Shape-shifting. The word rolls off my tongue as I try to get the feel of it. I’m shape-shifting this year. My grief is shape-shifting in unexpected ways. My life has shifted in ways I never could have imagined. Our lives are shifting. One of our kids is in crisis across the country from us. Handsome Husband is debilitated with pain. Tomorrow will be 17 years since my brother died. And yes, all of this is connected in my heart, contained within this morphing of life. I lie here and pray for this child, encircling her with the love of everyone I can imagine. I had the same imagery for my brother as he lay dying of cancer these many years ago. I lie here and pray for my husband, that he can find relief from the his pain, both emotionally, for this child, and his own physical pain. And all this pain around me catapults my mind to that early morning of January 26, when Kysa died and I called my parents to tell them that their child had taken his final breath.
This year it isn’t my pain, it isn’t my grief. My grief has morphed, I have morphed, into my parents, receiving that call. Our kids are all adults, out on their own, scattered, sustaining themselves through all that life flings at them, and as their parents, we experience a good part of it from a distance. (We never seem to get it lined up that we’re with any of them when a crisis surges-how is it that life happens that way?) And now, experiencing a child in crisis so far away, it muddles up with my memories of the day my brother died, and the finality of that call to them from me.
In the moments after Kysa died, after an insane battle with FC (that is forever how I’ll think of cancer, and you can figure out what the “F” stands for), I know I was numb. I was so numb and exhausted that I didn’t realize how numb I was, but here, this morning, I’m shocked anew at the memory of it.
I was at his house, with him as he died. Fog and shadows. Kysa’s wife called her mom, I do remember that. And I remember asking her if she wanted me to call my folks, or did she want to. She requested that I call them, so I dialed the number for my sister in NH; my mom lived with her. My memory of that call and my sister’s memory of that call could very well be two different memories. I know I told her simply that our brother had just died and she needed to tell mom. I know I called my dad, but then I go blank. I called my sister who lived nearby, and she immediately came over. She and Kysa’s wife sat with him in his room while I went out to the living room and lay down on the couch. I don’t know how long I was there before she came out and asked if I wanted to go back to her house with her. I agreed. I don’t know why I agreed, other than to say that if I’d been asked to strip naked and walk into traffic, I might very well have done so. My mind wasn’t working. All these years later, having worked in bereavement, and studied bereavement, I know that the fog that descends in the immediate time after death is a mind-saver. Grief, at the same time that it smacks down in a way similar to the boulder falling on the road-runner and stuns you with pain, also numbs you to the bone.
It has shifted and changed over the years, this grief of mine. Mostly its just sadness now and again when I think that my brother no longer graces this earth. What surprises me is that grief can still surprise me. This year? This year, worrying about our child in crisis, has caused a shape-shift in my grief, taking it from my experience to my parent’s experience, and I’m ruminating on what those moments were for them, hearing that their child died, far away from them, and I grieve this new grief for them. My dad is elderly, memories of his past constantly current. My mom died of cancer 6 months after my brother, her grief still very present in her heart.
Grief. Drifting fog, chasing shadows, winding its’ way through my life, lying low, surging high, mostly familiar, weaving into me in ways unexpected. Parents. Children. Children becoming adults. Becoming parents. Coming into empathy for our parents. Step, step, shift.