Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Five years since our marriage, two years since his diagnosis, and Clark's first day of school

This Labor Day weekend marked what would have been our fifth wedding anniversary. There was some heartache, especially seeing so many other two-parent families out doing things together. Clark and I had a good weekend - a trip to the zoo on Saturday, a picnic on the Presidio on Sunday, Golden Gate Park and the Cal Academy science museum on Monday. We had gorgeous weather and lots of good time with our neighbors, but still there was that sense of loss for what life would have been like if Scott were here. This is a dangerous game to play, because the hypothetical life I imagine is always an idealized version, leaving real life - even so lovely a weekend as this one - pale by comparison. So I am mindful of the beauty of this life, and within that, I miss him. I miss his joy, his ability to see the big picture, his way with Clark.

I had two very cool conversations with Clark about Scott last week. On Wednesday morning, Clark and I were cuddling on the couch, right after he woke up, and he asked me where his dad was. We talked about it for a little while, my vague answers not satisfying his questions. Eventually, I said, "Clark, is there anything you want to tell your dad?"
"Yes." said Clark. "His head."
"His head? What about his head?"
"Inside his head."
I realized that Scott had his surgery on that day exactly two years ago, performed by a neurosurgeon and a head-and-neck surgeon, to remove the tumor. I don't remember talking to Clark about his dad's surgery at all - it certainly hasn't been part of our narrative over the past year. The following day, Thursday, as we were going to sleep, Clark started talking about a booger in his nose (like three-year-olds do), and then started talking about how the booger came from "something that died... deep inside my nose." It really felt like a reference to Scott's sinonasal tumor, even though - to my memory - we only ever discussed Scott's cancer in very general terms ("a very bad disease that made his body stop working").  I truly believe that Clark and Scott have a connection. I don't expect Clark to remember much, if anything, about his dad, because he was so young when he died. There are stories and photos to help fill in the gap, but maybe this connection will endure. If nothing else, I'm really glad that I'll be able to tell Clark that he had this link to his dad.





I made it through my surgery rotation. It wasn't as tough as I feared, but I'm glad to be on the other side. I was getting pretty run down toward the end, for a variety of reasons: 12-hour days working in a field I'm not interested in, less-than-perfect team dynamics, two headcolds, not a lot of time with Clark, not a lot of time to exercise, not a lot of time for quiet introverted recharging time. No time to write a blog post, and even if I had found time, I'm not sure I would have known what to write - these posts are usually the result of a few days' or a week's worth of introspection and incubation, until eventually things percolate to the surface and I find time to articulate them. I felt like I didn't have time (or energy) to pay attention to what I was incubating. I was definitely experiencing sadness about Scott - some of it triggered by things in the hospital, some triggered by pretty random events - but somehow it felt like the byproduct of stressors than like "real" authentic grief. But I made it through the rotation and have learned some things about surgery and teams and myself. A huge thank-you to to my classmates, who were always ready to listen and hug, and a huge thank-you to my parents and parents-in-law, my sister Margaret and my Wellesley sister Kate for taking such good care of Clark and I over the course of the eight weeks. I wouldn't be able to do this if it weren't for such a profoundly supportive village.

Now I am one week into my psychiatry rotation and am thoroughly enjoying the change from surgery, as well as the service itself. Today is Clark's first day at his new preschool, which he and I have been anticipating for weeks. One of his teachers called today just to let me know he was having a good first day - I wasn't worried, but I was glad for the reassurance.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Launching into third year

I just reread my last post (from three weeks ago, when we were coming home from Maine), and it feels like a lot has happened since then. The first week back after vacation was Intersession, the first time I'd seen all of my classmates together since April. It was emotionally chaotic for me - a lot of joy in seeing my friends again, but also a lot of grief erupting from seemingly random triggers. Our class schedule was mellow, which was good because I was emotionally pretty taxed.

