When my daughter died, I couldn’t find the strength to say the words aloud. Passed away, I could manage, as if she still hovered somewhere just outside my reach. Died was final and irrevocable and I simply could not say the word.
The first few weeks after her death were a haze of grief. A time of pain so deep it blotted out light. When I roused from this torpor of sorrow — through no effort of my own, mind you, but because the human spirit seeks survival against all odds and assaults – I found myself not quite alive, but in a period of sleepwalking.
I walked, talked, lived, but did so in a coma. I slept sporadically, waking each night to the face of her suffering. I cried so long I felt as if I’d forgotten how to breathe. Congestion welled in my lungs where Chinese doctors know grief is stored – I coughed for weeks, then cleared my throat 10,000 times a day, the anguish of her dying, and of her doctor’s perfidy, desperate to be screamed away, lying like a stone in my chest.
People, I learned, have a tolerance of about a month for other people’s grief. During that time they allow you space to grieve without imposing rules. After that they want you to “let go,” “get on with life,” “stop dwelling in the past.” Perhaps it’s their own fear of death that makes them so anxious to rid themselves of the reminder your grief provides. “A man sleeps easy on another man’s wound,” say the Irish.
The armchair advisors rise up in a vocal body around your battered heart, so that you feel both wounded and under siege. Your own vulnerability makes you wonder if everybody else knows how to mourn better than you do. As if that mattered.
Truth is, I was so spent by grieving that the effort to put one foot in front of the other was the most I could manage. “Getting on with life” didn’t seem an option. I felt I was quietly bleeding to death from an emotional wound too deep to staunch. My child was dead. Didn’t they understand that nothing in my world would ever be the same?
But there was reality to deal with. I had to earn a living. When you write to earn your keep, you have to keep doing it or clients find a less mournful place to go to meet their deadlines.
And my 11 year old Dakota, needed me to live again. “I need a Gilmore Girls weekend so badly, Mom,” she pleaded one Friday, two months after Cee Cee died. “I need you and me to just be us again, and not sad all the time.” She was right, of course, an 11 year old can’t live in a house of mourning forever.
So I went underground with my grief, alone with my lost child, where no one could judge or demand or impose a time limit on my loss. And I began to put down on paper all that I needed to say to unburden my heart. What I wrote was real and unimpeded by what others wanted me to be. Just the unvarnished truth of what it feels like to lose one you truly love.
© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2011