I've struggled to explain how it feels to be a widow of 19 months. Describing it tests my verbal abilities. I imagine anyone who hasn't experienced it must wonder what it's like.
It was never simple to put to words, but now it seems even harder. To an outsider I go about my business, I'm sure, in a way that wouldn't alert anyone to the pain inside. I smile without reservation (most days), carry on conversations, eat, sleep, laugh, work, and play. My inner landscape, though, is much more complex and harder to explain, especially because it's not out there for everyone to see.
I have always loved analogies for explaining difficult concepts and while driving home the other night, I thought of an analogy that could help describe my current existence.
The analogy starts with water, like so many of my thoughts and dreams do.
My life now feels like I'm treading water in the ocean. Death by drowning or hypothermia or shark munching is not a pressing concern. I'm holding my own while I'm treading, but I'm SO DAMN TIRED because I've been treading for a long time now. Ages.
I'm very aware that no one is going to come by and scoop me out of the water, wrap me up in a warm blanket and speed boat me back to the shore.
I do, however have a rope ladder dangling in front of me. I can climb out of the water, one rung at a time, but I'm already tired and weak. On the other hand, climbing the ladder seems marginally better than treading water, so I try.
Each rung I grasp is something worth living for. My loving friends, my choir, animals, Camp Widow, hope, travel, learning, meeting new people, lessons learned that have made me stronger, smarter, better, my cats, the promise of good things to come.
As I grab onto one and puuuuuullll myself up, I feel a momentary jolt of victory. "I'm going to be okay!" I think. But then my arm muscles turn to mush and I run out of power. My legs weigh a thousand pounds and I slip down a notch or two.
The heaviness pulling me back toward the water is the pain...the idea of Dave in the hospital room without me as he died, the guilt that I get to live and he doesn't, the horror of the sound of the doctor saying "We did all we could...", the unbelievable force of missing him, the impossibility of his "gone-ness", the end of a life we'd planned on, the sight and sound of an ambulance shrieking by, the idea of possibly losing like this again one day.
Sometimes I get up pretty high and I look down and think that I'm pretty bad-ass. I feel lighter and I dry out in the sun just a little. I just start to warm up and then the weight overtakes me again, and I slip down a few notches. Sometimes I slip down far enough that I have to tread water once again.
Sometimes I'm just clinging in between, straining to maintain the height I've earned, but not yet able to relax and feel light again. Even when I'm up high I can still see the water below and I know that I'll be back down there again, treading, at some point. The exhaustion never fully goes away because even when I'm resting I'm still clinging to that ladder.
None of that sounds especially reassuring, but there is good news. I swear there's good news!
The times spent treading are fewer and shorter. I'm developing stronger climbing muscles so the climb back out again isn't as laborious and those hard-earned muscles make me proud. I'm so much more empathetic to anyone else who might also be climbing up out of the sea, now that I know how it feels. Those rungs keep appearing, too, as long as I keep looking for them. I can much more easily focus on the rungs now, so I spend less time staring at the dark and treacherous waters below. Because I've been down there, I appreciate NOT being down there so much more. I take advantage of every moment I spend up in the air and sun.
Yes, I'd love to be done climbing. I'd love to let go of that rope ladder, and be able to fully relax, but that is not my fate now. Maybe one day. Maybe one day I'll be so strong that I'll be able to climb right back out of the waves without a second thought and I'll climb so high no one will be able to keep up. I'll be a goddamn gold metal rope-ladder-climbing champion. Maybe then I'll be able to really, really rest.
Right now, though, this is what it feels like to be me.