I guess the typical myriad of reasons is to blame. Life is busy. I’m a mom. I work. You can only post so many times about the frustrations of your messy house and kids’ behavior in the summer before you start to hate the sound of your own voice. Blah, blah, blah.
There was something else. . .
My last post was about depression and frustration with life as a mom trying to balance work and parenting and the ongoing grief of losing a close friend. I was responding to one of the WordPress daily prompts, and I allowed myself to get pretty far out with my metaphors. I do that sometimes. It’s part of my process as a writer, and it also helps me deal with my feelings.
Cuz you guys, I have a lot of feelings.
Like, all the feelings. All of them. And lots of all of the feelings.
It’s just how I live. And it’s why I write.
Anyhoo, a very well-meaning reader commented that she felt bad for my kids because I was so depressed and maybe it was hard for them. She went on to make a bunch of heart felt suggestions about maybe I should join a group or try feeling better, etc.
I get where she was coming from, and I genuinely appreciated her kindness and concern.
But there was another part of me that felt incredibly vulnerable and frightened. Like, do people think I’m crazy? Do people think I’m a bad mom? Am I a bad mom? Am I screwing up my kids?
For a few hours I contemplated taking the post down, hiding it in the stack of posts that feel too raw, real, and close to share with the general public.
But then I pulled the brake on the run away mine cart in twisty recesses of my brain.
No. I’m not a bad mom.
And my kids are fine.
My kids don’t see me as depressed or damaged or screwed up. My kids see me as a human with human emotions. My kids see me as a person with big feels who channels those feels into poetry and art and silliness around the house.
Life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns, and I do not think we should pretend it is for our children. That is not reality and it doesn’t prepare or teach kids for what they need to deal with the complexities of the world in which we live, or their own emotional landscapes.
This is not to say that children who live with caretakers with severe and persistent mental health issues don’t suffer profound consequences if the adult does not seek help. That situation is no joke, and I am not writing to minimize it. But that situation is not me or mine.
I’ve cried in front of my kids. I’ve yelled and screamed in front of my kids. I’ve slammed a door once or twice. I admit I’m not perfect. But I’ve also taken loads of deep breaths. I’ve talked about my feelings. I’ve taken space and counted to ten. I’ve modeled healthy coping skills for them right along with being my own human self.
Am I screwing up my kids? Yes. Of course I am. We all screw up our kids in one way or another. And if you think you don’t, then you are living among the rainbows and unicorns and more power to you.
So I left the post up, because here is the other thing:
As moms with mental health issues and needs, we absolutely have to have safe and open space to address these topics. For me, my blog is my space. I’ve had decades of therapy and it has helped. I know the things and the skills. At this point in my life, writing is the way I process and what I need to do to take care of myself.
Feeling judged and crazy because we are anxious or depressed is a huge barrier for women in admitting and addressing their needs for support and treatment. Too long have we been told we are hysterical and maligned for simply feeling the pressure of this impossible life.
And oh my goodness, it really is impossible. Being a mom, let alone a working mom, is the hardest thing I can imagine. Add into that the facets of anxiety or depression and you have something so real.
So, despite my fear and vulnerability, I left the post up. I’m no heroine, but if my words resonated with even one other mom, then I feel like it was worth it to put myself out there.
Look. If you had a cold or a toothache, it would be excruciating to deal with life, to work, to mom, to cook and clean and do all the things you have to do to be responsible. But would you feel ashamed to say, “Whoa, it’s really difficult to mom and adult today because of this cold?” Probably not.
I don’t really think it should be any different with anxiety and depression. Our feelings can get big and become sort of like emotional toothaches. That isn’t something to feel shame about.
But I did. And I do. And part of me still wants to take that post down so that you’ll all think I have my shit together and that I’m a super great mom and that I’m doing okay.
Truth is, I am a super great mom and I’m doing okay. And my kids are okay. No need to worry about my kids. We are all going to make it.
What are your thoughts? What are your struggles? I’d love to hear from you!
