Death comes at a steep price. This grief has cost me much. My heart. My soul. Or at least a large chunk of each. My family as they were, as we were. Myself as I knew myself to be. My career in whole or in part—that still remains to be seen. My entire cosmology of beliefs. My tribe, the people from my inner circle who can no longer bear to stand too close to me. I watch as they slowly circle farther and farther away, distancing themselves. I would wave goodbye, but I'm too dissociated to feel the sting of their dismissal. And anyway, the gaps where they stood are quickly filled with new people, other bereaved parents mostly, who are not disillusioned by my pain, as their illusions were shattered already when their own children died.
It has cost me the home whose walls once made me feel safe. I still have the house, but Evelyn's death within these walls has chased away all notions of security here or anywhere else. It has cost me the innocence of my two living children, and the joy of watching them bask in that sweet afterglow of childhood until things like mortgages and student loans slowly drain it away naturally. It has cost me that easy give and take my husband and I spent twenty years building into our relationship, the way we danced in and out of one another's orbit without fear of setting someone off. Now we bump awkwardly into each other as we pass, all noses and elbows and tender, open wounds. That is when we can't avoid each other entirely.
This grief has cost me my peace. The way I could sit so blissfully still and listen to an inner voice I once trusted, who I believed desired nothing more than to guide me to higher and higher realms of happiness and well being. It has cost me my health. The steady-she-goes relationship I'd been building with my body, on the yoga mat, in the kitchen full to bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables, at the chiropractor's office. It's cost me my sanity. The carefully constructed rooms of reason and logic within my mind which fastidiously organized the world as I encountered it in a neat and orderly fashion. Those rooms, those sacred rooms, are all that stands between you and utter chaos. Without them, the swirling detritus of the universe seeps into everything you knew to be real and true, leaving nothing but madness.
But most importantly, all importantly, it has cost me Evelyn. The shining soul of a being who crashed in and out of my life like a wayward comet, bleeding a trail of stardust behind her. This heart-happy, fire-in-the-belly, absolutely authentic girl who taught me more about acceptance and patience and love and living than anyone else I know. She didn't cast a shadow, but a light across my days. And now that I have lived eighteen years in the glory of her rays, I am supposed to suddenly adjust to the dark, the vacuum where her light once glowed, warm and forgiving.
And with all due respect, spare me your comments about how she is still with me, how she's in spirit or is my angel now. Because isn't that the point? Isn't that the whole damn thing about grief? She's not still with me. That's the heart of the ache that rattles my teeth in their sockets and grinds at my peace of mind. If she were, I wouldn't be feeling this way. While I'm grateful for any connection to her I can muster, let's be unabashedly honest about the deceased. They're gone. They died. How you knew them, how you showed your love to them, how you related to them—that's all over. Maybe you do find a new way to carry on with your loved one, but it's not the same. It's not to me. It's not what I want. It's not enough, not nearly, not by half. And that's a very big, very jagged, very bitter pill to swallow. So pardon me if I spend the next twenty to fifty years choking it down and bitching all the way.
Most of what this grief has cost me can't be quantified. There's no number to equal its value. So it's hard to talk about, hard to identify even. I can't point to a bunch of numbers and commas after an = sign and say, "See? That's it. That right there. That sums it up." Instead, I feel the reverberations and echoes of loss. I feel my pain magnified and I have to sift through it like an archaeologist at a dig site, carefully combing the sand for anything of recognition.
But there is one thing this grief has cost me that I can point out. Something I rarely hear anyone else mention. Because it's impolite to talk about money. Isn't that it? I never understood that rule. We built this world around money, we gauge everything by it or are encouraged to, and yet we are forbidden to speak of it. And all the stress it causes us, all the anxiety it brings, we must hide that away also or be shamed for it. I never measured my value in dollars, so I never understood the obsession. But I have to pay my bills with the same currency everyone else does. And let me be clear, I don't give a damn about money. Certainly not now, not after losing Evelyn. All the money in the world can't bring her back to me, so I have about as much use for it as a steaming pile of dog poo. But I do have two living children who need a roof and four walls, three squares a day, and a the basic means to keep putting one foot in front of the other because they still have whole lives ahead of them ... I hope.
And so, like it or not, even in the early weeks after Evelyn's death, I had to drag my heart-broken ass over to the computer and balance the accounts, pay the bills, and begin the shell game of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Because great loss comes at a very high price. And the rare and unique circumstances of Evelyn's death (I promise a blog on our story is coming soon), meant we were all "at risk" and required immediate and extensive medical testing, which still isn't, and for our two living children may never be, completely behind us. So after swimming through a pile of bills the other day, I decided to sit down and do my best to tally the actual dollars and dimes expenses that have come with this loss in the last seven months.
And here's the number: over $31,000.
Over thirty grand in funerary expenses, medical expenses, and lost income. And that doesn't even include the "elective" expenses like the new dog, the "Evelyn" tree for Christmas, the outings that kept us from lighting ourselves on fire, the books, the supplements, and so on and so forth. Once you add all that in we're pushing $35,000 easy if not toppling it.
Good, generous people who love us have given us well over half that amount to help us through this. And thanks to the frugal lifestyle we adopted decades ago, we've been able to absorb the rest. But I can't imagine how families without those resources even begin to cope. And I can't escape the distaste it leaves like rising bile in the throat for industries that prey on the vulnerable such as the medical and funeral industries. The fact that the word "industry" even applies to meeting people's basic healthcare and end-of-life needs says it all.
I don't know if we'll ever live in a world where compassion is enough of a reason. But that only makes me miss Ev more. Because my girl was doing her best even at 18 to leave this world better than she found it. She was one of the good ones, and there aren't enough of those. It makes her loss all the more senseless. Lately, I feel this pressing weight to carry her causes forward. To show up for her, for both of us, in some kind of way that leaves ripples of change after I'm gone. For now, it is enough to keep finding the strength to breathe through each day, each challenge, each new expense.