I feel, in a way, as if my life is starting over. As if, almost seven months after our baby died, I am opening my eyes and starting to look around at what is left of the wreckage. As if I sit in the rubble of my house after a storm has leveled it. Over there, I see a shred of cloth—the color catches my eye, and reminds me of something. And there, a photograph of someone I knew. A family member, maybe. The lid of a box that once held memories. A scrap of paper: musical notes, or words. Did I write them? Were they written to me? Maybe they have nothing to do with me.
The land around me is flat, empty. I have painted this landscape before, terrestrial. I have smeared the charcoal waves of this landscape, aquatic. Anything upright stands stark, conspicuous, against the sky. I can make out figures now, other people. The ones closer to me are clearer, and I am beginning to see who is still here. Some of them are silent. Some call my name. Some call Joseph’s name, and my heart smiles and blossoms and weeps.
It is hard to explain, I think. On the surface, the world I dwell in is not empty. I still go to work: I teach, I counsel, I console, I cajole, I entertain, I perform, I listen, I give. I still do the dishes, the laundry, care for the cats, go grocery shopping, keep appointments. I write, and write, and write. I read novels and curl up on the couch and watch more t.v. than I have in all the rest of my life put together, or so it seems.
And I have never been alone. I have A, and a loving family, and friends who have looked me in the eye and been brave in a way that I know I couldn’t have been if this had happened to them first.
But there is this persistent sifting of things. A slow, quiet shuffling of position, seaweed and driftwood in the calm swell of waves, rising, falling out of sight. I am waiting to see what washes onto shore.
What do you value? the grief counselor asks me.
I misunderstand. Well, I’m trying to work on my novel.
She explains. That’s more like a goal. The value behind that might be something more like, ‘I value an outlet for my creativity.’
It’s like she turned a light on in my head. I had been thinking, What things can I busy myself with until we are pregnant again, until we have a living, breathing baby? Now, I have a way of asking myself, What in my life-without-Joseph still has meaning?
A week later, I am still thinking.
The grief counselor gave me a freebie with the bit about creativity. As I sat in her office trying to think fast, like this was some kind of quiz, I came up with, Um, well, I guess, I value A. Wait, is that too specific? I value my family. Ah, yes, that includes A, but it also includes Joseph—the time I spend thinking about him, talking to him, writing, doing art, mourning—and the rest of my family, and A’s, too.
So that’s two.
I recognize that, even in my moments of extreme introversion, I value friendships, too. I value making connections with other people. Having coffee or taking a walk with a friend. Writing long emails back and forth with those far away. My blog is a way of connecting to others, as is my writing at Glow, and the time I spend on forums.
I realize a fourth is currently being fulfilled by my job teaching elementary school: I value working to make the world a better place. On my heroic days, I value saving the world. On my discouraging days, I value ‘each one, teach one.’
A and I have a spontaneous dance party in the back room of our house, just the two of us. It is the first time I’ve danced since Joseph died, and I think, Aha! I value dance! And then I admit to myself that this is a bit narrow, and I need to expand it. I value moving my body in ways that make me feel strong and healthy. Maybe, thinking of it that way, I won’t drag my feet so much on days I go to the gym to exercise.
All of this has given me a sense of building up. Additive, not negative. That I am reconstructing my life one small bit at a time. I am noticing that many of the pieces I need are right there, within my reach. That scrap of paper, that photograph, that shred of cloth.
I don’t know what I’m building.
But at least I am building.
© Burning Eye