It’s still a little dusky light out, and I’m lying in bed with my daughter, who’s already asleep. Tears slide down my cheeks as they usually do at this time of day. It’s become somewhat of a ritual. My crepuscular cry.
It pisses me the fuck off.
I’ve never cried so much in my life. It’s dumb. It feels shitty. Crying is supposed to make you feel better. It’s science. It releases good chemicals in your brain. I tell my clients all the time about the beautiful and sacred purpose of tears. All. The. Freaking. Time. But it never fails to make me feel like a failure and a fraud and just so fatigued.
It’s been a hard year. Probably the hardest.
I feel I have some sort of obligation to buy space in a newspaper and print a public apology to anyone who has known me over the past year. I’ve been a horrible train wreck of a human. I’ve been messy and loud and weird.
If you all could have known me a couple years ago, I want to say. If you had known me then. Those were the good days. Those were the times I bore some semblance to normal, when I could contain my Self better.
That was when I was at my old job. With E. just two doors down from me every day for years and years.
Those were the days when E. would leave me random clippings from the New York Times Sunday paper on my desk at work. She’d cut out stuff she thought I’d find interesting. I remember one about the healing power of fairy tales.
The memory of these flimsy papers brings a fresh wave of grief crashing down over my head. I’d read them and think of something pithy to say in return, then travel the five paces to her door to chat with her.
Those were the days when I was witty and reformed. If you had only known me then. Sure, I had my rough times, plenty of them. But I wasn’t broken. Not like I am now.
Changing jobs was really difficult in ways I never could have predicted, but I think I could have adapted a hell of a lot better if I hadn’t had the sudden trauma of E. up and dying on me last October.
It’s not just work and death. It’s motherhood and marriage and financial instability. It’s never having enough time or energy to brush my children’s hair and feed them breakfast. It’s all the piles of things that make me want to curl up in bed and daydream for three hours.
All the things. They have broken me.
The thought occurs to me that I might not ever get fixed again.
I blame a lot on E. and maybe that’s not fair. But seriously…
E.’s death changed me. I kept thinking I would trudge through the grief and get to the other side and things would “get back to normal” and I would “feel like myself again.” That doesn’t seem to be the case. I think E.’s death altered me at a molecular level, shifted my DNA in ways I won’t be able to figure out how to switch back.
The light is fading and I’m so tired. I consider falling asleep next to my daughter, but there is still a lot of laundry to do, coffee to set up for the morning, and messages to return to friends.
I think about going to work this week and my heart starts to race. I think about the stack of bills lying in wait on my desk and my stomach lurches. I’m no longer sleepy.
I try to think about how my five year old daughter rode her bike with no training wheels for the first time this weekend, and how my nine year old has his first band concert this week in which he will play the trumpet. What brilliant triumphs!
You see, I’m not a total Debbie Downer. I still get blissed out by these every day miracles. Life still has color and flavor and lots of sound. I take every opportunity I can to indulge in rampant laughter.
But mostly I’m adrift inside myself, lost in the space within me. I’m like an astronaut, untethered from her rocket and running low on oxygen, uncertain what will happen next.
It’s a scary image. I think of calling someone up and telling someone about it, but I can’t reach out because that is even scarier.
I’d like to go and sit in the grass with E. and talk to her. It is one of the only places where I feel at peace these days, and sometimes I feel frustrated when I can’t get there, but the thought occurs to me that you can’t live your life in a cemetery.
I roll onto my back and look up into the darkness of my daughter’s room.
I’ve stopped crying.
I know I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and panic at the brackish taste in my mouth. My mind will race back over all the things I said throughout the previous day and will try to remember if I said anything gravely wrong or damning to anyone.
I’ll get up and brush my teeth. I’ll look at my reflection and think it’s so weird to be up brushing my teeth at three in the morning, but it’ll ground me enough to go back to bed for a couple more hours.
I’m sorry I’m such a mess. I’m sorry I’m so much. I’m sorry I’m so disorganized and self absorbed. I’m sorry.
I think that’s why I tend to drift away. I get big and crazy and too intense and then feel the need to take myself somewhere else.
