Starting Over

MessagesIt’s two weeks today since my beautiful Girl passed away. I wish I could say it seems longer, but it doesn’t. Time that seemed to stretch on forever is now compressed into tiny blocks barely visible in the rear-view mirror. And a strange phenomenon has occurred.

I’m living in two worlds.

I can’t say when I first noticed it. My heart broke when my Girl left me, and the pieces now seem to inhabit two entirely different realities.

The first is a world in which my Girl is still with me. I call her name, talk to her, put her music on for her. In this world, my Girl is at her program, laughing and singing and dancing with her friends. She’s in her room watching her Smurfs DVDs, sorting through her CDs, or playing her games. Alternately, I tell myself that her absence is explained by a spell of respite at the hospice. It’s an oddly comforting world that’s all inclusive, that contains all the memories, all the past, all the fun, the laughter, and the togetherness that we had. In this world, she’s still my best friend. She still holds my hand. She’s still the beautiful person I care for, look out for, fight for; the person I nurture and love. And it doesn’t matter that I can’t see her because somewhere, just around the next corner, I’ll find her waiting for me.

But living in this world has isn’t sustainable. While the music plays and I revel in the familiarity, I know the slightest ripple in the facade will break the spell. When that happens, reality kicks in.

Then I’m thrown into that other world. This one is a world of hard surfaces and sharp corners and sudden aches that fill my chest and reduce me to a howling, sobbing wreck. It’s a world where I cannot contain the pain inside. It’s the world where I said goodbye, and now there’s a space my beautiful Girl once occupied. That space is cold and empty. It has no air, creates no shadow. It’s space unfilled.

This weird double existence seems to have developed since the funeral. I went through the entire service, making arrangements, having the casket sent to her program for her friends to decorate under the guidance of her beloved art teacher. All the while I was busy organizing flowers, selecting music. I knew two of the songs that would speak volumes about the incredible person my Girl was, and the amazing relationship we had. I could not find the third. It had to be big. It had to be touching. It had to be right.

Time went, and I began to panic. My Girl had a personality ten times her physical size, so I knew it had to fill the room. I wanted something that spoke about the suffering she had left behind, about the journey she was always going to make. I spent months—eighteen months, to be exact—searching for the perfect song. The day before the service, I was at my wit’s-end. I had already decided on something only halfway good enough, when I found myself on the phone on hold, waiting to cancel my welfare payment, when the opening bars to New Zealand singer Hollie Smith’s “Bathe in the River” rang down the line. It was perfect!

It was music that would take her from us for the last time, music I would remember her by. It was music that spoke of a dignified and peaceful passing.

We gathered at my home to  drink and eat and talk about a wonderful young woman we’d been so privileged to know. I thought it gave me closure. I thought it brought me peace.

My darling friend Rachel stayed that first night. We sat up talking, laughing, and remembering.

But somewhere in the back of my mind, I was worried. Where was this great sorrow I was supposed to be experiencing? Was there something wrong with me? Had I suddenly become heartless? Or was it that I’d been grieving for so long, I was moving through the process more smoothly than I’d anticipated?

I felt robbed.

Until the next day.

That’s when World Number Two made its presence felt.

After a leisurely breakfast and a promise of many phone calls, Rachel packed up her things and deposited them at the door while we said our goodbyes. I meant to say goodbye. I really did. But the instant she lifted her bags, all the air in the house seemed to be sucked out of that open door. I couldn’t breathe. My Girl’s absence filled the house with a feeling of despair and absolute loss. An implosion in my chest folded me in two, wailing like something deeply wounded. I begged Rachel not to go.

She grabbed me, hugged me tight, then immediately unpacked. After another night of talking and remembering, we once again said our goodbyes. This time, she had to go. This time I let her.

So this is my world now. The house is quiet, my days stretch out empty in front of me. I still get up at 5 a.m. Maybe one day I’ll sleep until 6 a.m.

