A friend texted me that she was sorry to say it but this is my new normal. She knows, she has lost a son as well. She knows the struggle to be a friend, the struggle to find yourself after you have lost a portion of your heart. Can we really live with just pieces? I watched a dear friend donate a kidney, watched her recovery. She gave to a stranger, not because a family member needed it. She has been preparing for this her whole life, her health choices leading to a swift and full recovery. Yet the stories of those who give out of urgency, I understand their battle to regain their daily life, to live without pain meds. I too have only sliver of my original heart, it barely beats enough to sustain me, I am existing with the knowledge I will never be whole again. I lost the portion of my heart that cares, that holds concern, that oozes compassion with each beat.
I can no longer meet someone new. It just comes down to that, the realization that I will never enter into a new relationship without fear of the opening get-to-know you questions. Do you have any kids? That moment of choosing whether to skip all the details or answer with truth, much like the moment when someone asks “how are you today” is paralyzing. Not including the information that my son has died is the easy route but still causes me to abandon all further discussion, no relationship is built. Alternatively, if I share what is really threatening to break me beyond healing, this new acquaintance might flee for the nearest exit as well, too much heaviness too soon. How do you respond to that overshare? Maybe I would be met with compassion but that threatens to destroy the thin hold I have on public composure as well. My living room, curtains drawn, alone as the tears freely flow, no expectations of a recent shower or combed hair, I am at my most honest. I barely note that the dogs want out or the cats need fed. Dust coats everything and I don’t care.
Keeping my circle of friends just the same as it was 8 weeks ago is safer, as if my ability to relate and behave acceptably in social situations died along with my son. Maybe this truth will be fleeting, lasting only during these early days of grieving, when mourning overwhelms my senses and requires all of my energy. The truth is that even chatting, even quick interactions with a cashier or the dental hygienist frustrate and anger me. My thoughts are on a loop, the refrain “I don’t care” beginning somewhere between the “hello” and the “How are you?” Introspective by nature, now I am self-absorbed, lacking empathy and devoid of compassion. Recognizing that I am not the kind of person I would want to get to know, I wonder if I ever will be again. Protective of my meager social skills and aware of just how exhausted I am, my interactions these days are limited to those who know and expect little of me. Putting on a mask to get through the check out line, responding when someone in passing nods or waves, I can’t keep it in place for longer than 5 seconds, it slips and I am lost again in memories that bring comfort or those what haunt me.
Sitting in the dentist’s chair, standing in the entry area at church, walking through the store all bring anxiety and the fear that I will scream out, “My son died! Stop talking to me.” Can you imagine? How alarming would such a breach of etiquette be, how could any of us recover from such an outburst? So I slink away when I can, I avoid whatever social situations I can. When stuck, like in the dentist’s chair or with a real talker as I try to scan my groceries, I check out mentally and wonder when they will notice that I am no longer present. Attempting to connect with me, many people share stories of others who have lost someone important in their lives, an honest attempt to let me know they get it and yet the very act snaps the thread between us. I cannot accept any donations of more pain, I am at capacity. Thus chit chat overwhelms me, other stories of loss anger me. No, my circle has to be small enough that my instincts to host or be accommodating don’t war with the desire to scream. Worse yet, I can’t muster the desire to care how I am perceived.
Certainly there are people who know I can only be engaged for moments, they offer the space for me to float in and out without judgement. These folks are my inner circle, the friends who share grace with one who is full of judgement and anger. They know I have little to nothing to give and am selfishly taking, taking, taking. They join me for lunch and know it might be silent. They help me with meal preparation church and realize I am far away even as we stand side by side. They ask me how I am doing and really want to hear the answer. Hours later as it occurs to me that I didn’t ask about them, that I showed no concern for their well-being, I wonder if they still see ME through the haze of my grief, if they believe I will one day be concerned about more than my broken crumbling heart. I can’t find me anymore, though I am not looking very hard.
To be the most honest, my Chef gets the worst of me, maybe that has always been true but my bad was not this horrible. My anger explodes is rapid bursts, I forget to ask about his day or check out quickly as he answers. He doesn’t have the luxury of sitting at home like me, he puts on the mask daily and enters the public arena where he laughs at jokes and shares basketball scores, he interacts as expected, I just can’t fathom how he puts on such a show. When he returns home, he is met with silence, an oppressive air of sadness that permeates the rooms and coats the walls. I remember years ago when we helped my mother move from one house to the next, nicotine could be seen dripping down the walls, leaving a stain noticed only when a picture was removed, when a planter was picked up. I know now that was sadness, not merely evidence that she smoked constantly inside. My sorrow has tainted my home, my relationships, my desire to be nice. He comes home to this, exhausted from holding his mask in place and finds me, sitting on the couch, with nothing to offer. The painful reality that he has tried to avoid all day confronts him as he puts his key in the lock. Yes, many days I even want to scream at him and he already knows. My son died and my heart is failing. Our relationship is stained and coated with tears that won’t stop.
I am lucky to have those deep friendships to keep me stepping out into the world, telling me that it is okay when I say shitty nasty judgmental things, they accept my anger. It could be that they are paving a way out of this darkness, pushing my heart to function in my new normal. Maybe one day I will say the words out loud, I will be able to share orally that my son died and then know how to say something else. Today, I can’t, all my thoughts stop there. No new relationships, minimal interaction with strangers, venturing into public for short bursts and no eye contact, this is my current reality. I don’t even care enough to apologize. The things I am sorry for are much deeper than poor social skills, much wider than forgotten niceties. My son died. His heart stopped and I can’t find a way to make mine beat again without screaming out in agony. We both ceased being us on that day. I know I will never again hear him laugh, I can’t imagine ever doing so again either. I will never again watch his smile brighten the room, see his eyes sparkle. I cannot find the strength to lift my own lips in greeting, my eyes are dulled by devastation. The cobwebs grow around me as relationships falter, as interactions sputter to a halt. I don’t care anymore and I may never again.