I don’t know when I started to lose control but it was just around the one year mark when I realized it had happened and I was shocked at how hard it hit me. I had been so strong for so long. For most of the year I had been open and honest about my feelings. I was frequently checking in with the boys- who in turn seemed to be honestly and commendably expressing themselves. I was determined and people said countless times how strong we were. I was validated.
By December, I was writing, running regularly, losing weight and feeling pretty independent and capable. Yes, I might have been drinking a little too much and there were plenty of sad, drool and snot filled cries on the kitchen floor.. But I was also dancing in my kitchen at night and felt proud of the grip on reality we had developed. We had survived. We had faced something terrible but it wasn’t beating us. But the strings that were holding me together unraveled without my even noticing. As the one year mark approached, I became more and more unbalanced and started feeling the weight of my entire body and I began to droop-like a sad, lonely puppet. All of it- the running, the healthy food, the sex, the “holy shit, we’re actually doing this and doing it really well” -All of it was erased from present consideration and became, very clearly, some part of “the first year.” I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I had been held up by my will to be ok, to make this ok for my kids…and then all of a sudden, without notice…all of my weight fell to floor with the strings, mocking the term “widow” in a loose web out around me. Productivity had been replaced with anxiety and anxiety was now replaced by anger and self loathing.
Some days I could barely get dressed. I sleep in yoga pants a lot, so I’d roll out of bed and throw a dress on over my pants, straighten my bangs, throw some crap in the lunch bags…and we were off for another endless day. I’d become addicted to the sleep between snoozes. It felt to me how I imagine heroin feels…dozing in and out of consciousness…coddling the newly developed disdain I had for following structured time. The only belief I held firmly to was that time wasn’t a thing I cared about anymore. It didn’t apply to me and my life anymore. I was falling asleep at my desk at work. The phrase “I’m depressed” started sneaking out from my lips in casual conversation with family and friends and once I became comfortable with the sound of it in close company it was as if the words were jumping from a sinking ship or out of a burning building. I started using it in casual conversation with parents and coworkers. “I woke up at 4 am and just laid there awake…I think I’m depressed.” “I started smoking cigarettes again…I think I’m depressed.” “No, I can’t make it tonight, I’m too depressed.” There was no hiding this. And really, I didn’t want to. I’d become the sad stories I’d heard about over the first months: The wife who’s husband died and she couldn’t get out of bed. The mother who was never really there for her kids. The friend who couldn’t listen to anything but her sad, lonely heartbeat at social events. Everything was noise to me. Laughter was a cheap thrill- Escaped breath exuded by unwitting fools. But I’d developed my own cheap thrill… completely freaking people out when asked how I was doing.
I’d been asked this question a lot over the span of months- “how are you?” It had been used as kindling for a thousand conversations in both earnest and passing encounters. In the beginning, I was so grateful that people cared and thankful for their support that I never really paid much attention to the question. There were only a handful of times my reply was anything other than a thoughtful, albeit, cautious…”Ya know? We’re really doing ok.” I guess I always thought the second half of that reply was obvious: “… Considering my boyfriend drowned in front of us and my other son almost died, himself… I mean, the fact that I’m not in a straitjacket and they’re laughing and playing means we’re really making it work, right?” (check out: https://wordpress.com/post/84570752/20/) Right?…..But everything was a little different now. I would get a little giddy when someone unknowingly stumbled into my black widow web with that peppy little question – “How are you doing?” My eyes, widened and the hair raised on my arm… “Well Susie, not fucking great, to be honest. Between my kids, the bills, my damn dog and having to carry her bags of shit up and down the street EVERY SINGLE time she has to crap…things are really not going well for me. There’s that job I hate (check out: https://wordpress.com/post/84570752/41/), summer camps to pay for and parent teacher conferences that only I can attend.” And just as they’d start to leave, I’d seal the deal so they’d never ask me that stupid, Betty Crocker question again. “I’m fucking exhausted. Susie. I need to sleep for a month. I need one day in your cookie cutter life where your biggest problem is that the crazy widow lady scared you speechless when you asked her how she was doing.” People stopped asking, started avoiding eye contact, quickly clearing space for me to pass. I wanted it that way. “Back off.” I reveled in the thought that maybe I was their worst nightmare. Someone who made them all hold each other a little closer at night. Black eyeliner, black nail polish, black dress over black yoga pants…paint it black. Paint the fucking town black.