It’s been a hard year and I’m broken and I might not be fixable as I drift farther and farther away from things I thought I knew.
All of a sudden I’m bawling my eyes out, shuddering silently next to her. I don’t want to wake her, but it feels like I will never stop as my body shakes and tears gush down my cheeks. I feel like someone is punching me in my face, in my gut. I feel like someone is wrapping their hand around my throat.
My five year old purrs in her dreams, and the noise tethers me to this reality.
I take out my phone and text my best friend. I beg her to never die. She says something warm and then tells me a joke and next thing I know I’m shaking again, but this time in laughter.
That’s how life is these days.
My mood shifts as though I’m dancing on the edge of a blade. One moment, I’ve got my shit together and the next I’m dissolving.
It’s been four months since E. died. Almost five. It seems an eternity and it seems no time at all. I still just want to talk about her all the time. Her voice is still right beneath the follicles of my hair. And yet, despite the immediacy of her presence, she is farther away than ever.
Death is a fucking fucker and that is about as eloquent as I can get about it at the moment. Grief is an even fucking-er fucker.
Someone said to me last week that grief is love that has nowhere to go. That’s a more graceful way of putting what I feel I guess. This pent up surge of love and emotion that has no channel.
I go to E.’s grave every week and I talk to her. I catch my voice rise and fall in the same cadence it would when she was alive with me. We had this silly, journalistic way of talking to one another, reporting all of the mundane.
She remembered everything I told her, even the dumbest, most minor details like it was something super important. She relished stories about my husband and kids. You know, as a working mom, it does not take much to make me happy. I’d tell her stuff like how touched I was that my husband stayed home with a sick kiddo or remembered to buy toilet paper on his way home from work, and she’d bring it up months later. Like if I was annoyed with my husband, she would say something like, “But he’s really a thoughtful guy. Remember the time he brought home the toilet paper and took Jack to the doctor?”
She made me feel so important. So special. So loved. Who on earth is every going to give a tiny rat’s ass about my membership to the big box store and the lifetime supply of granola I acquired?
So I go to her grave and I talk to her. I tell her everything. I tell her what I’m wearing. I tell her what I had for lunch. I tell her about the unicorn Emily drew, and I tell her that Jack learned how to play the Star Wars theme on his trumpet. I read her poems. I play songs for her.
There’s a part of me that knows I’m just talking to myself, and it breaks my heart.
It makes me cry from so deep within myself, from a place that is still little and frightened, from a place that wants to stamp my foot and pound my fist against my thighs and demand that she come back her right this instant or else!
I keep thinking that any day now I’m going to feel better.
Sometimes I do feel better. I’m not miserable. I still find pleasure in life.
But lately everything feels so hard. Work. Motherhood. Grief. Marriage.
You may have noticed I haven’t written much lately, and when I have, it has been these morose little poems. Ugh. Yeah. I’m sorry about that.
It’s like I just don’t have anything else in me. I feel terrible for not writing more about my kids or all of the other random myriad of great stuff that goes on, but I sort of feel so drained that to sit down and write anything cohesive and thought out like I wrote two or three years ago would just be impossible.
It seems like all around me people are doing amazing stuff. Friends are going to political events and getting involved in volunteer work. Colleagues are reading up on the latest in clinical research and going to conferences to stay current. People on Facebook are exercising and drinking protein shakes and hanging out in clubs.
I’m just over here like, “How the fuck do you all feel like it?”
I just want to go climb into my bed.
I want to lie still and daydream about being a mermaid, about swimming far far away under the water and not hearing anything but the swishy splash of my own tail.
I’m so freaking tired. It feels a monumental effort to breathe. Everyone else is engaging in their cool hobbies and I can basically say, “Well, I managed to keep breathing all week. It was hard and kind of painful, but I did it. So, I’ve got that going for me.”
It’s sort of ironic that I want to duck under the water and swim away when I spend so much of my energy just trying to keep my head above water, but then I’ve always been a portrait in contradictions.
That right there would have given E. a good chuckle.
