When we first lost Isaac I was constantly worried about death— everyone else’s. I was afraid of more loss, yes, more pain and heartache, certainly, but also my mind was twisted and bent into really dark, morbid thoughts, inspired by true life. I was totally terrified of josh’s 7 mile commute to work. I felt afraid to love my friends and family because I wasn’t sure I could handle losing them AND was convinced that everyone precious to me was going to die. I’ve actually had to work really hard on dropping that fearful narrative from my consciousness. Trauma seems to provide the ideal environment for these thoughts to thrive, like a bio-dome of doom and gloom.
While it was a crippling fear, I had an almost magnetic impulse toward my own demise. I had an insatiable thirst for alcohol and nicotine like nothing I had ever experienced. My mouth would water when I thought about drinking. And I’m sad and ashamed to say, I drove around, a lot, buzzed and crying, fast around curves. Sometimes even speeding up for them. I wouldn’t have called it a death wish then— what it felt like was chasing emptiness. Craving numbness. Wishing I could float in a matrix of darkness and silence forever. Looking out over the edge of myself and wondering if I should just jump.
I’m not sure exactly what turned me around. It’s fair to say it could be from a whole lot of people who loved me and prayed for my suffering to end. It could also be the hours I spent in therapy. Or my sweet husband loving me thru it all. Or all that time spent in nature by myself so I could hide my smoking. Or a nudge from the great beyond. Or time and my own inner fire finding an oxygen source again. Or seeing myself and not liking it. It wasn’t a look back, line in the sand, before and after with bells and whistles moment.
It really was just a small step toward wanting to feel different/better. And then another. And then another. There was never any sense of clarity or decisiveness. Which is funny because now that’s what I have so much more of without those substances in me, but at the time I was in unchartered territory.
My therapist calls it choosing life.
What’s become interesting about it for me has been that in the midst of reclaiming my place on the map in the cosmos, of staking a claim in my property of self and identity, of wanting to BE HERE NOW after all, my health— my mortality even, has come under fire with a diagnosis of breast cancer. I’ve read a lot about what breast cancer represents and there seems to be quite a strong link between trauma/grief and breast cancer. There’s also a strong link to smoking. But I digress, I’m not all that interested in how I arrived here nor am I all that surprised to be honest. It hasnt unraveled or thrown me into a tailspin. I’m not sure what could at this point in my life— because losing Isaac to fucking suicide just cannot be topped. Breast cancer— my death or life— is NOT the same thing by any stretch of the imagination.
But our mortality. It is something— I’m not sure what— but something to take in fully. To fully comprehend. From here, I can tell you that it isn’t the image of ball busting warriorship I had imagined it was, the pink ribbon made for tv drama I envisioned when other people got cancer. Which is not to dismiss the bad asses who have embraced that imagery. And is not to dismiss my own strong will to live and to confront oppression of my spirit whether it’s external or cellular. But it is much more sacrosanct, it is like my sister jessica giving birth all 3 times in silence. Reserving strength. Conservation mode. But also, contemplative on levels I had not visited before– was not aware existed before.
What time remains for me and how shall I spend it.
Let me be very clear here— I DO NOT have terminal cancer! But what I do see so clearly is that I will have an expiration date, this iteration of my souls experience will end, this narrative will not last forever. And that is something my words are very unlikely to give justice to as even in the death of my child—where I wished for my death at times—I could not drop into this precise & distinct cognizance. It was just not on the spectrum for me until now.
I feel like I am always “living the questions”, rather than arriving, as Rilke opines, at that distant day where I will have an answer to give, to live. But I feel as though I am bearing witness to a soft underbelly, a view behind the curtain, an observation of the gears and mechanisms that make life go and “What I Want” has already been altered by the fleeting nature of my very substance, my essence, my known self that I thought I had explored to the deepest interior spaces. There is at once infinitely more and less of me— and of you— than I ever realized. Whatever shall we do with our one wild and precious life?
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?