In the book Heartburn by Nora Ephron, I read this:
“When you have a baby, you set off an explosion in your marriage, and when the dust settles, your marriage is different than it was. Not better, necessarily; not worse, necessarily; but different.”
I agree with Ephron’s words, but that’s not the kind of explosion that I want to write about today. Maybe I’ll write about that particular explosion another time. In this post, I plan to keep true to the explosion analogy for life changes and losses. Writing about one particular explosion in my life will help me explain the resultant broken pieces and why I write best with them.
On June 12, 2010, a Saturday, my father died. It was unexpected. He had undergone cardiac bypass surgery and the surgery had gone well. The doctor told us so. After the surgery was over, I got to see my father while he was in recovery. I remember I kissed him on the forehead. He was still out of it. I left the hospital and went home. The next day I didn’t go see my father until late in the day. I remember I got to the hospital in time to see him before visiting hours were over. The reassurances of the doctor post surgery had given me a sense of peace that daddy was going to be well. A doctor at the office where I worked reassured me that the surgery would bring a good result. He shared how his own elderly father felt like a new person after his bypass, how he had started traveling and walking and hiking because he had so much energy. I expected my father to reap the same benefits after surgery, but he didn’t.
His death is the explosion I experienced in my life in 2010. Of course, I grieved just like anyone does when they lose someone they love so much. I felt all the things that one feels when experiencing grief and loss. Anger, pain, fear, vulnerability, confusion. I cried daily for a very, very long time. In the beginning, I cried several times a day. Michael, Geoff, and Alicia were wonderful about comforting me. I received all the hugs, kisses, and comforting words I needed then and now. I went back to work immediately after. I really believed that getting back to work would help me heal faster.
At the end of my first day back at work after daddy’s funeral, a beautiful, kind coworker came into my office and sat in the chair facing me. She said, “You thought it was going to be easier, didn’t you?” I looked her in the eyes and said yes. I did think work would make it easier. It didn’t. Only time has helped alleviate the initial pain. Now, over eight years later, I realize that there is no roadmap for grief and loss and recovery. It isn’t a step by step process that has a defined end point where you can check off all the boxes and say “I’m done!”
I started drinking a lot more during those first years after daddy died. Wine. Red wine in the convenient economy size just for me (quantity was more important than quality). I didn’t share. I even started a wine tasting/selling business that I made Michael help me with. I have always hated speaking in public so I made him do the presentations and I poured wine and handed out tidbits. I thought the extra business coupled with my primary job (I was working at the Rack as a technical writer by this time) would keep me crazy busy with little spare time. I didn’t want any spare time that could allow me to think or feel. We did a few wine tastings but I didn’t make any money at it. In fact, I lost money. I spent too much on the food pairings. The wine company suggested buying a box of crackers, a simple block of affordable cheddar, and a small bag of fun size chocolates. I know good food though, so I shopped at the HEB at Lincoln Heights and bought plenty of the sea salt baguettes, strawberries, good cheese (smoked gouda, brie, Jarlsberg, Gjetost, and camembert) and expensive chocolates. The other expense that killed my business was the shipping costs for the wine orders. I let go of the wine tasting business after a while. It took time for me to realize that I used the business venture not only to keep myself frenetically busy but also to justify my need to have plenty of wine on hand all the time.
The 2010 explosion caused me to fear further loss. I was afraid I’d lose Michael. I remember holding onto our hugs extra long and pleading with him to “please never ever leave me.” He would reassure me that he loved me and wasn’t going anywhere. I needed that reassurance very often after daddy died. Sometimes I still do, but I’m getting better about it. I went through some even crazier behaviors that I won’t detail here because I’m saving them for my book. Suffice it to say that the crazier behaviors were not illegal or immoral. Some people found my actions intrusive and that embarrasses me now. Some friends have wondered why I’ve distanced myself from them in the past years. I admit I am rather a hermit. I even left my job to work at home recently. I am not social. My only company these days are my husband and kids.
I did not do any meaningful writing for eight years after daddy died. I did some journaling for a while and that was helpful. I received the gift of a smart, intuitive, and wise life coach who worked with me for a few months in 2011. She encouraged me to journal and I did. However, I dropped it after a while. I tried to write a science fiction story last year but dropped it, after which I entertained thoughts that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer after all.
Enter Life In My Pockets. I bought the domain in 2015, set up the blog on WordPress, and then just left it there for a long while. I wrote two or three blog posts in 2016, one in early 2017. I felt ridiculous for thinking I could keep myself disciplined enough to be a real blogger. I believed I was too broken to write anymore. In a metaphorical sense, I believed something broke my writing mojo. It was the explosion that did it. I chalked it up to Que sera, sera, and didn’t even try to write for the majority of 2018. In November, however, I felt ready to leave my job and work from home. I wrote a very short blog post about a little banter between Michael and me. I also wrote posts about my early married years in Jacksonville and the murder of that little girl that touched me so much, Tammy Welch. I left my job the first week in December and found something to do at home.
Being at home now for the past two months has been healing. I’m spending a lot of time working on my Python skills. I set a goal to get a Python developer job later this year. I also have started writing regularly. Not just blog posts, but personal journaling like my life coach taught me back in 2011. While cleaning up my hard drive on my Mac, I opened up some long-dormant files and read old stuff I had written. I like what I found and want to finish some of those pieces. The writing I’ve done recently has helped me untangle some emotions and understand the crazy behaviors I have felt so uncomfortable about. I am starting to see now where it all was coming from.
I’ve spent the last few days thinking about the past eight-plus years and how profoundly the loss of my father continues to affect me. I still am not able to visit his grave at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetary. Just thinking about it makes my chest feel very heavy. I’m not done healing from my grief, and I thought I should be done by now. I was giving myself a deadline and there can never really be one. I have now let myself off the hook.
I shared my thoughts and feelings with Michael yesterday. He has never, ever judged me for being clingy or needy or insecure during the hardest moments of grief. He is supportive and comforts me whenever I am sad. I shared with him the clarity I’m experiencing about myself. Talking to him about it made it even more clear, and I dove deep into past actions and emotions because I see myself differently now. I am getting softer about myself.
I can never be the woman I was before my father died. Instead, I am the woman who is surviving the loss of one parent the best way I know how. To riff on Nora Ephron’s words, I am not better, necessarily; I am not worse, necessarily. I’m different. The explosion left me with broken pieces that I am using to write and heal and create. In fact, I think I’m writing better and more freely than I have in a long time because of the broken pieces.