Mask of Grief

We mask up to cover what lurks inside

They joke, we laugh,

They visit, we welcome them

They give, we accept

They love us, we love them

yet…no one can penetrate this veil of sorrow

there is no solace…none

We are numb in this world

taking our steps, moving along on our daily conveyor belt like an assembly line of parts and pieces

Shower taken – check

Hair combed – check

Teeth brushed – check

Clothes on – check

Food eaten – check…and so on and then…

Mask on … mask on…I said “Mask On!” – check!

Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again

our eyes open to reality upon awakening and our day begins without desire

We mask up

donning our mask of smiles to stifle grief’s gut wrenching grimace

We mask over the pain with our smile masks

for everyone else…all of them

Seldom, but sometimes, we inch our mask down at the corner, letting our grief peek out so it can breathe a little

we share what we need, but abruptly mask up again when they begin to flinch, avert their eyes, clear their throats, glance downward

Have we said too much? Gone too far?

we lift our mask back onto our faces…holding back our tears…adjusting…fixing…hiding…grieving

alone

To remove the mask completely would mean bringing them into our world…a place we need to and don’t want to share with its aching walls, numbing rooms, and altered mirrors

it is not a place for guests

we don’t want to let anyone feel what we feel, thereby doubling the grief

With mask on we are whole again…normal…the person they hope us to be, the person they recognize from before…

they relax…and we…we…shut down…for them

We don’t enjoy this masquerade

with its insincerity and dishonesty. It’s a lie

To peek behind our mask fully they would see what we see…

we see death…only death

death of a beautiful love

death of a life together

death of a future

the death of purpose

We mask up to cover what lurks inside

Puzzled

When I was little, there was one puzzle my grandmother kept under a little table in her apartment. It may be my first memory of doing a puzzle. Every time I went to my grandparents house, this was the thing that kept me entertained. If I close my eyes right now, I can almost picture the paper frayed box, cracked and worn from many children’s hands. I can almost smell the memory, and see myself opening the box and dumping the interlocking jigsaw shaped pieces onto the carpet. I can see my chubby little hands, trying to weave those pieces together to complete the picture. I remember the satisfaction of completing it.

To my memory, I believe it was a puzzle of “King Leonardo”, a popular comic at the time. I remember that several of the puzzle pieces included King Leonardo’s ermine trimmed robe and his pointy crown. He had a mane of brown fur outlined in black and a black nose shaped like an inverted triangle. He always looked a little snooty as I recall. I remember the excitement of getting that puzzle out of its special place under the table, and doing it over and over and over again. It was the only toy I remember being at my grandparents house. It was probably the only one my grandfather would allow. He wasn’t someone you would associate with the word “fun. Kids were to be seen and not heard. But I digress…

Puzzles are satisfying to me, as they are to many people. I love “puzzling” because the act of doing a puzzle is a project with a beginning, a middle and an end. You can spend hours or days doing a puzzle. You can leave it out and come back to it whenever you want and for me, the only true satisfaction is in the placement of the final piece. The feeling of completing a project and seeing the entire picture fit together before your eyes is satisfying. Unless…unless there is a piece missing. Only then is the work, the effort, the satisfaction of completing something you’ve given so much of yourself to is cut short by the missing piece. In my eyes, the whole puzzle now seems broken and it has a hole in it where balance and contentment were supposed to live. It is incomplete and there is nothing you can do to satisfy filling that empty space. Nothing.

This is what grief is like to me. I can sit with all of my beautiful puzzle pieces for hours and hours fitting them all together but without the one piece that brings the pieces of the puzzle to a whole, it feels broken and leaves an empty space where balance and contentment used to live. The puzzle is forever incomplete and there is nothing…absolutely nothing, you can do to satisfy that empty space. Nothing.