Then my mom arrived and my surgery rotation started. Going into the rotation, I had a lot of fear of the unknown - you hear horror stories. But now that I'm two weeks in, I'm feeling much better. The people there are genuinely interested in helping us learn (doctors, patients, nurses, administrators), and their expectations are manageable. I fainted my first morning in the operating room and got wheeled off to the recovery room before the patient I was supposed to be helping. (I've been conscientious about hydrating since then. The hours are tough: 12+ hour days every day this week.) I really miss having breakfast with Clark - I have to leave before he wakes up - but most nights I get to have dinner with him, and then he and I go to bed at the same time: no later than 9pm. I find myself thinking about Scott often (and about his hospitalizations in particular), but there hasn't been a lot of sadness.

My mom took excellent care of Clark and I, and yesterday she flew back to Minnesota with him. He'll be there for two weeks having all kinds of adventures. (Apparently he's commented numerous times on how blue the sky is; it's been really foggy here lately.) I was sad to see him go, but I've had a pretty excellent weekend. On Saturday I meditated for the first time in weeks, played pick-up Ultimate for the first time in years, visited a friend, read a novel. Today I stayed at home all day and studied, did yoga, watched soccer, took a short hike through the woods by my apartment. I should have studied more, but it was pretty amazing to wake up and realize I could do whatever I wanted.

The last piece of news is that I passed my Step 1 Boards! My score is not competitive, but I am hugely relieved to have made the cut-off. I feel like I can finally really commit to all the plans I made the year ahead... although I still include the "God willing" addendum.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Presence & Absence

I was thinking about presence and absence a lot last week and have been composing this post in my head in fits and starts. I was hoping to tie things together, but I think it's just going to have to be an "odds and ends" kind of post.


Scott's memorial service was a week ago Saturday, and it went beautifully. Scott was remembered in many ways by many people. I spent the day surrounded by our community, sharing hugs, catching up. I was reminded, again, of the power of physical presence, the importance of simply showing up. It was beautiful to have so many people together in time and space, our energy focused. (I know that many people wanted to be there and couldn't, and that many were carrying Scott in their hearts that day; in writing this, I certainly don't mean to draw a contrast between who came and who didn't, and I certainly do appreciate the love sent from afar.) Thinking later about Scott's absence in the midst of this party thrown especially for him, I was struck that any one of the people who came might not have been there, for any number of reasons, including illness and death. It made me stop and acknowledge - honor - their presences. I kept having this this urge to to always be conscious of the presences of others, but that state of mind is really hard to maintain. It's easy to get swept back into the rigors and rituals of everyday life, egocentric living.


I spent Saturday evening with the Amherst/Delafield crew. It was wonderful to see all of them, to have that community together in body and in spirit... except that one body was missing. We had a big group hug as I was leaving, and I wanted so badly for Scott to be there. Peter suggested that he was right there in the middle of our circle, dancing. His absence felt almost tangible enough to be called a presence, the way our memories of him filled the space we encircled. Still.


On Sunday we drove to Ogunquit, Maine, where Scott's Grandma June has a house. I've been joining the McNivens there for maybe eight years now, but this was my first time without Scott. The first day was hard. I woke up at 4:30 and couldn't get back to sleep, so I took a sunrise walk on the beach. It opened up space to grieve. I do my best crying alone, and the beach is virtually deserted at 5am.



A strong Minnesota contingent - my parents and sister, five aunts and uncles, and five cousins - came to the memorial, and most of them came up to Grandma June's house in Ogunquit, Maine afterwards. I was grateful for their presence. It meant a lot that they made the trip out (again, the power of simply showing up), and it was really great to get to introduce them to Ogunquit: the beach, the tides, the seafood, the porch. Besides that, it was wonderful to just be on vacation with them and to have so much relaxed time, rather than quick catch-ups over Christmas dinner. I'll remember this vacation with them fondly.


