19 Dec – Journal entry
I just don’t know how to navigate all of this. I’ve done so much more ‘Christmas’ this year than in the past/since. We’ve opened all the boxes, after all. We decorated a big tree and hung all the ornaments. We put the nativity out and cleared the flat places and added Christmas as we haven’t these last five years. There are lights outside and a wreath on the door. We’ve been to Christmas plays and shopped for gifts and made donations and done all the things. I even, for the very first time, opened the box – Jake’s box of ornaments – and hung them on the tiny, perfectly plump tree. The one that made my breath catch as she held it up at the nursery, because in that moment I could picture it… in the front window… holding his ornaments…
But that had to start with me, taking them out of the box.
It was a huge step, ready and waiting for me to take it, and I’m so thankful I found the courage to do it. And still, with it, always the paradox. Because while I’m so very thankful for all the memories wrapped up in the ornaments in that box, one or more for every year since he was born, I’m so very, very sad they’re all the memories that box will ever hold.
But I remind myself tears can silhouette the beauty and not wash it away, and I’d rather have them and feel them and hold onto them than not. And I find that’s much easier when I can hold and touch and treasure… remember. But I had to do it to understand that, and now that I have, I don’t think those memories will ever spend another Christmas wrapped up, taped up, and shut up in a box in the basement.
So it feels like huge big steps this year, it really does. But there are also the days I feel like I’m on auto-pilot, seeking what will numb, knowing where to avert my eyes to avoid the pictures, the sparkle, the Christmas, and the memories. Because all the things that are good and joyous and mark progress in the path of grief, they are also the very things that bring the ache. Because progress means more time has passed, and more time means further from the last time I kissed his face and said I love you, and further from the last time I heard him say it back. And my heart struggles to comprehend it all, understand how it even continues to beat. Still and maybe always it will be this way.
I don’t want to reach the end of this season without having captured as many moments of joy as I can. But days like today feel like I’m holding my breath, just trying to hold on until we reach the end.
20 Dec – Journal entry
I woke up hard and hurting. I feel so lost. Yesterday’s desktop quote was about finding purpose. That if you follow your passion, that’s where you’ll find it. And I can’t even tell you – tell myself – what my passions are these days. I feel so stuck between what I should/could/often want to be doing and know I’m capable of, and what I’m actually doing – or not. I’m busy, yes. And they’re all good things. And still, I recognize how much time the grief takes. How distracting it is and how it steals time and energy in ways you can hardly begin to anticipate. More than that, it robs you of who you were and replaces it with someone it takes a long time to recognize — as also you, but forever changed. I can’t do anything about that, but I can focus on the details of what I’ll do with it, and that’s where I have to remember how to take that energy, all that energy wrapped up in grief, and turn it back outward. Some days it feels like the energy to do that, re-direct and re-focus it, is more than I have. But I know, I see, I have to do it anyway. And much more deliberately now than as the literal life-saving measure it was in the beginning.
And if I can’t yet say what my passion is and therefore find my purpose in this ‘after’, I have to keep trying things on until I do. Not isolate, as is so much easier, or seems to be until I realize how suffocating the isolation is.
What are the things I really want? To bring joy to others. To paint color back into the hearts of those who need it most. To bring smiles to faces and hope to hearts and help capture the stories of those we’d so quickly dismiss. I want to be an encouragement to others and help people do things they didn’t think they could. I want to start running again — something I never thought I’d do until Jake told me I could. And I want to start writing the hopes more consistently, writing the memories, writing the words in my head until they make sense of my heart.
Perhaps I can just break each thing down, chunk it up in parts the way I taught Cameron to read, and just start. Follow my own words to a friend last night about just taking the steps. Even one. If it’s not right, I’ll soon enough know it and can simply turn around and try different directions until I find the right one. A path to a purpose that fits my passions.
The problem is that not a single one brings my son back. And I haven’t yet figured out who I am without him. What it is I’m supposed to do with this. There must be more that brings him close, that purposes the pain, that helps bridge the gap between grief, acceptance and hope.
So I have to just keep trying. I don’t want to miss these days. I don’t want to wander through when there’s opportunity to serve in more meaningful ways. I don’t want to give up more. So help me please to remember. To try on the joys. Try, try, try things until I find what fits. That’s where the passion will pull me back into alignment. Where giving will fill me. Where love wins.
