Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When It Isn't Your Story

Seven years ago my life was unalterably changed. I didn’t find out I had an incurable disease, that my husband no longer loved me or lose a loved one to death. My challenge is two-fold, my loss is massive and it isn’t my story to tell. Even if the person whose story it is would tell me that I can share what happened, I cannot. The world doesn’t want to hear certain stories. I have learned this the hard way.
The truth of the matter is that I did suffer a loss so significant that to this day I can barely think of it without breaking down, but I have so profoundly developed the skill of burying my head in the sand that there are days I am able to pretend that all is well in my world. Except that at the jittery quaking core of me I know that I am fractured, loved ones are divided and avoidance is on the verge of lying.
The day I received this news I was sitting amongst loved ones at dinner, with nothing more on my mind than how I was going to get my toddlers to eat their spaghetti without making a massive mess; a typical mothers concern when eating tomato sauce at a friend’s house. Minutes later the world began to reel out of control and truly what I remember of those next few days is very limited. Then the real nightmare began.
Amidst this massive loss and pain I struggled to go through life as if everything was fine. I took my kids to preschool, swimming lessons, gymnastics, play groups and smiled as if all was normal. I began to envy others calm lives and divest myself of relationships that I couldn't superficially manage. I did this for over a year.
In the fall of the following year, my children were in the play area of the local IKEA when my cell phone rang. I answered it, sweating, because I knew I was going to be receiving more bad news. I had purposely taken myself somewhere I couldn’t fall apart. I was wrong. I found myself sitting on the floor in the kitchen utensils section crying, sobbing, oozing snot, and shaking with pain. Once I had been picked up by employees and taken to a private room, where I inwardly raged and prayed, I finally pulled myself together, declined the very kind staffs help, and took my children home.
I was raw. When my doorbell rang a few hours later I was in a vulnerable state and functioning on autopilot. I answered the door, and to this day I am at a loss as to understand why, other than I simply wasn't thinking at all. As it turns out a close friend stopped by with her kids to say hello. We sat and chatted for a while before she asked me what was wrong. We were close enough that I told her my story. When I finished, I expected to feel better, to feel the healing begin, because isn’t talking supposed to help? What I learned in the next ten minutes went on to shape my life all these years.
Already a wizard at compartmentalizing my life, this person’s reaction was so unexpected, so insensitive, that I learned to seal off this pain and to push it so deep that I could forget the truth from time to time. Life’s event; birthdays, graduations, baptisms, births, or weddings all continue to happen, and that face isn’t there, and while you try to smile and move on, the overwhelming weight of the loss lingers on the hearts and minds of those involved.
In trying to put some purpose to my loss I realized quickly that I needed to teach myself to look beyond the surface and recognize that I wasn’t the only person who was suffering. That neighbors, friends, and strangers may have had these pivotal and painful experiences that they were pushing down deep or being swallowed up in. When the rare few come forward to share their story I listen and try to learn. To some it might be odd, but I consider myself blessed when someone shares their pain with me. I want to offer them a judgment free set of ears and heart so that they can move through their pain and with any luck find some relief, even if temporary.
I try to understand what it is that makes me hold my story so close to myself. I’ve only recently started to delve into this and the part that I feel certain of is that I don’t want to feel that vulnerable ever again. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t understand my friend for not seeing past her own opinion to try to help me make sense of my loss and grief. I tried to convince myself that she and I weren’t truly friends, because a friend wouldn’t do this. But she was, she was a friend, she was just a friend who had arrived at that moment in her life without the skills I needed.
My early life taught me to look for the path through chaos and to find out whom to be wary of.  I generally consider myself to be very good at this and this is the part that kills me. I missed this one, but not in the way some might expect me to acknowledge the loss. I see it as having missed the chance to help the person, to prevent the crisis, to change the path and redirect the situation. I didn’t, I couldn’t, and it breaks me all over again. I have spent the last six years trying to perfect this skill. It is a hollow skill even if achievable. I feel no relief, no freedom from my loss, I’m not invincible.
So, why am I sharing something so painful and personal? I’ve been writing around this particular experience ever since I started blogging and I have avoided true exposure. The reason is my birthday. It was last week. And this person whom I love so much, who is gone from me, shares my birthday. For the many of you who sent your birthday wishes, you cannot know how much I needed it. I needed the reminder that the day can be happy. Because on this day, I am the most broken I can be.
It was unexpectedly warm on my birthday so when a friend stopped by and suggested we sit in the sun and chat, I was delighted. We chatted about all kinds of things, most of them sad, and I found myself telling her my story; not unexpected given my state of mind, completely unexpected given how long I’ve held my emotions inside. She listened to me and tried to help me find some peace in my confusion. When she had to leave she said she was sorry that the conversation hadn’t been about happy and cheerful things, but I thanked her. For in the true sharing of pain I finally began to believe that I will heal.
Thank you.