At 5:30 AM this morning, I went for a walk in the neighborhood. The stars and moon were as bright as they could be for city dwelling. I came back and other than a minor pain fest trying to change Reese’s earrings (“hold still, babe, I just need to poke through to the back of your ear..”) we were able to eat breakfast together and get out the door on time. Work was mix of getting things done, moving things forward, answering emails and feeling productive. I came home by 5:30 PM to receive a “no issues” report from the nanny while I was polishing off side dishes for the roast I had started in the crock pot this morning. The kids and I sat together at the dinner table, everyone ate (nearly) everything on their plate and I connected with each kid about their day, and then homework after dinner. Aside from the fruit flies that landed in my Pinot at dinner, I’d give the day a solid A. Even traffic home from downtown was a breeze with the Seahawks playing at home for Monday night football. Somehow the stars, moods, emotional resources and planning rendered a full and good day.
I am not bragging. I didn’t post a picture of my dinner plate on social media (though I thought about it). This “no issues” day, one that borders on good where all aspects not only run smoothly, but in many cases, are somewhat enjoyable---happens approximately once a season, if that.
For the last four years, the kids and I have put in our 10,000 hours (or more) redefining what defines a good day. And, if recent days were any prediction of what this Monday would look like three days before the fourth anniversary of Ed’s death, I would have expected October 5th to be a full on shit show. I have been showing all the familiar signs of seasonal grief: irritability, exhaustion, impatience, cravings for alone time only to crave company when I’m finally alone.
I re-watched an episode of Elementary this weekend while working on a fundraising project for the kids’ school. “The Eternity Injection” was one of those episodes that sneak up, particularly one scene where Sherlock (the wonderful Jonny Lee Miller) articulates the tedium of maintaining sobriety. The first time I watched the episode, I was in the thick of a many month long battle just to get through each day. Sherlock’s monologue was a salve on my unnamed reality, one so familiar I couldn’t see it anymore. It gave me language to tell a chapter of my story. Not much helps more than the ability to tell one’s story. It’s my best therapy.
I highly recommend that the monologue be watched: it’s on Hulu: Episode 3, Season 9, around 27 minutes. Miller executes the words perfectly, so much so, that I hesitate re-typing them here because they lose their impact in printed form. It captures well the reality of grinding out a new life being sober; for me, it's a new life in the wake of the death of my spouse and children’s father.
Here’s the monologue:
If you must know, Watson, I've been feeling a little bit down of late. It's the process of maintaining my sobriety. It's repetitive. And it's relentless. And above all, it's tedious. When I left rehab, I... I accepted your influence, I committed to my recovery. And now, two years in, I find myself asking, 'is this it?' My sobriety is simply a grind. It's just this leaky faucet that requires constant maintenance, and in return offers only not to drip.
Here’s what I heard/felt:
I've been feeling a little bit down of late. It's the process of maintaining my life without Ed. It's repetitive. And it's relentless. And above all, it's tedious. When Ed died, I committed to continuing our life. And now, four years in, I find myself asking, 'is this it?' My grief is simply a grind. It's just this leaky faucet that requires constant maintenance, and in return offers only not to drip.
My “leaky faucet” is figuring out how to take care of basics; and by basics, I mean keeping the house running, doing a good enough job at work and as a parent to avoid despair, reading most of the school emails, putting basics on hold to be the “fun” parent even when I am in no mood. I have long since given up on my previous life’s notion of more than a few minutes of time to myself each day or being able to ask the question “what should we do today” because the to-do list is relentless. I no longer have expectations for any sort of social life that I used to strive for after having children. Working out is akin to dessert: a rare treat. What makes the fourth year different than the third? Last year, this list would have been a list of complaints. This year, it’s a list of acceptance. With acceptance, good days are being redefined.
A good day is when I don’t notice there’s a fixed faucet. Like today. A “normal” day that, when good, doesn’t automatically remind me of what once was. Or when the daily grind doesn’t feel like a grind. Don’t get me wrong, I have tremendous gratitude for all that I have, mostly for my kids and the people we care about and who clearly care about us. I am acutely aware that I am in a stable social and financial situation; I can't imagine being a widow in the majority of the places on earth, including some in this country. But, it’s not like a pie of emotion: a big fat slice of gratitude doesn’t take up the grief pieces; they coexist.
I am grateful that the outward toll of grief shows itself less regularly, more so with each passing year (which could mean I’m learning to manage it all better): I notice it when it appears, which means, thank God, that it disappears for longer periods of time. I am grateful that I’ve learned what usually works for me and the kids around critical days and times. For example, I have discovered that vacations are like relationships: they should not be used to make one feel better; they are much better enjoyed when you’re in a good place (I will save a LOT of money not traveling at Christmas). I’m grateful that one of my strengths has gotten stronger: the ability to adapt and improvise in almost any situation.
And, I am grateful for this day. It was a good day. I have no idea what tomorrow will be like, or the day before the fourth anniversary of Ed’s death. And, that's okay. My kids and I are slowly learning that nothing is permanent, for good or bad. And, the good days return.