I have no idea what the future holds. It’s as though my purpose in life has been stolen away from me. But when I look back from this point in time, my Girl had been slipping from my grasp so slowly and for so long, I had barely noticed. What I had left was her body, racked with pain, only containing a tiny flickering light.

Gone was her amazing strength of spirit. Gone were the laughter and the twinkle in her eye. Illness had crept in while I wasn’t looking and stolen away her vitality, her essence, her radiance. Our beautiful life together was just a memory. I’d left it further back on the road without noticing. I’d been so busy keeping her alive, keeping her comfortable, I forgot to be happy. And no matter how hard I worked, how many drugs I administered, how hard I prayed, I knew she would one day leave. I never let that knowledge stand in my way.

Looking back, there were times when I prayed it would all end. There were moments when I looked to the day when we were no longer on this rollercoaster ride—not because I wanted her gone—oh, dear God, nothing could be further from the truth. I wanted to keep her with all my heart. But in reality, all I had left was a shell with that faint spark still sputtering on. It was no life for her. It was no life for me. I wanted the pain, the suffering, the hopelessness to be over. That came at a price. My Girl and her suffering went hand in hand. If I lost one, I lost the other. It was the worst no-win situation.

Perhaps one day the two halves of my world will merge. Perhaps I’ll inhabit a world where my Girl may be gone, but she’ll always be with me. It’ll be a time and place where I can see the little everyday things that were once a part of our everyday lives and I won’t fall apart. I’ll be able to hear her songs, and not feel the ache; I’ll touch her clothes and not feel that desperate yearning to roll back time and find her again.

I know the pain will be with me forever. I’ll learn to place it into a box. Every now and then, I’ll lift the lid and take out that pain. My heart will ache every bit as much as the day I lost her. But then I’ll place all that pain, all those memories back in the box, and my other world will take me onwards.

I know I’ll never be alone. I know that wherever I go, she’ll be with me, and that one day, we will meet again.

I’ve learned so much on this journey. I’ve learned to love, to laugh, to fight when I need to. I’ve learned that I can make my voice heard and that I can move mountains. I learned this when she was alive. I’ll keep it with me always.

Who could ever ask for more?

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Starting Over

  1. There are no words to ease such pain huggs, May the joy of her life give light in the pain of her passing

  2. I am so sorry for your loss, Catherine. I hope you soon find some measure of solace in remembering the good times together.

  3. I remember the two-worlds feeling from when my father died, 18 years ago. I also remember feeling very jarred at the insistent normality of the world around me. The traffic lights kept on changing colors, according to the same rhythm. People sold stuff, bought stuff, felt happy, got mad. Nothing had changed in the rest of the world, even though my world was utterly different. I wanted this person who was so important to me to be important in a larger sense, but of course, he was just an ordinary person.

    I’m sure what you’re feeling is so much harder, Catherine. After all, we’re “supposed to” lose our parents. My thoughts are with you frequently.

  4. Catherine,
    My heart aches for you. I can’t imagine what you are going through. I have a ten year old daughter, and your loss hits so very close to home. I pray for you to have peace, and joy in your memories, because I’m truly at a loss to think there is anything I could say…except to let you know I do care.

  5. Everyone’s path on the road of grief is their own to take and I won’t presume to even consider I know what your journey is like now.

    My wife and I lost our first child 19 years ago and you never really get over it. I remember leaving the hospital and the world was too fast, too bright, and still going on. I kept asking how other people went on with their lives when it felt like my world had just ended?

    But we moved on and worked through our grief anyway we could, relying on our faith and determination to put one foot in front of of the other. It wasn’t easy because this little person was our world, our hope, and our future.

    Those were dark times, but we had two more little people come into our lives and they filled the void. Still, with all the business of life and the joy we have in our children, we never forgot our little Grace. And I’m sure you will never forget your Girl. Take comfort in the memories.

  6. Joan Ruffles

    Cathy,
    Your story has touch me deeply, my heart goes out to you. Your beautiful princess is free of pain and is with you always. Love and many Blessing always.

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