Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Photo: My dogwood tree at night

I'm a night-owl.

It's not very convenient any more, and I've tried many times to change it, but fact is, I come alive at night. I feel very creative, very philosophical, and very inspired during the dark hours. Trouble is, those attributes fade by morning. The idea that sounded oh-so-perfect the night before seems unreasonable the following morning. The commitment I made for myself in those wee hours loses its appeal by daybreak. By morning, the magic is gone. I feel sluggish and uninspired and like procrastinating the day away. It's a frustrating cycle.

Sure, I could stay up late and give in to my inner clock, but when the rest of the world doesn't operate that way, it's more than a little challenging.

Recently, however, my days have become the productive refuge from nights that have been taken hostage. After all this time, the physical manifestations of grief have returned, and with a vengeance. Night after night I wake barely able to breathe, tears at the ready, and thoughts and images flooding in that cannot be stopped. It's rather, well, upsetting.

I can rationalize all manner of reasons. There has been a flurry of attorney meetings to address some estate and inheritance issues. There are holidays and my father's birthday approaching. There are myriad local groups erecting public memorials in honor of my father and related stories peppering the local newspaper. And there are the constant reminders that someone, someone usually so incredibly present, has gone missing. I think a part of me still clings to the hope that perhaps Dad is just 'away' for a while. Like, around the corner. On vacation. Too busy at work. I mean, really, this cannot be.

It's really brought an awareness of mortality out into the light, and that alone makes me feel a sense of urgency about life and my children and the plans we make and why we make them and whether or not it's worth the trouble. As my mom tells it, one of the things she felt as she sat at my father's bedside was, "Ok... I get it now."

One of the recent night terrors was about my grandmother, my father's mom. I've only seen her a few times since Dad died, but that's not unusual for me. I'm not very good about such things and somehow opt to carry around the guilt of "I should" rather than just doing it, slow learner that I am. But the other night I sat straight up in bed and the thought racing through my head and pounding in my chest was, "She lost her son...."

I finally visited the cemetary. I'd been avoiding it, telling myself I wasn't ready. The church is a mile from my house, can be seen from my bedroom window, and yet I'd not gone. But I've taken up jogging as a change from my usual biking, and since it's the perfect distance away for a good run, I set out in the direction of the church without thinking the other day... I stopped dead in my tracks about 1/4 mile away when I realized where I was headed, and decided there was no turning back then. It wasn't the still-muddy burial ground that got me, nor the silk floral arrangement. It was the red University of Wisconsin "W" staked into the ground that stole my breath away. This cannot be....

On my way back home, iPod fully cranked, a new mission - escape - in my stride, something caught my eye. I stopped to find a raccoon - which, if you're blinded by tears and breathless from running, can look remarkably like a badger - sitting in a barren patch of field, looking at me. I rarely see these creatures in the light of day, and we sat and looked at each other for quite a while. It was a chilly, damp morning, and it cocked its head at me as I wiped the sweat and condensation from my face and talked to it, wondering if it was sent to soothe me. And then, after looking from cornfield to me and back a few times, it finally, slowly, lumbered off. Curiously, I felt a bit better.

These "grief attacks", as I may take to calling them, really do sneak up on me. It's amazing what the rational mind can do to keep the demons at bay so you can function, but it's all just right there under the surface. An admitted NPR junkie, I caught the beginnings of a 9/11 piece - a family member who'd saved an answering machine message left by her spouse just before he perished in the twin towers. The rush of pain that swept through me in that instant was overwhelming, and I quickly turned the channel. Picture me driving down the road, crying to "Jungle Boogie", the song playing on the very next station! What a wild ride this is indeed.

It's really the long-ago past that gets me the most. It's not so much missing the recent past as grieving for the early years that trips me up. When I feel sadness for Dad, I get sad for the dad of my childhood. I get sad for recalling all the energy and eagerness and dreaming and struggling that took place all those many years ago, and I mourn for the path that was unexpectedly cut short. My dad took living very, very seriously, and damnit, he wasn't done yet. He wasn't done.

As I took a walk this evening I looked down and saw, for the millionth time, the patterns in the road, the bubbles in the tar, the way the imprints trapped moments in time, and marveled that I've been looking at these same markings for most of my life. These are the small comforts that ground me. This is a place my father loved so very much. This is how I stay connected.

So that's where I am right now. And before you don your psychologist hat and declare me mentally unfit or clinically depressed, hold on a minute. You won't find me walking in a fog on the average day, and I can be seen laughing and carrying on as usual on many an occasion. It's just, as I've said before, I've got to go straight into this one to heal. My close friends will tell you I'm quieter than usual, and a little less excitable. But I'm in my cocoon, and all creatures rest when they undergo a metamorphosis, no?

These things take time.