This last Friday marked five years since our daughter died. Five years. Five years? Sometimes it’s so close to the forefront of my mind that it overtakes me. The reality of it weighs me down and my mind spins out of control. Other times I can’t put my finger on it being factual at all. It’s surreal. It’s visceral. It’s confusing, and overwhelming, and still unbelievable.
Each anniversary of her death seems to strike me in different ways. I never know how I’ll feel as the date approaches, but usually I’m OK. This year I wasn’t. I’ve come to realize the physical toll grief takes on me. And every year at this time I get sick. Headaches, fever, sore throat, sometimes vomiting. My symptoms seem to run the gamete, but no matter what they may be their cause seems to be psychosomatic.
Realizing this feels like a big step in helping myself mitigate these factors, or rather it should, but I’m not always able to mind-over-matter my way through them. Sometimes, usually in the week leading up to February 3rd I’m susceptible to them despite my best efforts to stave them off.
This year I cried. A lot. I felt an overwhelming sense of impending dread. I felt weighed down and unable to perform the most mundane of tasks that day. My mind swirled. It was scattered. I paced in circles throughout the house without reason. I lost my breath and suffered a panic attack. I prayed. A lot. I just couldn’t seem to be still or calm.
I granted myself these moments, moments I usually deny myself, to let it out, to feel my pain and sorrow. To be human.
It’s been so long since she’s been gone, much longer than she ever was here, that sometimes it’s hard to remember what our life with her was like. The fact that our life with her was all-consuming doesn’t change that fact. The fact that our life looks so drastically different now only makes it harder to connect to what it once was, in my mind.
Loren left for work, but not before asking if I was ok. Unable to put a brave face on this morning, “Just sad,” I told him. “I know,” he responded. He told me he loved me, kissed my forehead, and recounted that he was so in tune with my stress that he can always tell if something’s off.
An hour later I called him for no reason other than to hear his voice. I needed his comfort. He assured me he could come home if I wanted or needed him to. Gathering myself I declined his offer. I was determined to get through this day without further disrupting it for anyone else.
I forced myself to shower. It took a long time to go through the motions. I dressed, and eventually went outside to once again shovel the drive as it had now been snowing heavily all morning. It needed to be done, regardless of what day is was. The weather didn’t care.
In the midst of my shoveling effort my brother pulled up. He stepped out of his truck and presented me with a bouquet of pink and purple carnations.
I cried again.
Skylar texted and asked me to pick her up after school and go to the orthodontist because the wire on her braces had shifted and was sticking into her cheek.
Life keeps moving forward.
As she opened the door and got in the car after school she too asked if I was ok. Crap, even she can see it on my face, I thought. I’m normally much more adept at masking it. “I’m ok,” I lied. I’m sure she didn’t believe me. I struggle with wanting to tell her what day it is for her to share in remembering and honoring her sister, and vice versa to shield her from feeling the sadness I feel on this day if she doesn’t already realize the significance of the date on her own. I didn’t mention it further.
At the orthodontist’s office I waited while she went back into the ortho chair. I was the only one in the waiting room at this time, except the receptionist at the front desk. Once again, preoccupied with my own issues and becoming overwhelmingly emotional I began to cry. Noticing my obvious breakdown the receptionist came over to ask if I was ok. I lied again that I was fine, but it was a pretty poor performance so she leaned in to give me a hug. I apologized. I wasn’t necessarily sorry for making someone else uncomfortable, just for the fact that I was causing a scene and let my emotions get the best of me in public, which I am usually able to contain. I told her today was the anniversary of my youngest daughter’s death. She began crying as well and told me that her son died in June.
And there it was. I don’t have the market cornered on grief, even though I had been wallowing in my own loss all day. At least I knew she understood and didn’t think I was crazy.
Skylar came out. We finished up the appointment, and then the receptionist told her they were having a game that day. She told Skylar she could win a prize if she threw the beanbags through the hole in the board she was holding. Two out of three in and Skylar won a pair of movie tickets and a t-shirt. She was ecstatic.
A friend texted with her remembrances of Miss Elliott and commended me on always carrying myself with such grace in light of my loss.
Ha. Not today.
It wasn’t until later that I realized I hadn’t seen the staff at the ortho office offer this game to any of the other patients as they left the office that day. The receptionist had just been exceptionally kind due to my emotional distress. It reminded me that it’s ok to be human. It’s ok to show my feelings of sadness and grief. As uncomfortable as it may make me, sometimes it’s necessary to let it out.
By the time we got home my eyes were blurry and stinging so badly from all of my crying that out came my contacts and I wore my glasses for the rest of the night.
Walking in the door my husband tells my I’m beautiful. I laugh at his seemingly horrible judgement, but he means it. He truly believes it. Even in that moment with my red, puffy, makeup smeared eyes. He loves me fully; in spite of my flaws, mistakes, and the ways I’ve let him down over the years. It reminds me that even through the ups and downs, even in the midst of grief, being here at home with the two people who mean more to me than anyone else in the entire world, the only two other people who can share in this level of grief, as intimately as I can, is all I need to get by.