“When my heart falls to pieces on the ground like a difficult puzzle which I will never put back together”

Going Through It

“You can’t go over it. You can’t got under it. You can’t go around it. You have to go through it” stated the grief counselor knowingly. It’s sage advice, I suppose. I’ve been better able to understand and deal with my grief process because of these simple words. I am definitely going through it. Over and over and over and over again. Letting the grief wash over me as if bathing in sadness will be the force which heals me. I accept it. I wear it for a time like a new pair of jeans that don’t fit quite comfortably, but they are mine so I must make them work. Then, just when I think I’m feeling pretty good and finding that I am surviving, it hits me again. Those damn jeans, feeling tight and restrictive, making me feel uncomfortable with every step. Too tight! Too rigid! Too unfamiliar! I want to return them, but there are no returns from this.

Some mornings I wake up innocently. I open my eyes and look beside me. I am alone, except for the breathing of my furry companion at the bottom of the bed. I am alerted, once again, to the reality and the permanency of it all. “There is no coming back from this” I told a friend the other day. “I am not going to every see Paul again. How do I pick up and move on from here? I don’t even know who I am anymore.”

I know that I’m in here somewhere, but I can’t seem to find myself. This is not because I was in a life that consumed me and I lost myself in him, but because I was in a life that was beautiful and I found myself with him. We discovered love together. Real unconditional love. I loved our life together. We were extremely happy and we were living a life which we built together with our hearts and our love. We had a connection that some people never get to experience. We cared deeply for each other and we synced perfectly. Now…like vapor…all of that is gone. Poof! The memories are amazing, but the absence of Paul/Dad/Papa/Skip has left an empty space where happy once lived. I miss happy.

Somewhere inside of this body in pain, is a human being who has a lot to contribute to the world, but right now I just can’t seem to find her. She is stifled, stymied, hidden and numb. She wants so much to hit her stride again, find ways to be creative, get on with living, but she is still broken and has no energy to start anew.

I mean, honestly, who would choose this ending to their fairytale? I wasn’t ready to change my life and lose the one person who has made me feel complete and happy. The partner I dreamed of in my girlhood and the person who I could talk to about everything and anything. The one person who I felt truly comfortable with. The only person I felt truly comfortable with.

I am missing that special part of me which we developed together as a pair. I miss the very air we breathed together. I miss the patterns we formed, the methods we used, and the rhythm and tempo we made. I miss the playful banter, the smiles we shared and the talk of the kids and grandkids. I miss our whole family unit…the most eclectic and beautiful dozen! I miss the extended family holiday desserts. I miss the familiar scents, the comforting hugs, and the shoulders we offered each other. The hands we held. The tender kisses. I miss the food we grew to love, the friends we had together and the music we shared. I miss the familiar. I miss the comfort. I miss everything we shared together for such a long time. What I am doing is forging ahead with the pace of a snail and that is the part the plagues me the most. I can’t seem to ignite any fires inside or pick up any speed. The pandemic only adds more stress, fear and confusion to the journey.

I didn’t ask for this life change and sometimes I am so angry with the way life is playing out. I feel like I’ve been a good girl and yet I’m suffering with a loss that I cannot fathom. I worry about my children and grandchildren. How are they navigating this change in their lives? I can only relate by scaring up my past and the loss of my father. It devastated me at the time. It shifts your compass and everything seems to have a pall over it for a long, long time. Then it becomes part of living. Dying is part of living. I learned the most beautiful thing when my father died in 1984. It taught me the most valuable lesson of all…that life is short and you have to live it fully and beautifully. I have done that. My eyes were opened to my worth. That’s why and how I met Paul.

Oh, what a play this is! A drama, no… a romantic comedy, no… a tragedy, no all three rolled into one with a surprise ending! I never saw this coming! I never even thought it possible that our love story would end this way. Not like this. It’s not how it played out in my head. It’s not how it played out at all. What a lot to I have to learn when I wasn’t even looking to be educated.

Maybe I have to embrace the lesson that I am needing to learn here, as I did when my father passed. I will peel back the layers until I figure out what it is that I am supposed to learn, that has me enduring one of the greatest tragedies of my life.

