More Lessons in Vulnerability

23 Dec

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So this is what happens when I try to sit down and write in the morning:

“_____________________ … Shit. I can’t think. Maybe it will help if I light some candles. Okay. I’m going to do this. Here goes. Open Firefox aaannnd… Facebook! Wait shit, no, not Facebook. Songza. Okay. ‘Downtempo Instrumentals’ sounds good, I hope there are no words… Coffee. I need more coffee. Where is my cup? I hope my Amazon orders get here in time. I have to pee. Brr! Fuck! Why is it so cold in here?! I hate my windows, they’re specially imported from a century old barn, I know it. Ooh, that would be kind of cool, actually… Um, except since 100 year old barn windows are called OPEN AIR, dumbass. Exactly, self. That’s what the windows feel like. Oh. Right. I need coffee...  My hands are cold. Hey, coffee would help that, too, smartypants. Get the coffee, yo. Dude, where is my cup? Seriously. Where. Is. My. Cup. I had it when I was… THERE. Okay. Ahhhhh, sweet mother of everything that is good and right with the world, I love coffee… Okay. Shit! I should be writing.

I could have written at least a shitty paragraph by now, shitty paragraphs count. My toe is uncomfortable, is that a draft? Damn, I have a hole in my sock! How did that happen? It will just take a sec to mend, do I have another pair clean? Ugh, I should be writing, I’m just distracting myself… Who doesn’t write because their toe is uncomfortable?! That’s it. I’m crazy. Or lazy. Or something. Shit. I need to THINK. Write. Think and write. Think and write. Just add the sock to the to-do list- hey, where is that list I made yesterday? I need to add ‘get coffee’ to it, too, I don’t want to go out again during the holidays and I certainly don’t want to be without coffee through it all. No coffee is not festive. I hope my packages come in time. I wonder if Tobin’s going to like his chess set. Shit! Writing, I should be writing. Okay. All posts…. found it.  ____________________ … ShitWhy does this always happen? Why can’t I write? Where did I go?”

And now you know.

Lately when I try and write about grief or gratitude, my mind is like a caffeinated goldfish. In my heart, I’m writing an eloquent, deeply felt thank you letter to the many people who have  donated a few dollars to help me pay for new tires (and an oil change, too!) on my car and storage fees for Patrick’s things, for sending me a short note of encouragement to let me know that I’m not alone and that I am making a positive change in the world.

Honestly, to have had a moment in time where that was the overwhelming feeling making my heart swell until it hit my throat and leaked out my eyes… I still don’t know what to say. Your outpouring of love has rendered me speechless, you guys. Shocked. Awe struck. Blessed. Humble. Grateful. So, so grateful.

The bitter fact is that I can’t always forge through the numb. I get distracted. I can’t think, can’t plan, can’t write. Grief sneaks in a little ‘t’ at the end there and my will to “forge” becomes “forget” in a single, simple move that removes all the details of life that are smaller than my loss… which would be all of them. Sure, it removes the alarming, overwhelming pain, but it removes the ability to remain connected to the love (and in this case, the physical belongings wound up in that love) that is the cause of the pain, too.

Forgetting is partially how I got myself into the financial spot I was in. (Though I couldn’t help my need for tires) Thinking about, picturing going to and seeing again, taking in the absolutely physical reality of all of Patrick’s belongings still makes my heart race, my throat tighten and my breath come faster and faster until it matches the pace of the things swirling in my mind. If I don’t figure out a way (from within it, mind you) to throw a monkey bar in that spiral, I will end up prostrate until I am completely empty and logic can go through without feeling a thing to collect all the loose pieces and reboot my thinking with them in a properly sealed container.

When I am able to get up, what has hurt me has been stored away for later and I am able to move on. Simply checking the mail can trigger the process- it’s happened each storage bill since February, though I’ve still managed until now to send in the payment, however late.

And then November came.

I didn’t realize that November was really just subconscious code for DECEMBER IS COMING. Patrick’s birthday is on the 4th and Dec 8th is the Worldwide Candle Lighting to honor children who have died, not to mention our impending first Christmas without him. A whole month of triggers, just waiting to attack. I still want to go crawl back in bed just typing about it and the month is nearly through.

December is for celebrating birth of a boy born to spread love to the world if you’re Christian. It is a time for recognizing the change of the seasons, the return of light, and remembering the spirit of life amidst the barren and bleak cold for people from races and places across the world. The reason people bring evergreen trees into their home is founded in this very concept- the bittersweet meaning behind these traditions are not lost on me- or my subconscious eraser, apparently.

December for me has proved a daily battle with numbness more than ever. The ache that I feel is part of what I have in place of Patrick and no less important to hold- but recognizing the importance and the cause of the hurt doesn’t minimize the feeling or magnitude of it at all. Sometimes I feel like I have emotional nerve damage from trying to embrace it so frequently.  All other pain and inconvenience floats away like a feather in the breeze by comparison. How can _____ matter when my son is gone? Nothing seems important… I just let it all go.

