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Monday, October 07, 2019

Grief and October

I’ve been anticipating you the last several weeks and here you are. You just show up and expect everyone to get excited about fall sweaters and boots and thick socks. You’ve been pounding on the windows trying to get my attention and I’ve done my best to ignore you. You’re not good at taking a hint.

You punt the sun up into the brisk morning, and then speckle the sky with pink and orange clouds as the sun hangs in the west. It gives everything a warm and cozy glow. I hate it when you try to be cute. It doesn't suit you, and you can’t fool me. Yes, you bring pumpkin spice and pumpkin pancakes and cinnamon brooms because you want me to like you. But I don’t. I never will. I know who you really are.

You stand up a little taller than normal because you carry all of the lasts like badges sewn onto your freshly ironed shirt. His last day at school. His last puzzle. His last joke with his best friend. His last family dinner. His last middle-of-the-night picnic (something we did before every hospital visit). His last words to me (I love you, too, mom). His last hug. His last surgery. His last day. His last breath. And with all of those lasts and this death, you rally humanity to celebrate death and gore and blood and the stuff hospital nightmares are made of. Skeletons hang from trees. And tombstones appear in front yards. And bloody severed limbs lie on seemingly-normal neighbors' front steps. It’s all part of the festivities, you say. Lighten up, you say. I can’t lighten up. I have no interest in your kind of fun. Death isn’t fun. Or festive. Or light.

As I walked the dog around the darkened streets tonight, I couldn’t remember if Riley’s last day of school was today or tomorrow. I should know. If he had a pre-op day, then his last day of school was today. If he didn’t have a pre-op day, then his last day was tomorrow. Why can’t I remember if he had a pre-op day. My feet take me past his school and the gate that he exited through on that last day. I pause by the wall next to the playground across the street. That was where I waited for him after school that day, where I waited every day. Riley’s best friend rolled his backpack for him. There was an awkward, “Well, I guess I’ll see you sometime” goodbye between them, since we weren’t sure how long he’d be in the hospital postoperatively.

All of the images start lighting up. They've been on stand-by all these months waiting to affront me. I keep them close to the surface. Why should I forget. I wouldn't want to. It was part of his story. It's who he was. It's what happened. But most of the time, there is a sheen covering them so that I can drive. So that I can shop for groceries. So that I can cook dinner. So that I can play games with my other children. So that I can kiss my husband like I mean it. But this time of year, the sheen is scratched away. All the rawness is exposed. And there's something about this fifth anniversary.

That last day at school plays in my mind as I stand by the wall next to the playground. I start imagining alternate endings. I hate the forever of this ending. It makes it hard to breathe. My lungs keep insisting on pulling in air, but my throat tightens. I open my mouth because getting oxygen into my bloodstream has become a conscious effort instead of an unconscious reflex. My heart bangs on my ribs. It happens a lot this time of year. Fuck you, October. And then I back away from that scene. It's late and my feet start taking me home. 

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Grief and WTF

Riley would be 16 ½ today. Instead we’re 18 days away from the fifth anniversary of his death. And to be clear, him being dead for four years, 11 months, and 12 days really is no different from him being dead for five years. The pain of grief is unchanged, really. A handful of days or months really doesn’t change the pain of living without him.

But it’s those shifts in time that change the language I use to talk about how long he’s been dead that make it harder. Even though it’s just a word: one versus three versus four or five. Five is all the fingers on one hand. It's all the toes on one foot. It's the number of points on a starfish. Clock numbers are five minutes apart. A musical staff has five lines. Five can be all of those things. But it can't be the number of years my son has been dead. It can't possibly be the number of years that my lungs have continues to inhale and exhale. It can't be the number of years my heart has continued to beat after his stopped beating. It just can't be.

Five feels like bus coming toward me while I stand on the street and watch. It’s not coming fast. It’s inching toward me. It has been every day since he died. But it’s getting closer now. I could smell the exhaust if the wind were pushing it the right way. I won’t move; I’ll stare it down, just like the others. And when it finally reaches me, the grill will push into my torso until I fall to the ground and it rolls over me. Crushing me all over again. Because this bus isn’t the first vehicle to run me over. That first month. The sixth month. The first year. And so on. But five has a new kind of meaning. Half a decade. I can’t help but say, WHAT THE FUCK.