I miss E. so much, and I wish I could talk to her about this. I wish I could tell her how tired I am and how sad, how desperately sad, every single breath feels.
But then there is the squishy pillow of my daughter’s cheek under my lips as I get up from her bed to leave her room. I draw breath enough to whisper that I love her into her sleeping ear. I draw another breath. Then another. And I know I’ll keep breathing, breath by breath, until maybe it doesn’t hurt quite as much.
If you’ve been following along over the past months, you may have noticed my once plucky mommy blog has been devoted almost entirely to the death of one of my best friends.
E. died in October. She died suddenly, or at least it seemed sudden to me. Had my eyes been open, I might have seen it really was not so sudden. She’d been ill. I’d been in denial. Part of my grief’s rawness these past months is in acknowledging that, had I not been in denial about her age and health, I might have had prioritized more opportunities to see her, to love her, to speak and share with her.
Sometimes I don’t make the time I should. While juggling the responsibilities of my life as a working mom and wife, I forget to make the call or send the card. I’m not assertive enough about making plans with people. It’s a crappy excuse, and an even crappier feeling to realize you missed a chance because you were stupidly blinded by the day to day.
I take comfort in knowing my last interaction with her was loving, sweet, and happy. And about a week before she died, I left a voice mail for her which ended, as it always ended, in “I love you.”
I’ve also taken comfort in writing about her.
E. was my first major loss. It doesn’t matter that I’m a therapist with training in grief and trauma. When you experience this stuff for the first time, it’s like any other new, uncomfortable experience. I’m bumbling through the dark tunnel, and channeling my frustration, and sorrow into posts and poems.
Grieving as a mom has also been challenging.
When E. first died, a friend said she hoped I could find space to grieve because it’s hard to do when you are a working mom, already stretched translucently thin. I’ve thought a lot about this over the past couple months- how as moms it is so hard to find the space we need to integrate all of our parts into one cohesive package. We can’t sit around and cry in bed when kids need to be brought to school, karate, and dance; need to be fed, washed, and snuggled. We still have to rise and go to work to keep heat on and food stocked.
In some ways, I wonder if my grief is taking me twice as long to “go through” because I pigeon hole it into these tiny chunks. As moms, we keep bits of ourselves in little boxes, high up on shelves. It seems we rarely have time to take them down, open them up and spread the contents all over, let alone pack it all back up in the proper compartments. I tell myself things like, “If I just hold it together for the next seven hours, I can cry in the car on my commute home.”
It’s exhausting, but it is what it is.
Despite the lack of time and energy, I’ve tried staying emotionally open to lessons this time has to teach me. I’ll share what I came up with so far:
1. It sounds like a cliche, but if I learned one thing about bereavement, it is that talking and sharing about the lost loved one helps. A selection of special people have been ready, willing, and able to bear witness to my memories and stories about E., and this blessing has not escaped me as it heals the heart.
2. Part of me knows I will look back on this time and see it as something precious, painful though it has been. E.’s final gift to me was the realization, that in leaving of this earthly plane, love remains stronger and truer than ever. There are ways we still connect and touch one another. It is a time rich in wonder and affection.
The intensity of the emotion paints layers of it’s own complex beauty onto my existence.
I haven’t written much about my kids, family, or life as a working mom. I’m still doing and feeling all the stuff that goes along with being a mother, but in my writing all of that has taken a back seat to my need to process my friend’s death. Anyway, there isn’t really anything new or different I can say about all of that right now. I’ve had mixed feelings about this shift in content, but it has needed to be, so I let it. Which leads me to my next lesson of sorts. . .
3. It is more helpful to hold our pain, sit with it, cradle it and explore its bizarre face than it would be to cover it up and hide it away. In my professional training, I learned, years ago, that trying to suppress trauma is like trying to hold a beach ball under water. It is slippery, unwieldy, and untenable. When I sit with client’s in the crisis of grief, I often share this analogy with them. I’ve been granted an opportunity to practice what I preach.
These lessons seem to be gifts from beyond.
