April sent me a text today. It said, “Can you let everyone know my address changed?”
The answer, in at least a part of my small-town-South-Georgia heart, was an amalgam of No and Do I have to?
Do I have to tell everyone that things didn’t work out with your birth family? That you are now somewhere I’ve never been with a boyfriend I have never met? That I can barely eat, sleep, or recognize my own life any more?
April’s answer would, of course, be yes because, after all, she’s been raised a lot like I was.
The one thing my mother, though bipolar and hampered, demanded of us children was that we live with authenticity. Momma never attempted to hide her alcoholism or make excuses for her behavior–everything was pretty much as it appeared.
She was never embarrassed or ashamed of her life, and April isn’t, either.
So: April is now living with her sweet and hardworking six-foot-six firefighter boyfriend at his father’s home in New York. She’s doing jigsaw puzzles with his step-mom, tending the cats, and interviewing for a job at McDonalds.
Me, I’m crying into my eggs at Cracker Barrel.
Abby says we are tired because we are sad, and we are sad because we are traumatized. The therapist, Ashley, also uses the word trauma, generally preceded by the words “so much.” She says that we have to be gentle with ourselves, that our buckets are so full that if one more thing goes in, it all overflows. We think we have to try to clean up the mess. But we can’t do so quickly because we are exhausted. This is too big.
Ashley says we are trying cope in ways we have before, do things that have worked for us in the past, and that they will not work right now because our buckets are too full.
I can’t make myself eat. I can’t load the dishwasher.I can’t power through.
I have always been able to power through.
There is no way to now–the wall of trauma and grief is so massive, its chinks so small. There is no climbing over, digging beneath, or medicating this away.
So, there is the gentleness we show ourselves. The conscious decisions: Self, I think that you should take a hot bath instead of going to the football game. Self, I think you should eat a piece of string cheese or maybe some peanut butter. Self, if you wear those soft pants to work, they will feel like pajamas, and maybe you will make it through the day.
There is the gentleness we show each other. Last night at Cracker Barrel as I struggled through tears to eat, Greg put his arm around me, and Abby said, “Momma, it’s okay. You’ll feel better after you eat.” We all practice saying the right things; we check in. We offer. I’ll carry your cup to the sink. I’ll take the trash out, you rest.
There is the kindness of others. One of the most encouraging things, the clearest assurance of God’s love, has been the random way that people reach out. Flowers sent unexpectedly to work. A funny text. A Facebook wall post. A student’s hug.
What there’s not?
There’s no force. No to-do lists. We are not yet able to make ourselves take a walk/go to church/write thank you notes. At work on Friday when my computer screamed and died, I told the kids, “I can’t even pretend to have the energy to pull off Plan C right now, guys,” and instead, we had a rambly, mostly student-led class discussion (fulfilling ELAGSE9-10SL1).
There’s no must. I’m supposed to take dessert to a party that starts in less than an hour. And although I could do so blindfolded, I’m not making my famous pound cake or even Duncan Hines brownies. I’m throwing some Yorks, Smarties, and Starbursts in a bowl and smiling when I hand it to the hostess.
There’s no denial. Everyone in our family has rocked a dead baby. A sentence too horrible to type has been lived. Then April left, and we didn’t expect her to. Two horribly hard losses–losses none of the four of us can deny.
Finally, there’s no shame. One of the most profound and truest things I ever read: we are never ashamed of those we love. I can cry in Cracker Barrel. Abby can rant in the hallways at school. Greg can be a hermit. April can live her life, pick her way through grief, choose her own path forward.
Ashley says we have to be kind to ourselves until at least January. There can be no self-recrimination. No expectation of perfection. She says if we feel the need to self-criticize, to instead list the traumas of the past year. “Just list them. Remember: it‘s a lot of trauma.”
Our buckets are so full and messy–and April took hers all the way to New York
Her address has changed. Her life has changed.
But our strong girl, well, she’s still carrying her bucket–and we can’t ask for more than that.