A few months ago, I participated in an online grief symposium. “Why have you not mentioned this before?” you might ask. Mostly because I wasn’t 100% confident in my interview. I cried a lot. I rambled. I tried to stick the issues at hand but there is SO much to say when you lose a child, keeping myself on track amid a storm of emotion was harder than I thought. As if there is a best way to talk about this sort of thing. As if anyone would judge me (except myself). But I wanted to be helpful and I doubted myself. I thought that I didn’t do my best.
Among the many things that Bill brought into our lives before Izzy passed–as if he knew on some sort of spiritual level what was coming our way–was a Peloton bike for me. (This is not going to be an ad for Peloton except I will say the “elitest” mythology surrounding the bike bears no resemblance to the reality of ownership. It’s a life-saver, plain and simple.) The bike is in my office which is perfect for me, given the sedentary nature of my job. With every ride, it measures your output and keeps track so you can see your progress. Each ride records your personal best. For example, my best output on a 45-minute ride is 680.
After Izzy left, the bike has been one of the greatest tools to keep my sanity, to burn off pain and grief, and boost my mood as well as it is able. I have slumps, absences, etc. I have built up endurance and then lost it again, especially when in the throes of trying to meet a book deadline. And so I’ll get on the bike for a 45-minute ride and watch the previous me race ahead, accumulating kgs at a rate faster than I’m currently capable. The numbers add up while I struggle, and catching that earlier incarnation of myself becomes impossible for one more ride.
And it used to bother me, that I’d lost stamina or discipline to keep up my numbers. “That previous me was doing so well. I am not.”
Her absence is weighing heavily on me.
I wrote that in response to a Facebook comment to a friend the other day. Looking at the words now, how paltry and empty they seem. Izzy’s loss “weighs heavily” on me. Right. As if. The emotion those words are meant to convey is a million lightyears away from the words themselves. There are no words. There is no way to express what this feels like. There is no way for anyone, unless they’ve lost a child too, to grasp it and even then…? “I can’t imagine it.” No you can’t, because neither can I. I’m going through it and I can’t comprehend it. Sometimes, a flash from the hospital, from when we shut off the machines, for example, will flare up at me, and I’ll stop what I’m doing and gasp. Is that real? Did that really happen? Did my miraculous child, who championed truth and goodness and honesty more than 99% of adults I know, actually die? What the fuck.
Yes, it “weighs heavily” on me. Stare at the sun at noon on a sunny day without blinking. You can’t blink. You have to stare no matter what and you still have to go about life at the same time. That’s sort of what it feels like.
Going on is the ride now. The personal best is making it through the day. I used to beat myself up for things. A lot of things. I still do for moments when I lost patience with Izzy. Times I spoke harshly to her, or made her feel bad, despite whatever stellar parenting rationale I might have thought was important at the time. /sarcasm But even then, I was doing my best, because I was still asleep.
I’m wide effing awake now, and it’s amazing how much clearer the world looks from this side.
I remember one day, during the time Izzy was in the hospital, I drove home to shower and change. We were set up in a little room right next to the Pediatric ICU so we didn’t ever have to go far. But I needed to get out, just for an hour, and shower in my own bathroom. The first thing I noticed was how surreal life had become. How superficial. How meaningless so much of what was happening around me was. The guy on the radio was talking about concert tickets. It was like he was speaking a foreign language.
I got home and the living room was still torn up from the firefighters and EMTs shoving furniture around to make space for their defibrillators and equipment that ultimately did not work. Okay, fine. Keep going.
I took a shower, changed, and passed the girls’ room where the bunkbeds were still there. Of course they were. Nothing had changed and yet everything was about to change. Space was about to be made in our house. A yawning black chasm of empty space.
I went back to the hospital and the rest happened as it happened. Two days later we left with a bunch of balloons and get-well cards and a stuffed teddy from those firefighters, but no awesome kid.
The next year was spent half in shock, trying to shield my mind and soul from the actual reality. I tried to carry on and wrote books and attended signings in the desperate attempt to put it all back the way it was. I did my best. But Christmas was too much so we went to Hawaii instead. To scatter her ashes but to also be as far away from the reality as possible. That’s a symptom of grief people don’t talk about much. Many a time I had the urge to run out the front door and just keep going. Where or how wasn’t the issue. Just run. Run away from the pain and don’t look back.
But you can’t. You have to get on a stationary bike instead that keeps you in the house where your husband and youngest daughter still need you, and you keep going. Pedal with all your fucking might, even as the previous incarnation of you can’t be caught, but tears away, into the horizon you will never actually reach.
Year Two isn’t as easy as I had hoped it would be. There’s been a lot of compartmentalization going on. Writing books instead of thinking. My grief counselor changed jobs and so I’ve been without. We can’t go (escape) to Hawaii this year because my father needs us here. So I’m putting one foot in front of the other to get through a ‘normal’ Christmas.
We have a little tree. It’s new. I insisted on using only the ornaments given to us last year because going into storage and digging up the stuff we used (and our old tree) when Izzy was here is out of the question. I used to love Christmas shopping and wrapping presents. I’d have a new wrapping paper theme and get all the same colors or styles, like all black and white with red bows, for instance. Or one year I did all old-timey paper. I’d stress about making sure I bought “acceptable” gifts for everyone from their list of stuff and make sure I spent equal amounts of money on everyone. And on Christmas Eve, I’d make two piles of gifts, one for Izzy and one for Talia, making sure they had the same amount, I’d stay up late and watch Love Actually while wrapping the gifts and eating Pfeffernusse.
This year, I dragged myself through all of it, feeling numb because feeling anything else in public isn’t ideal. I bought gifts I thought had more meaning and didn’t come off a list. It wasn’t about the money. No wrapping paper theme. No Pfeffernusse either (TJ’s discontinued it). And instead of two piles of presents on Christmas Eve there will be one, while I watch Love Actually, and I’ll cry through every minute, and when Emma Thompson realizes she’s been betrayed by her husband, the part that will hit the hardest is when she smoothes her bed comforter, because she has to keep going.
So do I. Because I’m the mom and that’s what moms do. Bill has his own set of sacrifices to make in the name of bravery, because he’s the dad, and that’s what dads do. You keep going for your kid even if you want to cry all day. You scream in the car on the way back from the mall so no one hears you. You physically yank yourself from the brink of insanity and carry on.
And I also am beginning to stand up for myself. When my feelings are hurt, I let myself feel hurt instead of trying to suck it up. I am allowing myself to NOT be the one who should be trying harder when I’m at the end of my rope most days to begin with. I am trying to feel more proud of surviving this without public or social media meltdowns (just the one so far, huzzah) and I’m learning to get on the bike and watch my previous self ride out of reach. I’ll catch her someday and go even further. Or maybe not. My new personal best is the number right in front of me, not the one I’m chasing. When I think I can do better, I do better. I’m honest with myself. I fight back. But when the tank is empty, I’m going to acknowledge it instead of running on the fumes.
I did too much in 2019. I did just the right amount. I did my best. One step after another, and gratitude for what I do have in the absence of what I don’t. Christmas isn’t about the money spent on stuff. Stuff doesn’t last. It’s not important. That’s one of the gifts Izzy left us. I know what’s important and that’s my holiday/New Year’s wish for you. That only that which is truly important finds you and that it is filled with only love. Especially for yourself. 🦋
For those interested in all of the amazing content in the grief symposium, here is the link: https://www.ahigherqualityoflife.com/grieftopurpose