Even as I embrace these things, I feel uncertain. Someone remarked that dealing with grief is almost like having another child to care for. It’s an apt analogy. And as though I am holding a newborn child, I am wondering if I am doing it right, if it will like and respond to my touch, if I will be able to handle it.
My uncertainty lies in the fear people won’t like or understand my current poems; that people will get bored with me and stop reading; that people won’t appreciate how fully my blog has shifted from life of a working mother to dealing with death. I worry people won’t see the connection.
But there’s always a connection, tenuous though it may be.
Being a mom is my most important role in life. I mean, two living and breathing organisms kind of count on me to keep them alive. But other parts of me sometimes do not get the time and attention they truly need. My blog gives me space to process and complete my emotional self so I can tackle the other stuff I need to do. It helps me integrate and consolidate the contents of all the little boxes into the whole me.
I have faith in myself and in the process. Being a mom may have prepared me to patiently nurture and understand grief, even as it has complicated my grieving process. We are always stronger and more flexible than we think or dream. Sooner or later, I’ll get back to writing about all of the other stuff. In the mean time, thank you for bearing with me and for bearing witness. Every like, comment, and share has meant more to me than I can properly explain.
“If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever.” –Winnie the Pooh
E. was one of the loves of my life.
I say that without any sense of histrionic hyperbole whatsoever.
I was infatuated with her, but not in the typical sense of the word. There was never anything sexual about my attraction to her, although in a weird way that probably only I can understand, there was a romance to our kinship.
My adoration of her was purely psycho spiritual. She was my hero.
And she loved me back.
I have tangible proof of her love in almost every room of my home, in my office, in my yard, things I can touch and see and smell. I have photos of us together and anyone can see in our smiles how happy we are to be together. Physical artifacts and evidence of a well worn relationship.
It was a love and a friendship beyond reason. Unconditional and rare. At least it was to me.
She was 32 years my senior, but our simpatico had an ageless quality. We spoke the same language. When she came into work singing “I feel pithy, oh so pithy!” I totally got the joke. And when I shared with her about the tiny and sweet moments of my life as a mom, she understood.
That’s it, you know? She loved me and she understood me.
And now she’s dead.
In the weeks since her passing, I’ve found myself asking that refrain from the infamous Tegan and Sara song, “where does the good go?”
Where is E.’s love in the wake of her death? Where is her unwavering belief in me? Where is her laughter at my jokes, along with her zany retorts? Where is her tenderness?
You’re probably asking yourself where my mommy blog went. . . It seems my space has become a darkened cemetery of posts. But it is what it needs to be for the moment.
I want to tell you about her. I want to talk about her. I want to repeat all of our conversations and replay all of our banter. I want to show you the cards she wrote me. I want to tell you how I stretched out over her grave, nuzzled my face into the grass and cried huge, fat tears and found it muddy on my skin when I came up for air. I want you to know I’m not crazy; I’m just grieving and I miss her.
I want to tell you how she changed my life.
I want to get all of this out of my system, and then I want to do it all over again.
I want you to sit and listen, with rapt attention that never wavers, even when I’ve told you everything for the hundredth time.
Because that’s what E. would do.
Maybe that’s why I go to her grave so often. Maybe that’s why I talk to her incessantly about my days. Maybe that’s why I play “Younger than Springtime” into the grass above her, wondering if the sound waves make it through the earth to the cherry wood of her casket.
Maybe that’s why I weep and look for signs everywhere that I can weave into the story of her and me so it doesn’t have to be over just yet.
Maybe that’s why I need you to hear me, to believe me.
Maybe that is why I need to believe that E. can still hear me.
Because in hearing me, she made me feel real.
She never seemed to care that I was desperately insecure, anxious, and mercurial as a Siamese cat.
She held all the parts of me I could not tolerate. She stroked them, smoothed them down until they were almost charming. She made me love myself just by sitting there with open ears. She allowed me to look at myself through her eyes until I saw myself the way she saw me. And gosh, I was pretty.
She was a captive audience. And so it seems she is now, even more than ever but it is in such a strange and intangible fashion. It makes me doubt.
