I went missing – from this blog and more. I haven’t shown up here to write and I faded from friends and activities. But I want to come back. I am figuring out how. I wonder how I will do?
Grief brought me to this blog. I was never more present with myself then when I was living and breathing my daily grief. Poems and words and inspiration poured out of me. I felt revealed and I embraced it. In the absence of my late husband I felt I had to be large and fill the space with his spirit and mine. I was here.
Falling in love again was like swinging from a rope off a cliff into unknown water below. It was terrifying and exhilarating. I didn’t know how to talk about it. I didn’t want to share it. I was afraid that if I looked away it would disappear. I was afraid it wasn’t true. I went underground and hid.
I started to lose parts of myself. I needed to unravel my life and put it back together in a way that worked with a new person. It was unsettling to create a new normal. It was like taking a lego structure apart and building something new with the pieces. Trial and error. Does this go here? But you can really build something beautiful when you don’t follow the directions.
While discovering and remembering and building and dismantling – something else went missing and I went with it. I lost a tooth. Here’s the short version – tooth pain, cracked tooth, root canal, extraction, muscle and nerve pain since then. For almost a year I have had constant pain in my face. I have help now, I have seen specialists and things are getting better but I had 10 months of no break. No break. Constant pain in my face, jaw, and teeth.
I didn’t want it to win. I was determined that I wasn’t going to let pain rule my life (I wanted to enjoy happiness again!) and I did everything I normally did (except chew). Oh, yeah, and feel good about myself. Turns out humans aren’t wired to be in constant pain. We feel pain, we lie down, pain goes away, we feel better. Not with chronic pain. We do everything we can think of, we keep track of symptoms, go over and over in our minds what helps, we anticipate the pain, try to avoid the pain, etc. etc. When it doesn’t work we end up feeling helpless and then useless. I was blowing in the wind.
I learned recently about the Brady Executive Monkey Studies from the 50’s. The monkeys received shocks. Some had a lever to pull to delay the shock and some didn’t. The executive monkeys, the ones with the levers, died from the stress. I was told this story at the pain clinic where I am getting help for my face. This was their way of telling me that all the things I was trying to do to manage the pain, all the things that weren’t working, were my levers. Everything I tried to do on my own failed and I felt like a failure. I felt I couldn’t do anything right.
Sometimes I run my tongue over the place where the missing tooth should be and feel that shock of what happened here? It kind of mirrors how I feel about my life sometimes.
The treatment for my face pain has revolved around mindfulness and meditation. Turns out being really present with your pain, being really observant of your feelings, physical and emotional, can help. Do I wish there was a magic pill? Oh yes! But there isn’t. This is just one more thing to live through, we all have them, and by understanding that the only control I have is over my interpretation of the pain, I can stop pulling the lever like the executive monkeys. Easier said than done, but I am trying.
And it comes down to acceptance. I need to accept what hurts and what feels good. In the middle of all of that is me. What I value, what I have to offer. The pain of watching someone die and the ache of grief sharpened my senses. I was acutely aware of everything I felt and I wrapped myself up in that. I needed that so I could remember. I needed that so I could be his widow. I needed that so I could feel alive.
Physical pain makes me want to run. I want to pull every lever and peel away from my own skin. I want the pain done. When is this O.V.E.R? I doesn’t work that way. I can’t wish it away or escape. It is here.
I wrote this on one of my worst days last winter. I hope I don’t regret sharing it.
I am not
I am not your widow, not your wife.
I am not a writer, not a poet. I am not responsible, for everything, everyone. I am not tired and tied. I am not the one snapping keys on my way to the car, heels going click click. I am not coffee balanced between my knees on my way to a job I am not.
I am f**! you under my breath. And you too. And in the woods wearing my pajamas with snow shoes on wondering if I can just keep walking. I am hungry and maybe never happy, not really. I am an aching tooth and an empty bottle of motrin.
I am not these meetings, these conversations about all the things I am not. I am not in this grocery store and certainly not making this meal again. I am not at this table or in this bed.
I am driving too fast, I am running through the orchard willing sheer speed to get me somewhere. I am will I ever be happy, don’t forget what I have done, and by the way, what’s the point.
I am not your widow, not your wife. I am somewhere in between where I am not. Not here.
Yeah, I wasn’t doing so well then. And so how do I come back to myself? How do I feel like Caroline again? What did I learn through grief that I can use to help me now? Can I sharpen my senses so that I can feel not only the pain but all that is well with my body and all that doesn’t hurt? Can I feel the grief but also the beautiful love that rests here beside me as I write? Yes.
I have started with this simple step – I take a deep breath and hover in that moment, that precious moment, when my body switches from the in breath to the out breath and I know it will do it again, and again, without my control. The sweet spot.
If you are struggling with grief or pain of any kind – what helps you? Thank you for reading.