Practice makes perfect. But not with grief.
The 2018 Winter Olympics just concluded. If you watched the skiers or the bobsledders before their runs they would typically be off to the side in a meditative state rehearsing the course. They had memorized each twist and turn and their minds and bodies knew what to expect, being prepared for each upcoming curve, angle, or zig zag. Of course at times there would be variables such as the weather changing the consistency of the snow or ice, or a random squirrel showing up on the course 🙂 But aside from external factors which could throw off their time by a hundredth of a second or so, influencing the outcome of the race, the fact is they all knew the course. They knew what was coming and they were familiar with the run because they had done it before. And barring any tragic fall or equipment malfunction they all finished.
But here’s the thing with grief. Time and practice do not help. Because the course is constantly changing. Once you think you have become familiar with the ebb and flow or the twists and turns of the grief course you are catapulted into foreign terrain. So here I am standing at the pinnacle of year six ready to fly down the icy mountain toward year seven relying on my memory and practice of how I veered through the course at year one, or two or three or four or five, and I look down and realize this is a completely different mountain. I don’t recognize anything because I’ve never been here before. But I am thrust forward nonetheless. Some years I get lucky and I stay upright, make good time and even enjoy the view. I may slow down or even wipe out but am able to get back up and make my way down to the bottom of the slope. But some years I don’t even get out of the gate. I stand paralyzed with fear or am just numb, not even aware of how my legs are holding me up. Or I head down the hill with confidence only to be blindsided by an unwelcome obstacle that knocks the wind out of me and suddenly I am buried by an avalanche struggling to even breathe.
I know people mean well, but time does not heal all wounds. Trauma does not exist within the framework of time. My body is unaware that six years have passed. My body senses the position of the sun and connects the dots to recall the trauma that occurred on March 1, 2012 at 3:06 a.m. and suddenly my body is hurled back to that moment in time. My chest is heavy, it is difficult to breathe, I feel exhausted from lack of sleep and caregiving around the clock for my dying daughter, the lymphedema in my left arm throbs as a reminder of my surgery and radiation for breast cancer which was occurring during that time frame, my heart races with anxiety as I face a new unknown life of living without my youngest child. And just because I have already done this for six entire years does not mean I know how to do it for even one more day. But life goes on and somehow so will I. Hopefully writing this will help lift the burden slightly and unlock the paralysis so I can once again venture down yet another mountain of grief and make it to the bottom only to be towed back to the top to do it all over again.