In grief

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

His body is like woodwork, or like something made of metal, jointed and hinged, gears clicking silently in place. Just turn the crank and let it go. All the paths in front of him are worn enough to be navigated on autopilot. He turns the handle on the back door, swings it open, walks to the counter; his face is hard chiseled angles and taut resolution. He won't break down, not here.

Five years into marriage, and I still can't see immediately that something is wrong. Maybe the baby distracts me, or my dinner plans. I forget to ask about his day until everyone has been fed. And so it's an hour before he takes me to our room and I look him straight in the eyes and realize there is only one thing that could have happened to make him look at me like this. I open my mouth to ask, and he opens his to answer, and maybe his voice cracks, I don't know, I can't remember his words, I only remember one word, and the word meant dead, and then I remember my own voice looping on the word no no no no, and I feel like I might be sick, and all the strength goes from my arms, so I hand him the baby, and collapse to the floor.

Grief is a stranger who appears and inhabits our bodies. We do not recognize each other.

I know my husband as a man who works and rarely tires. He finds much meaning in the neat ordering of the correct equipment to get a job done, a spreadsheet filled with figures that tell facts straight. At work there are checklists, problems and solutions: one problem, one solution. It's simple as that. 

Grief cannot be simple as that. Grief exhausts him, leeches his energy. As soon as the girls are asleep, he falls diagonally across the length of the bed and wraps himself beneath blankets so I cannot see his face. In minutes, he's asleep. 

This staggers me. His ability to spend the evening beneath the dark waves of slumber. His breath comes in and out like the tide, long and slow. He doesn't toss, won't dream, won't wake. 

I envy him immensely.

There's no way I can sleep. My mind is incapable of boxing things up. I never learned to seal off the day from the night. My mind is a carousel, round and round the same thought, faster and faster, the music taking on an edge of delirium. There's nowhere these thoughts can go. There is no solution, no mitigation. Dead. The rest is just aftermath. 

After everyone else is asleep, I fill a bowl with warm water and soap, find a rag, and begin scrubbing the interiors of my home. I rub at the marks on doors, floorboards. I scratch hard at the places that refuse to yield. I scrub and scrub, my fingers pruning in warm water, pushing my hair back out of my eyes. When the stains are gone, the white paint seems thin. We need another coat. I need bleach. I need sleep. My house keeps getting cleaner, and my mind keeps circling faster, and the ride feels more and more nightmarish. 

Here we are, in our grief. Him with closed eyes, sailing away in his sleep. Me with my soap, scrubbing at something that cannot be wiped away.


  1. Oh wow. It's beautiful writing about a terrible situation. Those of us who've been there can live it with you through your words. May God bless you, and him!

  2. Oh friend... so very, very sorry. These words that wring beauty from grief. So very humbled to read them here.