I laid motionless, staring at the flowers on my nightstand. They were bought to welcome me home after months in the hell of helping my mother die. What flowers do you get for that at Trader Joe’s?
I am not a particularly fussy person, but I insist on a comfortable place to sleep. Mattress pad, quality sheets, multiple pillows, plush comforter. I want to be surrounded by soft warmth at the end of a day in which I have been around all the hard and pointy things.
So my bed held the body which had lost weight it shouldn’t have in the months prior (as it turns out, a diet of cortisol, coffee, and Oreos does not sustain). I’d lost hair, too, as if strands of it realized she wouldn’t run her hand through them again and decided it would be better not to stick around in the time after. My chest hurt, my head ached, random muscles seemed sore. My body was not a safe place for me, but my bed was.
The hard and pointy things were inside now. She was gone. The impossible had happened and that flung everything into question.
So I stared at flowers or Netflix or the faces of my children who came to show me their drawings and ask if I was sad. “Yes, baby, Mommy’s sad. It’s okay to be sad.” And my daughter kissed me and told me she wished I still had my Mommy and the pointy, achey thing swelled like it might never go away.
I ventured out of bed plenty, but it remained my anchor. I could be a person during most of the day: have conversations and feed my kids, vacuum and write things on the calendar, smile and laugh and encourage, even.
But when the waves came I ran.
I curled up in the cushions and let them absorb the sharp edges. I cried into pillows and gripped whatever I could find as the pain of her absence made so much seem less tangible.
It was there in my soft, warm bed that I did the hard, cold work of rebuilding. Sometimes I thought I might die of it, but I didn’t. Maybe it was the comforter.
Putting the world back together was a less active endeavor than I would have thought. I remembered my childhood, our relationship, and the things that just happened. I tried to order them like I alphabetize the books by category, then name, then stand back to see if I like how it looks. Horrible images came to mind – some imaginary, the worst from memory – and I slipped them on the back of the shelf behind the covers I liked better.
But mostly it was what was already there. I have said before and I’ll keep saying that I’ve hit a bottom. When I spiraled down a tunnel of certainty that everything I’d grown up believing was merely a story (as if there is such a thing as mere story) and that everything is meaningless, I didn’t fall forever. I smacked into ground, foundation.
Maybe something could happen to crack through that, too. But as easy as it was for me to plummet, so it was to rise. Love pulled me, I didn’t really have a say. I wish I had some better words, but I don’t get a say in that either.
Sorrow has a job to do. Don’t let anyone tell you different. She is like Miss Poppins. She comes in for as long or short as she is needed to name the problem. Misery has an agenda. She won’t leave until you put your things away. Resist at your own peril. I always got the impression Mary Poppins would KO one of those Banks kids if they outright defied her.
Sorrow comes. To all of us. Nobody gets through life without a terrible break up or dreams deferred or the death of a loved one. We are a long-suffering species, but real suffering might be when we refuse to let sorrow do its work in us.
I met someone in grief counseling whose loss had happened 20 years before. It had been too much to feel then so she turned to alcohol and when she decided to get sober she knew right away what was coming. Her acute pain was just as fresh as mine, but with the compound interest of two decades also lost. That is suffering.
Sorrow on the other hand comes with a gift in her giant carpet bag. My bed – and my incredible husband, my children, my amazing friends – provided the safety I needed to feel through the aching and get to the joy. Not all at once, not constant, but deeper and more abiding than before.
I laid on my cozy bed and stared at flowers I only got because the best person I knew died. And with the aching I felt thankful. For her life, for mine, for the people in it who bring flowers, for color, for scent, for the ways beauty intrudes upon morosity.
Sorrow teaches you how to fly a kite.