[ Note: This entry is a companion SSW (silent sustained writing) to the previous posting two weeks earlier.]
February 6, 2020
Is there such a thing as a grief hangover? Is the whole thing a hangover? Two weeks ago, on Ang’s birthday, I wrote that I had to power through to February 5, and then start breathing again. Today is February 6, and I’m breathing, but it’s a bit labored and troubled. I was thinking about the “getting through” or “getting to”—but not the “getting beyond.” What does February 6 and beyond look like?
I think such things because today had such prominent features to it—a mixture of (1) the world in your face (snow day in February) and (2) entrenched defiance on my part not to let the world interrupt who I was, and wanted to be, and what I wanted to do today. I’ve fallen into a solitary morning routine the past year or so, and, like an old cranky person, I’ve grown protective of it. I wake up early, stay off the computer (the only time of the day that’s true), and I engage in an increasingly regular ritual of getting ready. I make lunches; I brew coffee with the French press; I leave a full thermos for the girls to have when their day starts hours later; I clean up the night’s dishes and run the dishwasher, hoping to earn some credit (and to help the kids avoid censure for the mess they left); I put on WFMT, and find accompaniment in the soft tones of both the music and the through-the-night announcer; I shower; I dress, my clothes having been laid out the night before (another old-person tendency creeping up on me—way over-preparedness about trivial things, obsessiveness in procedures); I look through the house to see what the others will wake up to, and I try to smooth out what could disturb or inconvenience them.
Today was just another one of these mornings, but everything was amped up, all these tendencies put on steroids. First, I woke up way early. Was it the worry over the weather? I wish I could say it was, but the truth is I’ve been waking up earlier and earlier—to such an extent that I wonder if I sleep at all at night. It’s become just another brief nap—that I, of course, need more of, since I’m not sleeping at night. Is it the January-February grief cycle that’s disturbing my sleep? Maybe. I think it’s more the grief I feel over my broken heart of life at SXU—the stress of committee and department work, the inability to hit the stride of making things work, finding the truth, living our mission, bonding with colleagues, transitioning out of past roles, and on and on.
The morning routine has been a kind of retreat for me into my own solitary peace. I’ve felt so alone—whatever the cause—be it Angelo or the sorrows of SXU—and I’ve found comfort in the quiet and regularity and interiority of computerless/deviceless domestic procedures, followed by the zoned out, but purposeful drive in, with minimal traffic (so important to beat the traffic, and my earlier and earlier start to the day was motivated by a quest to find that time that was early enough to beat the rat race. I’m not sure I found it, but I know it’s before 4:55 AM. At some point I’m going to begin hitting up against the prior day’s late traffic rather than this day’s early traffic).
So this morning—out of a desire to protect the routine, which was threatened by the snow, and to increase the psychological medicine of “being of domestic service” to help the family get started on their days, and to lean in a bit hard to the “man of the house” father stereotype (but in a good way?), I woke up an hour early, not planning to do all I did, but just falling into it. I decided to unbury three cars, get them started and warmed up (not that they’d stay warm, but so that the windows could all be cleared, at least for the time being). Loretta’s car had a broken scraper, so I switched that out with mine. That was hard to do, since mine is like the most luxurious, most functional scraper-brush on the market. But I felt so proud to surprise her, and so proud of my sacrifice, which seemed to say, “I will do anything for you, dear. (Yes, even this.)”
This morning, in some kind of productive frenzy, I even turned on the computer before going out to dig out the cars. I thought, “I could start the cars, brush them off a bit, leave them on, come back in the house and read a report, then go back out and finish up the cars.” I was moving—and I wanted to get ready for SSW, about which I had changed my mind several times (write about grief? write about SXU’s troubles? write about this afternoon’s committee meeting and our lost way?).
It was later when I got in the car and started driving that I realized what was going on with all my productiveness that morning. A song came on—as it often does—and a miracle of emotion and utter stopping of what was going on, and a transport to the Other Place (where you needed to be all along) takes place.
I came to realize there might be something wrong with my morning routine, that I might be escaping from life, withdrawing inward, trying to control the uncontrollable, trying to secure some inner peace—but maybe leaning in too far with it.
I have an image from long ago of me wiping the kitchen counter in a circular, repetitive motion, in a Zen-like way, while the kids, all five of them, when they were young, were in the other room, being joyful and crazy and annoying and impossible. My wiping motion was control: “I’ve pushed back the forest, and this space is mine, and it’s clean, and it’s regular, and look, it’s clean…and round and round, it’s clean, see…? Peace.” There in the kitchen was my little clearing of counter—and the radio or little under-the-cabinet mounted TV with the ballgame on, quietly providing other context, giving me the illusion of not complete escape into the interiority of my own circles and clean space…: “I am still connected (and how could I not be, with those five dervishes of energy, just in the other room, bursting with so much growth and drama and other reality?).”
So much of my dream in life has been the quest for such peace, and I wonder if my current morning routine—justified in this way, is still just a little too much. Am I out of balance? Did the growing of the kids, and their movement into other rooms, farther away, allow me to fixate too much on my circles?
Yesterday we had Ang’s godparents and his cousin Jane and her husband and three dervishes of kids over to have a celebration of Ang. I’m grateful for the bustle of life in such an event. Loretta’s day in the setup was nonstop—a full day beginning with a work out, Mass, a trip to the cemetery, shopping at Costco, shopping at Jewel, going to Freddies (yes, Freddies) to pick up the chicken parmesan, gnocchi, lasagna, ravioli, meatballs, and salads. I am grateful for the way the kids all chipped in, the way everyone came over, the conversation, laughter, storytelling, and reminiscing. I was a happy and sociable participant in the gathering—but also a little quiet and off to the side. Was I thinking about my morning routine, that was just a few hours away? I was a bit.
Was I feeling the grief hangover then? Was the hangover the result of the social interaction or the intense inner withdrawals and worries over getting things done?
One big lesson I learned from Ang was that “we’re not in control”—and a version of that lesson came home to me when the song came on. Without planning, without setup, the transport took place. It was Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in a duet of “True Love,” from the movie High Society (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fl5EPEzukNQ).
When the song came on so many of my prior—and unperceived—anxieties and preparations became apparent. I had been stressing out about how to honor this 9-year anniversary; maybe I would write about random and brief Ang memories in SSW (the stoplight at 58th Avenue that starts up a conversation with him every day?); maybe I would focus on the gratitude I felt for the text message from Lorenzo, “thinking of you today”; maybe I would write about SXU’s leadership, and how they are pulling the rug from so many supports that have enabled SXU to grow and be strong over the years—i.e., maybe I would not write at all about Ang, because it’s just too hard, too involved—next year will be the year, that ten-year mark, and my “tenure” in grief will have been earned, and then the turning point.
The song brought Bing Crosby’s silky smooth baritone that alone in itself is miraculous. But the duet is with Grace Kelly, who is more than “royal”—what is Grace Kelly? Magic is too harsh a word; there’s something softer, more beautiful, more transient and eternal, hopeful, and absolute about her, or the symbol of her. Together they sang:
For you and I have a guardian angel
On high with nothing to do
But to give to you
And to give to me
Love forever true.
It’s romantic love they’re singing of—but it’s another kind of love, too. The love of a protector. Is Ang the guardian angel? Or is there a guardian angel unseen keeping him close to me? The words and feelings of these lyrics swell up and fill me. Time, leisure, love, protection, generosity, sharing, and eternity: Bing and Grace sing it, and I drive on snowy streets without a word from Ang these long nine years, but with a guardian angel’s efforts, breaking through, giving me a forever that might be, maybe?, redeemed.