Things That Can’t Be Fixed

Sometimes you can’t fix things. Instead you have to learn to carry them . . . for a very, very long time.

Photo by Monstera on
In September I decided to step out of my comfort zone and be in a community theater play. It's not that I have never been in a play before, it's just that it was a very long time ago. Most of the reason for that is that they are so time consuming. But, since nothing has been "normal" in my life for a very long time now, I decided to do it. It was fun! I did a great job! But, it was also stressful, long hours, and tiring. Six weeks of rehearsals, five performances, a UTI and a COVID booster later, I am exhausted and need to regroup. 

A few days ago I woke up at 7:00 am, about 45 minutes later than my usual time. However, I felt much more rested than I did the night before . . . except for that empty place that sometimes is the first thing I feel when I wake up in the morning. The empty place where Brian used to be. It's not such a gaping wound anymore, but it doesn't take much for it to be ripped open again. And, while it heals faster now, it will never totally go away. Ever. I am getting better at dealing with "that empty feeling." It's becoming like and old friend. I know that, while bodies die and life ends, love never dies. It just changes form.

Dear Brian:

On my way home from a dental appointment the other day I thought about a writing exercise I'd done the night before. It was in one of my favorite books, How to Carry What Can't Be Fixed, a journal dedicated to surviving the loss of a loved one. The title of the exercise I did was Survival and the Passage of Time, and here's the intro: "The saying "Time Heals All Wounds" is entirely wrong. Well, it's inaccurate. The passage of time isn't going to fix anything. What it will do, just by its very nature, is soften the edges of loss. Soften, not ease." These three writing prompts followed, with instructions to pick one and write about it for at least 10 minutes: 
   1.) Do you worry that time will make your loss recede into the background, like some faraway dream that never happened?
   2.) Sometimes grief makes time feel like it's frozen in place. If it feels like the time has started moving again, what has that been like?
  3.) If you've had some moments of feeling like you can survive your loss, did they freak you out?

It was difficult to choose one to write about because, in reality, I have been in all three places -- sometimes simultaneously. But, for now, I decided to write about option 1 -- do I worry that your death will recede into the background like some faraway dream that never happened.

Sometimes I wonder if it will feel like you were never really here. Like the "we" that we were together was never real. I don't want to hurt and grieve and be sad for the rest of my life, but neither do I want that to mean I have to forget about you. I don't want you to become "just anyone," to become "just another dead person." That would hurt more than having loved and lost you. I need to find a "happy" medium -- quotes around the word "happy" for now because I'm not sure what that word means anymore. I need to find a place in my mind and in my heart where I can still love you. Where you are not sick, becoming more and more debilitated every day. A place where you still truly exist, even though not in the flesh. 

All of that is oh so very difficult to do. I think I am on my way, that I am making progress, and then something triggers a memory and I'm lost again, adrift in a sea of grief, longing for the safe harbor of your arms. The remedy I want, that I long for to calm me, is to find the safe harbor of your arms around me. To lay my head against your chest. Feel the rhythmic rise and fall of your breathing. Hear the steady beating of your heart. Feel loved. Feel safe. Feel secure. I want -- no, I need -- the very thing that I cannot have. 

Drat. It looks like I still have a lot of grief work to do. I'll get there, I know I will. I'll do it for you, for us -- for ME. I'll do it because I have no other choice. Yes, I'll do it -- but I don't have to like it. And I don't.

All my love,

         Ups and Downs

Sometimes, when I think of you,
a deep sadness grows inside.
Sometimes, though I know it's true,
I just can't believe you've died.

Some days life will feel OK
and I think I can go on.
Yet, other days I feel so confused
because I am here and you are gone.

There are other times that an ugly feeling
will fill my heart with dread.
What will happen? Will I forget you
if I truly accept you're dead?

But then I stop and take a deep breath,
calm my broken, weary heart.
You're still here, just in a new way
and we're never really far apart.

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