Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Absence of Pain

Dear Rachel,

It’s been five months, almost to the day, since you were killed. It’s interesting, the phases of grief one goes through. Numbness strikes first: You feel nothing, not even any real pain. You go through the day with no affect and without taking note of the world around you, except to wonder why things appear so normal. How could the sun rise, you wonder. How could the wind blow? Why is the earth still spinning? You get through the day, doing what you have to do, but wondering all the while: How can I get up and get dressed? How can I be brushing my teeth when such a terrible thing has happened?

Then comes the pain. Agonizing, gut-wrenching spasms of aching loss that feel as if someone is tearing apart your heart even as it continues to beat. At the same time, you feel guilty: What should I have done differently? Could I have done anything to save her? Was I a good enough father? Did she know how much I loved her? This is when you begin to understand why some people shut down completely or dive into a bottle, why a bereaved parent might go over the edge and never quite make it back. Or how a person could be so crushed by a loss that he feels the only way out is to take his own life. I never understood before how someone could hurt so much that he might feel that suicide is his only recourse, but I understand now. When the pain is so great, when the sense of loss is so overwhelming—and when there appears to be no end to it—one must wonder, “Why do I bother to go on? If this is what it's going to be like, if this is how I’m going to feel for the rest of my life, then I can’t handle it. I’m not strong enough. I need to find a way out.”

But that feeling doesn’t last forever. Eventually things ease up just a bit; I find that I can now get through the day feeling mostly okay. Busy with work or visiting a friend, spans of minutes can go by without thinking of you, and then the minutes become an hour. Imagine, an entire hour without feeling any real pain. Sadness, yes; I guess you’re never completely out of my mind. But that searing pain has abated, and I find that I can get a certain amount of enjoyment out of some things: writing an article, joking with a friend (Who would’ve ever thought that I could joke again?), getting a subroutine to work correctly, cleaning up an old motorcycle that I recently (and foolishly, I know) bought to mess around with.

I wonder, though, if I’ll ever again feel true joy. You know, the kind of goofy, unbridled enthusiasm I used to feel when playing the drums or coming up with a way to improve the magazine or putting together a new computer and watching it boot up for the first time. Or the happy wonder of suddenly realizing (again!) that I have a fantastic wife, two beautiful daughters, a challenging job, and a great life.

Maybe I will. I wouldn’t have thought so at first, but I’m now feeling better for longer stretches of time, so perhaps there’s hope. It occurs to me, though, that the absence of pain is not the same thing as the presence of joy.



Friday, October 28, 2005

Harsh Reality

Dear Rachel,

No one will read this blog. Well, maybe some family and a few friends, but other than that, who would really care? I’m a middle-aged magazine editor—nothing too exciting there, and you…well, you’re dead.

That’s kind of harsh, isn’t it? Sort of cold, maybe? But I find that I need to be blunt with myself about this. I need, sometimes several times a day, to remind myself that no matter how much I cry, or wish, or hope, or offer to deal with God—no matter what I do or think, you’re not coming back to me. There will be no more late-night tech-support phone calls (“Daaaad, why won’t my printer print?!" "Dad, what’s wrong with my modem—it won’t, uh, ‘mode’ any more!”); you won’t be coming through the door in a rush, dragging a car-seat, a diaper bag, and a sleeping baby; you won’t show up (as you did once) unannounced at the airport while I sit through a layover in a strange city.

None of that will happen, and there’s not a damned thing I can do about it. I need to make sure I know that. I mean, I have to really know that. I have to learn to accept your absence, as I once gloried in your presence. Otherwise my heart breaks whenever the phone rings or the doorbell buzzes, or whenever I see a young, dark-haired woman walking down the street. And a heart can only break so many times before it’s completely shattered.

So, why a blog? Mainly I’m hoping that these letters will prove therapeutic; perhaps addressing some of these issues will provide that "closure" I keep hearing about. Also, maybe this blog will serve as a communicative (I remember how much you loved that word, “communicative”) device to keep our family and friends apprised of how we’re doing. And if anyone does read this, maybe these entries will chart a course toward some kind of recovery (I won’t say “healing”; I’m not sure we’ll ever really heal) that might be helpful to others in a similar situation.

We did so much together, you and I. We hiked and camped; we worked on cars (well, at 4 years old, you mainly fetched tools and smeared oil all over the place); we spent so many evenings in deserted newsrooms finishing up articles and setting type; we played countless games of catch with baseballs and footballs and Frisbees and who knows what else; and sometimes we did nothing, just sat on the couch watching TV or reading—but we did it together.

I suppose that this is the last thing we’ll do together, so I hope we do it well.