Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gannet Girl


"There is only one thing I want to know. I want to know your story, and yours, and yours. I want to know how you survived, or didn't. I want to know about those hours after 4:00 in the morning, when you wake up and stare at the ceiling, or read email, or try yet another Russian novel. I want to know what it was like when your child died, what it was like when the world broke apart. I want to know what it is like when you climb a mountain or drive to the coast and your child is not with you. I want to know whether your laughter feels different, whether your sight has changed. I want to know what you have to say about this part of the journey, this minute, knowing full well that in the next one your words might be completely different. I want to know about the moments when sheer, raw courage takes over ~ the moments when you put your feet on the floor next to the bed and stand up. I want to know about the moments right before that, the moments of sadness so deep that you cannot push your feet out from under the covers. I want to know how we are going to do this for years to come."
Gannet Girl posted this. Gannet Girl's son died from suicide, just a year ago. Her questions deserve answers, and in answering them, I find truth and comfort.

I want to know how you survived, or didn't.
I don't know, except my heart is still beating, so I must have a reason to be here.
I want to know about those hours after 4:00 in the morning, when you wake up and stare at the ceiling, or read email, or try yet another Russian novel.
I take an antihistamine before bed, which helps me to stay asleep. If I wake and can't go back to sleep, I go to the bathroom and read, or stay in bed and pray a prayer by heart, and the process usually puts me back to sleep. I try to sleep at night, and not to nap during the day. Lying awake at night leads to flashbacks, and flashbacks are not good for me.
I want to know what it was like when your child died, what it was like when the world broke apart.
Oh, my word. This is so hard. It was quiet, it was peaceful; it was sudden. As we were gently moving her in her bed, she said "When you do that, it makes it hard to breathe," so we laid her back down and gave her a bolus of morphine (which helps ease breathing). We asked if she was in pain, and she said she wasn't. She looked right at me and said, quietly, "You stay with me." So I lay down beside her as she closed her eyes. I asked if she could feel me there, and she nodded "yes." Then her breathing slowed, she opened her eyes wide and began to whisper to someone:  "It's been two years," or words to that effect. Her breathing was easy, but it continued to slow, until it stopped.

We were just stunned. Today? Now? What? Was that it? Shock. And then washing her beautiful, pre-teen body, putting lotion that she liked on her skin, and fresh clothes that she loved. Cutting a lock of her hair, and apologizing, because she was growing it out after losing it to chemotherapy. Sitting for hours with her, looking at her lying on her bed for the last time, letting the undertaker in. Letting the big cat in, seeing him walk across her legs for the last time, giving her a "head-butt" cat kiss, and seeing him flop down beside her body, as if to say, "Now what?" Leaving her room, holding each other (as a three-some, for the first time), because we could not bear to watch them take her away from home for the last time.
I want to know what it is like when you climb a mountain or drive to the coast and your child is not with you.
It feels wrong, it feels empty, it hurts. Then, it feels as if she would want us to do those things, and later, I see signs of her with us:  butterflies, heart-shaped rocks, sparks of light - things that tell me of her continuing love for us.
I want to know whether your laughter feels different, whether your sight has changed.
My eyesight is worse now than it has ever been. I have always had very clear eyesight, but it's more blurry now. My "seeing" has changed, too; my humor has a dark edge to it. Very dark.  Some laughter is fuller; I am funnier now, I think, than ever. But there is definitely an edge to it. And I am not as willing to make excuses, for myself or for others.
I want to know what you have to say about this part of the journey, this minute, knowing full well that in the next one your words might be completely different.
This part of the journey - right now - is worse than I could have imagined, because I am still sadder than I had dreamed I could be. I don't like living like this. I don't like living with depression; I don't want to be a "blight on the landscape," a "walking wound" to myself or others. I cut myself off from socializing, because I don't want to hurt others, to be a drag. I think, "I am dreary, I am a drip; I am depressing and boring. I've been grieving for two years, and it hurts as much as ever." I accuse myself with mean thoughts (as friends put it to me recently, "gnawing off my arm so I can beat myself with it"). This is not my natural way of being...but what is natural about watching your child die, allowing her body to be burned, scattering her ashes?
I want to know about the moments when sheer, raw courage takes over ~ the moments when you put your feet on the floor next to the bed and stand up.
Those are my "f*** you" moments, the "f*** cancer" moments. They are also the "God, help me" and "Thank you, God" moments. I want to put beauty, love and comfort back into this world, the world that cancer is robbing daily of beauty and love and comfort. In those moments, I feel that I will NOT allow cancer to have me, to steal what belongs to me, to take my sense of humor. I don't know why I'm still here, what God intends to do with me, but I am still here, so I must get up.
I want to know about the moments right before that, the moments of sadness so deep that you cannot push your feet out from under the covers.
Those are especially the "God, help me" moments. "Thank you, God, for..." helps me, in those moments.
I want to know how we are going to do this for years to come."
I wish I knew the answer to this. I suppose it is, "One breath, one moment at a time, by the grace of God, until the breath comes no more."

Thank you for asking, Gannet Girl. I hope this brings some comfort and community to your grieving for your beautiful son!

8 comments:

Gannet Girl said...

Oh, this is so lovely, Karen.

It is such a gift, to see the picture of the FOUR of you together, five counting the kitty, at the end, and to hear your stunned questions.

I don't know why, but there is at least some sense of solidarity with those who have shared such moments, even though they are, of course, all different.

ChiTown Girl said...

I should know better than to read your beautiful writing when I'm hormonal. I simply can NOT stop crying. I can't. I have no idea how I would be able to handle this. I'm so in awe of you, Karen. You are truly my hero.

drw@bainbridge.net said...

Thank you for writing this; it cannot have been easy.

But you are not alone -- and it shows.

I ache for you...

Elizabeth said...

I have no words. I will see that photo of Katie and the cat forever, I think, in my mind's eye.

Daisy said...

((((Karen))))

I continue to pray. Doesn't seem like much to offer but I will anyway.

Mich

Bridget :) said...

This is so amazing - I just don't have words to describe. It's hard enough to imagine, I can't imagine actually living through it.

Stephanie said...

Well, now Karen, I just stop crying before my husband gets home....why? you ask....it's his birthday!

I always cry when you recount her passing and I tell the story to certain friends re: the breeze leaving the room part....how beautiful....bitter with sweet.

Blessings.

Stephanie in MN

Mary said...

I'm getting caught up on your blog and this post, all of it, has me in tears. Your description of Katie's passing is so intimate and tender and heart-wrenching. I feel honored that you share so much with us here.