Previous years, I've been able to relax pretty instantly upon arrival in Ogunquit, but this year it took me a while. My brain was buzzing with post-exam stress (I'm not confident that I passed Step 1), post-memorial exhaustion, a good dose of anxiety about my upcoming surgery rotation and about third year in general. Walks and talks with family and friends helped. Yoga helped. Naming it helped. Playing with Clark at the beach helped.




Clark and I are flying home to San Francisco as I write. I feel like I've been gone much longer than a week. A few more days in Maine would have been nice, but it will be good to get home and regroup, to get ready to launch into third year, to see my classmates again. I'll try to hold on to some of the slowness for a little while longer.



Saturday, June 07, 2014

Pancakes

Today marks six months since Scott died, but it feels like it's been much, much longer. Clark and I are having pancakes this morning, in memory of the many lazy mornings making and eating pancakes at Delafield - sometimes with dozens of friends, sometimes just Scott and I and an hours-long game of Scrabble.

I was studying in the library yesterday when I realized that it's been almost exactly a year since we learned that the cancer had spread to his lungs. That day feels more immediate somehow than the day he died. I remember receiving the news from his oncologist, the word "incurable." We went out for coffee - it was bitter - and for a walk through Golden Gate Park. Certain parts of our route that day still echo for me with a memory of the weight in my limbs, the feeling that the ground had dropped out from under us.

Yesterday as I was leaving the library for lunch, I saw someone who looked just like Scott, sitting where Scott would always meet me for lunch dates. I had to look again, to convince myself it wasn't really him. It was crushing, enough to make me stop studying for the day and find a friend to help shoulder the burden. I got to talk and cry, and I got exercise and sunshine and a change of scenery, a sense of being brought back to the present. Good medicine.

Scott's spirit is strong here this morning. Truly his father's son, Clark asked for rooster sauce on his pancakes.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

On Eating Elephants

I had an anxiety dream the other night. Unpleasant while I was in it, but I had to laugh when I woke up for the complete lack of subtlety. I dreamt that I was at Scott's upcoming memorial service, reading my reflection. Except I couldn't read it because the font was tiny and the text was full of utterly unpronouceable drug names.

I feel like I'm trying to eat two elephants these days. Elephant #1 is studying for my upcoming Boards exam. There is so much to commit to memory. Pharmacology, biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, pathology. Everything we covered in the first two years of med school, all fair game over the course of a seven-hour 322-question multiple choice exam. It's a beast, and it's happening exactly two weeks from today. I'm fairly confident I'll pass, but it would be nice to get a high score, as this is an important number for residency applications. I wish I had an extra month to study but I'm looking forward it being over and done with. I'm trying to remind myself that I will do exactly as well as I need to do for whatever needs to happen next.


The second elephant I'm working on is, of course, grief. I've been sad since coming back to San Francisco, missing Scott more regularly. I was making coffee for myself on Sunday morning and suddenly remembered how, for years, I would make coffee for him and me every morning. I'd froth milk in our "Mom" and "Dad" mugs, divide coffee between them, and wait to take my first sip until we'd toasted each other, "To you." I stopped making coffee for Scott a while ago - he stopped waking up early with Clark and me because he needed more sleep, and even once he was awake the bitter flavors were often too much for his chemo-ravaged taste buds. I've been making coffee for myself for a long time. But that ritual suddenly felt like an acute absence. We did it at Delafield, in Davis, here. And somehow the thought that I won't get to make coffee for him again is giving me a lump in my throat right now. Our mugs are still hanging in the kitchen, within easy reach.


This elephant, unlike the Boards, has no clear endpoint. To be honest, I'm a little annoyed to have to be digesting this chunk just now. Can't I just focus on one elephant for a while? But having it so prominently in my life provides balance, perspective. It's good to remember that there is so much more than a Boards score, now and always. And anyways, pretty soon after Boards I'll launch into surgery, which will be a whole other animal. I think I'm set up to have a life full of elephants for the time being.

