I was. And where he was. And how afraid I was. I loved him through that night.

Are you still afraid?

No, I’m not afraid. My mind is stuck in that room. I can remember everything but the sound of his voice.

What if you stepped out of that room? Instead of being a character whos’ there, be a narrator. Or a spectator.

I can’t seem to leave. I’m trying.

How do you feel? What are the chains holding you there?

I feel so weighed down. Like I have to stay. I was the only one there. If I’m not there, nobody is there.

Do you know what happens if you don’t stay?

He dies alone.

You were there then.

You had to be there then. But what if you’re not there now? I am not suggesting that you don’t want to be there then, like someone else said – ‘wouldn’t it have been great if you had slept through it all.’ I’m not suggesting that.  But what if you watch yourself caring for him. Don’t BE yourself caring for him.

I did it so well.

You did. You did it very well. But he’s taken care of now.

You’re right. He’s taken care of.

I think it’s a piece of me. It gets bigger sometimes.

Of course it does.

You know what? I’m out of bed now.

You are very brave to enter this dark place with me.

You’re not supposed to deal with this alone. And now you’re not.

I came downstairs. I’m reading a cookbook.

In the last three years, anytime I am overcome or overwhelmed, I turn to food. Not to eat it, but to think of how to prepare it. I watched the Food Network for months.  I read cookbooks and food magazines.

Do you feel bad about that?

No, not at all.

Good. Don’t.

I just think it’s interesting to see how my mind works.

I want to read, but I don’t want to think.

I want to read solid directions that lead a to a concrete result.

Thank you for coming to find me in the cave. For coming in and bringing me out. For not just calling my name.

You’re welcome. You needed someone with a flashlight.

And then you came. And now I’m out.

Now you’re out.

How do you feel about chili? Or sausage gravy over biscuits?

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Prepare Him Room

From the archives: Teaching Tuck and Ty, December 2011

 

Joy to the world,
the Lord has come.
Let earth receive her king.
Let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing.

I am realizing that I always thought of this lyric as my reminder to set aside the wrapping paper, shopping lists and bows, to slow down with the glitter and the ornaments, long enough to make room in my heart – for even a moment – to remember that this season is about so much more.

I know now: sadness will take up every inch it’s allowed.

This Christmas could easily pass with my heart wrapped entirely in grief and gray. As I listen to this song, it causes me to think differently.

To make room in my sadness for joy.
To allow my darkness to be soft enough to be aware of the light.
To let sadness step aside sometimes.
To remember – for even a moment – that this season is about so much more than death, loss, and heartache.

(Because I could very easily give my holiday to those three.)

May my broken heart prepare him room.

* * *

“May his light shine in our darkness and may I be ready to receive it with joy and thanksgiving.”

~ Henri Nouwen

Altercation.

“My dad died.”

“No, he didn’t.”

“Yes, he did. He died at Christmastime. He died.”

“No, he didn’t. That can’t be true.”

My son answered with gritted teeth. “It is true. My dad died. My mom is a widow.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Enter: Escalated Altercation.

***

I’m sorry, buddy. Sometimes it’s hard for people to wrap their mind around it.

No Socks.

When I get overwhelmed, and sometimes I do, especially in December, my house is the first thing to go.

No, the mail. The mail is the first thing to go. It’s just a long, cold walk to the mailbox, and so I don’t go. And then there’s the dishes. We’re out of cups.
And then there’s the Christmas stuff that’s out and mostly up but still a little bit strewn about and waiting for a verdict. And the fall stuff that’s waiting to be put away.  And the 500-piece puzzle set up on my dining room table, with one fraction of the bottom border complete. It’s been out for three weeks now.  And there’s the laundry. Who can tell what’s clean and what’s not? All I know is this for sure: nobody has socks to wear.

When depression is winning, breakfast sits on the table for days.

If you are picturing an episode of Hoarders right now, then I will humbly let you, believing in my heart that I don’t really need a referral for their assistance.

I had a complete meltdown on Saturday night. Shortness of breath, shaking hands, reaching out for help.

“Tricia, what is bothering you most right now?”
“I can’t find socks.” It all came down to socks.

