I lie in his arms in the middle of the night. My eyes are still swollen from crying but my face is dry now, at least.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him again.
“You don’t have anything to be sorry about,” he answers. I know that he is being honest, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s the truth.
He’s stayed up with me like this a lot over the years. Less and less over the past few, and I took that as a sign I was getting better. But the tears came again no matter how hard I fought, turning weeks of restless sorrow into a defeated deluge. I’m ashamed to be weeping like this tonight. I’m always ashamed when I have these breakdowns, but tonight it truly feels like a failure. As if we’re resetting some kind of record from hundreds all the way down to zero.
It has been ____ days since Celeste has cried her face off like a fucking baby.
He takes a third day off work, just to make sure that I am safe and I am healthy. He places food in front of me and I eat without tasting, without realizing it until I place my fork onto a curiously empty plate. He forces me to put on clothes and shoes, then walk laps around our neighborhood waking up in springtime. I huddle into the space beneath his arm and let my heart beat. Let my lungs breathe. I let myself be, no matter how terrible that feels.
I am tired of feelings. Tired of being taken care of because I can’t take care of myself. Of lying in a fog of memories, my brokenheartedness so thick that the directions on cans of soup I keep in the cupboard for this exact reason stop making sense. How can I go on like this, heating and stirring and slipping mouthfuls of food past my lips when there is so much weighing down my arms, legs, heart?
I’m not sad, I ache with sadness. I am hollowness and searing pain. I am loss and fear the terrible knowledge of how it feels to have been so regularly left behind.
He folds his hand over mine and I feel his warmth on my skin. I lay my head on his chest, trying to be comforted by the steadfast rhythm of his well-made heart. But each beat comes as both a surprise and a threat. It will stop eventually. He will go away and I will go away and there is nothing we can do but enjoy the commonplace miracle of every borrowed breath. I know this, of course. I try, I am trying, really, to see the blessing in this life instead of the curse of its ending. I have always tried. I have always had to try.
“I miss everybody,” I whisper, my voice threatening to break. I expect him to shush me, to placate. I expect him to remind me that this is how life is. Or to say that I’m just holding on to the past and that I need to let go. I’ve heard all of these things so many times before it’s the only response I can imagine.
Instead, he pulls me even tighter to him and kisses my hair. He says nothing at all.
The next day, the storm finally passes. I taste the sandwich he puts in front of me. I hear the chatter of songbirds flitting between springtime branches as he marches me around the neighborhood. My lungs fill with laughter and I realize this is my first real breath in weeks.
He goes back to work at last because I am okay, and also he must. Life has to go on, no matter how difficult it seems. No matter how bleak. But he goes and I am left alone in an empty house, feeling not quite as empty as I felt just days before. I make my own lunch, something that I want to eat for the first time in over a week. I take my own walk around the neighborhood though I am not actually alone, his voice both soothing and encouraging me through my cell phone.
My sorrow is still there, of course, beneath my adult responsibilities and breathless gratitude for the human heart’s stubborn beating. I still miss everyone, of course. It is right to miss them because my heart is filled to capacity with the love I bear, and they are forever gone. I will never not understand that they are gone. Or what it means.
“This is how life is supposed to feel,” I blurt into the emptiness one morning. The words land with the thud of absolute truth and my skin prickles with realization. I am not holding on to the past; the past is holding on to me. And what’s more, this is as it ought to be. My life of mourning is not actually a sickness.
My sorrow is not brokenness, but recognition that the entirety of human existence is an uncertain voyage of grief-stricken wonder. Brokenness comes when I try to avoid the uncertainty, the grief of unknowing. When I try to forget the cradle of laps and the warmth of arms that used to surround me. The sound of laughter and the beating of hearts that I know I will never hear again. When I take the words “this is just how the world is” to mean grief is somehow burdensome, a distraction. It is neither of these things. It is the opposite.
This is how the world is. Full of missing. Full of the past. Full of the wishing we could love one another forever, and that the warmth of our arms would never fade. But they do, and we are left not with the burden of grieving, but of going on. Of feeding ourselves in the midst of heartbreak. Feeding one another despite the emptiness left by those who came before.
I sift through boxes of photographs, searching for memories of days long gone that I wish had never ended. I am heavy with loss, but no longer weighed down. This is the way life is supposed to feel, and I am feeling it. I am remembering, and I continue to love everyone I have ever loved. The losing of them is my life’s biggest burden, but the memories they’ve bequeathed will always be my life’s brightest light.
image by Jeff Kerwin via Wikimedia Commons