Scott's East Coast memorial service is in two weeks and two days. It will be good to see people there, to connect.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A confession of willful ignorance

I came across this article, "The Day I Started Lying to Ruth," written by an oncologist about his wife death from cancer. Many parts of it resonated - the idea of unfulfilled aspirations and promises, explicit and implicit; the medical decisions that never felt like true choices, because of course he was going to try everything possible, what else was there?; and the strange loneliness now of having "plenty of people to do things with, but nobody to do nothing with."

But the article also made me grateful for my relative medical ignorance throughout the majority of Scott's illness. Unlike the author, I didn't know what the end would look like, or even basic facts about his cancer type. That first month after Scott was diagnosed, I looked up one paper on neuroendocrine carcinoma, and the survival statistics were terrifying. I consoled myself that the paper was old (outdated, I decided), and didn't read anything further. I think Scott was surprised, maybe a little hurt, that I didn't take more interest in the medical details of his cancer. For me, it wasn't a completely conscious decision to avoid learning about it, but I was aware of a gaping hole in my knowledge and did not take steps to fill it. It was easier to just think, "Scott's cancer is really rare. There's not enough research to be able to draw any conclusions." Ignorance wasn't exactly bliss, but it was at least protective.

By the time we covered cancer in school, Scott was very weak. Learning the details of neuroendocrine carcinoma hit painfully close to home, but I didn't need protection from the information any more. I already understood that he wasn't going to be among the very small minority who surived five years.

Scott was diagnosed two weeks before I started med school, and he died during our cancer unit; my medical education (and practice) will always be inseparable from his experience as a patient. There are times when I see him very clearly in patients. I've been thinking a lot lately about whether and how I'll hold on to that compassion when I move into third year (and beyond) and start seeing a lot of patients and being a lot busier. I know that Scott will always be part of me, and that the things I've learned over the past 18 months will never be unlearned, but I wonder how accessible it will be. I worry about those lessons not being so close to the surface, about lapses in memory, about other things coming along and tamping down, crowding out what's inside right now.

And then I remind myself not to worry, because I'm thinking about him now. And the future has't arrived yet, only the present. A grey fox just jumped the fence into my parents' backyard and rooted around the grass below the birdfeeders. And a red, red cardinal was out there earlier, singing. The trees are just starting to bud. There's still ice on the lake, but it comes and goes depending on the wind. The full moon the past few nights has been casting bright rays through my bedroom window. I'm glad to be where I am. There's still grief in looking back and in thinking about unfullfilled aspirations and promises. But I will not lose what is in the past. I will not lose Scott and the life I had with him. As for what might have been, a friend suggested this: "Pray that the dream comes back to you another way."

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Happy birthday Scott

Clark's birthday was bittersweet, and the feeling continued throughout the next week - Scott's birthday was the following Tuesday, April 22nd. That day was a busy day at school, and although Scott was on my mind throughout the day, I didn't have much of a chance to really absorb it until I got home at four o'clock. I decided to watch the DVD that Scott recorded last summer. It was my first time watching it, and it was wonderful and painful all at once. I heard his voice again - the voice I fell in love with. Scott was so sad to have to say goodbye, and his absence felt more acute than ever. But parts of it were comforting - he was doing his best to take care of us, to comfort us even after he left. He truly believed that even after his death, he would still be loving us, present tense loving us. I absolutely believe that as well.

Clark and I are at my parents' house in Duluth this month, so they can take care of us while I study for the boards. My mind is very firmly in the books these days. It feels good to be able to focus on studying, but I'm trying to make space for my emotional life (for lack of a better word) as well - still using my mindfulness bell app and trying to make time for meditation.

"With life as short as a half-taken breath, don't plant anything but love." - Rumi

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Happy birthday Clark

Clark turned three today. I wish Scott were here to celebrate with us. I miss him.

