The morning I left Colorado for Arizona, by coincidence or providence, “Hey Jude” was playing on the radio as we pulled away. I gazed upon Pikes Peak and mumbled along to the words, singing softly as tears streamed down my face.
Take a sad song, and make it better.
Those words have entered my head more than a few times in recent days. I hadn’t anticipated the intensity of my grief. Of course I knew I would be sad. You can not lose a brother and return to life as if nothing happened. I thought after I returned from Chris’s memorial, I would have no choice but to resume normal life. But if the grief is deep enough, you are forced to take pause, whether you want to or not.
Don’t get me wrong. I still get up in the morning, make lunches, hug my kids, and go through the motions of the day. The mornings are usually ok. But as the mornings give way to afternoon and evening, the sadness blooms. Like a lingering cold that fools you into thinking you’re almost over it, only to get worse and worse as the day progresses.
At first, writing was an escape. Escape isn’t quite the right word. Maybe it is. I was compelled to write almost to the point of addiction. As the words traveled from my brain through my fingertips to the keyboard, the gloom exited my body and I was able to find peace. For awhile. Then I had to write again. And again. I began to wonder if people were thinking “Jesus, not another blog to slit your wrists by.” Perhaps it was becoming unhealthy to describe in detail every negative emotion I was feeling.
I love the line “I have always relied upon the kindness of strangers.” In this case, it wasn’t a stranger who offered kindness, but an acquaintance. I began a correspondence with a friend of Chris’s, someone I have met more than a few times over the years, but don’t really know. At one point during our conversation, I described my guilt. I am a reluctant fan of guilt. If I was happy, I felt disrespectful. If I was sad, I was doing a disservice to Chris’s memory and how he lived his life.
I can’t really describe it, but through his words, this friend gave me the permission I needed to be happy. He wrote other things, but the thing he said that stuck with me was simply “Be happy.” It was so genuine and heartfelt, not an order to buck up. Just someone basically saying you are not a horrible person if you need to move on from this.
Of course, being happy is not always so easy. I’m finding that reaching out for two sided conversations is serving me in a way that writing does not. I love writing. Obviously I’m going to keep doing it. But I got lost in the maze of my introspection. I needed guides to help me navigate.
One of my oldest and dearest friends sent me a text. I had been purposely not communicating with him. He had not attended Chris’s memorial, and I was upset. Wounded, I forgot that he too had lost someone close to him in recent times. He was hurting, just like me. He just didn’t vocalize it every five seconds.
He asked how I was doing, and I responded that I just wanted to isolate myself. He replied that he had been isolating for weeks. That got me out of my head. He had been hurting for weeks, and I was just now getting around to noticing. He asked if I wanted to talk on the phone after work, and unlike me (I generally do not like talking on the phone), I said yes. We talked for a few minutes, and I found myself making some jokes and even laughing. It was our pattern, the way we communicate. I finished by saying maybe we could be isolated together.
I’m figuring out how to push back on the sadness. I turn off my phone when my kids are around, so I can focus on them. It is impossible for me to stay in the doom when I am interacting with my children. They are just too bright and hilarious and full of life. Every once in awhile they will do something spectacular, and I think Chris would have loved that. In those moments, the pain refreshes. I feel an actual space in my chest. But I remain present and allow their joy to wash over me. The space is still there, but I am somehow able to keep moving.
I put a photo of Chris by my desk, and I talk to him all the time. I look at his face, and it feels like he’s listening. Maybe that’s how this process goes, at least for now. The space is there, but when I open myself up to other people, it’s somehow manageable.
So that’s enough writing for today. There is life to be lived, and I’m the one here to do it. Time to go forth and be happy.