Sunday, February 19, 2012

Perception ...

Does anyone see themselves clearly?

Are we incapable? Like how we're unable to hear our voices the way others hear them?

I see the world from my point of view – with wide-angle peripheral vision – but I can't see behind me. I can't see inside.

So I've been mulling an exchange with a friend on Friday who wrote to express his condolences about Jeff and included: "I marvel at your strength, Beth."

Huh.

Really?

What strength?

I don't feel strong.

When L.A. Dave died, I was flattened. I functioned, but not well. At least, not well by my standards.

And perhaps that's the crux of the matter: my standards.

Still, I don't feel strong in the face of these losses.

Then again, I don't know what qualifies as strong.

Last Saturday, I procrastinated. I knew I had to call Sherry, but I had no earthly idea what to say. And I knew that calling her, that hearing her voice, would make everything real. Not that it wasn't real already, but speaking to her would cement it. I finally dialed their number and she answered. I told her the only thing that made sense. I told her that I loved her. Sherry was strong. Her voice was weak but she managed to speak. I, for my part, managed to speak, too, but I could barely say goodbye. I told myself before I called that I had to keep it together. I am incapable of keeping it together.

Last Sunday, I tended to details and got into my car and drove to Detroit.

Last Monday, I attended Jeff's funeral and burial and then drove home.

Nothing about that strikes me as strong. Necessary, yes. Strong, no.

Jeff is the fourth friend I've lost since 2003, the third of those friends to die unexpectedly. And while the fourth friend was older and had been ill, even his death came sooner than any of us expected. There was no time for me to get to him to say goodbye.

This time, though, feels different.

Yesterday, I had a good day. I was struck by the fact that it was a good day. In the morning, I walked into the kitchen to get more coffee, marveling at the fact that I felt good, not sad. "Yeah, well, wait five minutes," I told myself. When Dave died, I was often fine one minute then sobbing the next.

But I decided to proceed with the day by being fine in the moment. If sadness arrived, I'd let it move through me, but in the meantime, I did the dishes. I did the laundry. I did all of the laundry. I wrote a note to Sherry and drove to the post office to mail it. I wrote to an author of a column about Jeff to thank him for giving form to the angst. I traded emails with a friend who may have heard about Jeff belatedly and who asked me to tell him about the funeral. I did a bit of reading. I took out the garbage and the recycling. I sorted mail and ordered bills and shredded papers. I flipped through catalogs. I put away catalogs. I watched a bit of TV. I had some lunch. Later, I had some dinner. I Swiffered my floors. I found a pair of shoes underneath my bed (the ones I was sure I had thrown out and therefore did not take with me to Detroit which required that I buy a new pair of shoes for Jeff's service because my ratty gym shoes would not suffice). And I had a few teary moments, but they were brief.

And so I went to bed having had a good day. And I woke up to what I hope will be another.

I have decided, this time, that I cannot let grief consume me. I simply can't. And Jeff would not want me to let it. Not that my other friends would have. Charles never let me wallow. Dave would have told me to have a milkshake. John would have commiserated and shared insight and wisdom from his vast, deep experiences, but then he would have given me a task or sent a book or a CD to provide something to ponder or a distraction.

So maybe this decision to carry on counts as strength. But how can I do otherwise? The days continue to arrive. And I am grateful to have each and every one of them, more grateful now than ever. Today, I really need to restore some sense of order to my closet. And I should probably deal with the dust that I discovered yesterday underneath my bed. And I have books to read and recipes to reimagine and more dishes to do.

Life goes on, in all its richness and all its glorious banalities.

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