Beginning in The Dark


Hope begins in the dark,
 the stubborn hope that if you just show up 
and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. 
You wait and watch and work: you don't give up. 
- Anne Lamott

Today is not the worst of days, but it is not the best, either.

I used to take a lot of pictures. Of myself. Of my child. Of my love. I wanted records and verification and validation. I used to want all of that. For the past two and a half months though, I've not wanted any pictures at all.

I don't want to record this time. I don't want to remember yesterday or the day before or all the weeks before that.

I don't need verification or validation.

I go places and I put my phone down. No pictures. People pull out their own cameras. I duck. I dodge. No pictures, please. I want to disappear. At any given minute I will tell you that I wish I didn't exist. I'll tell you that, because it's true. 

I recognize these words. I am laying down the language of deep grief. I wish I didn't have the framework for this, but I do. I recognize these words and the story they are telling. And I want to fill the words in with a visual, so today, I took a picture.

These words are what grief sounds like, and this picture is what grief looks like.

Even with a half smile, this is how grief looks.

Even on a sunny day, this is the darkness where I must begin.

I see my doctor and he tells me I am too skinny. He reminds me that for me, this is a slippery slope. But I just cock my head and look at him. His expectations, I think, are way too high.

I still do not know how to stand, how to breathe, or how to go on. I'm angry at my lungs and heart - feeling as if they betray me every time they do their life giving dance. I don't know what to focus on. I don't know what to do. People tell me that I'm 'doing it already' and that makes me want to throw whatever I am holding and take a quick step back. Because this is not what I want to feel and this is not what I want to be doing.

The pain comes in waves, and I just let it be.

I'll pull my car over and lean my head on the steering wheel. I am surprised that if I cry hard enough, the interior of my car seems to have an echo. It returns all those cries back to me and leaves me feeling as if I can never really let them go.

In my kitchen I'll lean on the counter and try to steady myself when the sobs come pouring out. I wait for them to stop. The tears come so quickly, it's as if I don't know where they came from. But of course I do know where they're coming from, and that just makes me cry harder.

I cry myself to sleep. Every night. Every night. Every night. I heard once that a grieving woman not only cried herself to sleep, but she was often awakened by her own tears too.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I understand.

But I also remember a surfing lesson I took years ago. The instructor explained what to do about the waves when you're  trying to get past the break. Dive in, he said. When the wave comes - if it is too high to get over - then you must dive in. This is the only way to get through.

And I remember this lesson too - if that wave tumbles you and you lose contact with your board, you might become confused. The darkness of the ocean water above and below can snatch your orientation with a swiftness that leaves you floundering and afraid.

Follow the bubbles is what you're supposed to do. You will see bubbles that are heading for the surface, as bubbles of air will do. Follow them. Follow these tiny little things, propel yourself toward the tiniest of signs - and you will emerge from the darkness - once again in the light.

The darkness and the light. This is what grief looks like.

Today is not the worst of days, but it is not the best, either. 

There are new pains and frustrations and accusations that are swirling around. The specifics are things that have little to do with me - and everything to do with me at the very same time. Sometimes, human drama unfolds in this dichotomous way.

I duck and dodge, just like I have perfected doing when someone picks up a camera. This time though, I dodge the stories of what people are saying about me and what people insist they never said. The words that pull me in and push me out at the same time.

My allegiance is with the people I love. My allegiance is with the people who have told me while this drama unfolded that they cared about me and that - if there were sides to be taken - they would take mine. 

And yet, my allegiance is also to the person who is at the root of all my grief - the one who broke my heart when he died. And I know that were he still alive, he would tell me that no matter who said what - there should be no sides. He'd remind me that if I wanted to align myself with the people I love, I should strive to love bigger, I should strive to love selflessly. I should strive to love even those who seem incapable of loving me.

If he were still here, he would point out that every one of us is the same. The never saids, the did says, those making accusations and those offering exoneration. The profanity tossed around by some, the gentle sustentation provided by others. We are all the same.

There would be no sides to take. No matter how terribly I want to align myself with one or another, we are all the same. He'd tell me if it was too dark for me to see this, I'd have to look a little harder.

Because all of this is what grief looks like.

I am sthankful for the people who have told me that they are here for me, always, through every aspersion that has been cast my way. I want them to know that without them, I don't know how I could have lived through the guilt and grief that already clutched at my throat. I don't know how I could have lived without them, even before the aspersions were ever made. How do I make quilts of appreciation and hand them over so their souls can be warmed in the same way their support has warmed mine?

And then there is the other. 

She is trying to track down the root of her frustration. She is desperate to find out who said what. I don't know why. So she can yell at them or tell them that they are at fault for the ways her words hurt someone else? The way her words hurt me?

I want to tell her that I don't know exactly who said what, and that it really doesn't matter. The only thing we can be accountable for is our own words. The only thing we can track down is what we ourselves have said. The only thing we can change is where our words go now.

More than anything though - I want to say that I recognize her rage, though our reasons may not be the same. I want to tell her that I know what it feels like to balance self righteousness with fear and guilt and I know that it does not feel good. I want to tell her that laying this rage on top of an already broken heart can be life threatening. I want to tell her to be gentle with herself and others, to take deep breaths and forgive herself and forgive me and just forgive us all. 

I want to tell her that it is no good hoping that you yourself don't exist and it is no good hoping that other people don't exist either. I want to tell her the truth though, that if she sets aside her anger - there is going to be a lot more pain underneath. Because I know what it feels like to sob in the car. To sob in the kitchen. To cry yourself to sleep. I want to tell her, I know.

I want her to understand that it is the people who love me that have carried me through. I want her to know that she can be carried through, too. Because she is loved. She is loved by so many - I want her to know that. She is loved and people see her suffering just as they can see mine. She is cared about, just like me. I too can see her suffering and I wish her no ill will. I hear her anger at me. I hear her own words and the words of others and still, I wish her no ill will. I want her to know that the more she searches for someone to blame - the more she pushes everyone away. More than anything, I wish I knew how to make a quilt for her too. I wish I could take away the coldness of anger and accusations and blame, and warm her with the forgiving and care and love that she so deserves.

He, the one who is at the root of all our grief, would remind me that she and I are two sides of the same coin. If she could just look in the mirror and then turn to me, she'd be able to see that same thing that he would want us to see. Whether looking at herself or looking at me, we each show the world that this is what grief looks like.

They are so dark. The words that have been attributed to her. Hurtful words about me that left me in a darkness that was surreal.

And her words now, still angry, still floundering, a voice that is still suffering, I can feel the darkness. But I want her to know that at any given moment, I wish I could disappear. At any given moment, I am engulfed in that same darkness too.

This is what I would say.

I know what grief looks like. You and I both do. But we have to stop searching for who said what and what was said, and all the he saids and she saids. We have to stop searching for answers that just aren't there. We must begin somewhere. Please stop searching for who to be angry at and for new reasons to be angry at me. Because when it comes to all this grief, we are in the same place, you and I.

We are both beginning in the dark.