Climbing The Grief Heap
If l did it, you can.
Howdy Horn Honkers.
I wrote something a year and a half after my husband John died and just read through it today.
I am purely amazed.
I'm amazed by how little I knew about grief at that point, although I'd certainly experienced it before. Unless we die at or near birth, none of us escape grief. It's only to what degree and depth we have to experience it. Some get off easier than others, but not a one of us escapes completely.
I'm also amazed by how hard I was trying. So many things in my memory are a haze from those days but Lord, the girl was trying. So hard. Often too hard. I was afraid to give up, because I feared I would disappear forever into the low-sweeping clouds of undiluted sadness that accompanied me everywhere I went and hung over me when I managed to sleep at night.
And finally, I'm amazed that I still had so far to go at 18 months and didn't know it. I'm glad I didn't know. I might have given up. I’m also sad I didn’t know. I might have made some different decisions.
In those days I didn't know that the process of grief was pushing your unwilling self up an unknown, uncharted mountain. Some days are hard treks, some days are easier. Some days you purely crawl. Sometimes you trot. Some paths are rocky and dangerous, others bring beautiful views you can only get from such a vantage point.
Once over the highest summit of the grief heap, you’d think the descent would be easier than the ascent. It is…and it’s not. You’re still finding your way. It has its own tricky turns and true dangers of falling.
And eventually (I didn’t know this either) the mountain is behind you — yet it looms over you the rest of your life, a journey taken but not forgotten — and you end up in a completely different place.
You’re not the same person who started the hardest, worst climb of your life. You’re different now.
I had no idea.
I’m just amazed I made it through at all. Purely amazed.
But if l did it, you can too.
John has now been gone a year and a half. Little time in the human calendar, a lifetime for some species and a steady 18-month rhythm of unbroken heartbeats from a broken heart. My heart.
"How am l doing, Johnny?" I sometimes ask him out loud.
"How am l doing?" I sometimes whisper before l fall asleep at night.
l'm a mess still...but it's a smaller mess.
How am l doing? I've hid in my home for weeks on end and l've run away with rock and roll bands. I've floated in the morning with the manatees and been dumped from a canoe after dark into a black river by a trusted friend (Not mentioning any names. Ha!) I've slept solo out in the desert under a million Texas stars (by the way: the stars at night ARE big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.) I've travelled adventures with brand new old friends and wandered into Mexico alone with a fluffy white dog tucked under one arm and a hired bodyguard by my side. l've cried my way across at least nine states, angrily hurled sugar cookies into the mighty Mississippi (don't ask) and spent days on an Indian Pueblo never wanting to exit the sweet steadiness of family.
How am l doing? Better than this time last year, l think.
Ask my friends and family who have held me tight as l threw myself into the safety of their arms and sobbed a river of tears and fears on their shoulders.
Ask the professionals who tended me that first year to try to keep me walking the planet. (Well, you can't ask them because of HIPAA laws, but if you could they'd tell you I refused to be over-medicated and told a few of them to fuck off and other ones --the ones who seemed to understand me-- I took their advice.)
Ask my brother Chuck, who no longer has to make sure l don't leave my purse in the oven or accidentally put a cat in the refrigerator. Intense grief is a lot like being a zombie-- you walk into fences, don't see cars coming and sometimes stare into space for hours.
Ask my car keys, which no longer seem to hide in strange places as if playing hide and seek with my patience, prompting me to create an unbroken string of obscenities which l would unleash in frustration, causing all five dogs to run for cover.
Ask my GPS, which l often no longer need in order to find my own damn house in a town I’ve lived in for years.
How am l doing? I've allowed a few guys to kiss me and one or two l've kissed back. There are few mysteries in life as delicious as the body and soul of a naked man. Some conversations are held without words. And some memories never leave your heart, your brain or your body.
How am l doing? l'm still a mess but a smaller mess. I'm still confused but not as often. I'm still scared but not as much. I still stumble but don't always fall.
So when l ask my cosmic dancer "How am l doing, Johnny?" I can sometimes hear what he used to say to me when l was dancing, or frolicking at the beach, or absorbed in my writing, or trying to break through a personal wall.
"Don't stop," he would say with that big John Jaramillo smile, "Don't you ever stop."