Scott was a wonderful dad, and he and Clark brought each other enormous joy. Scott always had this over-the-top enthusiasm for fathering, an abundance of confidence in Clark's abilities, eternal patience with him somehow without crossing the line into overindulgence.

He loved teaching Clark new things, loved watching him develop new skills. Last fall I pointed to a jet flying overhead and said pointed out the "smoke" to Clark. "No, contrail" Clark corrected me. Scott had taught him the word "contrail" at age two.

Here's the poem Scott read at Clark's welcoming ceremony: "My Son," by Barbara Shooltz Kendzierski
You did not come to me as the moon, reflective
of me, or to orbit my life but as a star, radiant
with light and warmth and path of your own.
I will try always to remember.
I want neither to hold you captive to my dreams
nor to pressure you to color between lines I have drawn.
I hope never to distort your questions
to fit my answers; but sometimes
I will forget.
May the limits I set serve you
like the scaffold serves the skyscraper in its ascent,
then falls away when the time comes to let go.
May my words teach you to listen
and my listening teach you to speak
so in quiet it is your own voice you find.
May I be a mirror so you see yourself clearly
as child of a loving God who delights in your being.
The scaffolding fell away too soon. The mirror is foggy.
I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing that Clark will never know the extent of his loss.

Here's the poem that I read at Clark's welcoming, by Rumi.
Look at Love...
how it tangles with the one fallen in love
look at spirit
how it fuses with earth giving it new life
why are you so busy
with this or that or good or bad
pay attention to how things blend
why talk about all
the known and the unknown
see how the unknown merges into the known
why think separately
of this life and the next
when one is born from the last

Saturday, April 05, 2014

I celebrated my birthday last month, which prompted me to reflect on the past year-plus. A year and a half ago, as we were just getting introduced to Scott's cancer, I remember someone commenting that one day we'd be able to look back on this "year from hell." At the time, the comment struck me as unfounded. Granted I didn't know what was coming, and I still had a lot of hope that Scott would survive. But even when I considered worst-case scenarios, it didn't seem possible that the entire year would be one from hell. Now, looking back, my 33rd year was by turns tragic and stressful and painful and mentally and emotionally exhausting. But it was not bad. In part, the hard times were balanced by profoundly good times. I am so thankful for our trip to Hawaii; it stands out in my memory as a haven from everything else that was going on. We were so taken by the place - the beaches, jungles, volcanoes, sunsets - that we were able to stay very much in the present moment, enjoying each others' company. And, of course, I am so thankful for the incredible love of our community. I've written about that often, and it cannot be underestimated.But the hard times were also intrinsically valuable.

I was talking to a neighbor a few weeks ago, one I hadn't seen in several months, so I had to tell her about Scott's passing. I hurriedly went on to tell her that we're doing okay, that I have wonderful on-the-ground support from my classmates and administrators, neighbors, friends, family, etc. etc.
"Yeah," she interrupted me, "But it sucks."
"Yeah," I said.

I don't mean to gloss over the hard parts. I'd absolutely revert back to Plan A if I could. But Plan B isn't bad. My 33rd year was by no means my worst year. It was my most important year.

Right now, things are going smoothly. I finally completed one of the classes that I took an incomplete in last year, and I'm almost done with the other one. In the next few months I'll study for and take the Step I Boards. The score plays a large role in making you a competitive residency applicant, so it's something that one can, theoretically, stress about. I'm sure I will, but I'm not yet. I'm enjoying the day-to-day. Today is Saturday, and we're off to the zoo shortly.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

