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 Very Happiest Thing

The worst part of the big dates on the calendar – anniversaries, birthdays, days we shared, days everyone still shares in capital letters on the calendar – is the anticipation.

It’s the pattern. And I know it’s the pattern. But when I’m in it, it hardly matters that it’s a predictable pattern. All that seems true is that I’m swimming in dread and remembering, and anxiety squeezes my entire body like a blood pressure cuff until I really can’t stand it one more minute and I’ll do anything – anything – to make this stop.

There was a point last week when the messages of “I’ll do anything to make this end” were louder and more powerful than the messages of “This is part of the pattern and tomorrow will be better and easier. You are okay.”

If there had been alcohol in the house, I would have drunk it all. If there were mind altering drugs, I would have taken them by the handful. Consequences be damned. Just let me end this. Let me stop feeling. I was terrified of myself.

My crisis team surrounded me, in body and on the phone. If I said the magic words, we were off to the hospital. If my therapist knew we were past the point of management, we were off to the hospital. I didn’t have the courage to say it myself, but I would have let them take me anywhere.

In my bed, weeping, I listened to Jana’s voice on the phone.

“Tricia, you are okay.”

“I am not okay.”

“Listen to me. You are okay. Your mind is wound around all the things that this week represents, with your birthday and your anniversary, and a dozen other smaller things. Your mind is begging you to stop thinking. Your number one job right now is to go to sleep. I want you to take your sleeping pill, lay very still, and whenever anything comes into your mind, you can tell it, ‘Not now. I’m not thinking about this right now. I’m going to sleep.'”

I’m going to sleep.
I’m going to sleep.
I practiced the mantra.

“That’s right. Just like that. Right to sleep. Call me in the morning, or you know I’m going to harrass you with phone calls and texts until I know where you are and how you are.”

She’s not kidding. I love this about her. There could be no better therapist anywhere, no one more suited to me.

I’m going to sleep.
I’m going to sleep.
I practiced the mantra.

“Mommy? Are you crying?” Tyler stood in my doorway.

“Yes, baby. I’m crying.” I’m crying a lot. A lot.

Tyler is a fixer. He is impelled to bring me things that might help the problem at hand. He brought me tissues. He brought me the Cinderella doll. “Here, Mommy. Here.”

“Here, Mommy. Look at this.” I opened my eyes to see the picture he had drawn and framed himself (he took a different picture out of the frame by my bedside, replacing it with this one). It’s a picture of our family of four, and we are all a bunch of floating heads. The boys and I are clustered together, and a couple of inches away toward the upper right, is Robb. He’s portrayed with a good measure of black. “Here, Mommy. I made this. Look.”

“I can’t look at that right now, lovey.”

“I’ll be right back.”

He came back with his bound book of pictures, Tyler and Daddy. “Here, Mommy. Look at this. When you miss Daddy, you should look at this.”

“No. No. No, Tyler. I cannot. I can’t.” I felt the panic rising again, and I was afraid I might lose myself and yell at him. I was supposed to be falling asleep. That was the plan.

He climbs into my bed and sprawls himselff across me, his head resting on my heartbeat. “Hey, Mommy?”

“Yes, buddy?”

“Do you remember the night when daddy died?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Do you remember when you needed to give him medicine, and you asked me to go away?”

I do not clearly remember this, but I can picture it. I probably needed to give Robb some dosage of something, and at the same time, three-year-old Tyler was trying to climb into the recliner and into the middle of everything. I’m sure I said something like, “Tyler, not now. Please be somewhere else.” And this is what he remembers. On the day that daddy died, I asked him to go away.

“Mommy, I watched and I watched. I stared and stared. And do you know why? It’s because I wanted to see what someone looks like when they die.”

It doesn’t matter that in this story, the part he remembers, we had no idea that death was imminent. His memory is his reality.

“And now I know what happens. They just – poof!” His hands model a small explosion of pixie dust.

“No, baby. That’s not what happens.”

“Oh, I mean the person becomes invisible.”

“No, that’s not what happens either.”

“Well, what happens?”

I am supposed to be sleeping. That’s what Jana said. But there is a six-year-old in my arms, listening to my voice through the muffled, echoed caverns of my chest.

“His spirit left his body. But his body stayed.”

“Then where is his body?”

“The doctors took it.”

“Well, I want it.”

“No, you don’t, sugar. You think you do, and I know how that feels. But you don’t want his body. It’s not how you remember him. His body is empty now. His spirit is what we loved most, and his spirit is in heaven with Jesus.”

“Oh. Well, I want his body. I want him.”

“Me too.”

And suddenly, I realized that this is another moment he will take with him. He remembers that fleeting moment when I asked him to walk away, and he was only three. Now he is six, and memories have more cognitive space to take root. He will remember this night, his mommy and her puffy eyes, her frantic voice that became softer and softer as the sleeping pill took effect. He will remember how he tried to help. He will remember that I had no answers that were good enough. He will remember this.

