I went back to my small (good at social distancing) yoga studio for the first time Monday night.
They do hot yoga and the lights are kept very low. Music plays pretty loudly and it creates a kind of sound bath, I guess. It’s a good place to face some emotions and you can cry without anyone noticing.
After I wrote that grief is more like a giant scribble (I’m so tired of hearing about the “stages” of grief, like it’s a tidy path with a finish line at the end), I went looking for graphics and found this:
Ha, ha. YES.
Calling the last couple of weeks my “angry stage” is far too simplistic. The anger was mixed up in a million other feelings and emotions. But anger has definitely stood out and made things feel extra bleak and depressing.
During yoga, we were doing a twist stretch. As I turned my head to look toward my left hand, a thousand different memories and images and feelings flashed Rolodex-style through my brain. It was the same way I’d turn toward Eric in bed to say goodnight. It was the same way I’d reach over to put my hand on the back of his neck and gaze at his profile while he was driving us to Jackson Hole for the weekend.
I stared at my empty hand in that dark yoga studio while tears filled my eyes. The anger (or most of it, anyway) seemed to ebb away, like the ocean pulling away from the sandy shore. What came rushing in to replace it wasn’t anything new, but heightened somehow.
Loneliness, emptiness, heart-rending pain, a deep and desperate longing to hear his voice and feel his touch… but mixed into it all came some new flavor of shock. Not the “I can’t believe this happened” kind of shock, but the deep and confusing astonishment that I was still here; still living through this.
Incredulity over all I had endured (and am still enduring) stayed with me all night long. I tossed and turned, unable to sleep, my tears making my face feel sticky and tight. It doesn’t seem possible to experience this level of loss and not die from the heart ache.
Just typing that out. I still can’t believe it. Look at this. Look at the stack of bills I just paid that need to be filed. Look at the strips I sewed together to make a new quilt. Look at how I plugged in my phone because the battery was low. What even is this level of functional, adult behavior when it feels like over half my insides have curled up and quit?
After my sister spent a few days up here, she said she went home and people asked her how we were doing. She didn’t know how to answer. She said something like, “Um, they’re getting out of bed in the morning?” And the people were like, “OMG, that’s amazing.” I laughed when she told me, but it’s somehow the best way to describe what this kind of survival looks like. I feel like I should set off confetti canons every time a kid brushes their teeth, or sits down and spoons food into their mouth. Like seriously, can I throw a seventeen-block ticker tape parade in your honor? Because this is some heavy-ass shit* we’re carrying and we’re just… continuing to exist. It’s amazing.
The day before the yoga sobbing was Valentine’s Day. I didn’t think it would be all that difficult because… see all previously mentioned disclaimers about how Eric and I weren’t all that sentimental or great at holidays. But holy forking shirtballs, it was the worst. We weren’t over the top, but we would have gone out to dinner. He would have brought me flowers. I would have put on something tiny and silky and ridiculous and we would have cursed the location of our bedroom for the millionth time (it’s right off the kitchen/dining area and doesn’t feel very private) while trying to work in some quiet shenanigans without the kids hollering “gross!” through our bedroom door.
It’s weird talking about sex when you’re widowed. Nobody really wants to hear about it—or at least that’s how it feels. I don’t know if I’ve processed it myself, really. But it’s definitely a thing I miss, that I also don’t feel like I’m allowed to miss. I can talk about the difficulty of coordinating schedules and different libidos and the broader difficulties of committed people making space for each other, but I’m not ashamed to say I miss that particular flavor of closeness. I miss all the other flavors too (is using a flavor analogy in a sex paragraph disgusting? I don’t care, I’m too tired to think of a different one). But Valentine’s Day made this particular flavor (sorry) feel extra painful. It’s a whole different kind of ache that makes my chest feel like it’s been cleaved in two. My drawer of ridiculous, tiny silky things is a special kind of pain. What do I do with it all? Tossing it feels wrong, so it just sits—a sad little time capsule representing a somewhat taboo life and love I no longer have any physical access to.
Today would have been Eric’s 47th birthday. Last night, I sat half-cross-legged in bed (I can’t sit fully cross-legged because of my knee accident—something that used to matter a lot and now seems completely meaningless) and stared at one of our family pictures and just bawled. Forty-effing-six is too young to die. Forty-effing-four is too young to be a widow.
I stumble over the phrase “too young” when it comes to me. I feel lost somewhere between the tragically young widows with small children and the older folks who still got sixty-odd years of marriage together. The Dinner Party cuts off membership at forty while I was the youngest person by at least twenty years at the grief support group at the hospital.
It’s a weird place to be. Add in the massive collective grief from the hundreds of thousands of people who lost someone to Covid-19 last year, and, well, ‘lost’ is the only way I can describe it. A neighbor reminded me that lots of people lost loved ones last year. Like, I know, babe. Knowing doesn’t make mine hurt any less, though. If anything, it adds to it. I’m an insignificant, single participant in a massive wave of global mourning. It’s a horrible club to belong to regardless of how you were awarded your unwanted membership (cancer, car accident, suicide, covid-19, etc.).
This morning after the kids left for school, I stood at the kitchen sink and cried some more. I told Eric out loud, “This feels really weird. I can’t buy a cake or ice cream. Celebrating your forty-seventh birthday feels wrong. You didn’t live to turn forty-seven. I don’t know what the kids want, they don’t know what they want. Do we just do nothing? What would you do if it were me?”
I was scrubbing the sink out so the guy coming to paint my ceiling (long story… mold damage in the attic and a long fight with homeowner’s insurance and the restoration company… all things Eric would be handling if he were here) would think we were really clean people all the time. I watched as tears splashed from my nose and into the cleanser and then I realized, we could just celebrate the day Eric was born. That’s all. Not another year. Not another milestone. Just… celebrate the day he came into this world. I could do that. We could do that.
Maybe it sounds small, but everything shifted. At least in that moment; at least for today. I blew my nose. I finished cleaning out the sink. I don’t think I looked too blotchy and red when I let the painter in.
In an hour, I’m calling Eric’s favorite Thai restaurant and ordering all our favorites. Jake will pick it up after he picks Katie up from dance. We’ll gather around the table and set a place for dad.
It’ll be fine.
And not fine.
It’ll be both.
* For long time readers / family members. I know. I’ve never been much of a cusser. I don’t know what to tell you. Eric cussed sometimes and it was the funniest thing ever. One of my favorite memories is of us getting stuck in the snow trying to tow an ATV up to a cabin. I watched in the rearview mirror as Eric stomped to the back of the trailer to assess how difficult the next couple hours of his life would be. I watched his expression change, and his mouth form the most perfect “shit.” The kids were all little and couldn’t understand why I was laughing so hard or why tears were streaming down my face.
There’s a pretty hilarious story of Eric around the age of eight—this quiet, silent, shy little kid with angelic blond curls. He gets up from the kitchen table, opens the back door, and to his mother’s extreme shock, tells the kids in the back yard to get the f*ck off his trampoline. :lol: :lol: :lol: I can’t even… his mom told us the story at a family party and actually said the f-word and I’m shaking with laughter just trying to type it out.
Eric spent two years working as a truck driver and it only enriched his vocabulary. It didn’t make the cussing any more frequent, but it made it even funnier when it did pop out. I’ve cussed more since he died. I like to imagine him smiling at me with sympathy or chuckling with amusement depending on the occasion. He knew better than I did—sometimes they’re just the only words that make sense.