a permanent wound in the soul

I was having a hard time figuring out what to write about this week. This space has been a good place to explore and articulate my grief, but I haven't really felt like I've been grieving lately. It made me stop and think about what grief and grieving really are. Am I grieving when I have a happy memory of Scott? When I relish a beautiful moment with Clark? When I'm engrossed in my studies? I came across this quotation in Healing After Loss (Hickman):
After the dead are buried, and the maimed have left the hospitals and started their new lives, after the physical pain of grief has become, with time, a permanent wound in the soul, a sorrow that will last as long as the body does, after the horrors become nightmares and sudden daylight memories, then comes the transcendent and common bond of human suffering, and with that comes forgiveness, and with forgiveness comes love.
     - Andre Dubus
At first the notion that grief is a "permanent wound in the soul" struck me as a terrible thing. But I'm beginning to understand how the state of being wounded can be a state of connection. It seems like before, my grief was only about missing Scott and all of the different ways he was in my life and in the world. But now the edges of my grief are blurred. It's also about happy memories, about savoring experiences that Scott isn't here for and that I might otherwise have passed over, about making my life meaningful through my work. And it's about more than just me - it's about being able to connect with other people through forgiveness and understanding and love. I'm coming to see my grief as something much, much bigger than sadness, and I'm learning to value what it adds to my life.

This is not to say that I feel dramatically enlightened by grief. Day-to-day, it mostly feels like a subtle infusion. There are still sad times (though they've been much softer lately) and there are good times (Clark and I had an awesome getaway last weekend) and there are neutral times and boring times and frustrating times. But I do tune in to that wound now and then, and it feels valuable to me.

There's been a lot of grief in the Ultimate community recently, following the death of three players from Carleton College who were on their way to a tournament in California. (Here's a Star Tribune article about it.) Tiina Booth, who was Scott's high school coach, wrote a beautiful piece about grief: What I Think I Know. I encourage you to read it. Another response to the tragedy, Why We Play the Game, resonates as well.

Thank you for reading.
With love,
Libby

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Our wild rumpus

Just a little heartache to get off my chest tonight. I had a fragment of a dream with Scott in it last night, a very bittersweet moment, and I think I've been missing him a little extra all day long as a result. This poem by E. E. Cummings ("i carry your heart with me") came to mind this afternoon and has been with me since.

Tonight I read Where the Wild Things Are to Clark.
Here's how it goes after the wild rumpus:
"Now stop!" Max said and sent the wild things off to bed
without their supper. And Max the king of all wild things was lonely
and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.

Then all around from far away across the world
he smelled good things to eat
so he gave up being king of where the wild things are.

But the wild things cried, "Oh please don't go -
we'll eat you up - we love you so!" And Max said, "No!"

The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth
and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws
but Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye

and sailed back over a year
and in and out of weeks
and through a day

and into the night of his very own room
where he found his supper waiting for him

and it was still hot.
At first I was struck by Max's loneliness, his wanting to be loved most of all, his being tired of having to be in charge.  I identified with the kid. Except I can't hop in a boat and sail away.

Now I think that Scott's the one who sailed away, back to his true home, to a place of love.

The rest of us can roar our terrible roars of grief. But we still have this wild rumpus to attend to for a little while longer.


i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                        i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ghosts

It was stormy here last night - lots of wind and rain. Around eight o'clock, Clark told me that he heard two ghosts talking. I believe him, even though I don't know exactly what ghosts mean to Clark. It's not the first time he's mentioned seeing or hearing ghosts. He said the ghosts were talking about trees and that they looked like owls. He's not frightened of them. He hasn't indicated that his dad is a ghost.

I'm not quite sure what to make of it. I believe that Clark does have a very real connection to the spiritual world (and I wouldn't be surprised if it's deeper/stronger than my connection). His descriptions of the ghosts, as well as their location, jibes with a handful of other experiences I've had over the past few months. But sitting here now, looking out into a very black night, the thought of seeing a ghost is a little scary. Maybe - hopefully - if I actually experienced it, it would be comforting.

I've been less sad lately, but a little more stressed about all of the studying I need to accomplish this spring. I wonder if the latter is overshadowing the former. I've been experiencing fewer grief "triggers" lately, and I haven't cried in days. I realized something about triggers the other day. They're not external events causing sadness; they're expressions of the sadness in me that's looking for a vessel. It feels obvious in retrospect, but I didn't get it before. Sometimes my sadness needs to come out at random time, so completely random things (studying coagulopathies, for instance) can feel like they trigger a wave of grief.

