After the rain falls and the tears fall, way after the sinking feeling has settled and claimed residence, somehow the fog slowly begins to clear. It’s just a sliver at first, but it’s palpable, real, and it’s a breath of air intruding upon a space that has been suffocatingly sad and grievously mad and worthy of hibernation. Just like that, a crumb, a snippet, a fleeting something appears on the horizon of my heart. This is my passage: I return from rock bottom and float back up to the surface, ready to inhale and accept life again.
It’s natural, it’s normal, it’s the cycle of life, but the return comes as such a jolt and surprise each time. I am ok, I say aloud to myself, feeling as though I’ve come back from the jungle, because that is where I have been. I can go to work today and I will wear that new skirt. Simple, daily, auto tasks unfold with no forethought for others, but not for us. If breathing weren’t involuntary, some days that would not happen, either. Each one of those thoughts register for us, click-click goes the brain. It is okay to feel good, it’s acceptable to put on lipstick, it is alright to go exercise. I will meet my friend for coffee and invite people over. Yes, I will. And it is perfectly fine to indulge in something wondrously marvelous even though my son will never know that thrill.
And I’m back. The clouds in the sky look lovely this time, and maybe today’s formation is a message. The song on the radio doesn’t bring tears but sounds good, even though my boy would roll his eyes at my choice of music. I see the rolling green hills and want to go hiking, go to the park one Sunday, plan that day at the glass blowing factory. Oh, the things that I could accomplish if I felt this way every day. I breathe and am grateful for the good days, following the same mantra we did when he was alive.
Sometimes I try to force the better days – talk to a friend, visit the grandgirls on video chat, eat forbidden chocolate. It works only if they are at my disposal, snap-snap of the fingers, but makes things worse when they are not available, for which they always apologize later. If they had known I was in a funk, would they really leave work to come hug me or drive down the turnpike to make me smile? Or do they just want me to know that they love me still, even if they cannot be by my side right then, right away, right when I need them? Chunks of cocoa with nuts and stuff have to do, or sometimes not. Sometimes the TV chatters on while the laundry sits, supper isn’t made. And that suffices, too, to get through.
But coming back is a glorious thing, when it happens. As a young girl, I used to experience monthly cramps that were larger than my life. My mother doted, the doctor prescribed. And when the fog of pain cleared, there was nothing like it in the world, feeling good, feeling untethered, feeling free.
Now I am wise, and I know what even when I’m back, I will fall again into that abyss of grief, over and over. But I also know that I will climb out and rejoice my life. I have learned that there is hell here on earth, threaded through our life for no apparent reason. But on a much deeper, visceral level, I understand that there are layers of hell, some softer, others biting. We descended with diagnosis, but ascended with scans; dropped lower still with recurrence and this crap and that, yet ultimately, finally we rise to breathe air again and again.
I understand that there is always hope, no matter how small, how inconsequential. There is even hope on a deathbed, trust me. If I can accept my starting point of teetering on the age of heaven and earth, heaven and hell, there is a way to lift myself, grasping and gasping, from that well, a hole so frighteningly deep. The existence I knew is gone; the life I hoped for has been replaced. But with the double edges of all the swords I have borne, I’ve learned a magnificent thing: We can come back. We can live in the face of loss. I can go on without my son in spite of the fight with life and G-d I wage still. I can live and love and smile and be happy, sometimes. And I’m back.