Right there in the middle of an uphill climb, it hit me. For days, I'd forced myself out of the house, and pushed myself to go farther than I wanted, to walk faster than was comfortable, to hit higher elevations than before. Was I rewarding myself with these outdoor experiences, or punishing myself? My face, arms, and hands were cold. My backpack contained my jacket and gloves, but I never bothered to wear them. Perhaps I believed I deserved to feel the discomfort of cold. I preferred feeling anything to the numbness I'd been experiencing.
What I realized in that moment of slight discomfort was that I was smiling. My cheeks were pushing my sunglasses up just a bit, my mouth was in a wide grin, and the cool mountain air was hitting my teeth. I was singing along with the music coming into my ears from my iPod. There was a spring in my step; I was no longer painstakingly plodding uphill, I was actually stepping out in a lively way. I FELT JOYFUL.
Joy? Isn't that the stuff of Christmastime? Joy is for children, and young lovers, and new mothers, and Kodak moments, and Hallmark cards. And in that moment in time, joy was for me. I couldn't believe it. I made a mental note to be grateful for that experience; the hiking, the fresh air, the exertion, the music, the smile, the pure happiness; all of it.
How different it felt from where I've been spending these last couple of months. Now that I feel like I've rounded the bend in my sadness, I am noticing what I'm finally ready to leave behind. Survival mode is a setting that creates anxiety when it lasts too long. I am thinking my time of sorrow is drawing to a close. There were some upsides to my down time, and I'm almost ready to move forward on my journey.
While I have been in this temporary state of depression, I realized that there is much less laundry to do at the end of the week. When I am able to make do with the same oversized shirt and yoga pants every single day, there is only the tiniest load of laundry to do at the end of the week, so I haven't bothered. My makeup will last another month or two this year, for I've rarely troubled myself with that daily task. When it was time to push myself out the door to hike, I could easily rummage through the few items in the hamper to retrieve the only pants I have that wouldn't drag through the mud. So, I figure my slovenly approach to fashion has saved me not only the time of washing clothes, but also laundry detergent and fabric softener.
While battling lethargy each day, I've let my obsession with using things to the last drop take over. I didn't have the energy to unwrap a new bar of soap, or walk down the hall to the pantry for a fresh bottle of hand soap, or a new jar of peanut butter. I've made do with what was available. The sliver of soap in the tub has lasted me for a couple of weeks because when one isn't exerting much energy, one doesn't sweat, and one doesn't need as much bathing. I just kept adding water to the liquid hand soap dispenser so I wouldn't have to start a new one. The peanut butter jar could have been tossed days ago, but I have made this one last by using a spatula to get every last bit of it. There are less dishes to wash when one just eats directly from the spatula, too, so there's another little bonus.
Energy for cooking and baking was hard to come by, but this week I did manage to make a batch of cookies for us. Nothing says comfort food like a cookie, right? When Bridger arrived home from school, I announced, "Dinner is served." He looked up at me with a question in his eyes, broke into a grin, and then helped himself to some cookies and milk. Nutrition has not been forefront in my mind lately.
I've always made a hot breakfast for my kids before they go to school, and I managed to crank out a simple crépe recipe and pancakes, but there were a couple of days I sat at the counter while Bridger rummaged around to find himself a bowl of cereal, or fed himself thawed rolls from the freezer. He never complained, just smiled, and offered lingering hugs to this woman who had taken the place of his once fully functioning mother.
When one doesn't cook, one doesn't have much in the way of dishes to clean. Think of the money I have saved in dish detergent alone. Tidying up the kitchen only takes a moment when the only dishes used are a napkin and a spatula. Eating in front of the sink eliminates so many unnecessary dishes. I've reused the same coffee cup for days.
As we sat at breakfast one day last week, there was a gorgeous sunrise just outside our kitchen window. The sight of peach-colored sunlight against denim blue sky touched me, and I burst into tears. "We're going to be okay, aren't we, Bridge?" I looked across at my tall man-child, and he quickly pushed his barstool out of the way, and wrapped his arms around my shoulders.
"We're going to be fine, Shrink," he quietly reassured me.
I can never predict when the tears will hit, and they have fallen freely at bank drive-up windows, grocery stores, visiting with friends, early morning hikes, and when I'm alone in my house with no one to hear me. I make no apology to anyone but my kids; I wish they didn't have to see me like this. Everyone else can just wonder why I am crying in public.
When I left home after Daddy's funeral, Jackie assured me time and time again, "It'll all work out." And so it finally is, but it's taken long enough. It's been two months to the day that my world fell apart. I thought things would feel better sooner, and without so much sadness, but that has not been the case. I'm learning to be brave, and I'm learning that although life isn't always easy, and some days are just plain hard, there is always something for which to be grateful.
During an evening of solitude, when the sadness felt overwhelming, my daughter called. "Tell me one thing you absolutely love about this exact moment in time." I had to think for a moment. Although the house was cold, my electric blanket was keeping me comfortable, and I was grateful for the warmth, and also for the soft shirt I was wearing, but mostly, I was thankful that she had taken the time to ask me that question.
There have been random moments, out of the blue that my oldest son and his wife have sent texts just to say they're thinking of me, and that they love me. My children have been a great source of comfort and support, even though the older ones don't live close to home. Knowing I can count on my kids when life gets hard has been such a blessing.
Friends and family members have come out of the woodwork, it seems, blessing my life with quick texts, sweet cards, soft words of concern and encouragement, and small tokens of friendship. Yellow daffodils, a gift from a dear friend, are blooming in my kitchen, reminding me every day that I am loved. Throughout this time, even in my darkest moments, I have felt gratitude for my friends and family.
So I've saved myself some money and time. I've emptied my system of any excess tears that have been storing up inside me all of these years. I've forced myself to hike long and hard, trying to put some distance between an empty house and myself. My children, family, and friends have offered love and support to get me through this time until I could find my own joy. There was no one thing that helped the oppressive feeling to lift. The combination of prayers, selfless acts of service, and giving myself the time to honor the sweet memories, and the also the sadness, has made me realize that all of it has been such a blessing. It was simply a matter of time. There is always a silver lining; we just have to take the time to find it.