March 20th: Lent is here, and the second anniversary of Mark’s death is only two days away.
It’s just a date, just numbers. But man, they carry such weight. The approach of the anniversary makes for an intense time, emotionally, physically, mentally. Overall, I feel a lot like I did this time last year. The same, but different. More raw, more exposed, less able to hide my fears and feelings. These are the days of big emotions.
Or, as my sons like to say, “Oh, the feels!”
I prepared myself for this anniversary by…. Avoiding dealing with it. Staying busy, avoiding, denying and detaching from my emotions as much as possible. I’ve overworked and overfed my body-mind, and rested far too seldom. I’ve kept myself from getting to close to myself. Solitude was uncomfortable, so I avoided it. If I was eating, I was browsing, or texting and chatting online with friends. Before cancer, I was a hold-out, one of the last people in my circle to get a cell phone and use texting. And nowadays, more often than I want to admit, I have fallen asleep at night with my phone in my hand.
The hallmark of Year Two is that the shock has worn off. Despite the severity of his illness, Mark’s death came suddenly, unexpectedly. This time of year, even the light at a certain time of day can trigger a flashback.
Oh, that Quicktrip. Where he got out of the car, walked around, put his hands on the hood and stared at you, and you could see it coming but couldn’t get your seatbelt off fast enough, couldn’t open the car door fast enough to catch him before he fainted and fell backwards and hit his head on the sidewalk.
The second year of grieving makes the first year seem cushy. As dark and awful as those days were, the brain, the marvelous brain, held me in a soft-focused, protected space. The Nonfeels. Thank god for the Nonfeels. If I had been able to fully process Year One, I wouldn’t have lasted into Year Two.
In two days, Year Three begins.
I am stepping into this new space with an awareness that I am worn out, and more deeply damaged than I have previously understood. “Keep very, very busy all the time” was a great coping strategy – until it wasn’t.
A month ago, I landed in an emergency room with shortness of breath, sky-high blood pressure and a heart rate you should only experience if you’re being chased by a serial killer.
Turned out, it was a whopper of panic attack. Like you read about. Grateful that it wasn’t something more serious? Yes. Instead of a hospitalization, I was released with a “wonderfully normal EKG,” a prescription for a mild tranquilizer, and a referral to a cardiologist (just to be safe), and a big honkin’ wake-up call.
It is time to make sure that my oxygen mask is securely in place before attempting to help my children, my family, my friends and coworkers. It’s time to pause, to reassess what is working and not working in my life, and to take care of me.
And hey whaddya know, here we are in Lent. As one of our pastors put it recently, “Lent is a time to figure out what it means to be ourselves.”
Typically, my approach to choosing a Lenten discipline has gone like this: “I’m going to abstain from sugar – from white flour and sugar! And fried foods — ooh, and red meat too! And Starbucks! And artificial sweeteners! I’m definitely going to give up Facebook. And- ” And, and, and by the time Ash Wednesday arrives, my brain is exhausted, and I end up in Starbucks drinking a latte chock-full of sugar substitute chemicals and eating a vanilla bean scone, and wasting hours on Facebook.
The blessing of the trip to the emergency room is the realization that that last good nerve I’ve been living on is severely frayed. No pretending otherwise.
Or, as my friend in AA says, “I’m here because I’ve run out of ideas.”
So, my Lenten discipline is to walk. That’s it. I will walk every day of Lent, whenever possible. Whether it’s twenty minutes, ten minutes, three hours, or an hour spent wandering around in the woods, I will walk.
I will let them come, The Feels, as much as I can, and I will walk.