mental health

FOR YOU, MY FRIEND:

I will slow the pendulum of time and stand sentry over you. I will allow you to lie dormant, heedless in your healing, until you, and you alone, believe the time has come to fight your way through another layer of debris, to lift your face toward the sun, toward your next season of grief, of life.

Then, as you peer into your future, I will gently silence them, they who are determined to restrain you from returning to the depths of your pain and the darkness inside and focus only on the brightness that they see through their prisms. I shall teach them humble understanding, so they too will come to know that we, now and forever, will view the rest of our lives through the kaleidoscopes of our pasts.

As we wander through our canyons of grief, lost in the never-ending maze of hollows and bends, I will convince you that you need not fear being alone ever again; that if I become weak and falter along my way, and lost in my own grief, you will timely cross paths with another gentle soul who will reach for your hand and guide you gently along your way until we meet again.

I shall walk in the rain with you, seeking shelter in the barren caves as the storms pummel and overwhelm us. We shall rest together, and weep together, and watch as our tears roll down the canyons and meld into the rivulets that will lead us toward home.

And, as we near the end, I will carry you, still wounded and weary, to the water. We shall fall to our knees and weep silently as peace, at last, fills our empty spaces and the water cleanses our wounds. We shall let our souls connect with the sad and lonely who live beyond our gaze. Our sorrow shall become their sorrow and our pain shall become their pain. We will watch as the waves become one heartache that reverberates from shore to shore…and listen as the cries of the grievously wounded unite with ours on the soundless wind.

We have walked each other home.

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DARKNESS

I am alone while darkness rises. Always alone. A silhouette in the dark, footsteps falling silently in a world no longer my own. There is no contrast between me and the night that has fallen. How could there be? We have been wed. We have become one, the darkness and I.

Separated from the world around me and from what was once, I feel the darkness as it descends upon me, becomes me, once again in the moonlit night. Everything declines while darkness rises. Nothing overcomes me – this must be life’s way. Welcome, Darkness, my old friend.

The Mirror

I stand in front of the mirror and look deep into those eyes, something I’ve done only a handful of times in the nearly two and a half years since Ben’s death. I’m now so good at performing the menial tasks of brushing her teeth and putting her make-up on without actually looking at her that it feels as though I’m working on a mannequin. As I stare into those eyes, my eyes, for the first time in many, many months I wonder, is it possible that there is a semblance of the woman who used to be, somewhere within that dead zone that stares back at me? Who was she? Is that her?

Is she the woman who loved to garden and marveled at the faces of the daises poised to usurp the mid-day sun? Or is she the tangled mass of roots half-dead and lying dormant, hoping that someday the world around her will thaw and breathe new life into her?

Was she the one behind the camera snapping thousands of pictures, capturing even the ordinary moments of the most ordinary days of her children’s lives so that she and they would never forget the wonder of it all? Or is she the woman now turning her head and shielding her eyes as she walks past a picture of her oldest son, her first true love who has gone on before her, because the knife slashes deeper whenever she looks into his eyes smiling back at her?

Is she the woman whose book had already been written, pages being turned as she willed, with the story simply waiting to be told? Or the one staring at the chalkboard wiped bare, the whispers of chalk marks discernible only to her naked eye, resembling the ghosts of her past screeching and screaming with unspoken words that a happy ending to her story will never unfold?

Is she the woman who lies next to her husband in bed, marveling that they still are together after having seemingly “survived” the sorrow of the storm, four decades after becoming man and wife? Or is she the one silently weeping, so as not to disturb him, wondering if he or anyone else realizes that she may sleep in this bed but no longer resides exclusively in this world?

Is that the woman, lying in that same bed, who would call each of her three children when a siren in the night would send panic to her heart? Or is she the mom now acutely aware that only two of her children are able to respond to their well-being check, as the scream of the third siren has already been quieted with the death of her dear son?

I continue to stare and reflect as I maintain eye contact with the woman in the mirror. Is that the person who was me? I need only look in the mirror to realize that answering the question of who I used to be is impossible without relating it to the death of my son. The reflection in the glass tells me that there will never be an old me without the new me in sight.

