Lately I have retreated deeper into isolation than I have since Ian died. I haven’t actually taken the time to understand why. I think I just accept how I am feeling in the moment. As a society we are so quick to label everything, aren’t we? We all label race, gender, ethnicity and toss identities into buckets like sorting out legos and matchbox cars. So why wouldn’t I sort my joy and grief the same way? It’s bullshit.
I am discovering how I can feel immense joy and gratitude but also feel so sad at the same time. If you take the time to talk to me, and I hope you will, you will experience me vacillating between tears and laughter within the same breath. You will see on my face such delight and pride when I share with you all of the hopes and dreams that I still have for myself and my family. But you’ll have to help me dry each falling tear when my breath is gone the moment I realize that Ian won’t be a part of that future. Its feels like a hurricane to me and I worry that my open display of emotion will be jarring to anyone sitting in front of me.
What I am experiencing is that I feel sadness and joy at the same time, in the same moment, and I don’t always know what to do or how I should behave without looking a little batshit crazy to the casual connection. What I need, what we all crave is connection. What I choose to do without is casual. What’s needed is to get to the meat of who we are and how we connect. Who the fuck wants casual these days anyway?
A couple of weeks ago I went to the dentist for the first time since my 14 year old son Ian took his own life. This was the same dentist that he saw for his whole life. A new hygienist that didn’t know Ian, Bella or I, was doing her thing and asking me all sorts of questions when my mouth was full of dental tools. (Why the fuck do they do that anyway?) We were talking about Bella and Boulder and how she was doing as a freshman in college…well she was talking and I was nodding yes or no and muttering answers that I am sure she couldn’t comprehend.
She came to THAT question, “Do you have just the one child?”… insert deep breath
I have been asked this question so many times in the 16 months, and every other time I have answered honestly and told people that I have two but that my son passed away last year. I have gotten comfortable with the sad eyes, the hand over the heart and the compassionate “I am so sorry”. I entrust my heart to my own honesty and it brings me comfort to be so transparent. Maybe it was because my mouth was full of her latex covered hand, and a plaque scraper. Or maybe because I just wanted to be proud of Bella and her achievements and not muddy it with our sadness.
This time I just nodded yes and it broke me.
What I wanted to do is take off the dark sunglasses she made me wear that were now hiding my tears. I wanted to gently grab her hand and tell her the story of a boy that she’ll never meet. In that moment, we could connect over a Ian and a story that is building a movement that she might need. Maybe I won’t edit my simultaneous sadness and joy, for the sake of dental work, ease of conversation, or fear of how I appear. Who knows who I’ll reach.
I think someone needs this story. I also know that I need your story and connection. We all hold these feelings in buckets and take our emotions out one by one when its appropriate. When that no longer works for you, just know that it’s okay for our pain and joy to share space. Today I feel like a toddler finger-painting at the easel, and I am starting to feel lucky that my oranges and blues get to mix together to make a shitty brown.
I want you to know that I see you, all of you, that read my little story. Pain and anguish are universal, we all feel it and there is no judgement if joy shows up in the middle of your sadness. And if you need help locating that joy, I’ve got some to share with you.