Saturday, June 26, 2010

Life By Design

I have been restless - caught in an ebb and flow of emotion that is never truly still. It feels as if I ride a rollercoaster of adjustment as the inner workings of this journey through grief twists and turns down new avenues. It is apparent to me now that much of my grief has been distracted by my schooling, that I have put it away in the name of achievement. I am not unhappy that I have done this, but these moments of 'in between' that I have until school starts again allows for some of the sadness and confusion to wander its way through the hallways and empty rooms of my mind. It is a mental vision I have, this wing of my life where Joseph resided, growing pale with dust and disuse, peppered with things that were him. I do not reach for him as I used to and the sense of yearning is fainter now than it had been. Instead I examine what I can take from this forward with me and even just contemplate the sadness of what I and all grieving parents carry. It has been three and a half years since we said goodbye and the old adage is true, that one comes to know who one's true friends are through times like these. My attention has been drawn to the fact that I am not the only one who has suffered a loss and I have been accused of attention seeking via Joseph's struggles and shortened life. These accusations wound me deeply, more deeply than the friendship lost through their having been said, though that too now I am grieving. Quietly, in my own head, I turn these potentials over and over in my hands, seeking to find if there is any truth to them. Certainly it is not the kind of person I would wish to be, nor would I wish to gain power, preference or favors based on the life my child lead and my role in it. I have believed with all my heart what I have shared on this blog has been in the name of putting words and face to the realities of what all of us have suffered in our grief. I have felt positive about the path my life has taken and how I have chosen to honor my son and, in truth, my own strength. It to me would be a sin against whatever power created me to have the ability within me to rise from this and assist others to do the same and not to use it. I do not want to believe that any of this is selfish, though I suppose truthfully all methods of achievement actually are inherently selfish somewhere within them. I don't think I search for accolades, but admit I have continued to enjoy the childlike thrill that comes with having them. My life has been a roller coaster of fate and fortune, from the seven years prior to Joseph's death that included my divorce from Stewart, my father's strange and unfortunate illness, his strange accidental death, Alexander's brain tumor and then Joseph's diagnosis, recovery, relapse and passage, peppered with job losses, the losses of grandparents, the heart issues that nearly stole my older brother - it has been a wild ride that got so intense as to induce nothing but numbness. Everything now feels like a wonder; every shred of happiness, every time something goes right sparkles with the magic of blessing and I am easily overwhelmed with incredulity and gratitude. I admit, it also brings with it an impatience toward the less spiritually mature, to those who would seek to draw the joys this life can provide away from those who dare to seek it, with those who would form opinions based on ignorance and bitterness. None of us has the right to be bitter. It may be understandable in many situations, yes. But it serves nobody and robs the world of goodness and light, particularly the light that is the individual who struggles in its grasp. That being said, I do not know how I have escaped it myself. Perhaps simply by allowing myself to hurt? Allowing the reality of my loss to hold me and allowing myself to hold it in turn, to feel it rather than turn to the dark, false comfort of cynisism. Sorrow truly lived is a catalyst that brings us forward, out of ourselves and provides an excellent foundation for change and for growth...and when truly blessed, for compassion and empathy. Sorrow avoided and resented festers within, a wound that has no exposure to light, to air, to healing. I do feel that the place where Joseph has been, the gashes torn by his suffering and twisted by his death, are healing. I absolutely know though they will yield the kind of healed injury that will always ache when the wind blows from certain directions and when seasons change in my life...and sometimes ache deeply. It affects everything I do and it has created the person I now am; perhaps even completed it. I am more content with the individual I have become now than I ever have been before. Assimilating that is actually difficult; one can grow addictively used to being unhappy. I do not always know what to do with it. And my impatience with the selfish and the inexperienced is perhaps inappropriate. Of course others who have not gone through a similar experience cannot relate or understand the brutality simple words can have. To expect otherwise would be foolish and to wish it otherwise on them would be cruel. But the reality of our journey, as individuals who grieve, is that we are fated to carry these wounds, and others will step on them, rub salt in them and deny them to the point that their own needs dictate. It too must be accepted somehow by we who carry it that our grief grows more private and tightly held with every passing year, more individual, more sacred and we must somehow find a way to protect ourselves emotionally from the wayward spouting off of those who simply have no idea. There is no way for outsiders to know - it does not pass us by. It is part of us, woven into our fabric and no insistence of "long enough" will change that, no accusation of selfishness will make it go away. It is not selfish to grieve for my child. It is not selfish to stand up for the rights of others who grieve for all the losses a major illness or other tragedy can bring, even if they did not yield to death in the end. Perhaps to the outside looking it, it does look self absorbed; after all, nobody can grieve for Joseph as I do. They can in their own way, but I cannot assimilate theirs any more than they can assimilate mine. It is individual to the relationship held. And my relationship with him was of the deepest, most bonded sort. I will not be ashamed of the depth of my sorrow nor the actions that sorrow has spurred in my life. If anything, I am proud and I am grateful. I will, however, be careful in the future to whom and when I reveal it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lost? Sort of?