The questions and the comparisons continue. Why have I been so afraid to look into those eyes, my eyes? Was I afraid of what I would see or that I would not see the me that has gone before? Fear no more, I say out loud. It may be possible to see her, the woman I used to be, as she merges into and becomes accepting of the shadow that falls upon our reflection, the shadow from the dead zone that resides within me.

PUBLIC DISPLAY OF PERFECTION

I work hard to keep the protective walls up around me, to shield my heart whenever possible. Instead of reacting wildly to insensitive remarks like I did right after Ben died, I’ve trained myself to cut some slack to those whose insensitive words inadvertently stab me directly in the heart. Nowadays, I can usually listen to the blurb, put on a passive face and act as if it’s simply flown over my head. That little shield goes up around my heart and I turn away, not wanting to hurt or confront the one who was insensitive. You see, I want to be a kind and gentle soul when it’s all said and done…as much as that is possible. I don’t want to be remembered as an old and cold and bitter woman when I am gone. And how can I expect others to know that my brain is still (and obsessively so) consumed with the after-effects of Ben’s death? Most probably think I am “better” but I am just oh so good (well trained) at hiding my true feelings. How can I expect them to know that every word I hear, every word I say and every relationship I have is still directly related to and processed in the context of my son’s death?

In the nearly two and a half years (how can it already be that long ago?!?) since Ben died, I’ve learned that there’s only so much outwardly displayed grief that’s permitted in most environments. Only when I am with a precious few of my loved ones do I feel free to be myself, to share my grief and also laughter with them. It’s a strange thing, but I’ve come to realize that once a person has allowed me to cry in their presence and allowed me to be real with them, there comes a sense of freedom to also share a good from-the-gut laugh with them, a laugh that surprises even me when it comes out of me. I guess it’s because they’ve allowed me to take off my mask, to be real, to be me. They’ve let me know that they love me in spite of my often despairing and ugly inner workings. No need to put on a public display of perfection for them!

At work this morning, I actually allowed myself to behave in a manner contrary to my usual self. My boss was meeting with a client. He walked into my office and asked me to prepare a receipt for him to sign acknowledging to the client that we had received the client’s estate planning documents. As he turned to go back into his office, my boss said to me, “He needs a receipt so that his family knows where his documents are….just in case his body cools down to room temperature before he gets his documents back.” I sat there for several moments, digesting those words. Wondering how they could have been said to me. Were they actually spoken to me, the still-devastated mom whose son died? As soon as those words slapped me upside the face, my thoughts went to Ben….I pictured him laying in the middle of the road after his accident. I know my boss. I know him very well after working for him for decades. He is one of the nicest men I’ve ever known. If he had stopped to think, I’m sure it would have registered that those words had the power to hurt and he would not have said them. But, after allowing similar but different remarks to fly over my head for months, I just had to rid myself of the ugly feelings that had been generated by his not ill intended but yet “un-thinking” words.

Because I so desperately needed to tell him that his words had deeply affected me and that I was hurt by his insensitivity and because I knew I would not be able to control my emotions if I chose to talk to him, I wrote a little post-it note for him that read something like this:

“I cannot say this out loud because I will end up crying, and I surely don’t want you walking on eggshells around me, but I just needed to let you know that I am very sensitive to words like ‘…in case his body cools down to room temperature.’ Since Ben’s death, words such as those have the power to stab me deep in the heart. Usually I can play tough, but not today. Sue”

I handed him the note and ended up crying anyways as I listened to him try to explain his rationale for saying those words. But I do wish to give myself a little pat on the back. Today I chose to not let that insensitive remark fly over my head. I chose to speak up to let my boss know that I am not simply a metal robot who walks around without a heart remaining in her chest. It’s not easy trying to function in the same manner that I did before. I can play tough, but sometimes watching and listening to those around me as they continue living in their un-shattered worlds overwhelms me. I don’t believe I emit the deep, unsettled emotions that I feel when I watch them live their perfectly ordinary lives, happy for them yet saddened by what I can no longer take for granted. I am not impervious to what goes on. I have become hyper-aware of what happens around me and super-sensitive to words tossed out into the wind without thought, words that aren’t meant to hurt but which do hurt this super-sensitive soul trying to balance the happy with the sad in her life.

I believe I handled the situation kindly and maturely (in spite of the post-it note delivery). I always worry about and am sensitive to others’ feelings, even in my altered state, but my feelings matter too. No public display of perfection for me today!