I had promised myself I wasn’t going to post again until I could post something happy, or at least not sad and depressing. So much for that idea. I’ve been sick pretty much since Chris died. Three days of waking up to my chest rattling when I breathe but pretending I wasn’t really getting sick, and now four days of coughing and aching. This morning even my sinuses were bleeding. No matter how bad I feel, though, I just have to keep going, at least during the day. I try to sit down and rest, but I get jumped on and climbed on, I have to settle fights, and I can’t count on anybody else to do the dishes, the laundry, or stop Kender from doing things like playing open/close-the-door when the temperature outside is seven. Seven Fahrenheit, not Celsius. Hacky-Wheezy Mommy cleared out room for the Yule tree, which the kids put up while leaving detritus everywhere, drove into town to emergency shop for wrestling equipment, watched that wrestling meet, all the while stopping at random moments because I completely forgot what I was doing and where I was going between one room and the next.
Today, I had a meltdown. I tried to take a break and sit and knit for a while, rest, because I felt so tired. I dropped my last good tapestry needle under the couch. I got up and went to get lunch, and discovered that Kender had put apple jacks in a plate, poured milk on it, and tried to carry it out of the kitchen, which meant there was milk and cereal on the counter, the floor, and the cabinets. While I was eating lunch, the child I had been hoping could help with the youngest while I ran some errands made a playdate, which would mean I’d be dragging all the children on my errands, alone. While sick. Including Kender, who won’t wear things like hats and mittens in 15-degree snowy weather and throws a complete fit if you put new footwear on him like snow boots. As I was getting ready to leave to drop off for that playdate, Kender takes a cup of water, walks over to my altar, and pours the water over the top of my altar.
I snapped. I screamed and threw the cup across the kitchen, shattering the plastic on the floor. I stomped. I cried. I screamed again. I had a coughing fit and cried while I swept the kitchen floor, while I put somebody in charge so I could drop off the boy, while I tried to get ready to go out the door (put on the snowboots, the vest, the jacket, the scarf, the overcoat, the hat, the mittens, where are the keys, where’s the wallet).
It’s funny how the brain keeps rolling during a meltdown. Inside, there’s this little narrator and conductor that keeps working, manages to say, Hey, you can’t leave shards on the floor, now we have to leave, red means stop and green means go, time to smile at the cashier at the store, pick up your bag, answer that text message, etc. (I’m proud that Mr. Conductor remembered to thank my mother for coming over, and grateful that she accepted it and didn’t push for more.) Outside, I may not be able to get out a single coherent word. Or I may have some autopilot words, like, “Can you be in charge for 30 minutes?” or “I have an order to pick up,” but if you ask me something that actually requires thought to process audio input into a verbal response, I’ll just stare at you like a cow for minutes at a time, trying and failing to process what you just said and what I’m supposed to say back.
Then comes the inner referee, the news commentator who says, “Okay, time to shut the hell up, what’s wrong with you anyway? You’re alive, and your friend is dead! What do you have to cry about? You didn’t lose a daughter, or a mother! You have a family, and a home, and enough to eat, and a husband who loves you. Shut up already, you selfish loser! You don’t need sick days!”
Great. Now I feel bad for feeling bad. I’m discovering this week that being alone with my thoughts, with no book or movie or other distraction in the background, is a really, really bad idea. I haven’t even tried meditation; I don’t want to face the images that spring up when I clear my mind.
By the time I got home from errands and had a chance to stop moving, I just crashed. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to not move, ever. I grabbed a pillow and stretched out on the couch, fatigue and desperation conjuring up a vain hope that somehow Jarod and Kender would magically stay out of trouble for just 15 minutes.
Wait. Is that sparkling over there on the carpet? What is that stuff on the floor? Oh yeah…broken ornaments.
No rest. Gotta vacuum the living room again. And I never got a chance to clean the altar, don’t forget about that.
Elayne, you and I have very different approaches to life and to parenting, but I’m going to throw a couple things out here just in case they might help. 1: Consider not hoping, but directly and openly requiring the child you want help from to help you, and not allowing them to plan playdates that require you to drop them off without first clearing it with you. And 2: something I heard the other day: Believing you can’t be sad (frustrated, upset) because someone else has it worse than you also means believing you can’t be happy because someone else has it better. Think on that. I know it’s been horrible. You’re in mourning, you have an incredible load, and you have every right to insist on help, to refuse to support plans you weren’t asked about that affect you, to cry, to be sick, to sometimes lose your grip a little. I don’t know what else I can say other than I’m incredibly sorry for the pain you’re in and for your being sick on top of it. You’ve sent me a lot of good thoughts and spells over the years, and I’m sending you more of my prayers. I love you, hon. Hugs to you.
I think it’s important that you write even when you’re not cheerful. It’s not necessarily your job to be smiley for your readers; it might be your job to be honest. And it’s certainly OK to write when writing will relieve your feelings; writing can be like that for me. You don’t have an obligation to tell your story in all this, but I think that you (and not just who) have had an experience that is worth telling, as you’ve navigated the last couple of years of trying to help and support Chris while also caring for your own and your family’s emotional and physical well-being. I treasure everything you write, and I know, too, that when a writer tells a hard truth–like what it looks like when you fall apart for awhile–there are readers who are grateful to hear it.
Thanks for letting us have The Explainer today. It really makes Tuesday and Thursday afternoons much easier for Word Boy. Sometimes what looks like “hanging out with a friend” is actually performing a service, as we all know.
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