30 July 2012

The Suitcase

It's the first time I've met her, my first time doing spiritual direction.

I sit across from her in a stiff padded chair. To my left is a small wooden coffee table with a lamp that could be from anywhere, and a box of tissues is on the bottom shelf.

I begin to tell her why I'm there, what the past three years have held. The words spew out of me like a geyser.

A religious conversion. A spouse's prolonged unemployment, our mounting debt. Our first pregnancy. The prenatal diagnosis. A son's birth and his suffering and his death, with barely the space of a breath between. After two years -- finally -- a job, but one in the opposite corner of the country. Ending my career. He leaves to begin this new work. Three months separated. A new pregnancy. A grandfather's death. Packing up our life into cardboard, protecting it with old towels and bubble wrap. Goodbyes, new beginnings. 3,500 miles of rubber on pavement. Reunited. A strange new place. A daughter's birth. Life again.

All of these are things I carry with me, things that have left an indelible mark. Each has left a spot that aches, burns, bleeds. She calls it my "grief suitcase." I imagine an old valise, threads breaking, duct tape holding the corners together, dark smears on its surface. It is a large, unwieldy thing, and heavy. A faded bungee cord is wrapped tightly around it to keep its contents from spilling unpredictably.

I tell her how these things are all mixed up together, one with the other, inseparable as cream from the coffee it's poured into. I tell her about how I feel decimated. Like I knew what was happening at the time, but I had to keep running, bare feet over rough pavement and broken glass in order to survive. I compare it to Ground Zero. I've seen the planes hit the towers, and I've watched the buildings burn and crumble, reduced to ash and broken glass and twisted metal. I run for my life because I have to. I see the destruction, but I don't know yet what it means, what it will mean.

I tell her of how insane I feel sometimes, one leg each in worlds that rotate in opposing directions. On the one hand, unspeakable, impossible grief. On the other, joy, life. Her suggestion that at those moments when Austen's achievements mark also for me Ewan's particular losses, those things that will ever remain would-have-beens -- that I tell him about that. It's a way that, even if only for a moment, those worlds can touch and both my babies can be with me in that moment.

29 July 2012

July 7, 2012. Your little sister sat up unsupported for the first time. You never got to do that, but I felt like you were happy and proud of her just like we were.

And so we begin together to unpack this suitcase, one thing at a time.