This weekend I was feeling the ripeness of autumn ready to be born and also, a little sorry for my husband who I haven’t baked for in close to a year.
So I went to the grocery store to buy him a boxed cake. (I know, I know, not the same thing, but still!) I generally use homemade applesauce when I bake instead of oil but, I’ve given away most of my pantry loot from canning last year and this year have been an utter failure in my kitchen because canning and baking remind me of Isaac and being a mama and it just hasn’t felt like anything I could do without him there beside me, snacking on my peels and licking spoons clean…
So… I went down the aisle for the applesauce that you buy. It, liked boxed cake, is not the same thing. I was raised by a mom and a grandma who labored in love over chunky cinnamon applesauce cooking to perfection and to me, store bought applesauce just doesn’t cut it. Isaac loved the applesauces of my mom and my grandma, but loved applesauce no matter the source or intention with which it was made. On occasion he could win the plea at the store for it, but he knew Id rather make him my own and I pretended he’d rather eat it.
So there I was about to buy something I wouldn’t have a year ago and I was struck with all the memories– including the begging for me to buy little containers for him that he would take to his fort, or eat in his room, or have packed in school or game day lunches.
I didn’t so much fall to my knees as crumble, reaching down to the bottom shelf when these memories flooded me. I couldn’t get up. I don’t know how long I was there, holding my head, hiding my tears, sobbing with total abandon. It could’ve been seconds or minutes– but that time was lost to grief in a way I have yet to just allow myself to surrender to. An overwhelming urge came over me to let it rip, after months of carefully keeping myself under control in public places despite whatever emotions may be triggered on any given day. The tears themselves I don’t recall, i know they lasted until I checked out, (without any applesauce). But it was the heaving, keening, primordial release of pent-up feelings that made me feel at last a sense of having purged, it felt good– regardless of my surroundings– it felt like relief.
I have become one of those people who wear sunglasses indoors– I used to question that tendency in others, like rock stars who wear them during a performance. What’s up with that? I wondered. And now I wonder how many of those I have judged were shielding themselves as I find myself doing now, even when there aren’t tears so much as a vulnerability I walk around with everyday.
The weight of this reality…It sinks in deeper each day I have spent as a childless mother, each moment that I consider the duality that Isaac no longer has the pain that he surely had that made him feel leaving, violently, was his only option. And those sunglasses that cover half my face really come in handy. I want to wear them even after dark. A layer of protection from walking around with a wounded battered conflicted heart, allows me to look at more than I might otherwise look away from, allows me to participate in life in fits and spurts more than I might be able to handle otherwise. Because the truth is I don’t always much feel like living– don’t be alarmed– let me explain– I don’t have a death wish and I haven’t made peace with dying even if that means I could be with my son again– I still want to be here– but living, loving, laboring, being is all such tenuous exertion that I just don’t always have the strength for. I find myself bored for the first time in my life– I used to always tell Isaac “only boring people get bored” and, here i am, in an ironic twist of fate, bored shitless– sometimes–the colors of life seem dulled– nothing tastes or feels as good as it used to– nothing feels as potent or exciting, even in the depths of any depression I have ever faced previous to Isaac’s death, Life was still so fucking beautiful it could make me cry out in joyful recognition. And now it is all just piling up around me in heaps of unacknowledged robust life that I am waiting to feel inspired to look at, look into. Remember when Dorothy from the wizard of oz met technicolor? The screen lit up with the change from seeing deeper into the magic of life, it was an active metaphor playing out in front of our eyes. My experience is the opposite– everything that once held color, promise, beauty and prana– or life force– has dissolved, dulled, pales in comparison to the light that infused my entire world, a light named Isaac Julian Ryan-McKinnon. And it sucks! It’s no fun, and I’m not a ton of fun to be around. Not because I am morose– not because I walk around like a grief-stricken zombie– but because I am a fraction of my former self. Reduced to this, I often feel I am just waiting for everyone to dump me. And I wouldn’t blame anyone– and I wouldn’t resist it at all– I used to have such fight in me, such fire in my belly– but now… now I wear sunglasses at nighttime and indoors. And now I sob over fucking applesauce.
“Now something so sad has hold of us that the breath leaves and we can’t even cry.” –Bukowski
I keep waiting and hoping for it to get better– and stay better. I have good moments– good whole days even, on occasion. I laugh, I smile and mean it– I love. But it’s a half-life.
Well intentioned people tell me all the time that this is normal. And I get that. I do. Of course. But today, I just want to say that it sucks. I want the old me back. I want my life back. I want my son back. I want to feel like I can breathe again. I ache to be liberated from grief.
And yet, as I continue through this maze, I know over and over again, I know in the bones of my bones, that the only way out is through. The human spirit yearns for peace. But peace cannot be wished for. Peace must be labored for. And like most things I know now, making peace with this will take time. And test my faith. And push all my buttons. And make me feel all my feelings. And the cycles will repeat like the pattern of a spiral. And all I can do is be a hope dweller. Hoping that one day this will be bearable. That is all any of us can do in the face of pain, oppression, fear. Our task is not always to be noble or great or larger than life– sometimes getting through the day with a little hope left over to start tomorrow out with, is enough.
It has to be.
I hope that if you are feeling as though you are at the end of your hope rope that you will “tie a knot and hold on tight”, and know that you are not alone. This is what helps me most of the time when I’m bored, or feeling underwhelmed with dullness–or sobbing or writhing or surrounding myself with walls, to remember, to know I’m not alone and that all humans suffer and we are all in this together, all of it. And this is not nothing. When all else fails, may there be hope.
“The death of a beloved is an amputation. For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?
But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?
How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time.”
P.S. I haven’t been able to write or paint for a while now. But yesterday I finally broke through my own barrier and painted this. Last night, I dreamt I held Isaac closely to my chest, to my heart. Coincidence? I think not. Sowing seeds of hope, one day at a time…