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Monday, February 01, 2021

Grief and finding unlost

I sometimes try to count the days that Riley has been dead. Sometimes they are on the tip of my tongue. Sometimes they are shouted into my head over and over like an alarm, blasting without an off button. Sometimes I walk the streets and imagine he is walking beside me. Sometimes I can only see him lying in the hospital bed cut and stitched and bleeding because the stitches can’t stop the bleeding. When I see the tears drip from his eyes with the ventilator preventing him from telling me how much it hurts, it burns. An all over burn that starts in my forehead and simmers through each of my limbs until they stop working and I crumple onto the floor again. Sometimes he is the sun blinding me with a beautiful dream that I once had. It’s about a baby who came into my life and made me a mother when I was just 29 years old. He was perfect and imperfect and no amount of love or medical attention could make the imperfections go away. This dream is punctuated by months of nightmares all seemingly separated into years. This beautiful imperfect and perfect boy smiled and laughed and read books and arranged elaborate traffic jams on the coffee table. He learned to walk and then when a long hospitalization took that ability away, he learned to walk again. He learned to ride a bike the summer before he started kindergarten. He made friends and loved school, but struggled with PE and came up with excuses as to how to avoid participating. He was thirsty, he said. Again and again he’d get a drink of water.

Today I know that it's been six years and three months and 12 days since he died, but I cannot tell you what time of day he exhaled for the last time. I don’t know how I cannot know that detail. I remember the day, the hours of removing life support bit by bit hoping that his heart would be able to beat on its own, enough to give him more months and more years of being a son, a brother, a friend, a classmate, a teammate.

It’s been all of these years and yet the pain is just under the skin like a bruise that can be felt at any moment. I just watched the trailer for a movie being released in February. It’s called Land. This new movie was advertised to me when I was searching for a mushroom risotto recipe. The protagonist's hard, lost face reminded me of mine. So I clicked the link and was taken to the movie trailer's web site. I clicked play. She had moved to a remote cabin, presumably to escape the pain of grief’s jaws around her heart. There were flashes of a child, flashes of a former life. Another character finds her freezing and starving and eventually asks her what she wants her life to look like now, in the aftermath of the grief. 

His question was a sucker punch to my own existence. It is a question I started asking myself a few months ago. I asked myself how I would change my life. If I could make any change, what would it be. How would it look? Who would I be? Because I don’t know who I am, even though there are many labels that give names to characteristics that make up parts of me. Wife. Mother. Reader. Writer. Friend. Person who likes walking. Person who has a dog. Person who drives a minivan. I had stopped going to my moving meditation dance class long before covid took everything away. But sometimes I dance in the kitchen. But who do I want to be and what do I want my life to look like. I have no idea. Anything I choose to do, any changes I make to my life will be made in a world without Riley. I don’t want to change in any way that he wouldn’t recognize me. Don’t put that on me, he whispers into my ear. I will always recognize you no matter what you are doing or where you are.

Riley isn’t coming back into my life in the way that I so desperately want him to be in my life. He is so present, in nearly all of my thoughts every single day. I can take him anywhere I go, but I have to choose where to go. The days become nights; the nights become days. The hair I chopped off after he died has grown long again. Time continues. The calendar swings from one calendar page to the next. Old calendars are replaced with new ones. The years come and go. I am the same. So much of the time I just want to go backwards. But the backwards I want to return to has an alternate ending. One where he is alive and thriving. I am lost without him. And yet, I am the only one who can make me unlost. 

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