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Thursday, June 15, 2023

Grief and effort

A child's hand pushed the bathroom door closed -- loudly. I feel this from the other side of the wall and I am awake. This is my alarm seven days a week. As we approach the summer solstice, this alarm is earlier and earlier each day. I roll toward the clock and know it will be earlier than I want it to be. My eyes open. It is 6:17 am. Chirping eases its way through the slider and into my ears. My lids fall shut, I roll onto my side, then pull the duvet up enough to cover my eyes and side of my head.

As I wait, an image appears in my head. I’m running. 

I've been running in my dreams. Fast. Long distances. Marathons. Legs effortlessly gliding across concrete and payment. I can feel the ease of moving as my legs stretch from front to back and my arms swing in sync. The breeze flows through my hair and flaps the sculpted edge of my black shorts. The effortlessness of it is what I keep going back to. 

Because my dream running is nothing like my actual running. In real life, I lumber. Trot. My arms go numb as I unconsciously bend them too close to my torso and reduce circulation. It requires tremendous willpower, this running. Especially when pushing a stroller. But I can run. One step, one block, then another and another. It's powerful to go four miles, six miles. For Riley’s birthday this year, my husband and I ran 11.5 kilometers – one for each of Riley’s 11.5 years. I always love the run after it's done. But never during. It’s just hard. Despite that, I vow that I will run 11.5 miles in honor of his 21st birthday next year.

It will be very hard. Everything has been hard. Since Riley died. 

There is another clunk as the child closes the door to the bedroom that she shares with Riley’s things – his stuffed penguins and picture books and lego creations and clothing. My finger presses the power button on the monitor and it comes to life just as she turns on her overhead light. I see a striped zebra, two pink and white unicorns, a cat pillow, Riley’s green dotted duvet. I cannot see her, but I can hear the turning of library book pages. 

Are things as hard as they were last year, two years ago, five years ago? As I wonder, I am transported into our family minivan on our way home from the grief group we took Riley’s siblings to. In the group, they draw pictures of Riley, write messages to him and put them in bottles, talk to other children who also lost siblings or parents or other important people in their lives. They also play dress up and laugh and eat cookies. I ask them how grief feels for them. “Sad, sometimes,” they say. 

“For me, it feels like I’m wearing a heavy cape. It’s hard to move. It’s hard to do anything. Because everything feels so heavy,” I say.

But now I’m running effortlessly in my dreams. I’m not sure if I'm running away from something or towards something. Maybe it's neither.

Just then, the handle on my bedroom door rattles, then opens. She steps across the threshold and pushes the door closed. “Good morning,” she whispers, as her hand gently cups my face. My eyes open. She’s wearing a pink party dress and holding one of the unicorns from her bed. “I was talking to Riley and he said he would like me to play with his marbles.” I think of the coveted tin of marbles he bought with his allowance shortly before going to the hospital that last time.

“We will, sweetheart,” I say, as she wanders over to dad’s side of the bed. 

I can’t help but wonder if my subconscious is pointing out that I can move again, that I am moving. Volunteering at my daughter’s preschool, coaching writers, editing manuscripts, sending queries to agents, applying for jobs. Even though I didn’t think it was possible, I am living and grieving, grieving and living. I would not say it’s effortless. But I’m doing much more than I ever thought I’d be capable of. I’ll probably grapple with this for a long, long time. I squeeze my eyes and wetness drips onto the pillow. Then I throw the duvet back and push myself out of bed.

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