The days pass. Most of the time I’m really okay. Most of the time I’m happy and doing what I need to do.
Other days, grief snags me with its sharp and mocking edge. I fall inward and knock around inside myself, searching for answers.
Who am I without you, E.? What would you tell me? How am I supposed to do this without you? When will I learn how to love after death, and will I keep feeling your love for me?
I know the answers, even though I don’t really like them.
There was a time I sat crying with a friend in recent days. I was frustrated and overwhelmed with life and had twisted it all up into an existential tornado. I was blessed by my friend’s empathy and patience with me in that moment. She helped to hold and accept the mess of me, and the nature of that compassion allowed me to connect, not just with her, but with a sense of universal constancy. Trusting her gave me the courage to trust myself, to listen.
E.’s voice came to me, clear as a bell.
We do not find you lacking.
It was what she would say to me to shine a light into my neuroses and set me at ease. Those were the words that answered every question.
They still do. It’s just that now I have to say them for myself, chant them until they are tattooed in my marrow, until my body resonates at their frequency. Then, I can laugh through the tears and know her with my heart, like I always did.
. . . Jack is in the back seat and I’m driving. My car dies at the entrance of the cemetery. I ram my foot down on the pedal and turn the key over and over, but my car won’t start. It does however float off to the side of the cemetery gate.
We’re walking among the graves. There is a train, a small one, like in an amusement park. It’s dusk.
E.’s casket is unearthed, or maybe it has never been buried. It is open and we can see her. She is on a little hill of green, grassy earth and even though it is shadowy, there is a sort of fairy tale cheer about the place.
Someone approaches her and runs their fingers through her short, gray hair. This does not seem weird to me, but also it does seem weird to me. At her wake, I remember, we all remarked how they had not done her hair quite right. It was too spiky, too piecey. It looked like they had used too much product. We all sat and laughed, but it was a loving and fond laugh, about how she used to sit in her office and brush that short hair into a fluffy little puff. Oh, how we loved her.
Wait, I think. We’ve already done this. Why are we doing this again?
Someone bends down to get a closer look at E. Someone strokes her cheek. Someone kisses her forehead. I like seeing people touch and love on her. It comforts me. I want to touch her again too. I want to kiss her too.
But then we are all sitting in chairs. E. is sitting there too. She’s wearing her wedding dress, the royal blue suit in which she was buried. She’s there. She’s talking to us. She’s reading things from a paper in her hand. That seems right. That seems normal. She’s a born orator, even though it makes her nervous.
“I won’t be around forever,” she tells us. Part of my brain is wondering what this means because she is already gone, but she is also here. “I’d like to have one more party,” she says. We start talking about what we are going to wear. I get excited about the idea of digging up my pink tutu. We all laugh. “I might only be here for another ten years. We will have a party, and then you will have to live with whatever happens.” She says this and she looks right at me.
I’d love ten more years I think.
I’ll be good, I think. I won’t put pressure on you or try to change you. I’ll let you be. Just stay with me. I’m thinking all this and she’s looking right at me. I think maybe she is thinking that I need to let go.
Her face is changed. It’s her, but it’s not. I’m strangely mute. I can’t say any of the stuff I want to say.
We walk away to prepare for the party. I remember that my car is dead and I will have to call for a tow truck. My friend agrees to give me a ride, but she’s walking far ahead of me and I’m nervous that she will leave without me.
I walk past E.’s grave. It’s a big hole. I look down into it and the earth is deep and brown, but it is empty. I look up, and a little ways off, I see her casket. I look and it is open. I look and it is closed. I look and it is open and she is not in it. It all makes sense, and I’m more nervous about my car now.
And my kids.
Jack is with me, but Emily has gone off. We need to board the train. I yell for Emily to come. She comes. There’s not a lot of space on the little, amusement park train, but we cram into it. I am squished on the seat next to my friend. My kids are with me.
I’m nervous about my car. I’m excited about the party. I can’t wait to see E. I’ll be so happy to see E. There’s so much I’ve got to tell her.
I’m so excited to see E. . .
. . . and so sad to wake.