Monday, December 19, 2011

Upon this Winter Night


This is the After. The breathless portion in which I try to assimilate where (who?) I am now. I wish I could say that it really didn't feel all that different despite all the build-up, but honestly it does. I spent my evening playing with Alex on the Wii, getting clobbered and slaughtered and laughing at my ineptitude. It really drives home to me how much it must mean to the boys when I spend time with them, because if they are looking for honest achievement in their games they are not going to get it from me. The entertainment I suspect comes in my comedic methods of technical failure.

I am sad tonight. I can't really describe it other than that, though I have typed and erased and typed and deleted several times now. I don't have anywhere to put it and I need to not just sit in it by myself. I listen to Christmas carols, think about my wedding two years ago tomorrow, think about being here on the other side of my greatest personal achievement to date and just feel all the overwhelming emotions of all these things - graduation. Marriage. Happiness. Goodness in life. Good things happening. Can so many bad things happen that one is uncomfortable being happy? I wonder sometimes. I feel like I need to go somewhere, to leave here and wander. To play in the snow. To walk on the beach. To sit in a forest at dusk and listen. To gaze at the mountain.To make love on the brink of dawn somewhere strange and foreign with Joe's strong arms as my security. I feel odd and weird in my own home. My lack of deadlines and direction is doing nothing for me right now. I am gaining weight at an alarming rate. I have dishes in the sink and laundry on the floor. I don't know how to just be in an ordinary middle class life anymore. I am too used to crisis and urgency or at least some modicum of stress. I am looking around for the next thing and there isn't anything. I am left wondering if subconsciously I am seeking to create it via messes and tight jeans.

Ah yes, I made it so far. So far, so far, so far from that place. And here I am, a mother's broken heart, living on and on, living with the guilt of having reached the quiet river that flows in the soul with gratitude for life and knowing I drink from it greedily, freely and often. I want to live. I want to live with gusto and passion. Missing Joseph is part of that passion. His loss has outlined the glossy blessing of so many aspects that weave through my world - my adoring husband and the depth and breadth of our soul's linkage, that foundation built upon the illness of children, on the survival of crises together. Joseph's handsome, healthy brothers who stumble forward with such courage, seeking to seize their little portion of the world. How they make me smile and ache inside with love for them. My relationship with my mother, my brothers, my nephews, my grandmother and cousins, aunts, uncles, friends. The lovely tree in my foyer and all the magical gifts that swim 'round. The spoiled little ball of undescript, personalitied fluff who prowls on the legs of a lion about our home and loves with a warmth and fervor that moves me to my core. I am surrounded with so much plenty. Joe replies matter-of-factly that I am ruled by different forces, that I am, in fact, The Princess of this little universe. I never wanted an ordinary life, yet somehow I never envisioned all my life has become, not even a hint of this brilliant light with shifting purple shadows. Can princesses be swept away by gratitude for their royalty? People comment on the joy, the radiance of my smile in the pictures they see from my wedding and graduation and all I can do is smile some more and acknowledge what it is they see. I am swept away with joy, yet solemn beneath the sorrow that brought me this deep appreciation. I am jealous of this joy. I know I will not bow gracefully the day even one more component of it is taken from me, and I fear this. I fear these days of fallow faltering are a foreshadowing of the person I shall be were ever my Joe or my children, my mother or my brothers to pass on. I can wish myself blue that I will go first, then succumb to intense guilt to bring that down upon the heads of the very people I just mentioned. And then I go 'round once more with the sense of being uncannily, paradoxically gifted, that I would not only be so loved but, more powerful perhaps, so aware that I am.

