“Oh! Really? Aaaaaahhhhhhh…”
Awkward silence. Inner struggle. Brain shifting. Gears cranking. Losing self control. Eyebrow raises. Itching to ask. Cannot help self.
“So if you’re not working then what have you been doing then?”
I find it almost hilarious how some people around me react when they find out I have asked my office for an extended leave. I’ve come to expect the bewildered look on their faces. I can tell from the slow creasing of their foreheads how puzzling it is for them that I, always put together, responsible and dependable, would choose to simply wallow in my grief and misery and decide to do NOTHING. Once I answered back to say I was doing a lot and received another bewildered “Like what?”. Hysterical! Makes me wonder what they think my grieving is like. Do they imagine me sitting batty in a bathroom corner, twirling a strand of imaginary long hair, feeling sorry for myself all day? I imagine they would expect the old me to be more productive than that. Time is a wasting. And it won’t help me to allow myself to drown in sorrow. Indeed. I know it. And I am fighting tooth and nail to fish myself out of this quagmire.
As it turns out, when your life gets turned upside down in an instant there is an insane amount of work to be done. Let me begin with what is tangible and physical. Beau and I were married. We lived our own life, in our own little home. There, in our humble studio we’ve kept the stuff of our lives that describe who we are. There is the stuff that show the things we loved to do together. Ropes, harnesses, carabiners, chalk bags, rock shoes, a crash pad that doubled as an extra mattress when we had friends too drunk to even get out the door. On our refrigerator door is a chaotic display of magnets collected from places we’ve traveled to, small reminders of experiences shared, people we’ve met, cultures we’ve learned and appreciated. There was a lot of space left for more magnets, space that spoke of future dreams, space that allowed for possibilities, for the growth of love and wisdom that should have accompanied what i thought was a certainty of graying hair, facial wrinkles, sagging body parts and the smell of liniment. Our pantry is a picture of our duality, painted by packs of rolled oats, whole grain cereals, skim milk and a variety of herbs and spices sitting uncomfortably beside Beau’s party sized packs of chips, instant noodles, bottles of insanely hot pepper sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, fish paste and other liquids that guarantee a gall bladder surgery at some point in the future. Shopaholics that we were, our cabinets were full to bursting with dry-fit shirts, running shorts, cycling jerseys, and jackets. How he loved jackets. He would obsess and discuss excitedly the benefits of tape sealed seams, the differences between a parka, a windbreaker, a fleece. I had always wondered in bewilderment what we would do with all of them, in a tropical country where I honestly would rather enjoy the rain on my face rather than rivulets of sweat. But he had them all, in brands that branded him, us, as members of a proud fraternity of outdoor adventurers. He had taken most of his clothes when he had left to search for answers, but still, now that he is gone, I am left with the task of discovering what has been left behind.
Storing a past, present and future is no easy task. And while there are kind souls who have helped me pack away, I am alone in the pain brought by each memory attached to every material thing that disappeared into those boxes. I sat and cried while friends wrapped our matching dinnerware in newspapers, to go into the box where the fine cutlery gifted to us during our wedding had already gone. A wedding still so fresh in my memory that the end of a marriage seemed like the most grievous of lies. I sat and smelled every stray shirt of his we found in the closet and despaired when I was told to let go and put it in the pile we were going to hand over to his brothers. Better for them to be used instead of constantly cried on, I was told. Let go, they say. In the bathroom I smiled sadly as I gathered up the badges of his vanity; bottles of men-specific toner, facial wash, moisturizer and after shave.
Weeks after, the boxes clutter up my old bedroom in my parents home where I’ve moved back into. And still, our apartment remains unoccupied, with still a few more boxes of things left behind as I have still been unable to get myself to go back and completely close shop. It simply takes up too much energy to re-arrange a life. Moving days are usually exciting even while stressful. They usually mark a new beginning. I too have a new beginning. But to begin from where I started is understandably different. It’s like having to start from the beginning when you’ve already gained momentum. It takes time. Packing takes time. Unpacking takes time. And trying to hold myself together while doing all of this takes time. How much time? I’m only starting to find out. Days for sure. Weeks just as likely. So no, I’m not on leave simply because I am lazy. I truly am just more than a little unwell.