That's about all I've got for tonight. Here are two little feel-good things for my sign-off:
First, 10 Painfully Obvious Truths (this one has been making the rounds on Facebook)
Second, kintsukuroi. (Thanks Wendy!)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

OPQRST

One of the things we learn how to do in med school is to ask a lot of questions in order to characterize a patient's pain. Pain comes in a lot of flavors, and understanding one person's particular pain can go a long ways toward figuring out the root cause. When did it start? Is it a sharp stab or a dull ache? Constant or intermittent? What makes it better or worse? How bad is it on a scale from 0 to 10?

I was thinking today about how many of those characteristics can be applied to my grief, how mutable it is, and just how physically tangible it can feel sometimes. There were times when it was intense, overwhelmingly painful, and times when it was just a few stinging tears. The past few weeks I've felt a little emotionally raw, sensitive to small triggers. This week it's more of a heaviness, a constant dull presence. In terms of what makes it better or worse, I've become very aware that school stress (in particular, impending exams) make it worse, and finding someone who's able to listen makes it better.

I think the thing I'm missing this week is having someone to come home to at the end of the day to receive the little stuff. Someone to ask "How was your day?" and who will listen to me effuse or gripe or reflect or laugh about the small things that happened.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Finding stability in vulnerability

I'm feeling more stable these days. Solid somehow. Enjoying school, enjoying Clark, enjoying my community. Nearly every day, I have a few tears. I got rear-ended yesterday on our way to the beach. Clark and I are fine, and the other party is taking full responsibility. Overall a very benign stressor, but I was shaken, and by the time I got home I just wanted to curl up in someone's - Scott's - arms. Instead, I had a hungry, sandy toddler to take care of. I cried while feeding Clark dinner, and then I had a nice long talk with my sister instead, which helped a lot. I had a moment last Thursday in the cafeteria where I suddenly needed to cry, and one today at the Super Bowl party. I've become adept at grabbing a friend for a bear hug at those moments. I think about Scott and the particular thing about him or our relationship that I'm missing, and I feel very present in my sadness, in my body, in the hug.

Before he died, I only ever cried alone or with Scott, or very occasionally with my therapist. Crying in public makes me feel really vulnerable - but I think having these moments in public is partly why I feel a little more stable and solid these days. When I can be in the moment, in the emotion, I feel like I'm standing on bedrock. I'm not sure what changed, why it's easier to show my tears now. Partly, I think I've learned a lot about my sadness. I can trust myself to go into it and come out of it again. I wonder if it's partly that a lot of the fear about Scott's dying is gone.

I haven't been doing a good job of articulating this, but I've also been experiencing many moments of joy. There are many mornings when my heart swells just walking into the lecture hall - I'm so glad for the opportunity to take my place among my classmates. The other day I was walking outside when a gust of wind blew a flurry of tiny white petals into a small snowstorm. The sunlight was silver coming through the clouds, and everything zoomed out for a few moments, and the scene in front of me, this world, felt like a piece of something more expansive that I'd known before. Last week I had a dream about being at some sort of summer camp for world religions. But it wasn't a place to just learn about different religions; it was an opportunity interact with their Truths in an incredibly tangible way. I don't remember more than a few glimpses from the dream but it was so cool.


Thanks for reading. Writing here is therapeutic for me, a good way to explore some nooks and crannies of my daily experience. It's funny, 95 percent of the time I feel completely normal - just focusing on school, Clark, car repairs, whatever. I don't feel like I'm grieving much at all. But it's helpful to reflect on my grief (or at least the things I choose to throw into the box labeled grief), to synthesize it, find connections within it. Thanks for reflecting things back to me.