The tether sorrow has on my heart isn’t quite as tight as it was in the months right after Jordan died. I can physically feel the progress being made as my mind and body make the shift towards acceptance that Jordan is really gone. As I feel myself leaning toward acceptance, just as quickly, I feel myself trying to stop the progression. Acceptance is still too big of a message for my heart to hold.
Most of the times when I remind myself to, “Feel what I’m feeling” it is in response to sad and painful emotions I experience bubbling inside me. It has been easier to allow myself to feel grief than allowing myself to feel excitement or happiness. Accepting too much joy in my life seems like distancing myself from Jordan and his memory. Time has taken on a different dimension. No matter how many days I watch go by since Jordan’s death I don’t want to measure losing him in days. I know it’s been over a year since October 12th, 2008, but as twisted, as it seems to me, having his death be closer in time means his life is also closer to me in time. How can I ever feel joy that isn’t tempered with sadness if one of my children is gone?
In spite of nagging doubts that time makes things easier, I keep going. I found myself two weeks ago feeling an emotion that has laid dormant- excitement. Mark had a conference to attend in Florida and as he told me the details, I realized I wanted to go with him. I felt excited and as he talked, I quelled the impulse to admonish or question myself about my feelings. I impulsively called my mother to ask her if she could stay with our kids, before Mark told me all the details of the conference and before I could talk myself out of going. I wanted to go with him! I was allowing myself to “feel what I was feeling”, even positive feelings.
Grief plays so many tricks and comes in so many forms. It’s as though I have a meter inside of me that will only allow in so much joy before a warning signal registers. I find myself proceeding cautiously not wanting to move too quickly into what looks like happiness. Since losing Jordan, I know how quickly happiness can be taken away. I was impacted by these cautious feelings as I prepared for my trip to Florida. One day as I drove to pick the girls up from school, I uncharacteristically had the radio on a music station and was singing along. I was taking in my excitement and relieved that I was still looking forward to my trip. As I approached a stop sign I heard sirens in the distance. All it took was the sound of sirens to turn my excitement into anxiety. Since the car crash that killed Jordan, I don’t know how to ignore sirens. I’m trying to learn to make them less powerful. For me sirens signal warning, danger, sickness, accidents, weariness, fear, longing, grief, crashes, tears, pain, sleepless nights, 5 instead of 6, Mother-heart loss. Sirens mean stop!
I stop at a stop sign and take deep breaths, attempting to pull myself back on the path to the present. I remind myself that sirens don’t have to mean someone in my family is in danger. The sirens aren’t headed to the girls’ school. They are safe. Someone would have called me if they weren’t. Merrick is safe at home. I just left him. Mark is at work and I don’t need to worry. The sirens sound but I don’t have to bring them into my heart.
I cling to my travel plans and shake off my fears as I pick the girls up from school. I know that I need time away. Mark and I are both so weary. This trip will be our first time away as a couple since Jordan’s death. I need to take care of myself even though it doesn’t come easily. Treating me, being good to me have always been hard even as I extol self-care to family and friends. A reminder I give out with complete sincerity is, “Be good to yourself.” I know it isn’t grammatically correct. My saying should be, “Be good to you.” Somehow having the word “self” in relating my wish of self-care to others makes it more impactful. Like most people, it is easier to tell others they should take care of themselves than receiving and putting into practice that same message.
I told a friend of mine via email about my plan to go to Florida with Mark. She was excited for me and told me to pamper myself and get a massage. It’s not as though she was the first person to suggest a massage as a way to ease my stress and anxiety. I still have the gift certificate given to me by a friend for my birthday last March. I’ve gotten close to making an appointment, gone so far as picking up the phone to dial the number and then putting the phone down. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to be in such a contemplative silence, alone with my thoughts. My counselor has also talked to me about self-care asking me, “What are you going to do for yourself this week?” I tell her about the gift certificate and she always tells me what a good idea it is. The gift certificate continues to sit on the desk in our office, even as my back and neck hurt. Taking care of “self” does not come easily.
In Florida I went with my impulses and scheduled a massage. Mark was in meetings most of the day and the pain in my back and shoulders was letting me know how beneficial a massage would be; especially when all I had to do was walk downstairs and have someone help me. In the locker room as I changed out of my clothes and into a robe for the massage, doubt came back to visit. I burst into tears in the changing room. My mind raced with so many thoughts, “What was I doing getting a massage? How would I handle the silence? Would the silence be filled with “what if’s” and “missing my boy” thoughts?” I thought about Dawn’s words, “treat yourself to a massage.” She was the reason I had the courage to schedule the appointment. Dawn telling me to get a massage came from a different perspective. She and I became friends because of our shared fraternity. She lost her 15-year-old son suddenly, 4 years ago. He was her oldest child and she knows the heartache and pain that threatens never to subside. She also has told me that time will lessen the pain. I booked the massage in one of those, “before you change your mind” moments.
The last time I had a massage was last May when I went with my dear friends on Mother’s Day weekend to a resort in Wisconsin to rest and regroup. I had attempted to back out of the trip saying to one of my sister-friends, “I don’t think I’ll be good company.” Her response was calm and quiet, “We’ll take you however you are.” Another sister-friend was more blunt but just as loving, “If we have to tie you up and put you in the car, you’re going. We love you and you don’t have to pretend with us.” They cared and watched over me that weekend. Every moment I knew their safety net was close by. Now here I was, almost a year later attempting true self-care. I sat in the locker room and cried for a few minutes. I then told myself that I’d try the massage and if I got overwhelmed I could always stop it and go back to my room. I was in control of what happens.
My massage, my walks on the beach, the time away were restorative. My grief came with me of course and I made room for it. Tears came more than once as I thought of my family, and my beautiful boy who is gone. Excitement and happiness came with me as well. When Jordan died, I never thought I’d feel excitement again. I’m moving forward, breath-by-breath. For now heartache and a burgeoning happiness will have to reside together inside of me. I’m slowly learning that feeling happy doesn’t diminish my love for Jordan. Be good to yourself Jackie, it’s okay.