Trying to heal my fractured psyche takes up a lot of time and energy as well. Going to therapy has been helping me immensely but it exhausts me just as much as running a marathon, with the endorphin rush replaced by a feeling of release brought about by a waterfall of tears and boxes of used tissue. After two hours of pouring your heart out one is left bleeding and raw, as if every integument, both clothing and skin, are stripped from you and you are left naked as the day you were born. Imagine dissecting your soul, layer by layer, peeling off year after year, trying to get to the bottom of the mysteries that magnify the pain of your loss. It takes time to go back in time, to revisit dreams and childhood experiences in the hopes of healing wounds long left untended. Old wounds I never thought I even had until a loss so colossal brought them all to surface. The sessions are so physically and emotionally draining that I have been asked to refrain from driving, to start taking medication to regulate my sleep, to meditate and pray and the most difficult of all, to abstain from thinking too much.
Aside from therapy there are visits to the doctor for medication. I’ve had to resort to a cocktail of anti-anxiety pills and anti-depressants to control my morning panic attacks, ones that began to visit me daily the second consciousness returns after a night of restless slumber. As it turns out, getting the cocktail right is an exercise in trial and error, with some combinations requiring up to a month before we can evaluate results. The first try was a nightmare, with the sleep medication leaving me completely lethargic. I would sit in our darkened den, refusing to leave the house which left me alone with my thoughts all day and night. It is a dangerous thing to be taking drugs that are supposed to help alleviate depression when you can read labels and research on the net and find out that results could be the complete opposite, with some side effects causing an increased risk of suicide from the depression that it was trying to cure in the first place. I have increased respect and compassion for psychiatrists who carry the burden of healing diseases that are hardly tangible, where medication is so personalized that science can only guide and not necessarily provide.
I’ve had to take care of my spirit as well, and a good number of hours are spent in the company of a Jesuit priest who patiently listens as I process my anger at God, my questions on life after death and my search for meaning and purpose now that the love of my life is dead.
I feel my hackles rise defensively when it is even insinuated that I am milking the situation for what it is worth, using it as an excuse for a break. I would rather be shackled hand and foot to my office chair rather than be on this mockery of a vacation. What kind of happy holiday would it be when shopping becomes a compulsion brought about by the need to fill a void nothing can ever satiate? What time would you have to enjoy when half the day is spent deciding what to do because thoughts paralyze you so much they render you incapable of movement for hours on end? Thoughts can be like sticky spiderwebs that keep you rooted in space while time continues to flow. How I would rather spend my hard earned money tanning on a beach with my well built husband, rather than spending my leaves and salary on professional fees and feel good pills.
Unfortunately surviving my husband’s suicide is so much more than doing nothing. It takes so much of everything inside me that it leaves little room for anything outside of me. If there was any valid excuse for self-centeredness it is this. It takes work to find one’s center after you’ve been rocked violently at the core of your being. It is like having your insides rocked by a cataclysmic earthquake so massive it is beyond the Richter scale.
There is nothing I would like more than to gain stability and recover enough of my old self to go back to doing the things expected of me. my employers deserve nothing less and I expect nothing less of myself. But time seems of the essence, especially when nothing, not even the loss of a stable, well paying job can compare to the loss of a future I was so excited for that we celebrated it with a promise in front of God and loved ones, balloons, ribbons, confetti and yards of white indian satin, in a place with a view so breathtaking that it deserved to be captured both in celluloid and digital. My marriage was meant to last a lifetime. I’ve been on leave for a total of two months give or take. Perhaps it is but fair to give me a break.