Jeff & I have spent the last three weeks in Santa Cruz, California. We wanted an escape, after the holidays, from not just the cold & the snow but from the routine of our daily lives. It’s been warm here, & sunny, & in those ways it has succeeded as an escape: we have hiked through the redwoods & walked along the beach in the sunshine & soaked in the sun like the gift that it is. But what I had to travel here to learn for certain is that there’s no vacation, ever, from our grief.
I didn’t think that I would feel less sad here. I didn’t believe that I would miss Isaac even one iota less. I don’t want to escape from his memory. But I did have hope that perhaps, removed from the setting of our trauma, some of the PTSD symptoms we experience might dissipate. The insomnia, the nightmares, the panic attacks. But they cling to us here just as they did at home. It’s not going to the grocery store by myself or watching a toddler being pushed in a stroller swaying her legs back & forth or an ambulance driving by with its siren wailing that’s my trigger. Or it’s all of those things, but mostly it’s just being alive in this world when my son isn’t. Anywhere in this world.
Don’t get me wrong: we have enjoyed ourselves here. I love my husband & we’ve been blessed to be able to take this trip together, to spend time together, to hold one another in the (literal & figurative) darkness. There’s joy in our lives still. It’s just less than. It’s just painted with a streak of sadness. It’s just not what we expected, & it’s difficult to come to terms with that.
I struggled, when I was younger, to accept conflicting truths. I viewed the world pretty plainly in black & white. But as I’ve grown older, as I’ve gained more & lost more, conflicting truths are woven into my existence, & never more so than after the death of my son. Truth: I miss Isaac every second of every day. Truth: I am still capable of every other human feeling I’ve ever had. Truth: I sometimes wish I would die, & yet I want to go on.
It’s like this: in one of my very favorite books, Franny & Zooey, twenty-year-old Franny becomes fascinated with the Jesus Prayer, which calls a person to internalize the prayer to the point that s/he can pray without ceasing. (The prayer as presented in the book reads: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”) & I too found the prayer fascinating, & I wondered at the dedication & focus required to pray without ceasing, at the capacity of a person to really achieve this. But since Isaac’s death my own prayer has settled in my heart, effortlessly, & it’s just his name, over & over & over again, with every breath, with every heartbeat, & I know without question that I’ll only be able to cease its recitation when I cease breathing.