The weirdest part of grieving
Is finding that you are filled
With a universe of
Tears and love.
The weirdest part of grieving
Is finding that you are filled
With a universe of
Tears and love.
It feels like watching fall leaves
Whip in circles through the air, early sunshine
Staring you in the eyes, before the coffee’s made.
From the tension between your shoulders you know
There was something you should be doing,
A task left unfinished somewhere in sleep.
But there’s the wind, and the leaves
And sunshine, and trees.
And you watching it,
It is really hard to take care of myself these days. I think it’s one of the hardest things about my mothers death is that, it means there is so much more to do and the rest of everything doesn’t stop either. Like a started a new job in a completely new industry a week after she died, and started my last semester of school to complete a certificate for that industry on the same day. That alone is a little insane, but on top of everything else. Sometimes it’s hard enough to come home make or eat dinner, do the dishes and wake up the next morning. And for the first time in my life since I was a camp counselor, I actually love my job. I want to go to work. But there’s so much.
Here’s a picture of what all is going on.
First, while my mom left my dad with a very healthy retirement account that he is luckily just old enough to be able to draw from, he is also a freelance writer and can not afford to stay in their current house forever. They were planning to move before my mom died, but got caught in the winter months and didn’t want to post it till spring. So luckily we knew it was coming and some things had been done to prep, but not nearly enough.
I joke that my parents are hoarders, which is not entirely true, but isn’t entirely untrue either. My whole family has a hard time letting go of things that have memory attached to them, and because they live in a house that’s too big for them, they’ve never really had to. To give you a picture of what this looks like – my parents have a three car garage. However, my brother’s car is still parked in the driveway because you can only get one car into the garage. The rest once was moving boxes from almost a decade ago. Now it’s mostly Adam’s in-between stuff while he figures out his post-college life/housing, and decades old odds, ends and power tools. The important part is – two cars worth of the garage is inaccessible. In the basement, there is several hundred square feet of office space buried in art projects, old files, toys and I shudder to think what else. I found cell phone chargers from the early 2000’s in there recently and I’m still not sure why we have them.
So that brings us to the very interesting dynamic of having a shit ton of stuff loaded with emotional baggage taking up near rooms at a time that we get to go through over the next few months to clean it all out so dad can sell the house and move. Let me restate that we have to go through literal piles of things, many of them covered in my dead mothers handwriting, or collected by her, or given by her to us, and try to get rid of as much of that as we can.
So that’s one thing.
Another is just our own house. It’s interesting – especially when someone close to you dies, you just want everything to be put in order. Last year we spent about $9,000 in repairs, maintenance and improvements to our house. Which is a little insane. This year, we’re working to get everything else fixed up. I’m very happy to have our house. And I love everything we’ve done. But it’s also hard to just do that stuff. It’s freeing and terrifying to blow money in hundreds of dollars at a time. We’re fortunate enough to have it accessible to us, but it’s a lot.
The day after Valentine’s day I took off from work because things just keep welling up and I wanted to try and rest and be for one day. I wanted to just sit in silence the whole day, take a bath and read a book, and try to cry here and there, because I find it hard to feel safe enough to (which is a whole thing in and of itself). I couldn’t sleep, I was so nervous about taking the day off. My boss hadn’t texted me back that it was okay and I’d never requested off before. My alarm goes off at 6:15 and when I did check it he had texted at 6:14 to say it was fine. I tried to sleep in, let Hannah get ready and leave, and just sleep, but I didn’t. I ended up just doing that thing where your eyes close and you drift in and out, but never really seem to sleep. I gave in around 8:15 and just scrolled through FaceBook and Pinterest. And then at 8:30 Hannah called me in a panic. She was in heavy traffic downtown, her car was smoking and she couldn’t get over.
She got safetly pulled to the side after she hung up. I got ready and was out the door by 8:35. By the time I arrived, she was fine and her boss was waiting with her since she had been just a short ways behind her, also on the way in. As perhaps a funny aside, she asked me how I was and I responded, “I’m okay, my mom is just dead.” I think I horrified her a little.
Hannah apologized for taking up my day off, and I told her it was fine. And honestly it was, but it just feeds back into the whole thing. Nothing will stop it seems. It just keeps going and going and all I want to do is sit in a quite room and read, or maybe even do nothing. I don’t even want to write this blog post, but I know I need to.
Hell, I almost gave up on my homework today. I was just re-purposing old code in a new language and couldn’t figure it out. I was so close too – just a couple clicks away. But none of it feels worth it. I had a goal when I started to get a 4.0, and because it’s me, I still want it. But I don’t know if I can do it. I can barely put in the 2 hours of effort a week required to get the tasks done. I used to spend 6 hours plus a week on school.
I don’t know, this period is so odd. some days I feel like I’m hardly effected at all, and then I take a bathroom break and find myself in a quiet place and it just slips back in. And I can’t tell if I want it here or gone. I want to feel it, I want to feel broken about it and breakdown crying somewhere. But I’m afraid of that pain, and I’m so driven to keep things as put together as they can be, I don’t know if it’ll ever happen. I’m a fixer. And this isn’t a situation I can fix, so I’ve just grabbed onto anything I can find.
