The Hardest Part
During my vacation I read C.S. Lewis' "A Grief Observed." It is a compilation of his thoughts and feelings on the loss of his beloved wife. He spoke about his wife's otherness. This is something I have mourned but have not been able to put into words until I read his writings. He talked about how when people die, we often say things like, "Isaac would have wanted..." However, after someone dies we don't really know what they would have wanted. We impose our memory upon them as though it is an accurate description of how they would be now. He wrote, "But won't the composition inevitably become more and more my own? The reality is no longer there to check me, to pull me up short, as the real H. so often did, so unexpectedly, by being so thoroughly herself and not me." This is a very painful part of my grief. I don't really know what Isaac would do or say. Of course, I know him well but if I could have predicted everything about him I wouldn't have loved him. He would have bored me. C.S. Lewis continued on this subject, "The most precious gift that marriage gave me was this constant impact of something very close and intimate yet all the time unmistakably other, resistant--in a word, real." This statement so perfectly describes the enthrallment of the marital relationship. And this is what I grieve most: the connection and the otherness.
This truth became more apparent to me as I visited my mother. I know my mother very well. When I went to visit her, she reminded me of many of her attributes. She is always so prepared and thorough. She is quick as a whip at anything she does. She notices something is dirty or broken and before you can turn around, she has taken care of it. I love that about my mom. It is an attribute that I've never seen in anyone else. I realized that I had forgotten these things about her to some degree because when she displayed them again, it made me smile as though I was seeing it for the first time. This experience makes me realize that I am forgetting things about Isaac because I don't have him here to show me who he is. And as we each grow and move forward in life, we allow other people to see us more and more. Each life experience reveals more about us. If I don't see Isaac grow and develop, then all I have is the memory of who he was at some point in his life. That feels so distant and makes me feel like stranger to the person who was my most intimate friend.
The other day I was showing some videos to Rosie and I played a video of Isaac. I don't know why but when I heard his voice, it was like a knife to my heart. This feeling shocked me because it's not like I don't have pictures of Isaac everywhere or talk about him often. Hearing his voice reminded me of the life and light his body housed. Words can't describe how I miss that. How do you describe the light of another person? And how is it just gone? Just vanished into thin air?
I keep thinking that Isaac's light is like a star. Just think that each person in your life is a star of light. Your spouse or partner's light is like that of the sun for you because of its proximity to you. So after the loss of a spouse, even though you are surrounded by the light of others, it's much darker. And it isn't that the dark is so bad, but I feel like I keep waiting for the sun to come up and it doesn't.
At times, I feel desperate for relief. People always say to me that there are probably good days and bad days. However, that is not how I experience grief. There are hard moments but I wouldn't say that anything lasts the whole day. Sometimes I feel ashamed of my need. I was single for a while before I married, but this loneliness feels so different. C.S. Lewis also talked about that when he stated that "Love is not the whole of a man's life. I was happy before I ever met H. I've plenty of what are called 'resources.'" Sometimes I tell myself these same things, but it feels so untrue now. Now that I have experienced what love is, it does seem to be the only truly meaningful thing in life. And although I do all the things that a grieving person can do to cope in a healthy way, I'm still left wanting.
C.S. Lewis wrote that grief feels like fear. I have never thought of it that way. Later he expounds on this and states that it feels like waiting. That is exactly how I feel. He wrote, "...waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling...Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness." I sometimes find myself on Facebook as though I'm hoping to find something there but I don't find anything. Although I would think that I would have less time being a single parent, my free time seems endless and unquenchable. I find myself staying up late as though I'm hoping that if I stay up something will happen. What am I waiting for? For Isaac to come back? For someone else to fill the vacuum his death created? For time to lessen the blow? Healing? Purpose? Death?
I think it feels so much like waiting because I am waiting. I'm waiting for relief. When the difficult moments hit, I feel so desperate for relief. Real, lasting relief. I know nothing can bring that as quickly as a crave it. This is suffering. And I know I have to be patient and allow myself to suffer. It isn't easy though. It makes sense how people run to drugs or sex or anything to distract them from the pain. It makes sense to me why some people don't ever want to date or remarry after losing a spouse. There is a strong urge to run away from the possibility of another heartbreak. And it's difficult to realize how dependent I am and how much I need someone. It feels embarrassing to realize that I would really love for someone or something to save me from the pain that I feel. That makes me feel weak and vulnerable. But as soon as I feel that way I realize how dumb that is. How could I feel any differently? How could I love Isaac and let him love me and expect that after his death I would feel content in my loneliness? There is so much loss, so much to miss.
Another difficult part about grief is that I feel like grief has changed my life. It's not a small shift. It feels like I have a new and different life. Isaac has only been gone about six months and it feels like it has been longer than that. I feel so detached from my life with him. It makes my life with him feel more like a dream whereas before it was simply life. It feels like it is all slipping away and there is nothing I can do about it. I just watch it fall out of my hands. And, it's scary that I can so easily lose so much. I have so little control. The people who I think of as mine are not mine. Everyone and everything is as temporary as God wills them to be. The only things that are truly constant in my life are God and me. All other things can change at any moment.
Maybe that is why God tells us to "Be still." What more can I do? But that's the thing, so many things seem to be still and frozen in a memory. My heart wants to keep moving and I don't know how to still it. How do you get used to not loving and not being loved in such an intimate way? How do you make peace with that?
After pondering some of these things I thought about how I act when my children suffer. Sometimes I fix the situation when I know that I am the only one that can make it better and I feel that it is in their best interest to fix the problem. Other times, I watch my children struggle, because I know that if they keep trying they will be able to fix the problem themselves. And when they solve the problem, they are so proud! There are times when I make them wait for help, because I need to complete what I'm working on or another sibling is more needy at the time. There are times when I can't fix it and all I can do is be there to comfort them. Just like my children don't always understand why I react differently to their various challenges, I also don't always understand how God sees my situation. Suffering has a way of triggering doubt and distrust but when I sit back and think about my relationship with God, I know that I can trust Him. And although I might not always feel His comfort and He might seem unconcerned about my suffering, I can trust that it's because He knows that things won't always hurt this intensely. And that's true. I have seen that already. The painful times come and go. It's difficult because they always come back. I'd like to get to a place where I am not as resistant or scared to feel the pain. I'd like to get to a place where I can peacefully let the pain move through me without looking at God with those eyes that say, "Are you seriously just going to watch me while I struggle?" I'm not sure how I get there, but I'm hoping that God can show me the way.