That resolve I’d had for so long to make it to a year was waning as the year was coming to a close. Everything was happening backwards. This wasn’t how I was supposed to feel at a year. This should have been happening in the first few months. Moping and going way too long before showers. I had completely grown out my armpit hair- and everything else with it. “What’s the point?” Along with my health, my nearly non existent social and sex life, the laundry became the main casualty- with baskets stacked at the end of the bed and piled at the bottom of the stairs and crumpled on closet floors. Our diet was strictly frozen food, sprinkled with packaged cookies and whatever fruit was on sale at Shaws. The bills, the dog, the recycling. In a short time, my life had become a Shel Silverstein poem. “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout would not take the garbage out.” And why the fuck would she? She was depressed. Bitter glares at couples walking down the street and sad, long stares out my window at the river…feeling my ass grow and fit the shape of my chair at work…when I bothered showing up. I had started taking a day off a week. Sometimes sleeping until noon and sometimes driving an hour to have really dirty (50 shades-of-widow-grey) sex with this guy I’d met online. I was spending money I didn’t have on cigarettes and beer. I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.
Just a few days ago my boss, and friend, asked how I was doing. I like her so instead of trying to terrify her I told her I really didn’t want to get into it. She pressed with “well, how are you doing as a single parent?” My bottom lip quivered and my scary, bitter, too-young-to-be-a-widow mask started to wash off my face. My tough girl facade smeared and collected in black, smudgey stains on my shirt. After all the time I’d spent applying it, it was a little unnerving to see it so easily wiped away. I cried through explanations of past due bills and anxiety over summer camps and rent and the recent loss of sanity, security and hope. I NEVER do this. I may not like my job, but I respect the fact that it’s employment and haven’t broken down like that at work…well, ever. I left and went home. curled into a ball, in the middle of the afternoon and cried myself to sleep. I woke up an hour later, panicked, trying to understand how- after 369 days, I didn’t have a better grip on this.
I mean, really what had changed? The past few weeks, people have been reaching out, trying to help me-aware that this time might be difficult-even when I didn’t see it coming. And they’re the same people who have been there all along. My kids are struggling and muddling through their emotions, but that’s nothing new and really, not exclusive to “children of grief”–that’s part of being human and growth. Yes, we’re going to start therapy, but I kind of knew in my heart it would take them this long to get to a place where they needed different tools for coping and moving on. My job hasn’t changed-maybe my desire to be there and the realization that life’s too short to loathe 8 hours of every day, but the job itself hasn’t changed. The bills are the same, I’m just tired of being in debt. And that question- “How are you?” That’s been there from the first few hours after Jason died and it’s weaved it’s way through a myriad of conversations and yielded a variety of responses and reactions. So what has really changed? Why was I losing it?
The answer was simple and clear to me when I finally let go of the facade and put down the black paint. When I finally voiced that I wasn’t happy -not with something that had happened to me. Oh I had become very comfortable with expressing the loss of the person, the father, the friend, the love. I had done everything I needed to do with the unhappiness of circumstance. I had owned it and smashed it against a wall and I had wallowed in it. I had defeated it and It wasn’t mine anymore. But now it’s not about my grief or the shock of it all. Without knowing it, all these months of moping, I was scared of myself. All of the decisions and plans-they are no longer ours. And the time for being sad about the loss of it had come to an end and I can’t blame the state of my life on the loss of my love or my dismembered family. Beyond the loss of a person and the sadness that that evokes, I was unhappy with a choice I had made and stuck with for years. My job. My path. My life choices before and now after “grief.” The decision to move forward and how to do that was mine and I couldn’t blame the results on anything other than my own motivation or talent.
I’m changing but in order to do that, I have to say goodbye to the grief. So… Adios grief-you saucy betch. It’s been real. It’s time to put you down and take ownership of my life. I have to step up my game, go to work, make money where I can, and start putting energy into what I want to do with my future and my family. It’s time to write 🙂