They say, “Time heals all wounds.”
Well, I don’t know who “they” are, but they are full of crap.
To me, crying is something that is supposed to be quiet—silent if at all possible. Tears sliding down in the darkness, biting the edge of the pillow so no sound escapes. Alone in front of the computer with your hands clenching your skull, eyes squeezed shut to keep it in.
But when grief first explodes your reality, it’s just not possible. There’s nothing quiet or dignified about it then. Just wrenching sounds like some wounded animal while hands claw the mattress as if to dig to some escape from the unspeakable. Strange that it can last until the first pale colors of dawn creep across the room. You wouldn’t think that it would take so many hours to reach the point of complete exhaustion. At last you sleep.
But then you have to wake up. And there it is.
So now you walk around like a zombie—only eyes, nothing behind them. You watch life passing by all around you and vow never to let it inside again. There is nothing to invite it into, just this empty, echoing chamber. In a bizarre way it’s liberating. You’ve just completely detached from everything around and you’re looking at it from outside of yourself. None of it really matters very much. All of those things that were so intensely important are worthless now. You’re hollow. It’s so uncomplicated.
Sometimes I look back on that point and I almost miss it. Isn’t that odd? There was something precious about a pain that big. As if it really mattered. Perhaps I believed that if it were bad enough, something would have to happen to reverse it. Life couldn’t just carry on.
But it’s not very long after that when you must push it aside and at least do a passable job of functioning in society. They’ll give you a free pass for a moment, but grieving people grow tiresome, and humans have a very short attention span. Just look at the evening news. Everyone gasps in horror at one atrocity in the world and three days later it’s fallen by the wayside. There’s a new one to speak of in shocked whispers. Your grief is quickly forgotten, by them. You must close it up tight in a box—at least from 8 to 5—and go through the motions of being normal.
After a while, it’s not so much of an effort anymore. Moments of joy tiptoe in quietly and you realize the sky can still be unfathomably blue and the grass can still ripple in the breeze like the waves of the sea. You might even go days—and then soon perhaps even weeks—without thinking of it, directly. But it’s still there. One day, for no particular reason, while you are just minding your own business, grief appears out of nowhere. A vehicle that was in your blind spot slams into you and you’re spinning out of control again.
Time doesn’t heal wounds—quite the opposite. When new pain comes it seems to have this cumulative effect. Each new laceration of heartbreak seems to slice even deeper. You thought you’d built fairly decent fortifications between your heart and that pain, but you are dismayed to realize that it was about as effectual as a house of cards.
I wish I could tell you that the rent in your life’s fabric really does knit together, but it doesn’t. True, nothing will ever compare to that first raw anguish, I can promise you that. God will begin to bring bright spots of joy and you will discover that you are not completely hollow after all. I can promise you that too. But grief never goes away; it just cycles back around again. The intervals in between may grow longer, but pain can still swoop in at any moment and snatch you in one breathless second. Sometimes you may even find yourself drawn to those songs that you had listened to, that are so intertwined with the grief that just hearing the first few notes causes that chill of pain to tingle across your scalp. I think that must be necessary somehow, to purposely open it up and let it bleed a little. That way, when pain materializes at your elbow, you can clench your jaw and blink quickly and say to yourself, “Later. This will hurt later.”
“Shine” & “When the Body Speaks”—Depeche Mode
“The Valley Song”—Jars of Clay (play it last)
June 2, 2015
I have escaped the perplexing labyrinth of a forest for a brief respite in the real forest. The fields and hillsides are so saturated with green that my desert eyes can scarcely take it in. They scan the display and try to fix it in my mind, to remember later. This is our homeland, but it could also look a bit like his. Wherever he is.
Tuesday we left the hayfields and woods to go to the coast. It’s not the sunbathing sort of beaches. I’m not sure what is even appealing about that when you could wander across wet, grey sand searching for pebbles (there are very few shells) and draw in the sound of the waves and look up across the misty, forested fingers of land beyond. Every time I go to a beach like that, I am on my quest for the perfect pebble. I know it’s out there somewhere. I’m not quite sure what it will look like. The shape and size must be just right to fit in the palm of my hand, smooth to the touch. The color must be something nice too, not flashy, easier to spot when wet by the sea, but still appealing after it has dried. I never should have left off looking for my pebble. Never, ever settle for less.
I’m sorry. I wish I had waited for you.
We’re going to try and find it Thursday. Somewhere there is supposed to be an obscure memorial with his name on it. I’m not sure what it could be. He didn’t die a hero’s death or anything, so what could it say? “In Memory of Idiots That Didn’t Have to Die”? I suppose it must be something rather more general than that. I’ve never even visited his grave. I was overseas when it happened. In some ways that was a relief because I could hurt in private and not have to see it on display in others. In other ways it was awful, because I didn’t belong anywhere. I didn’t qualify to be one of those grieving people over there and no one here cared. But I’m not the sort that has to stare down at someone’s artificial looking face to accept it. An email is believable enough.
