“See, as much as you want to hold on to the bitter sore memory that someone has left this world, you are still in it. And the very act of living is a tide: at first it seems to make no difference at all, and then one day you look down and see how much pain has eroded.” -Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper
When someone you love dies, people often talk about the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These stages are not linear. I’ve recycled through the first four phases many times and expect I’ll continue to do so. My most frequent visitors are anger and depression. For the entire first year after Charlie died I didn’t even come close to acceptance. In fact, I kind of wrote that off as impossible.
I am not going to accept that my baby died! What are they thinking?! But then I learned that acceptance isn’t about being OK with Charlie’s death. It’s about accepting the reality that it’s NOT OK, and that, well, that’s just how it is. Well, even with that more tolerable reframe of acceptance, I still felt averse to it.
Then this totally unexpected, bizarre moment happened this week. I was thinking about Charlie and reflecting on the early months after losing him. I remembered the desperation I felt. Like someone had stolen the air from my lungs. There was a sense of urgency as if someone must fix it, make our lives whole again, make me whole again.
As I was remembering those times, I suddenly realized I no longer feel that sense of desperation and urgency. It’s no longer an undercurrent in my daily experience. I was totally taken aback by this realization and thought to myself, “Is this acceptance?”As soon as I thought that, I panicked and hastily retreated from the idea of it as I thought, irrationally, “If I accept his death, then he’s really not coming back.” I know he’s not coming back logically…but that information hasn’t completely integrated into my heart…and my heart isn’t quite ready to go there. But perhaps my heart is ready to be someplace else.
I feel like this quote by Martha Whitmore Hickman:
“After all our attempts to comfort ourselves and make sense out of dying, we are left with a huge hole in the fabric of our lives-‘I miss you, I miss you, I miss you. And then what? The absence begins to feel familiar, the edges of the psychic hole grow less sharp, maybe begin to grow together so we can walk along without being in perpetual danger of falling into the astonishing abyss of the person’s death. In time, the absence even mutates into another kind of presence. Someone has said that a child who dies is with you in ways a living child cannot be.”
I feel this has begun to be true for me. I’ve become familiar with Charlie’s death and absence. It’s not a comfortable existence…but it’s not the heart wrenching, soul crushing existence that I used to feel. Because it’s spring and I’m craving a good hike I’ll compare this to hiking.
You’re hiking along, loving the trail you’ve chosen, and then suddenly someone puts a dozen heavy rocks in your backpack. Initially the weight of them bowls you over and you struggle to get back on your feet. Then, when you finally manage to do so, for awhile along the trail you really notice the rocks and feel incredibly weighed down by their presence in your life. Despite your best efforts, the rocks don’t go anywhere. So you do the only thing you can do..keep walking. And as you keep walking, you slowly build stronger muscles and you get used to the rocks being there. Then you reconcile that those rocks will be in your backpack for the rest of your journey…and that’s just the reality of it…and somehow you keep journeying anyway.
I think that’s where I am…and if that’s acceptance…Well, no one is more shocked than me!
Even if I’m beginning to reconcile the existence of those rocks in my backpack and I keep walking, I’m still looking forward to the day when I am able to enjoy my journey again. I hope that’s the next milestone? (fingers crossed).
I am so grateful to everyone in my life who help me have moments of happiness. Who walk with me on my hike and remind me that even with the presence of the rocks in my backpack, I can look up and breathe in some beautiful scenery.