Letting go can be (and I’m sure sounds very Rumi-esque, romantic, beautiful and) freeing, but I don’t want to let Patrick -or the ache that comes along with remembering him- go; even if my grief is uncomfortable and alarming to witness for myself or for others, even if it brings judgment or raised eyebrows, even if it means admitting I’ve made the easy choices when I should have made the right ones- or that I can’t even tell what the right ones are sometimes. I’ve never grieved this deeply before, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and I’m fucking bereft sometimes. It affects my everyday living sometimes. Imagine that. 

So sometimes I don’t have the strength of spirit to hold on, and this is me, writing from that space, admitting my shortcomings. I let the wrong things go a few weeks ago and it started a downward spiral I couldn’t get myself out of. I was too overwhelmed, too numb, too ashamed to ask for help when I started slipping. The simple truth is that I didn’t pay my bill and it added up. Me. I did it. Guilty. Another truth is that my tiny income isn’t made for multiple financial emergencies (even ones of my own ignoble creation) right before the holidays, and that I don’t have a huge savings account to fall back on. I was- I am ashamed of that fact, so much that when I got stuck, I couldn’t ask for the help I needed and I haven’t been able to write since.

Lucky for me, I have a friend (and fellow bereavement doula-in-training, also responsible for getting my butt into gear here) who took the initiative to ask for help for me. I couldn’t get it out myself, I was down a hole and I knew it. I knew the judgments would come, but no more harshly than from myself. I knew that either my ego or Patrick’s things were about to give way, and that I had a choice to make. I am so grateful to have a friend who can recognize not only me on a personal level, but also my situation, and whom had the presence of mind and ability to help me act on it in a timely manner. I put my reputation, my embarrassment, my shame, my ego in the hands of someone else and accepted that it was out of my hands. 

I let go of my fear.

And love caught me.

You, dear reader, dear friends, you absolutely beautiful people of the world; with your few words, few dollars, few moments of shared experience choosing to be brave and vulnerable, too- you flung open the doors for me to remember not only loved I am, but how loved Patrick still is- and how worth it we both are for me to stay honest, even and especially when life throws a curve ball (or five).  I still can’t believe the amount of love sent my way in the face of my own stagnation and ineptitude. I spent a full 24 hours with the newfound ability both in spirit and wallet to handle what was before me, which is a gift unlike any other. I had forgotten that feeling was possible. I was happier than I’ve been in a long, long time. I will never be able to say thank you enough.

Sure, the grinches came, too. I understand the urge to judge, to have some sort of control, reason and hierarchy in this crazy world. (“Well that would never happen to me because _____”) It’s natural to want to protect yourself, to know why things happen and who is to blame. The same (much larger scale- this too, is a feather…) surge of crude, reactive rationale happened when Patrick died. People want to know where to point the finger and figure out the faults so they can armor themselves against the pain I am in. I get it- but that doesn’t make me immune to what it feels like to have those judgments shoved in my face, either.

If anything, I’m trying to make a habit of taking that armor off and feeling as much as possible- the hurtful things included. If people take cheap shots while I’m doing it, that’s a reflection on them, not me. (Someone remind me of that next time someone’s a huge jerk, okay?)

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When I was out this weekend catching up on errands I had missed while I was stuck, I passed a man sitting  in a Santa suit who was exchanging wish lists from kids for candy canes. I was surprised when he stopped me as I passed and asked what I wished for.

We all know what my first thought was. Instead, I said, “You know what? I just got new tires put on my car and an oil change because people love me. Isn’t that crazy? I’ve also had another huge bill paid and have the ability to get groceries and my kids a few things I think they’ll genuinely like this year because people from all over the world support me. I am so grateful. I don’t need anything. I’ll take a candy cane and a high five.”

I saw tears in that man’s eyes. He was a man in a Santa suit, and I was a woman in an “I’m okay” suit, and for a second, we saw each other. I didn’t need to tell him that I lost my son earlier in the year. I didn’t need to tell him that I’m a Z-list Facebook personality with 40,000+ likes and a piddly blog where I spout my sadness. I told him that I was more grateful than I’ve ever been, and it was the truth.

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Your donations made it possible for me to purchase this ornament from The Comfort Company in memory of my sweet Patrick. Thank you.

*

5:13: “Our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be broken hearted.”

6:00 “The troublesome thing about [armoring up] is that it doesn’t really safeguard us from pain, but it does prevent us from accessing the things that vulnerability takes us to. Vulnerability is the path to love, belonging, joy, intimacy, trust, innovation and creativity.”

6:40 “Empathy is feeling with people”

9:35: “Sympathy is one of the things that really gets in the way of empathy. Sympathy is how we respond when we don’t want to be vulnerable to someone else’s struggle.”

20:25 “Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling”

12:45: “Here’s what we know from the research: blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability; meaning that people who blame a lot seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because they expend all of their energy raging for 15 seconds and figuring out whose fault something is. Accountability, by definition, is a vulnerable process.”

14:44: “Rarely does an empathic response begin with ‘at least….'”

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20:28 “Shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can change.”

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One Response to “More Lessons in Vulnerability”

  1. Lea Stanton Gregor December 23, 2013 at 11:28 pm #

    No judgment EVER….doesn’t make sense to me. Everything you feel makes sense from forgetting to drowning in grief. Only love to you Julie.

    Lea

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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