20 Dec – Journal entry – Same day, post torrential storm
All I did was make breakfast. Oatmeal, same as most always. Old-fashioned, on the stove top, a sprinkle of cinnamon, chopped walnuts, bananas and blueberries. I felt like I was doing okay, feeling pretty good. Much better than when I’d awoken. I’d take the pup out next, and then get started on the day’s to-do’s. It was cold, but the sun was out and after all, I had just written all the things. Worked through in words what my heart was trying to say. Got past some of the ugliness and back into the hope holds. Understood the deliberateness necessary in writing the reminders, taking the steps, trying on the joys. The hard heaviness had felt more hopeful, as if there was a plan of sorts. No set of instructions to follow (if only!), but a place to start, and permission to turn around if it was a false start. Over and over if need be, until I find the purpose that aligns with my passion in this post-Jake world I have such difficulty finding my place in. I really felt hopeful. Not wonderful, but definitely better than where I had started.
But the sabotage set in fast and ugly. Swallowed down with my oatmeal it seems, and self-perpetuating until the negatives were my narrative, and all the progress of pen to paper was marked up, edited and shredded, word by word.
Everything was off. I was angry at everything and nothing. I took the pup for a walk and found myself irritated as she stopped at all her favorite rolling places. The ones where she does the full-motion hockey check right into the ground and launches herself sideways and rolls and rolls to her heart’s content. The ones that usually make me laugh out loud, and one day caused the trash truck man to reverse his truck 100 feet or more so he could roll down his window and tell us watching that pup frolic upside down in the leaves had just made his day. We were in that exact same spot, but instead of smiling and indulging her joy, I was tugging her along. And then I started going through all the things in my head. Thinking I still have to wash her when we get back so she’s ready for our Hospice visits later on, and maybe we should stop doing those for a while because, it’s really hard sometimes. And maybe we shouldn’t have the birthday blood drive this year, because maybe people don’t want to feel like they have to keep coming. And I’m going to cancel the writing workshop because who am I to try and guide others when I can’t even figure out my own life, and what if the money is wasted because I don’t pursue it. And I’m going to say no to cookie baking tomorrow because I’m awful company anyway and I don’t need to share that with anyone. And I’m definitely NOT going to write a Christmas letter this year, even though I really want to, because how do I share joy, and also honor the fact that these years are so hard.
On and on this narrative went, and as we got back from our walk it just continued. Yelling at the vacuum cleaner because the cord got tangled up in the thing I should have moved. Deciding not to do the baking I had already taken the ingredients out for. Silently fuming at why my husband couldn’t hang up his jacket in the closet he passes on the wayto draping it elsewhere, and why the piles can’t congregate somewhere other than our kitchen table. And of course how I definitely was not going to that Christmas party tomorrow night because see a, b, and c above. On and on it went.
And then it occurred to me — what I had written, what I had planned, what I had purposed to do — and how I was literally doing THE EXACT OPPOSITE and dragging this angry cloud in and around me. And in that moment, I saw the ugliness part for a moment, and it was all I needed to see what was happening for what it was. Call it what you will, but to me it was spiritual warfare at its best, for my worst.
So I took a deep cloud-clearing breath, and I called a time out.
And I went back to my words and went back to my hope and went back to the idea of having to be deliberate. Doing the things I know work when the pain and anger and grief would overwhelm. And so I did.
It’s cold, but there’s no ice or snow today, so I put my running clothes on, and though it’s five days before Christmas and there are a couple of 27 things to do, I deliberately chose the heart path, shushing the voices that said you haven’t run in months, you don’t like the cold, you probably can’t even make it up that hill. And I decided to do it anyway. And as I was heading out the door and my husband was heading in, instead of saying all the ugly things that had run through my brain earlier, instead of the nagging that can come so easily, I chose the deliberate act of holding my tongue. And when he smiled and said have a great run and I’ll wash the dog for you while you’re gone– the choked back tears threatened because how do I deserve a man like this? Thank goodness I had pushed back the negative narrative. Thank goodness I could just say thank you and thank God for this man.
With decision and determination even stronger, I headed out. My feet following the familiar if not recently well-trodden path, my ragged breath eventually settling in, and my thoughts starting to flow in more fluid lines again. Sooner than not I found myself at the base of that first hill.
And you know what? Bear with me here. I probably haven’t flipped anyone the bird since the 6thgrade playground. Even then I think I did it on a dare, and the accompanying words hardly even came out because I was so sure I’d immediately be struck down dead for it. But as I was running that hill today, the one the voice in my head had said you probably couldn’t even do anymore, I thought back to all the other untruths that had run rampant through my heart and mind this morning, and you know what I did? I flipped Satan the bird and said YOU ARE NOT GOING TO HIJACK MY HEART.
And then I ran the next hill and the next, not pretty, but shedding the sabotage and gathering up the hope holds along the way.
And you know what? I think I’ll do it again tomorrow.
P.S. I did! And have since, despite the winter cold.
I may even sign up for something to train for this year. Want to join me?! Deliberate efforts make great heart strides…
Thanks so much for reading mine.
Love you, Keirsten