‘No socks’ makes me feel like things are out of control, and ‘out of control’ follows the same neuropathway every time. There’s just some kind of connection that causes this crazy rush of adrenaline and fight-or-flight response. It all goes back to watching my husband die, when I remember doing everything I could and still not saving him, when so much was out of control and gone forever. It all goes back to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And this time, it came down to socks.

I almost called to cancel my appointment with my housekeeper. Surely she wouldn’t want to step into this chaos. Who can deep clean when you can’t find flat surfaces? I mean, great day, who even cares about deep cleaning this place? Just dishes would be great. And socks.

“I’m not a housekeeper. I’m not good at this,” I toss into the great void, believing these words to be true.

A voice of wisdom says to me, via text, “So what if you’re not good at it? Is that what we’re called to be good at? Who cares about dishes in the sink, Tricia? Show me the verse where it says you have to be neat and tidy. Oh, that’s right – I’m pretty sure the Pharisees quoted it.”

A point there. Proverbs 31 can get mightily misconstrued, but there’s nothing in there about dishes and laundry, I don’t think. Not in my version. And I might not want to read your version.

I choose Mary over Martha any day.

So I didn’t cancel. Please come and help me, sweet housekeeper and fairy princess of goodness. I never professed to be good at this; if I wrote a blog on cleaning and organization, then we’d all be hard pressed to find my credibility. But this mess? Help, please.

Here’s the thing about humility: when you admit you can’t do it, sometimes somebody comes to help you.

My dishes are done. My bed is made. Socks are henceforth in the washer. And it looks like it will all be okay.

The Fact Is: I am Okay.

There are times when I find my heart in someone else’s words.  When that’s the case, I don’t try to say it myself, because I just couldn’t say it better.

Meet: Brad.

Brad’s story and mine are nearly direct parallels: he lost his beautiful wife in October 2010, just weeks before I would encounter the same unbelievable heartache.  He is a single dad of two, chasing the same truths I am, fighting the same defeating lies I am.

He wrote to me shortly after Robb died, just to say, “You don’t know me, but our stories match.  And you won’t believe me, but you will survive this.  I’m two months ahead of you, and I’m still breathing.”

As I’m approaching three years on my own, Brad just passed this milestone as well. He wrote this piece, and his words are my own.  So I’m borrowing his.

(Thanks, B.)

***

I never wanted this feeling to come. I knew it would happen, but I wanted to believe it wouldn’t. Even though it doesn’t feel wrong, it sure sounds wrong. And even though I know it’s good, I want everyone to tell me it’s bad.

The fact is… I’m okay.  I’m okay that it’s been 3 years since Stephanie died.
I’m okay that I have hated so many moments since then.
I’m okay on this day — an anniversary of the most awful kind.
As I think about the future, I’m okay.
When I think about the past, I’m okay.
I’ve been through the fire, but God didn’t let me burn, and the scars are just a reminder that He heals all wounds.

But there’s a part of me that still wants it to hurt. There’s a part of me that wants to live with an open wound that gets poked and scraped in unbearable ways. It helps me to know that I haven’t forgotten her. It also makes me depend on God constantly. And frankly, it gives me something to complain about. In fact, it makes for a pretty good trump card when others are complaining about their own lives. (I can’t deny the fact that I’ve done it.)

People warned me this day would come. (Or, as they saw it, they were encouraging me that this day would come.) As I said back then, I had a love-hate relationship with time. I loved that it brought me closer to healing, but hated that it took me further from Stephanie. And even then, I could feel the healing brought by every moment that came and went.

I don’t want to be okay. But I’m glad that I am. And I doubt the day will ever come when that makes sense, let alone that I’ll be able to explain it to anyone.
So please forgive me if I’m not sure how to answer when you ask me how I’m doing. I still want to say, “This sucks! I hate it!” and burst into uncontrollable sobs. And there’s a part of my heart that will always feel that way and do exactly that. But don’t be too surprised that I can genuinely say, “I’m doing quite well, actually.”

It’s not a lie. It’s just an answer that seems brand new to me.