Here's what it is: every Saturday that I am not at work, storytelling or visiting family, we go to town in the mornings. It's a ritual for us, having breakfast, seeing friends, doing a little shopping and errands. Library, feedstore, bank, grocery store are the usual stops.
Now I feel like I'm running an obstacle course. Last Saturday my sisters were visiting and I felt protected by their presence. It was cold and snowy so there weren't many people out and I could go to my usual haunts without meeting anyone who wanted to tell me how sorry they were. This morning it was just Larry and me.
First stop was the tire shop. I've been running on threads and steel cords, the blessing bestowed by my long daily commute and storytelling trips. It was time for tires. The place I usually get them is the shop where Jon worked off and on when he was in high school. Sometimes when he was in the Army or working at Nextel and came home to visit he would still go in and work, just for the purely physical nature of it. He and the shop owner were longtime friends, closer to uncle/nephew than anything else. They argued, laughed and cussed each other, and Jon loved that man like family.
I thought I'd be okay, but at the first sight of Jon's old friend, I knew I was in trouble. I managed a hug but could not talk to him at all. Tears were too close to the surface for both of us. Painful does not begin to describe how it felt. We got the tires (no discount! Ha! There is friendship and there is business, a fact Jon and his friend both knew well, and somehow that was better for me. Business is business, no emotional involvement).
At the Downtowner, I struggled to get a grip, to quiet the sorrow raising its dark head once again. I thought this would be a good day but soon realized that I was too optimistic. A friend I had not seen since Jon's death stopped in for breakfast and although I was more prepared by then, it wasn't easy.
Then on to the bank where thank goodness I saw no one I knew, and to the library. More good friends I had not yet seen, more bracing myself to get through, just get through. Again
it was not bad, just difficult.
I am home now, trembling inside from the strength it took to face people and get done the things that needed to get done--the tasks that used to be such a pleasure and are now a marathon of fighting back tears and keeping my emotions in check. And people wondered why I did not go out for so long after I got home?
Re-reading what I've written, I realize that this sounds all about me. My friends are suffering too in sympathy and empathy. I do not want to make it harder for them by a) breaking down in their presence, or b) coming off as cold and uncaring. There is no middle line to walk here, no safe place where I can protect myself and appear cheerful and nonchalant. If there is, I have no idea how to find it.
At the same time, I cannot hibernate forever and I do not want to do that. Going to back to work on Wednesday was tough; my people in my department have been terrific--they know me well enough to let me be. Others have that I'm-so-sorry look so I avoid eye contact or speaking to them, and cut off any condolences abruptly by changing the subject to a work-related topic. It probably seems cold and perhaps even rude, but my personal sorrow is not for the workplace, if that makes sense. I appreciate their concern, but the best possible thing they can do for me is get back to business. Then I can put down my shield, take down the wall I have built to protect myself and return to something like a normal workday.
It's hard for me to see meaning in my days or the things I do. I often wonder what this life is about--are we here only to experience the pain of losing the ones we love, and then dying ourselves? Is that really all it is? (Please, no explanations about trusting in God--that's a given, but the questions remain.) Those who have traveled this path ahead of me assure me it gets better with time, and I have to trust that this is true.
As I told a friend this morning, I would gladly die a thousand times to give my son my remaining days. We aren't offered that choice so we struggle on, trying to understand and hold on to joy, to find meaning and reason in our lives. I look at the trees beginning to soften with warmer days and at the flowers breaking the soil in my gardens and I know that nature has a cycle of life, death and rebirth. As part of nature surely that cycle applies to us as well. Somewhere, in some form, Jon will live again. Here and now the business of daily living must go on, and business, as I said above, is business: a list of tasks to be accomplished, goals to be met. Perhaps it is the routine of business that gets us through.
In the meantime, a lifetime of Saturdays line up ahead of me, the end of them lost in the cloud of the future, and I must work my way through them, hoping that at some point joy will return to this business of living.