Monday, July 31, 2006

A thousand cuts

I always thought losing P would be like a tidal wave, something huge and elemental that would swamp me and suck me under. Instead, I'm learning that sorrow isn't always big. It's small, too. It comes in bursts throughout the day, in dozens of tiny moments that spring up and jab me when I least expect it. When I dump out my purse and see the bottle of Extra-Strength Tylenol, and I realize that I don't need to carry Tylenol for P's arthritis anymore. When I come home with grocery bags and realize we'll never put the groceries away together again. When I see an ad for a movie he'd like, and I think how excited he'll be, and then I realize that he won't get to see it. And I wonder -- did it really happen? Did I really find him dead, did I stand beside his coffin, did I hold his ashes in my arms?

I know I did those things. But at the same time they seem like something that happened in a dream, a long, strange dream from which I still might wake.

I've been dreaming of him almost every night, much more than I ever did when he was here. Each dream is different, but in all of them, he and I say something to each other like, "What a good thing it was all a mistake," or "I'm so glad you didn't die after all." There's never a moment when I find this out; it's always taken for granted that of course he's still alive. If there's a message for me in these dreams, I don't know what it is. Maybe that he does still exist somewhere, in some way. I had a hard time with that idea for a while, even though I've always believed in an afterlife, because of the way he looked when I found him. I've seen plenty of people who have died before, at funerals, but none of them ever had that sense of complete absence, like a vacant house with the front door hanging ajar. Whatever vital essence that made P who he was had gone without a trace, and there was no bringing it back. It shook my faith, hard, although I can't explain why. It might just as easily have reinforced it; after all, something has to provide that essence, and what is it if it isn't a soul?

I could try to explain for fifty years what it was like to find his body, and I'd never be able to convey the trauma of it. Well-meaning people keep telling me what a blessing it was, such a peaceful way to go, and I just nod and smile. It must have been peaceful for him, and I'm grateful for that, but it was pure shock and horror for me. It was like finding him murdered. For the first few days, I thought I would lose my mind every time the memory came back. It was the worst thing that's ever happened to me, and I say that as someone who has not had a particularly easy life to this point. And of course, the person best equipped to help me deal with it would have been P himself, except he wasn't there.

Irony hurts too. Just like those sharp little moments of sorrow. You bleed to death slowly, one drop at a time.

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