Monday, May 17, 2010

Thunderstorms, patches and rivers

There are memories: perhaps nostalgic or fresh, happy or sad, neutral or bittersweet, generic or specific, fragmented or whole. Memories are time keepers. And there are flashbacks. Flashbacks strike like thunderstorms, gathering energy in the distance, seeming so much farther away than they really are, until a streak of electricity cuts across the skyline, followed by a resounding clap and then dead silence.

It's hard for me to distinguish grief-related memories from flashbacks. Part of the process of grief is coming to a place of acceptance, easing into a new "normal." Everyone who knows the reality of loss, however, knows that this process is anything but one of ease. Contrary to the cliche, "Time heals all wounds," time can help prepare you for acceptance, but the wound is not necessarily ever fully healed. It's more like sewing a patch of new cloth over a rip in a pair of your favorite old jeans. The jeans know the cloth is not part of their original design, and slowly over time, the patch pulls taut at the corners, stretched to its max in an attempt to artificially cover the hole. The patch will never be part of the jeans, but it can do a decent job of coverage. It can even look pretty.

So, much like this, it can be a challenge to figure out when I'm just feeling the taut pull of this patch over the hole my Dad left when he died, or when I'm experiencing and reexperiencing flashbacks of the hospital days. I don't like to talk about those eight days in the hospital. None of us do. For one, they're a blur to me now. But deeper, whenever I think of them, I risk inviting back the flood of emotions I experienced during this time. I may be out on a walk in the neighborhood, or in a park, or in my car, or watching a movie at home, and bam, the flashbacks seem to hit out of nowhere, though of course, they were probably building for awhile or there was some trigger point or another. And suddenly, I'm transported back to his hospital room or back to the conference room with a group of medical staff deciding his fate or back on the living room floor, trying to sleep, surrounded by out-of-town family members the night he died, after we finally packed up and left the ICU ward.

There are many things I could write about from those eight days in the hospital, but I don't know what the purpose would be, trying to put into words an experience that was beyond awful. I just know, those images continue to break into my life now and then, like flashes of lightning, and then, after sometimes a few minutes or a few days, they pass. And I go on with my new normal, wondering when they will hit again, wondering when that patch will give way again. Such is the way of grief, with its ebbs and flows, its lulls and rapids, winding like a river through life, one day arriving at the destination I've known was there but never seen with my eyes. And there I know my Papa will be waiting.

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