I breathed deeply. I stroked his hair. “Tyler, do you know you’re the happiest thing in my life?”

He lifted his head to look at me, “What? No, I didn’t know what.”

“Oh, sweet boy. You are. You are the happiest thing in my life. You’re the reason I am alive, buddy.”

His smile consumes us both. “The very happiest thing?”

“The very happiest thing.”

Dear God, let this be what he remembers of this horrible night on the edge of my existence.

Not into my July

July, I have tried to pretend you don’t matter to me.
I’ve made little mention of any of your significance to me. I just wanted to slip through this month, fly under the radar, perhaps pay little attention to the dates and memories and forevers wrapped up in this seventh month of the year.

Yesterday, I received an email from the Melting Pot, inviting me to celebrate my anniversary with them again this year. Thank you, Melting Pot. I do believe it’s been four years since I’ve celebrated my wedding anniversary with you. All your specials and four-courses and cheeses and chocolates can’t make this anniversary anything but a memory.

Hallmark is dressed in red and green, featuring their Keepsake Ornaments. (Really?) I refuse to step into the store, but the colors come right out and make mean faces at me. Please, no. Don’t bring Christmas to my summer. Please. Not into my July.

Sometimes I cannot wrap my mind around all that I have lost.

You Let Me Impose

“SHE DIED ON a Monday during spring break of our senior year. After her funeral, I immediately went back to school because she had begged me to do so. It was the beginning of a new quarter. In most of my classes, we were asked to introduce ourselves and say what we had done over the break. “My name is Cheryl,” I said. “I went to Mexico.”

I lied not to protect myself, but because it would have been rude not to. To express loss on that level is to cross a boundary, to violate personal space, to impose emotion in a nonemotional place.

We did not always treat grief this way. Nearly every culture has a history, and some still have a practice, of mourning rituals, many of which involve changes in the dress or appearance of those in grief. The wearing of black clothing or mourning jewelry, hair cutting, and body sacrification or ritual tattooing all made the grief-stricken immediately visible to the people around them. Although it is true that these practices were sometimes ridiculously restrictive and not always in the best interest of the mourner, it is also true that they gave us something of value. They imposed evidence of loss on a community and forced that community to acknowledge it. If, as a culture, we don’t bear witness to grief, the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up. And if they don’t — if they have loved too deeply, if they do wake each morning thinking, I cannot continue to live — well, then we pathologize their pain; we call their suffering a disease.

We do not help them: we tell them that they need to get help.”

 

~ Cheryl Strayed

 

Thank you for bearing witness, for not averting your eyes.

You have let me into your personal space,

you have let me cross the boundary and talk about what isn’t talked about,

you have accepted my imposition,

  you have made room for my emotion.

As you have read, you have helped me.

You are a form of active listening.

She

She made an appointment to visit the house that was hers the day before.

She brought two friends along, who began as real estate specialists and have found roots in her heart.  She arrived and saw that the new owners were parked in the garage.  She later found their things in the house.  Their work at redecorating had begun, and the bathroom lights were coming down.  Dangling, actually.

She walked through each room.
She talked about something she had loved in each room.
“He always walked into that chandelier, anytime the kitchen table was moved for any reason,” she said.
“I bought the house for this kitchen,” she said.
“The deck was a gift to me from my church community,” she said.
“The wood floors were a gift to me from a blog reader,” she said.
“The faucet?  He changed that as soon as we moved in.  Not because there was anything wrong with the old one.  Just because I mentioned I’d like one that was taller.  So he replaced it.  Which is how he made most of his decisions: there’s nothing wrong with it, but I can get her a better one.”

She looked at the washer and dryer, the space where she learned to be a mom, where she learned that love is not always a feeling.  Sometimes it’s clean underwear and folded undershirts.

She walked into the bedroom.
The sunlight shone on the carpet, lit up the walls in the bare room.
She lay on the floor.
“He was here.  He was right here.”
She wept, her tears spilling on the carpet and into her hands.  She lay where he had lain, her head where his had been.  “He was here.”
She lay still, sobbing.  Remembering.
Her friends stayed with her.

She sat up on her knees.  She looked around the room.  She rememberd other things, better times.
“He painted this room for me while I was on a girls’ weekend away.  It always bothered him that he ran out of time.  He would have done one more coat,” she said.
“I told him I was pregnant in this room, right in that little space there.”
“What did he say?” her friend asked.
“He picked me up.  He held me.  He said, ‘Let’s do this thing, momma.'”

She let the sun fall on her.
She soaked it in, with the smells of the room, the feel of the carpet, the knowledge that she could never come back.
She cried until she was finished.
And then she stood up.
“Okay.  I’m finished,” she said.

She closed the door behind her;
her fingers lingered on the doorknob.

Her friends loaded her car with the items remaining, far more than a box, far less than a life.
She locked the door behind her and handed over the key.

She walked to her car.
She carried a broom, a doorstop, and a picture frame.

And her life mattered.