Trigger warning: child loss
When my father died, there came a cold, permanent reminder that sometimes, life is too short, and that death can come far too unpredictably, too soon. With Patrick’s death came the reality that my best, most difficult, lengthy, impassioned efforts that I couldn’t possibly care more about or pour more of myself into can be spirited away- without warning or reason. Watching something slowly crumble, be it a life, a relationship or situation, is different entirely than flicking on a light switch and taking in the fact that it’s vanished, and the life that was happening in my head and heart did just that, all in a single moment.
Yes, my gratitude for the little things in life that come about has compounded after his death, too- being hyper aware of this new reality means taking extra time and love to invest in my children’s lives, and in the lives of my friends. But it also means that every time I say good bye to anyone, I’m saying it forever. To my children when they play outside, when my sister or friends when we part company- I’m hyper aware that today may be their last, or mine.
Serendipitously, I came across this video today where Brene Brown explains this strange paradox I seem to be living in, where I’m in love with every moment, but because I know they’re fleeting and I end up grieving for the present that I’m loving, too. It’s as exhausting as it sounds, if not moreso.
Oprah’s holding the book I’m currently reading, Daring Greatly.
So there’s a flip side to all of this extra love, passion and gratitude I have in my life… I pour it out 100% because I know for a fact I’ll never have the same chance to again, and what it feels like to look back on the times I kept my love to myself because I was hurting or afraid. But this outpouring of love still contains a level of disconnect for me- I send it without expectation or attachment so that nothing and no one can hurt me again.
Except I’m finding some ties I can’t help, and those terrify me the most. The first and foremost of those attachments is to my earth-walking children. I hate to say it, but part of the reaction that, especially initially, happened in my grieving process was to pull away from everyone, my children included. Loving each of them so incredibly much, I realized, means that I am at three more times the potential for the ache I will never stop feeling in every quiet moment of my life- and that type of heartbreak can just break a person all the way down, six feet under.
SUDC can happen in children up to nineteen. NINE-FUCKING-TEEN. (My oldest just turned 13 last weekend, but that’s for another post entirely.) For all I know, when my children go to sleep, they’re not going to wake up, that I have some cootie-infested gene that makes my babies drop dead. Unfortunately, you can’t say, “What are the odds?” or “That couldn’t happen to you!” or anything of the like because it can, because it has.
I can count the number of times I’ve slept through the night since the earthquake on one hand. It’s not that the earthquake itself was terribly frightening, but when my 10′ picture fell off the wall and I realized that the windows and floor were really shaking, I panicked. The thing is, the logical part of me that tries to rationalize with statements like the ones I’ve listed above doesn’t count anymore. When you’re sitting in an ambulance passenger seat, rocking yourself to the mantra of “Please don’t take my baby, please don’t take my baby, please don’t take my baby, my baby… my baby…” and then someone looks you in the damn eye and says, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing we can do.” across an operating room table, all that sunshine and fluff goes up in smoke. It can happen. It just did.
I’m sorry if that’s rough to hear, but that’s my reality- and my reality found me thinking, “Please don’t take my babies.” again during the earthquake, with the coupled reality of remembering all too well how it turned out the last time those words were repeated in my head. And so I can’t sleep. And probably have some form of PTSD, really. I realized in my overthinking hours of the morning that I was lying there at the ready, trying to somehow protect my children with my love, with my vigilance, with my preparation for disaster… and all of it is futile, imagination put to it’s worst use. Yes, California is actually due for a massive earthquake soon, (which in NO WAY helps me to know) but I can’t limit my kid’s childhood because I’m beyond anxious that I’m going to lose them during it.
I have ties to friends that I can’t (and don’t want to) help that terrify me, too. Most of the friends I have that are closest to my heart live states away, where I can only see them on occasion. I love them fiercely and fear that bond nearly as much, sometimes more, because it means part of me is vested in both caring about their happiness and their happiness with me, and that I know firsthand how it feels to be separated from that bond. I’ve even caused that hurt on purpose to myself because of that knowledge, to try and, as Brene puts it, “beat vulnerability to the punch”, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
There have only been a couple of friends I have ever consciously separated myself from, and they are both people whom I have known for years and am deeply connected to- and ones I felt I couldn’t live through hurting me. So, I hurt myself first by keeping myself at an unreachable distance, until I realized years later each time that those deep connections can’t be severed, that I was hurting us both in denying our attachment to each other. Though I felt safe(r) at a distance, I had a hole in my insides in exactly their shapes, and even after my silence, they were both still willing and wanting to be there, because it turns out they had Julie-sized puzzle pieces missing from their insides, too. Some people walk into your heart and just fit, and I’ve found that it’s worth stepping beyond old boundaries into vulnerability to let them.
And so I’m desperately trying to work myself through the absolute mind-bending freak out it is for me to try and form attachments again. Kaya is with me constantly and is the best form of constant, (mostly) quiet companionship that I could ask for. She helps ease my anxiety tremendously, as do many of my friends both locally and online; not the least of which is Amy of Zen Parenting, who has put together an online auction ending tomorrow, 10/24 to help raise funds for me to have a car- because even my car recently, suddenly and unexpectedly died, and while I was on the same freeway to Sacramento that I took on Patrick’s last day, to boot. (Do you see why part of me is just waiting for the other shoe to drop?)
The thing is, I can look at losing my car and see something I’ve lost, or I can look at the amount of love that has been sent my way because of it- it’s a choice… I would give up everything I have now and more for Patrick back, for even an allotted amount of time- I’m open, Universe– but in smaller scale situations, even ones like being stranded in the middle of nowhere with a steaming car, (which is absolutely a first world problem) because of friends like Amy, (and Megan, Ruthie, Jes, Genery, Matt, Laura, and Spencer) today, when it comes to looking at the loss or the love, I can choose the latter.