Updated: Jan 10, 2020
I have spent the last two days trying not to die. That's not exaggerating or overstating it. I am not being melodramatic. It's not a metaphor. It is simply the truth ... my truth.
Her birthday was last week. I braced myself for the worst. I tied my muscles in knots until I couldn't sleep for the tension. I rehearsed my mantras, the ones that affirm life, the ones that stretch like a rope into the abyss when I descend unexpectedly. I want to live. I want to live. I want to live. My children need me. My children need me. My children need me.
I took a deep, deep breath, and held it. Eyes squinting. Brow furrowed. Heart thudding like the beat of a soldier's drum.
And the day came. It grew over the horizon with the swollen sun. It bled into my mind, my muscles, my lungs. I waited for the sting, and to my surprise, it never came. That's not to say the day was painless. No day is painless anymore. But I didn't drown in it as I expected I would.
For days after, I waited. And for days after, there were stirrings followed by stillness, but no tsunami of emotion.
I believed I'd crossed some kind of invisible line—a turning point. I exhaled. I unwound. I settled. And then my husband's birthday came at the end of the week as it always had for the last eighteen years. First her birthday, then his. And I was looking away. I didn't see it coming.
I made it about halfway through the day before I realized what was happening. And even once I knew, I was powerless to stop it. You do not get to not feel this. There is no opting out. There is only holding on by your fingernails until your nail beds are raw, naked, and bleeding. There is begging for mercy that won't come. There is hoping someone is there to catch you as you fall, and if not, maybe, just maybe, you won't hit your head on the way down, doing damage that cannot be undone. It comes over the whole of you like a seizure, and you heave again and again, vomiting emotion until your insides feel like a hard-wrung dishcloth, until you literally exhaust yourself and must lay prone on the floor, a heap of wasted parts.
If you're lucky, you'll get some time to breathe before the next wave hits.
I was not lucky.
I watched myself unravel from some disconnected, alien planet that is basically now my home. I watched the slow unspooling of my being, watched as I disintegrated into a place of madness and desperation, where no matter what lay before my eyes, all I could really see was what was flashing behind them. I hear her laughing. I feel her tears as we hug—in the kitchen, the office, the living room—over the course of her last summer, believing we are struggling to face her leaving for college but never this. I see the mottled flesh as I probe her in the shadows of the morning, begging her to respond. I see her lifeless face in my entry, an unzipped body bag on a stretcher. I see the point of her ears and the pattern of her eyebrows as I run my fingers over them again and again in the funeral home. I imagine her going into the fire, alone, and I hate myself for not being there. Her death is everywhere. There is no escape.
All I can do is cry. I cannot speak. I cannot help myself. I slide into it as easily as a greased hand into a tailored glove. The descent is swift, undaunted. I am lost.
In this place, I cry out for death. Come back, you fucking bastard. Take me. My mind spins out of control, repeating the same phrases over and over. I can't. I can't. I can't. I want to die. I want to die. I want to die. These are not the mantras I have so carefully crafted and practiced. And I roll in the stinking pig-shit pile of shame that comes with feeling so completely weak, so undone.
I am wrestling for my life in the hellscape of grief that has crashed over me. And there are times I genuinely feel like I am losing.
I don't answer calls when I'm like this. No matter how much I need the help. I often can't even feed myself. On the second day of this nightmare, I finally got up to make a salad in the afternoon. I remember crying into the bowl the whole time because the act of eating, of nourishing myself, was so counter-intuitive to how I was feeling that it only added to my pain.
I have a therapist. We talk "suicide" often. I have the hotline numbers all magneted to the front of my fridge in her handwriting, "Just in case." My kids are here, watching. They breathe next to me and will me to hold on. They lean on my shoulders and stroke my hair. They whisper to me in soft voices. They are love incarnated. And they deserve better, but this is what they've got. My husband calls. He worries. He keeps me on the phone even as I weep into the receiver. My dog paces at my ankles, ears flat to her head, eyes wide with some brand of animal concern I still can't wrap my head around. How do we think we are the evolved ones?
Somehow, by the third morning—this morning, whatever wall I have erected to keep the truth at bay has magically renewed itself. I don't understand the mechanisms of my pain or my dissociation. I don't understand what my body is doing to protect me, or how or when. I don't understand when it fails, or even why. I still can't piece together why my husband's birthday and not hers was my undoing. But now I get to walk the world knowing it's not over and never will be. This unmanageable tide of sorrow can engulf me at any moment. My PTSD triples its size like yeast feeding on sugar.
There is no way to predict these "episodes". I am ambushed without warning, and I am terrified that one day will be one attack too many. Because it doesn't feel less or easier or better when it hits each consecutive time. If anything, it feels worse, a beast that gets bigger and meaner every time you meet it.
I come away depleted. And all that sustains me is the first line of the poem she wrote which found it's way to us the day after she died:
I imagine her saying it over and over, whispering it to my heart, and hope it's enough to last the next two or ten or twenty years.