So, I will move forward, following the path, and seeking the positives to this short life we are allowed to live. I will learn the big lesson. Again. I will not figure it out for awhile, this I know is true. It will move into my body in a subtle manner, and slowly and steadily become part of who I am. Suddenly, one day, I’ll look back in hindsight and realize that all that has gone before has led me to who I am in that moment. I will look back with a nod, and turn to go ahead, moving through the rest of my journey. What else can I do? I will go through it with strength and wonder. I will pay attention to how I feel and what I want moving forward. I will take care of myself, my family and all of people that I care about. I will keep my eyes open for the signs of new life and change. I will willingly search for the person I need to become, thanking Paul for giving me a love that has brought me to now. I will jump off of that love and raise myself even higher. I will be educated and I will educate. I will allow the grief to wash over me, but along with it will be a cleansing of epic proportions. Bathing in sadness will be the force that will heal me. There is nowhere to go but up now. I will move up. I will.

Tidal Wave

Dear Paul,

Today I woke up feeling fairly normal and started my day with a positive attitude. I kept busy with the usual things; coffee, a crossword puzzle, worked on a jigsaw puzzle with Zack, a cuddle or two with Daisy, a healthy breakfast and I surrounded myself with music. Josh and Zack were both off of work today. What a blessing. Things were going pretty well for a good part of the morning and then, like a huge tidal wave, it came at me from out of nowhere. It began with a small ripple of longing, picked up strength and entered my heart with such force I was nearly knocked down and dragged out. I picked myself up after the first wave hit and decided it would be a good idea to go for a long walk to escape grief’s wrath. I “saddled up” Daisy and began my trek, hoping the feel of sunshine on my face and salty wind in my hair would help me to retrieve myself from the onslaught of sadness.

I headed into the wind with strength and confidence, knowing that the air and exercise would feed my soul. We took a long walk in the neighborhood, our old walk, and then as usual, headed for the beach where I talk to you. I was looking for some peace. The last time I called out your name on the bay, I was lucky enough to find seven…SEVEN heart shaped rocks on the short stretch of beach I covered. My call was answered and I felt a sense of peace and love that day. Thank you!

Today, as I approached the beach and let Daisy run free, my joy in the moment turned to a darkened sadness as the next tidal wave approached me. As in the many nightmares I had as a child about tidal waves, this one came full force and there was nowhere for me to run. I was hit broadside and it smashed me against the rocks with such force, my chest and my throat were choking from the impact. I could not outrun the wave even if I had the energy and spirit to try.

I never saw this one coming. Once up for air, the pain and agony left in my soul was unbearable.

Grief is a tricky entity. It comes when you least expect it and yanks you out of your foothold. This morning I had a strong and somewhat confident stance and by this afternoon, I had been tossed around and broken into a million little pieces. I lay there like a limp piece of dead seaweed sprawled over the sand.

By evening, exhausted, I had mellowed and spent time with the boys playing Rummy. Anything to take my mind off of the afternoons’ incident. I didn’t share all that happened to me today with them, but it felt like the end of your life had happened today. I felt as battered and bruised as I did the morning of November 12th when you left this world and my life changed forever. That’s how powerful this wave was.

So, here I am picking myself up off of the ground again and putting one foot in front of the other. I imagine the waves will keep coming for a long time. As you know, I am a fighter, and it will take a lot to break me completely…I think…I hope. Today’s wave was insurmountable. I fear what tomorrow will bring. I have a need for hope, but today any hopes for recovery were dashed amongst the rocks on our favorite place to be. I will return to the bay to search for hope tomorrow, and will see whether I have headwinds or tailwinds in store. I’m seeking a calmer sea, soft smooth sand, and a small gentle ripple of peace. And perhaps a heart rock or two. That is all I ask. Can you help me??

With everlasting love for you,

Lynne