So I sit here and think of Joseph and struggle against the emotional draw that pulls me back in time. I struggle now to keep from having flashbacks to his illness and pull hard on my brain to bring forth the happy days - the smiles, the tenor of his voice, the silliness, his quiet inner grace. It can be a struggle. To feel the sorrow easily feels as if he is here with me - the curse of the bereaved parent. The sadness becomes the essence of both the child and the loss and both are easily accessed simply by pulling up memories of the panic and helplessness. A kind of posttraumatic stress from what my doctors have told me. How can I learn better to pull him near, dear and close through the joys of life instead of the loneliness and confused moments? I contemplate meditation, yoga, exercise, laughter and wonder where to find the courage, emotional strength, tenacity to indulge these things, to move past the veil of grief and guilt and go soul-exposed into a place of light. I feel afraid, both knowing I could if I truly try and that a large part of me is moving toward readiness for that. That I reach for it hungrily and drink of it greedily, this drunken joy when I look at my husband and lover, my man-children, my family and my friends. It doesn't take Joseph's place ... That is the amazing thing. It fills the cracks and spaces, protects what I think of as a light-filled space within me where his essence resides, creating brick and mortar out of fragility. A place I can feel the sadness but only reach out my hand to touch somewhere soft and nurturing. My fear comes from knowing one day all this shall go, bits or chunks at a time.

I never used to understand it when scriptures would reference God being a jealous God. I thought that was paradoxical and confusing...that if He were all powerful and omnipotent, what in the universe could he ever have to be jealous of? I think now of how I fear and hate and protect myself from anything that might separate me from this life I've been given. It is a kind of jealousy. Perhaps that is the kind of jealous that God is - feeling the ache from the things that take us away from him. I don't know. I feel foolish for this. I am ignorant and an ill qualified philospher. But I think and I wonder at times. I seek to understand, hopeful that in something intangible and spiritual I can find a way to hold on.

Two years ago on December 19th (it nears midnight and I am not sure if, by the time this posts, it will be tomorrow still or now today) Joe made me his wife. It was the most magical, joy-filled wedding I could have ever imagined, lit with twinkle lights and snowflakes, in my floaty white dress with the handsome object of my desire stating I am the object of his. He laughed so much that night, as did I and we have laughed so much since. He is the friend I have long needed, the impassioned lover my private thoughts fantasized about, the provider of security my weary soul could cling to, the safe harbor my battered ship was pulled into. In the years we have been together, I have known the kind of love women everywhere dream of, despair of ever finding and risk everything in hopes of obtaining. Lucky girl, that Sheri. He is going to be in Los Angeles over our anniversary and sadly I cannot give him so much as a kiss or a Hallmark card. But my mind is on that day, those promises, this life we have made together. As the vows he wrote me stated so sweetly - He shall be my rock. I shall be his light.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Promise Kept

When it became apparent there would be no recovery for our Joseph, that the wisest, most compassion course of action would be to turn off the machines that had sustained him for four weeks and let God reclaim his precious soul, we all had to grapple with exactly how to say goodbye. I found myself focused to an extreme on how much he had suffered and how many dreams and goals he had that would never come to fruition; how much he had been robbed of, how much the world had lost. In the last moments of my final, whispering farewells, I spoke to him softly in words of praise and reassurance; that he would not have to do this anymore. That he had finally, finally become the victor. That I would be there while he crossed over, that his his grandfather, great grandfather, Jesus himself would greet him. I told him that I would always, forever keep him in my heart. And in a last desperate attempt to find some sense of grounding and atonement for what we were about to do, I promised him the most extreme thing I could think of. I told him I would chase the dream I had that seemed far off and impossible for someone like me. I told him I would return to school and that I would become a nurse in the name of all the things that he wanted to do and could not, in the name of all we had experienced and learned together, and in the name of the intense, unending love I felt for him.

Today I passed my last class. I am now a graduate nurse and will be an RN once I pass the licensing exam. I did what I promised to my son in my last words to him, during his last time on this earth. It was as precious and important, as binding, painful and pure as a blood oath to me. And tonight, as I watch the Polar Express, which the two of us loved, which we attempted to watch one last time together but could not due to the extreme fatigue his illness caused him, as the music brings him back to me in wave upon wave of prayer, blessing and hope - I remember my words, my hopes, how extreme that promise seemed to me at the time that I made it....and realize I did it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My Miracle

I sit tonight and try to think about going to sleep, pondering. Tomorrow morning, at 8:30 AM, I will take my last final exam. Hard work over the last few years has paid off and I would have to make a 33% on the exam to flunk the course, an 83% to raise my grade to the next grade level. That leaves a vast area in between and a large, comfortable gap in which my grade, my GPA and my goals will not change.

