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Friday, August 14, 2015

Grief and laughter

my kid died
Riley was awesome at being goofy, as seen here.
The other day, I sat on the sofa in my yard with a half-eaten salad on my lap. The sun was shining and the broad leaves on the giant Sycamore were protecting me from the 80-degree heat. My husband sat by my side with his own half-eaten salad. We talked about C’s 9th birthday party that was held at our house a few days earlier. A few leftover Mylar balloons still swayed in the background; the bucket with uneaten fruit from our bobbing-for-apples game waited to be emptied; vases with drooping sunflowers and lilies reminded me of how I spruced up the garden for that day. If everything looked pretty, then I would get through it, I remembered thinking. I could show up in a way I couldn't with my husband's birthday. I had to.

We had swept and scrubbed and placed flowers. An extra strong Moscow Mule softened the anxiety I felt around talking to parents as they dropped off their kids. Orchestrating a water balloon toss and a game of “bobbing for apples” for twelve kids kept my grieving mind occupied during the party. And I did get through it, even if the crying jags pushed me off balance every so often. Riley wasn’t there. Being the younger brother, C has never had a birthday without him. Now he’ll never have another birthday with him. None of us will. In all the fanfare, I forgot to have the kids decorate a flag in honor of Riley.

As my husband and I ate our salads in the shade in our backyard, in addition to talking about C’s birthday, we also talked about wanting to paint the house, how the deck needs to be refinished, and in which order those things should happen. It was all very ordinary chatting about this and that. And then my husband said something amusing. It was a line I’ve heard before and one I will hear countless times during our years together. I cannot even remember what it was that he said. But laughter ripped through me. Heaving, can’t-breathe-laughter. My body’s response was far grander than necessary. It shook me, jolted me, and then slapped me across the face--it was that throbbing part of grief. The heat of regret bubbled up. There was anger. And annoyance, too, for allowing some other emotion to penetrate the wall I’ve built.

I used my napkin to absorb the regret that leaked from my eyes. After that, my husband held me for a while. I know people want me to laugh and feel better, but I don’t want to laugh or feel better. Not yet anyway. Maybe I will someday--at least that’s what people keep telling me. For now, my soot-colored world is where I’m meant to be. And the throbbing, like the pulsing of the umbilical cord that once connected us, is my constant companion as I navigate this world without him.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Grief and throbbing

My child died.
Riley flags in our yard
Imagine petting your dog through rubber gloves. Imagine kissing through a sheet of plastic wrap. Imagine showering wrapped in a rain poncho. Imagine trying to smell freshly baked cookies with nose clip. Imagine listening to your lover while wearing earplugs. Most of the day, I’m wrapped in this numbness. My world is a spectrum of gray; colors covered in soot. Numbness fills the space between each throb when grief grabs me and strangles me for a bit. It throws me down and for that period, I feel everything. All the numbness disappears while I’m overpowered by a current, a rawness, the force of every ounce of grief bound together as a bus that rushes me at 110 miles an hour. It flattens me, leaving me breathless and weak and feeling even more broken. When it passes, numbness returns for another moment or few hours or days, depending.

This is grief nine months in. It’s like throbbing--the punch and the space in between. My 11 1/2-year-old son has been dead longer than it took to grow his beautiful, imperfect body.

* Want to make a Riley flag for our garden? Use any bit of plain fabric, any color you like about the size of a piece of paper. Decorate it with anything you like on one side only--Sharpies, glue, sequins, other crafty thing you can think of--bearing in mind that it will live outside. So if you glue stuff on or use markers, try to use ones that are designed to withstand a washing machine (or Mother Nature). Please leave about an inch at the top undecorated, as I'll need to sew the top so that we can thread it onto our line. When your flag is ready, shoot me a message and I'll give you my address. You can mail it to me or leave it on my porch if you happen to live nearby.