Friday, March 21, 2014

Little Altars Everywhere

Yesterday, the tone of the day was strained. Everyone I met seemed to be stressed out and at the limits of their patience. Disagreements erupted left and right, I found out that I can't volunteer for a camp designed for grieving children because it's too soon after my loss, and on top of everything else, the grief counselor called to find out why I hadn't rescheduled the last appointment that I missed due to one of our wonderful ice storms earlier in the month.

Three things happened in rapid succession after I left work for the day: at the grocery, I bumped into a colleague who broke her hip at the beginning of the semester, turned around in the floral department to see the hybrid tulips my sister carried in her wedding displayed next to the spray orchids I chose for Mom's casket, and encountered a chemo patient talking to her friends in the produce department. It was the trifecta of triggers.

While I was conversing with my colleague, I blurted out, "It's good to see you getting around so well. Mom wouldn't do what the physical therapists told her and she never walked again." The unspoken part of that was, "I was terrified that you might not, either." Her husband works for the college and what I said to him the first time we ran into one another after she had surgery was, "You tell her she must do everything that the physical therapists and occupational therapists tell her to do. It's vital." Not that I didn't think she would, but I felt compelled to say it. Irrational though it is, I will probably link broken hips with death for the rest of my life.

The floral display, merely that particular juxtaposition of both flowers in white (they both come in a variety of colors) was upsetting. I took a picture with my phone which I posted to social media, largely because it seemed emblematic of the day I was having.

Looking beyond the flowers and seeing a woman younger than myself, probably in her thirties, bald from chemo and wearing a turban, was the icing on the cake. I took a deep breath, smiled the "I hope you're doing okay" smile universal to cancer patients' families everywhere, and quickly walked away through the bakery.

The name of the game these days is "exasperation". I feel like I'm being peeled with a vegetable peeler, a little at a time. Controlling my gut reaction to things, and moreover, stopping the words from falling out of my mouth, has become a herculean effort. Weird things trigger moments of extreme grief- and, like my father, I found myself with the urge to flee after my first cousin's funeral a couple of weeks ago, rather than face another round of grieving with our extended family. As much as I love them, too, I wanted to hide from them when Mom died. I have professional responsibilities that don't allow me to build my blanket fort and not come out for hours on end...but I'm not able to cope with minor dust-ups right now. My office door's been closed more since Mom died than at any other time in my career, my need for quiet and calm overwhelming my claustrophobia.

If my management of things is not as soft-handed as normal, it's a side-effect of my current frame of mind. I am not who I'm accustomed to being; I don't want this to be my 'new normal', but for now, I don't have much choice. I may not succeed, but I'm trying.

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