The big things in life do not present themselves as such. They come in the quiet, ordinary moments … they come when we are not looking. Rachel Joyce
What haunts you?
What keeps you up at night?
What do you long for?
What regrets devour you?
Grieving alone can make you feel as though your brain is on a roller coaster .. up and down and all around. Never landing in one spot for long, just a brief pause for you to realize how upset or nauseous you are, only to dash off to the next distressing thought or upsetting memory.
In the aftermath of a devastating loss, you may find yourself taking inventory of everything you did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say, should or shouldn’t have done. Like a test with a rigged outcome, there are no perfect scores, no passing grade. Just regrets, what ifs, missed opportunities, hurtful comments, unspoken words. An expectation of perfection that is impossible to meet.
The happier memories feel inaccessible, distant. Like sand slipping through your fingers, there’s no hanging on. You don’t want to plant yourself in the middle of them because the pain of what’s lost is too searing. You can’t use them to ward off the darker thoughts or nightmares because the self-criticism is unavoidable, and the judgment is too great.
Besides the words I wish I hadn’t said and the irritation or anger I wish I hadn’t displayed, my desire is always the same — to go back to those everyday moments on those ordinary days and savor them more. To take an extra few minutes to watch a little boy’s joy when he discovers green footprints all over the kitchen on St. Patrick’s Day. To appreciate the tight grip on my leg and the pitter patter of little feet following me whenever I leave the room. To catch more tadpoles and worry less when there are some missing from the jar. To laugh more when the missing by then frogs show up under the refrigerator. To take more pictures. To make more messes. To slow down more and worry less.
With the passing of time, my grief brain has calmed down enough to allow space for happier memories to flood back in. I’ve recognized how chaotic and crazy our life used to get, first with a husband who traveled constantly and later with a child with a life threatening medical condition. I realized that despite my fears and regrets, there were lots of quiet moments of just being together — reading books, making cookies, watching TV, talking about what mattered, laughing, being present.
I will never stop longing for my sweet son, but I am less haunted now. Had I known what was coming from the moment he was born, I would have driven him crazy with my worries, fears and restrictions. Instead, I tried to let him walk out into the world and find his own way. To discover his likes and dislikes, to set his own standards, to create his own values, to uncover what made his heart sing. It meant that he got wounded, he got left out and he had his heart broken. But he also found his strength, his courage and his voice. He taught us what grace under fire looks like and what it means to have a code of conduct and a line that you won’t allow another person to cross. And he taught me why sometimes it is more important to walk away than compromise on what you believe in. Although I hunger for the lessons I never got to learn, I am grateful for all that he taught me in the sweet, quiet, ordinary moments we spent together.