Today has been 2 years missing Vanessa.
I had every intention of doling out here some snippets of this #grieflife, starting with her death, as time passed; weekly, if not daily, updates. “Today was hard” and “Today was better, a little” and “This week I made some progress.” I planned to paint an accurate picture of grief, as it progressed linearly through time. One of the big goals Christina and I have for this project are to talk about the things that don’t always get talked about. Grieving is a big one.
The reality of things, though, is that I can’t seem to figure things out quickly enough to have anything coherent to say, in the moment. Today is… I don’t know? Right now I feel… I’m not sure?
Sometimes I feel like I am a rocket heading right towards the sun of my grieving, without the luxury of a steering wheel to veer somewhere, anywhere, else. In front of me the sun is shining so brightly right at my eyeballs that I can’t even make out the edges of my current view, much less see or explain any of the little details that make up its fiery surface, with mere words. It’s as if I’m facing this huge, mysterious, life-consuming thing, and in staring at it (and, in fact, hurtling right into it), the only sentence of description for it that I can will into existence is: “It’s so…. bright!”
Sometimes forcing myself to take a picture and go about it that way, bypassing the words and trying for the visual, works a little better, but only a little.
Sometimes I just stop trying to share or explain or even understand how this grief feels. But then I get floored by a connection, am touched by someone else’s sharing, or am finally hit with a moment of understanding and clarity. It’s then I realize (remember) there is a part of me that is compelled to examine and share my story and connect with the stories of others. I simply can’t function well without the reflection inwards and the reaching outwards.
So I sometimes share longer snippets of words too, hoping I’m not annoying anyone with constant reminders of my loss, of this sad thing, of this unpleasant thing, popping through the endless scrolls of good meals and cute kids and date nights to share my “I AM SAD AND THIS IS HARD”s. But then my friends leave kind comments and words of love and I am reminded that our stories are meant to be shared, the good and the bad.
So caught up to now…. and furthering this goal of talking about grief even if I’m not sure how clearly I’ll be able to write about it… here’s how I’d summarize what grieving has looked like for me the last 2 years without Vanessa.
I have experienced a deeper depth than I ever imagined possible of: Sadness. Disbelief. Anger. Relief. Guilt. Fear. Despair. Angst. Exhaustion. Loneliness. Confusion. Worry. Gratitude. Love.
I have dreamed of Vanessa. In my dreams, I usually don’t see her face or hear her speak. But there she has been, normal as can be, part of my life again. It feels surreal, even in the dream. I wake up angry that I’ve woken up. I dream of her very rarely, and I am jealous when others dream of her often.
I have more than once found myself lying on the wood floor next to my bed, unable to even get myself up on the top of my mattress, sobbing and staring at the stack of winter sweaters under there, collecting dust bunnies and reminding me that Vanessa will never get another winter of sweater-wearing.
Other days I go the entire day without thinking of Vanessa even once. It’s not often, but it happens. I feel bad about this when it happens. I also hear Vanessa telling me to stop it and it’s ok, so I try to choose her over guilt.
A day currently gets considered a “good day” by me if it meets two criteria: (#1) I am completing essential functioning tasks, (#2) with some degree of purpose. If I can only make #1, that still constitutes an “ok day”. If I can’t even make #1, we’re looking at a “bad day.” Add a #3 bonus of “and with joy and hope and gratitude” and now we’re talking a “great day”. I’d say the ratio of “bad” to “ok” to “good” to “great” is about 1:2:3:1.
In the past 2 years, I have seen the very face of compassion and love in my children. They have walked in on me silently sitting with tears streaming down my face, and hugged me hard or handed me a fruit snack as a kid’s love-offering. My youngest, back right after V’s death when he was still just 2 years old, walked right up to me, put his hands on each cheek, got all in my face and said “you sad momma?”, then kissed my nose, and said “i love you mommy you the best mommy in world” while looking right in my eyes from a centimeter away. This moment is branded in my brain. They really get it, in a way kids shouldn’t have to, but are more than capable of, if we let them in on all the realities of life, and therefore death.
When they are not comforting me, the kids and I talk of Vanessa all the time. Sometimes I am comforting them. Max reading a super hero book, then talking about how he knows Vanessa is dead now, but why do the bad guys get to keep living and doing bad stuff? Myles’ somewhere-between-big-and-little-kid body racked with sadness as he cries that he missed Vanessa and just wants to hug her one more time. When holding the stuffed turtle (named “Pinecone”) V made the boys, they say “Pincone is very special to me, because Vanessa made him!” When Christina is in town, Leo has called her “Christina” sometimes and “Chrinessa” or “Vesstina” or just straight up “Vanessa” other times.
But still, most our talks about Vanessa are full of joy. I tell the boys the story, again, of how child-me fell off the top of our L-shaped bunk bed onto child-her, in the middle of the night, and they roll with laughter, again. They remember slumber parties at her house, and how she was there to watch their school programs, and how each Christmas there is a new ornament to open. I share that she didn’t like mayo on her sandwiches either, just like my own kid-in-the-middle. They say, and they KNOW, always, that she loved them so much. This makes me happy.
In this grieving, there have been times when I have believed, with about 90% conviction, that life will never be ok again, that I should just accept my life will be less-than-ok forevermore, eternally walking in the tunnel in the dark. This was especially true right after her death. People would say that it gets better, but I sort of wanted it not to. Each day that passed felt like a another day walking away from Vanessa, leaving her behind, me living, her done.
But the 10% hope has since grown, nurtured by time, patience, love, friendship, and tears. Life IS ok, again, now. I am not leaving her, I am not forgetting her, and I am, in fact, honoring her each day I do my best to be ok.
It’s still hard and I am still walking in the tunnel. What’s changed is that over time the lights have come on, and I can see I’m not down here by myself.