When I got back to the states I never really wanted to visit his grave. What’s there isn’t the person, he’s in heaven. Some people think they can look down on us from heaven. I’m not sure how. Heaven is supposed to be wonderful beyond description. How could they be so filled with joy and peace if they had to look down on us, stumbling around in confusion and pain in a world full of the ruthless consequences of sin and stupid decisions?
To anybody reading this, there is one stupid decision I can tell you not to make. I don’t care if it’s uncomfortable or restricts you from throwing the perfect cast. Don’t be a complete idiot. Always wear a life jacket. Even if you can’t be bothered it matters terribly to someone else.
June 4, 2015
We found it today. It was so obscure that they were going to drive right past it, but I spotted it off to the side. When I walked to it, I scanned it quickly and turned away. His name was so small and blurred that I didn’t even notice it there amongst seventeen other names. They found it. I took pictures, some for me and some for people who can’t bear to go there. It just says, “In Memory of Those Lost at Sea.”
Then suddenly, standing there, fiddling with my camera and trying to find the right composition that would include the marker and the pretend boat next to it, I feel angry. I don’t think I felt angry before. If I did, I don’t remember. Thirteen years is a long time. And not. I’m angry at them.
How could you just leave him there on the deck and waste time fishing the other body out?
How could you just leave him there, cold and wet and alone?
He was still breathing when you went to pull the other body out. That man was already dead. Ours could still be alive today.
How could you?
The Coast Guard office is right there, a tiny white building that needs a new paint job. I could walk just a few yards and open the door and tell them that. I doubt the same men even work there now. It occurs to me to wonder what it is like for them. Do they ever wake up in the pale hours of the morning, haunted by that choice? They have to make decisions like this every day, and live with the memory of them, while everyone else has to live with the consequences. I know they know that. It can’t be easy.
So I stumble away to the edge of the water. There’s absolutely nothing romantic about that spot. Just broken chunks of asphalt sliding down to meet the lapping water. I sit there anyway, looking out at the graceless view. Nothing appealing about it. There is a wood chip mill just to the right of me, so there is the constant grind of trucks and beeping of backing up bulldozers. The air is filled with this wretched, sweet, rotten smell. I’ve never understood why paper mills smell so horribly. Paper is such a bland, inoffensive thing and trees and freshly cut wood smell lovely, but paper mills…You couldn’t pay me enough to live in a paper mill town. I can’t see how those people don’t all starve to death, nauseated by the constant smell of that in their nostrils.
The wind is unrelenting, battering and cold and the water that laps quietly in that bay is red and sludgy. As I said, completely devoid of grace and beauty. But I sit there, and let it open up a bit again, and let the tears and sniffing out for a little while, I’m not sure how long. Gradually I stop, and stop asking—begging—God.
God please, if he’s out there somewhere, let him find me somehow.
I can’t bear this anymore. I need him every day.
Somehow…let it be possible, even though I didn’t wait. Why didn’t I wait?
I know the answer, but it’s illogical and wouldn’t make sense to anyone else. I know it’s because somehow this other death killed the hope of him. The signal out there was lost somehow. I tried to dial in the radio but there was just static. Still…
Why didn’t I wait?? Why didn’t I wait just in case? How could I have been so incredibly stupid and let myself be drawn in, relentlessly, until I gave up and settled for less. A less that dissolved into worse than nothing only a few months later.
How could I have left him out there?
I slowly turn off these taps. This can hurt again. Later.
I watch three cormorants slip under the water and bob back up again. They seem to be together, a little dark trio. Then I look up to the hillside above. So very green.
I’m finally ready to stumble back up through the rubble to the car where I hope I can just sit and not have to say anything. After a few minutes I will be able to tune back into the debate about which town to go to next and where to have lunch. I will be able to pull back into being just a basic person, on an ordinary day. We decide that we are going to leave the coast behind, but there is much more beauty to seep into my soul. So green. My brain can’t say that enough. A few more days to pretend I’m back home again and back in time and…I’m not going to finish that thought. I think you can figure it out.
I was recently told that my latest writing doesn’t have that glimmer of hope that the first pieces had. Sorry. I’m not going to lie to you with some Pollyanna drivel. I don’t think that would be particularly helpful to you if you are in this same place. I can’t pretend that I can see it yet. I know it’s out there, I wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t. God can see it and someday we will see it too. I’m not sure on which side of heaven that will be, but it will be someday.
*Note: Visiting ‘home’ was so powerful that I realized I couldn’t go back to that blighted, rainless pit nor the life I had there. I am home now, for good, under the green trees and (mostly) overcast drizzling skies. Ahhh… There is no comparison. Dorothy was right. I see the hope now. Life is not a whirling kaleidoscope of joy, but the air is clearer. There is a new future.