I did not seek to employ grief. There is no contract between us about rights and responsibilities at a fixed price rate. I am discovering that it has employed me. I cannot fire it and tell it to go away when it does not suit me to feel its pain any longer. Grief requires focused engagement from me. Attention to the physical aching of my heart. The pain of your absence refuses to be ignored for one minute longer.
I can distract myself. For three months I successfully found very legitimate urgent things to do. Responsibility and loyalty are easy taskmasters to follow and obey. I partnered with adrenaline to take me full circle through each day until I fell into bed too exhausted to think or feel. After feeding my messiah complex and rescuing everyone in sight, the task of producing a webinar on self-care became my moment of truth. I could not do it. Still being in shock three months after your death, I could not formulate my ideas in neat paragraphs, let alone appear on the screen talking through the logical sequence of self-care. Nothing in my existing toolbox worked. None of my koki pens were the right colour and no picture in my adult colouring book portrayed the pain I feel. All I faced was the very real obstacles and obstructions in taking care of myself. I had to acknowledge defeat. Many years ago I learned from Stephen Covey that private victories have to precede public victories. To acknowledge this private defeat in public and inform an organisation that I am unable to produce this service, was extremely hard for me. I felt that I failed them. That I failed myself. It started the discovery that I found myself in unknown territory. I – the forerunner and trailblazer – did not know the road ahead and was too tired to explore other avenues.
I downloaded Tetris on my phone and played it endlessly for three days. Perhaps there is a way to find the right fit for every empty block in the pattern? It was soothing. Mindless activity. Can you believe that, André? Your productive wife always in pursuit of meaningful engagement and growth. The woman who criticised you for watching silly TV programmes like ‘The most amazing show’ by Corne and Twakkies. It tickled your funny bone and you found it hilarious. They often said: “Believe it, because it’s true.” Perhaps that is exactly my problem right now? I do not want to believe that it is true that you have disappeared from my life. You who filled up so much space of my daily being in my desire to assist you to find meaning. The vacuum where you used to be, is yelling at me. The empty space next to me in our bed. You in your chair reading your newspaper after lunch. Behind your computer in your office, working on another training. You are not in any of these places anymore. Only after your death is it evident how much of my energy and thoughts were intentionally geared at keeping you alive. Sermons made sense because it carried a promise of hope for you. Prophetic words were declarations to proclaim over you. Worship songs could be a source of encouragement. Without being Jewish, I could claim a new year in your life when it was a Jewish feast like Rosh Hashanah. None of that matters now because it cannot bring you back. I cannot fix this problem. I can no longer prevent the end that I so often feared. Job 3:25: “For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me.”
I can no longer ignore my broken heart. Tonight the physical pain was so bad that I made a hot water bottle to put on my chest. It did not help. This is still a house of communication. I will have a conversation with my heart and find out what it wants to tell me.
Heart-ache, what did you come to tell me?
“I came to tell you that the love of your life has died and you need to give yourself permission to mourn him. The man to whom you were devoted for 38 years is gone. Even though you are the fixing-expert, you cannot fix this. You can avoid facing the pain by distracting yourself. As your heart, I cannot send you a WhatsApp. I can send you a message with a physical pain. Will you stop and hear your body, Annette? Will you live what you teach others to do or are you going to ignore me?”
Biscuit, our cat, came to sit on my lap. I noticed that he has eczema on his front paw and he is licking it repeatedly. Is that what I need to do now? Lick my wounds? Mr Google says wound licking is an instinctive response. The saliva has healing components. I need to dwell in this pool of pain for now. There is no escape from grief. It follows your scent of heart-ache until it corners you. I read a book on grief and found this poem called ‘The Invitation’ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. “It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it or fix it.”
My God, help me to hear the ache of my heart and sit with my own pain, paying it the undivided attention I would give to the pain of others. Not to hide from it, distract myself from it, attempt to soften the devastation of the blow by rationalising about having lost André along the way, or attempt to fix it, as if a simple plaster could be sufficient wound care. Protect me from ‘over-licking’ the wound. My self-care kit has no tools for the level of soul care that is required here. I know that I dwell in Your presence even when I take time to dwell with my pain. Jesus, you cried when your friend Lazarus died, knowing that you were going to call him forth from his grave. How much more do I need to give myself permission to cry, because my Lazarus will not be restored to me in this life.
Annette de la Porte