I could feel it building last night, wanting to tell Brad as we were laying in bed that I was missing her - it has to be reaching a critical mass for me to say it out loud - but he was already starting to twitch, and I didn’t want to wake him and lay it on him on the eve of a work week. So I told myself it might dissipate during the night, and I would be fine to take on the work day at school. But I think even then I knew I wouldn’t.
In the same way you know you should call in sick when you have to lay down after your shower, I knew upon standing up out of bed that I was in trouble. Brad hugged me ‘good morning’ and told me he was looking forward to seeing me tonight and I just held on. Then I climbed back onto the bed while he was choosing his shirt for the day and told him the truth, in hopes that maybe letting the lid off the pressure cooker would be all I actually needed. It helped, in the way that true sharing opens doors and brings a couple closer - I learned some things about his journey lately too, but it didn’t stem the tide. Instead, it was clear that there would be no going to work, no doing anything until I actually went over the cliff, and felt.
No matter how many times you do it, no matter how familiar it is, it isn’t a place you go willingly. It’s akin to a mountain of solid garbage, too high to see the top and too wide to see the ends, slowly and steadily pressing you to the edge until there is no other choice but to go over. How do you so successfully ignore an impending force like that?! I swear, it’s like looking everywhere but at what is coming, building, growing - ‘Oh! Here’s a pretty flower. Oh! The sun is shining this way, I’ll just look over here. Oh! I should pick up some rocks.‘ Until you can’t distract yourself anymore or be productive anymore because there’s no room left, and it’s you and the canyon, baby. No where to go but down.
So I stayed home and screamed and wailed and cried in her room and used up more Kleenex in one day than I’ve used in months. Even more than in December. I phoned a friend and asked her permission to not go into work, even though she has nothing to do with my school district or my professional life. But she lost a son, and I knew that she would tell me what I would tell anyone else - ‘You have a right to grieve, you cannot control when it happens, work will not fall apart without you, this is your work, cry cry away. If you don’t, it will come up some other way.’ But I felt guilty. I only work two days a week for heaven’s sake, you’d think I could wait until tomorrow to fall apart. I already did this once on a Monday, the week before Anna’s birthday. What if my co-workers think I’m using the grief card to play hooky? I tell myself that it doesn’t matter what they think, it is what it is, and I don’t need them to believe that it would not be good for anyone, especially me, to try to work today. Or even possible to work, for that matter. But I want them to believe. Maybe I need them to believe. Maybe I need to be validated that my sadness is real, that it deserves time and attention. The timing may be less-than-optimal, but, so what. Cry away.
With Brad away at work, this felt too big to do on my own, so I called a couple of people. One person asked “Why today?” And I thought, there doesn’t need to be a ‘why’, that’s what so many people don’t get. That’s why you feel guilty in taking a sad day, because so many don’t understand. There doesn’t have to be a specific event or two, no cause-effect for grief to overtake you. Our sadness and our missing her is there every day, all the time, 24/7, no breaks, no vacation. In just everyday living, there are jabs and arrows and wounds created all the time. TV, conversations with friends, seeing other families at stores and restaurants, those countless moments where you let yourself think how different this moment would be if she were here.
After I admitted to Brad that I wasn’t making it today, he shared that he had sat in the shower this morning himself, thinking how different this morning would be if Anna were alive. Getting her ready for daycare. How different our everyday would be. How much contentedness in her simple existence, how much chaos and fun and exasperation, how much different coming home to her would be than coming home now to such quiet. He shared that some of what has been going on for him in returning to work is realizing that it doesn’t have the luster that it once did. While we are of course grateful he is again employed, he’s been thinking, “What’s the point of all the busyness? It doesn’t matter.” He said that for the first time since Anna died he’s had to think and feel about her on a schedule, if you will. Can no longer do so as it comes up, and how hard that is. I think it gives new meaning to some of the husbands we’ve heard from at support group, who have had to take the day off after a meeting. You have to shove your grieving and wishing into a finite space and time, which is so unnatural. It made me realize again that while we travel this road together, there’s a lot of the journey we’re making independent of each other, and how we tend not to share it on a regular basis. For one you don’t want to drag the other down, and two, you just can’t talk about it as often as you think about it. It would take up all the conversation. So you push it to the side and talk about other stuff (‘Oh, there’s a flower! Let’s pick up some rocks!’), the same way you walk through your life.
Until you can’t, anymore.