Today is one of those exquisitely beautiful, bright autumn days. With temperatures that would feel “just right” on a mid-summer’s day, but with the added benefit of a gentle breeze to doubly kiss my bare skin as I sit now, in the garden, writing this piece.
I have been out on a “long run”. The kind of “long run” I do in the run-up to a half-marathon. I am registered for the one in Lausanne (Switzerland) just two weeks from now. Today should be my “peak distance” run, but because I have run so little, there was nothing noteworthy about this particular peak.
I was reflecting while I was out. I don’t take podcasts or music with me. For years I have allowed myself the privilege of total silence when out and about running – for mental space as well as personal safety reasons. Where I run, on fairly remote forest and mountain tracks, I need to be vigilant.
I was reflecting on how I had been in a conversation the night before with a dear friend whose friendship goes back now 28 years. She’s known me through all my losses. We don’t see each other much and when we talk there feels to be much to catch up on. But it’s work. Hard work. Going into my grief stories, trying to find words to articulate that for which there are no words is so painful. Tiring. It hurts. Particularly when it’s what I live day in day out.
We talked about Julia. It was full-on efforting. I monitor how I am in conversations and if I shift towards comfort or away from it and noticed it was all just too hard. At one stage I said, “I will answer this question and then we need to talk about something else. I need a break from grief from time to time”.
There comes a point when I can’t stomach another question, whether it’s about what happened when Julia died, before or since; how I am doing; how my alive kids are doing; where I am at in terms of getting back into work; what I have done to sort out a bedroom or wardrobe or whatever. Everything comes back to Julia. Even what I now eat or don’t eat, drink or don’t drink, feels to have a Julia edge.
We talked about Mike. That was less hard. Noticeably less hard. Less painful. Less breath-suckingly awful or stomach punchingly brutal. Just that bit further down the line. Far from insignificant. It’s just that something even bigger has engulfed that specific loss. I remember after Mike died, I preferred to talk about Edward. Talking about Mike was too close. Too painful. Now, so soon after Julia’s death, I prefer to talk about Mike.
While on my run, I reflected on this semi-conscious habit of bouncing away from discussing Julia to discussing Mike, (or Ed or Don or indeed any other loss – mine or someone else’s). I have an image of Neo in The Matrix, bending the projectile of bullets fired at him. I do the same with questions. I make them ricochet and then handle them.
Whatever the question, whoever asks it, it’s hard. Searingly painful. But if I can just bounce some of the questions off in a different direction, I will have a chance of slipping some light padding into the parts of my heart that need most protection.
It’s not that I don’t want the questions. No questions would be worse. It’s just that my heart is so sore from all the pounding. I need to make it last a while yet. And for that it needs reinforcement.