Hannah and I were watching “The Wedding Singer” tonight (which is a great film, actually – really fun) and one of the things that was really poignant for me was the end where Adam Sandler sings to Drew Berrymore about how he’ll do all these nice little things for her and grow old with her and all that. And it’s funny because when Hannah and I got married, I thought about the classic “little” gestures and how I would do them for her. And thank god she made me knock her off a pedestal because I had some idea of what that actually means.
But the death of my mother has brought a whole new kind of dimension to that. Like doing the little things for one another isn’t just nice anymore, but profoundly difficult and profoundly important. A lot of days it’s about the only thing that keeps our little world running. And honestly, it’s very hard. One of the benefits to being alone when really bad things happen is that you don’t have to think about how you want to deal with it will affect other people. If you want to just not do the dishes for a week – it’s just you and your poor dish ware that suffers the consequences – and honestly there’s relatively little harm in it.
But together with another person who is also grieving? Man, life just doesn’t stop. As much as you want a pause button. As much as you want to check out for however long it takes – life continues on. Of course that’s a good thing, and one of the things I continue to hold on to with great joy. But it means things continue to come up.
There’s a kind of fragile little world that we’ve set up here. It comes from many different needs. For me, the one that keeps calling me (the one I can never seem to say no to) is the deep need to care for those closest to me. When my mom died, from that night to now, and for god alone knows how long, I have been preoccupied by it. It makes it hard to grieve and process and let emotions flow when you’re constantly worried about other people. Giving them space to be upset, thinking about how to help them. It’s something I work at just about every day, but it’s hard. I need them to be okay.
My dad said to me once that love means you suffer with the person you love. While dramatic and a bit pessimistic, it’s true. It means it hurts – not double, but a little bit more than maybe it would alone. And that’s why those small things – those small stupid things people don’t think about when they get married, are so goddamn critical. Because doing the dishes, runnnig the laundry, wiping down the counters – all those things mean so much. Because when you hurt you want it not to hurt anymore. You want to fix it, and there’s nothing that can fix this pain. It doesn’t have a remedy. But those everyday things, those are tangible fixes. Those are messages of support and recognition and most importantly of all – they are sacrifices that you can afford to make for one another.
I can’t imagine going through this period without Hannah. To have someone to share the burden with, even if it means a bit more pain here and there to share hers, is a strange blessing. Her support has been incredible. Not perfect by any means, just as mine has not. But together we’re learning how to build our life back up and put things back on the walls, so to speak. To have someone willing to empty the dishwasher – without request or prompt – while you lay staring at the white tiles in the bathtub, because they know you need it. That is a precious and special thing.
It’s interesting. When I thought about love and marriage – i always thought about that old phrase “I would do anything for you.” For me growing up, that was the bar against which I measured love. Would I do any thing for you?
Of course that’s a pretty bullshit measure. When my mom was in the hospital, Hannah came with me every day all day, and that I would say falls under the “doing anything for you” category. And that was amazing. Truly a deep act of love.
But in the weeks and now growing months after, there isn’t an act to perform. There isn’t one thing and even if there was, it wouldn’t matter. Because what is hard is every day. It’s not something you can fix or change. My mom is dead. Our life has changed. And more than any gesture, it’s all the stupid day to day shit that matters. Because life doesn’t stop. It doesn’t just pause for you when shit gets real or beats you in the face. Life keeps going with or without you.
So when I can barely get up in the morning and Hannah opens the door for the cats, or when I come home and have to do homework and really just want to sit and stare at a wall, and Hannah makes dinner even though she’s had a ducking hard day at work too – that’s what matters.
It’s complicated being married and grieving. It’s hard. According to some authority it’s the second hardest thing a couple can go through. Honestly I really wish there’s wasn’t anything more difficult because holy shit this is hard enough as it is.
But what’s hard is the fact that life doesn’t stop. And it can be hard to handle. It reminds me of that quote from some famous book – “the good does not erase the bad, nor the bad the good”. Like my life and the normal emotions I have about it are all still there, living in tandem with the grief. And Hannah is in
I am just so goddamn lucky. I am not as much as I am right now. I struggle daily to be present in anything, and I can feel that in my relationship too. This is not what anyone signs up for when they get married. No one knew they were agreeing to half the person they married. And yet, this incredible woman has stood by not just my side, but my family’s too, every step of the way. It’s not pretty, it’s not perfect, and I hate that I am so little of the person I was with her right now. But I am unbelievably lucky to have Hannah here with me. To have found a person who understands and stays and supports. It is not always pretty. Hannah breaks down almost nightly from the pressure. And we bicker about small chores or missed items frequently. But we both sit together and know that everyone is doing their goddamn best. And we’re going to come through it together. Even if the means we come out with some deep scratches and dark bruises (metaphorically obviously).
one of Hannah’s friends was joking and said, “Nathan, you’re so amazing, you could do better.” And in my finer days I could have said something cute and pithy and true, but today I wasn’t sure how to react because even though it was a joke (and one Hannah participated in at that) all I wanted to say was “No. You don’t understand. This woman has been there for me every step of the way. She has called friends and family to cry while I take a shower so she can support me when I get out, and she holds that for some later time that I can actually hear her talk about it. There is no one better.”
The thing is – no one should ever have to assume the role either of us are in, and she’s done it without complaint.