How do I describe the roiling emotions through me tonight. I sip my little shot of Grand Marnier, listen to my heart and struggle to find the words. It was around this time of year, perhaps to the date (I am not letting myself get sucked into going to my old journal to find out for sure), in which Joseph went into respiratory failure and was moved to ICU, placed on a ventilator, where he spent the last four weeks of his life. This time of year is very bonded to Joseph and likely will be for the rest of my life. I cannot celebrate the season without remembering him, remembering our journey together. That I am going to graduate in the midst of it is fitting. It is, for me, the time of year for goodbyes.

Funny thing about goodbyes that I have come to realize. They are all about the love. If there were not the love, there would not be the hurt, the ache, the yearning, the sense of being torn. One is the flip side of the other. I say goodbye to people all the time, every single day and feel not one iota of mourning. Yet here I am, nearing the five year mark since sweet Joseph's death, and I still feel all those things. I still am finding ways to try to say goodbye. I am certain there are people out there who find my mourning tedious and my desire to speak his name uncomfortable. Undoubtedly they have their own hurts that they have felt stifled from feeling, or perhaps they just have not had to say this kind of a goodbye before. I do not know. I probably would have been one of the impatient ones at one time - in a different world. In a different life. I seem light years away now from who I used to be. I watch Sheri of yesteryear and feel a strange and painful forgiveness. I acted in so much ignorance so much of the time. I probably still do. That is the wonderful thing about ignorance. It is separated from stupidity by the one single truth - that if one knew better, one would DO better (thank you Maya Angelou). I know better now.

So here I am. At the end of my first major road since Joseph's death. Tomorrow I cross over that hillside. Walk off into that sunset. Take off one step at a time down a whole new road. I gasp inwardly at how much I have learned. I struggle beneath the pain of how I have changed in these five years. I marvel at the resiliency I have always had inside myself, but which has now been truly tested and of which I have no doubt. I am grateful - so grateful.

I have learned to pray again, at least if you can call it that. It is more an openness of spirit than actual prayer. A kind of spiritual sign language or telepathy perhaps. I trust God to know my heart. And I listen with it to hear His. I marvel at the clarity of it sometimes. So many doors have opened up to me. So many things have been smooth, easy sailing when it should have been choppy, have been plain and obvious when I expected the opaque and vague. I feel a little exposed as I come to the end of this particular stretch of road and meet up with the cornerstone, the new pathway opened before me and beckoning. I can't see far enough yet to know how much light there might or might not be up ahead, but I smell sweet air and feel God and Joseph in the breath of it, whispering. I open my mind and my heart to what the future may hold, to where I am supposed to go, tearful, grateful, mournful, secure, uncertain, supported, submissive. I can leave behind the barren, burned land of Joseph's illness and death. I have learned he is not there. He left there long ago with swiftness and grace, blessing and strength. I pray I leave there with similar attributes.

The link I posted is to a video of pianist Danny Wright playing his version of Canon in D with child pianist Emily Bear. Canon in D was once described to me as a musical illustration of the passage of life from birth to death. I love the music of Danny Wright. It has helped me to free up tears and give my mourning the physicality I struggle sometimes to find. I found this video of the two of them performing Danny Wright's version of this classic and was very moved. A child and a grown up, together weaving a lyrical vision.... My mind embraces it, hearing perhaps Joseph's life and my own, dancing together, the hands of both creating something hopeful, filled with depth, harmony, balance and beauty. I could not have ever found this pathway had Joseph not been part of my life. I suspect now that I am the child and he the mature, experienced spirit.