I am in a period of intense adjustment now. School is out for the summer; I am so proud of how I did and cannot say enough how good nursing school has been for me. There has been a light of hope and purpose inside me since starting nursing school that I have never known, even long before Joseph's illness. There just is no substitute for the mental wellness that comes with working hard toward a goal and then beginning to see it come to fruition. I still have 18 months to go - three semesters than I am fairly certain will fly by. Time is moving fast now, a fact that always seems to hover on the fringes of my mind. I have so much I want to do in my life and so many things to accomplish, and the shortness of our lives never really had meaning for me until the last few years, when so many of my loved ones have gone on. It actually can cause me a great deal of anxiety when life requires me to pay attention to things that I have not deemed "Important" in the grand scheme of things. It doesn't help that I am three and a half months from turning 40, which is bothering me far more than it should. Talk about something that should not be important! Truthfully though, it is important more in the sense of time marching by than in any sense of being "not young" anymore.

Since school ended, I have been awarded an externship in the cardiac step down unit of a local hospital. I had my first day on Monday. The excitement and anxiety of this has been difficult to describe, and I am constantly in a state of mulling and thinking, perhaps brooding by some definitions. I miss school being in session, where I am completely saturated not only in the clinical and theory side of what I am doing, but by my fellow students, whom I honestly adore, and in the support of staff and textbooks and feedback. Entering this externship was the first step to flying without a net and I have been terrified.

The day I started was in and of itself exhausting, both physically and emotionally. I have never dealt with so much poop in all my life, nor gotten that closely involved in the care of people that needy. Sure, I have done clinicals, but I can say without a doubt that I did more in that 8 hour shift than I did the entire semester in clinicals....and subsequently, learned more, both about how the hospital works, what patients need and perhaps most importantly, about myself. I can safely say I never got that up close and personal with body fluids in clinicals, mostly by chance. I just never had a patient with some of these issues during that time. I have been terrified since contemplating nursing school (we are talking years here) of how I would react when confronted with the more unpleasant (read here: smelly) sides of nursing care. I have a very sensitive nose and a gag reflex that can at times be a bit unfortunate in its virulent timing. The last thing I would want to do is help some poor soul living the ultimate loss of dignity and start gagging over them. In any case, I am proud and somewhat incredulous to report that I actually did very well. My mind just seems to go to a different place when I am providing patient care. I don't process it on the same level as changing the diaper of a child who is not mine or something. I am cognizant of the chance for infection, not only for myself but for other patients on the ward. I am cognizant of the need to restore dignity to this individual as efficiently and matter-of-factly as possible. I actually didn't even notice the smell, which amazed me, as my olfactory senses are quite advanced. If I had a mutant superhero power, I would be called something like The Sniffer. But I did well on Monday and I am looking forward to going back again. I do my first 12 hour shift this coming Monday.

At the end of my shift that first day, I went to my car and collapsed into the front seat. My mind was working 100 miles an hour, processing things I saw and did, cataloguing those moments I wanted to remember, making note of others who did things differently than I, both those I would like to emulate and those I really really hope to never be like. I was so preoccupied, and started up my car with only the thought of wanting to get home, get something to eat (finally) and to tell Joe about my day. There was not a thought of Joseph in my head to be honest; I don't think about him every second anymore (though I definitely do every day), even within this journey that contains so much of him within me. But it appears Joseph was thinking of me, as this just feels like way too much coincidence to be chance. The car started, the radio came on, the announcer's voice went away and right in that moment the opening piano strains of Come Sail Away came on the radio. I dissolved into releasing, wracking sobs and just sat and listened to the song, and felt the courageous presence of my son all around me.

Those who have been reading me since Joseph was sick know how that song came to symbolize him and his journey to our family. It was amazing to hear it come on the radio - it seldom does.

And so I continue on this journey, rather moody and brooding of late. My whole life feels to be in upheaval. I am so used to being so good at what I do and this is a strange and new adventure, retreating back to a place where I need a great deal of instruction and patience from others as I learn. My old life is phasing out; my new life slowly phasing in. I am discontented with school being out and it makes me feel lost and lonely, perhaps even a bit directionless. I am turning 40, which makes me feel as if time is just rushing past, and I need to hurry hurry hurry to accomplish all the meaning I want my life to hold, to get to the good part where I am doing what represents who I am inside every day of my life, when I am doing what makes me to-my-soul happy. I feel like a wraith, haunting the home I live in, waiting for the wind to change back to academia. It is good I got the externship, as I think I would really be having a hard time if I didn't have at least something of that world to keep me busy and growing. So much of all of this brings Joseph into me more fully, has me facing the loss of him and yet continuation of him from new and different angles. Rather than trying to find places to "put him" and still function, I now feel I am more finding ways to hold and carry him.