Every so often I get an ache in my cheek, spit out that stale candy cane I've been sucking on, and wildly begin chanting anti-root canal incantations. And then I realize, I'm clenching my jaw. And have been for days. About the same time, I may also notice that my breath is a bit jagged. And I collapse in a puddle of exhaustion around 4 p.m. At which point I think to the self, "Dude, you're TENSE." Big surprise, the teeth clenching usually coincides with some sort of trigger like a -versary, -iday, -thday, or just sensory relapse -- like going to a museum the other day for a birthday and realizing, really upon walking in, that the last time I was there was almost exactly a year ago to the day. Three hours of screaming, hopped-up-on-sugar toddlers later did not improve the psychological gymnastics of "I remember sitting down here to rest," or watching other moms sling young babies around while watching their older children throw play bread loaves across the room.
I hit that place this morning, in yoga (I finally started up again about a month ago), with the achy face, and having trouble exhaling for more than 2 counts without feeling like I was hyperventilating. They say you hold a lot of tension in your hips, and I did a forward bend and for the first time in my life, felt actual pain in my hip points.
I'm a wee bit tense. Really wound up. And I think it's that god-awful anticipatory nervousness as I do the slow crawl toward next week.
Usually the anticipation is worse than the day. I know in my head it really can't be worse -- she's already dead for pete's sake. But I've been proven wrong. And since I have six days to muddle through and family dra-ma that could go off like a tinderbox at any moment, I'm really not horribly optimistic that I can improvise my way through a 144 hour remembrance odyssey involving flowers and candlelight and walks in parks and "just being with it" without someone raining on my shit parade. In addition to thinking I'll probably be curled up in a ball missing my younger daughter, I'm anticipating inappropriate and passive-aggressive Valentine's Day's cards and gifts from in-laws. Well-meaning, but intrusive phone calls. Some stranger making a completely inane comment at the worst possible moment. I'm trying desperately not to get ahead of myself or fill up the brain with things that haven't happened and may never come to pass, but, well, let's just say if I was setting up an office pool I'd be putting good money on some really crazy crap going down. Just sayin'.
For about six weeks last spring I attended a grief support group at Children's Hospital. (Oddly, they do not have a running support group, but only hold it occasionally, and only for six weeks. Something about "we've been doing this for years, and we can tell you that . . ." ) It started off rather crowded with about 20, and we gradually whittled down to a rather tight group of six or so -- six children lost, that is. Sometimes couples came, sometimes just one parent. There were weeks when I felt I had nothing in common with them; their children had died at 2, 3, 12, 18 . . . and while I felt their losses deeply, I couldn't help but feel a little stab when someone would say "I'll never see him graduate." (Honey, I didn't see my kid graduate from the NICU, let alone open her fucking eyes.) But gradually, slowly, all losses blended together for me. There was just too much in common between us. The elephant in the room. The agony of holidays. The loss in faith in just about everything given that OUR kids were the ones with the bad odds -- the one in a millions who got rare forms of cancer and bizarre genetics. We cried a lot. One evening we just went around the room and shared the "end" stories -- the final time with our children.
Of the parents, I had suffered the most recent loss, but only by a matter of months. But there were parents I grew very fond of whose losses dated back years. And they said, to a one, unanimously, without equivocation, that the second year was worse than the first.
I would sit there, my eyes bloodshot from sobbing, not having slept well in months, feeling like someone had thrown me against a wall, and thought, you have to be fucking kidding me -- it gets WORSE? THAN THIS?? THIS RIGHT HERE? Are you remembering correctly? Look at me! Worse?? (And can I be excused to go pitch myself out a window?)
They would sigh (you could almost hear the "ahh, young grasshopper" under the pursed, grim smile) and proceed to try and inform me of why. It was hard for them to explain, but basically the upshot was: the first year they were stunned. Numb. Forcing their way through the horrible series of "firsts." And the second year, the numbness wore off, the adrenaline stopped, and the ache set in. The reality. They got beyond simply dealing with the death, and started dealing with the living along with the missing. The realization that it's more than just the first, it's the second, fifth, and twentieth, too.
Well THAT'S something to look forward to, eh?
I know people are different, experiences are different, there are probably a bazillion support groups out there where the unanimous decision was "I definitely felt better the second year. Totally. Ya'll are in for a world of improvement. Cookie, anyone?" But I appreciated the honesty, and the warning, just in case they're all right. After a year the functioning is indeed easier. (Well, except the walking and running part. You'd think I could operate upright, fucking plantar fascia.) Taste and Joy are still on hiatus. But I guess now, once I turn this bend, I focus in earnest on the awful part. And try and incorporate that into the functioning part in a way that saves me gnashing my teeth down to little stubs.