Cracking

The sun will not rise for almost two and one-half hours. Peering into the darkness, I cannot forecast what the day will look like. I could look into the weather forecast, but that would take the mystery out of what awaits me. So, I am satisfied to know only that the temperature outside is uncomfortably cold: 22 degrees, according to the indoor-outdoor thermometer. It’s almost fifty degrees warmer inside. If I were more adventurous, I might take my computer outside on the deck to experience what 22 degrees feels like. Or, perhaps, if fear did not hold such sway over me, I would throw water on the deck boards and attempt to skate as the water froze; but I am afraid I might slip and fall. I might slide off the deck and plummet to the rocky slope twenty feet below. If the fall did not kill me, the elements probably would. It’s not death I fear; it’s the potential agony on the way there.

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The prospect of pain has too much control over us; over me, anyway. It can dissuade me from doing what I should do and it can protect me from doing what I shouldn’t. Both popular and professional literature about pain differentiates physical pain from emotional pain. Memories do not trigger earlier physical pain but memories can evoke emotional pain; remembering emotional pain can cause that pain to be replicated. I read an article in Psychology Today that claimed people use physical pain as a distraction from emotional pain, but not vice versa. As an example, the article mentioned the unhealthy practice of slicing one’s skin, replacing emotional pain with its physical counterpart.

Physical pain, even excruciating physical pain, does not reverberate the way emotional pain does. Emotional pain returns over and over and over again; memories of emotional pain can do lasting damage, whereas physical pain rarely has the capacity to do the same. Yet the two types of pain can intersect and can feed off one another; I’ve not read anything that supports that, but I am confident the statement is true. However, I am not sure whether the strength and direction of the correlation between them is always clear. And I am not sure I want to know.

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Guilt is a form of emotional pain. And like so many other kinds of emotional pain, it is not anesthetized by admonitions to “stop feeling it.” Logic, whether valid or not, has as little bearing on reducing emotional pain as it does on physical pain. Telling a person “you did all you could to try to save the drowning child” is just as useless as telling someone “you’re not at fault for slicing your finger while chopping onions.” The motives behind both statements might be pure and full of good intentions, but both are equally ineffective.

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I wonder whether “analgesic” applies to the relief of both physical and emotional pain? Google would tell me, if I asked, but I’m not interested at the moment in what Google has to say about the matter. I’m more interested in what actual humans think. “Actual humans.” What other kinds of humans are there? Artificial? We seem to be moving closer and closer to artificial humans with artificial intelligence. Is artificial intelligence any better or worse than actual intelligence? And what about emotional intelligence; what is its counterpart in the real (actual) world? I do not like the term “emotional intelligence.” Something about it seems artificial; intentionally deceptive, as if it attempts to hide something beneath its irrationality. Emotional intelligence seems a little like slip-on seat covers for car seats, hiding cracked leather beneath a cheap weave.

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The idea that I will never be with my wife again is impossibly hard. She was the reason I woke up every day; she was the person who was there for me, even when she was ill and locked away in hospitals and rehab centers. Most days, I wade through and think I will get beyond the dark sense that there is no longer a reason to wake up. But then I realize I am deceiving myself. For more than forty years, she inflated me, as if I were a balloon, and gave me purpose. I lie to myself and tell myself I will recover that sense of purpose. But no matter how hard I try and no matter how much other people try to help me get through it, I doubt I’ll ever feel that again. Without purpose, there’s just emptiness. And guilt that I did not do what I should have done; I should have brought her home, not shuttled her off to Good Sam, where she became horribly depressed. When I saw her depression, I should have brought her home, but I did not. If had done that, I think she might have recovered. Maybe not her physical strength, but her will to live. Maybe I deserve the emotional pain. Maybe the idea of wanting it to end is just more selfishness. Perhaps the pain of eternal guilt is an appropriate sentence.

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Sunrise is still an hour away. Darkness surrounds my house, but inside is a cozy pocket of light. I am too comfortable here in this protective nest. My ready access to coffee is too easy. It is too easy for me to wallow in pity. Is my sadness based on wishing for my wife a longer, more fulfilling life? Or does it rest on my own desire to have her back? Who am I sad for? Is it pure selfishness? I cannot stop thinking that my tears may be for me, not for her. That is unbearable.

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I spent most of the day yesterday preparing materials to review with a financial advisor. It seems I should do that, but I don’t know why. And I thought, during the day, I should begin the process of giving my wife’s clothes away. But then I thought I should not do that; her closets are still her closets. Her clothes belong there. Her desk was her province; I should leave it the way she left it. I had already put some of her things, on the bathroom vanity, away; I should put them back. I feel like I’m going crazy; these thoughts are insane.

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The fact that I’ve been burning incense in the house now seems so wrong. What the hell was I thinking? Why would I do something that I know she would have hated? It is utterly absurd. I wonder who I have become. Whoever he is, I loathe him.

I assume my moods this morning are just part of the grieving process. But it could be that my shell is cracking. My protective armor could be rupturing, exposing me to the carrion-eaters and opening me up to the elements. If that’s it, so be it; the sooner, the better.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to Cracking

  1. Tara says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Bev. Steve passed away a year ago tomorrow, and we were together for six years. I can’t imagine the grief of losing someone who was your partner for 40 years! My grief has been on-going, and painful, and full of self recriminations. I talk to myself and ask, “Is that really true, or is that just what you are feeling?” Upon reflection, many of my feelings are an emotional reaction to loss, and I remind myself to go easy.

    You are most definitely not cracking up, though it may feel like it. You are a loving and kind man who has lost his dear wife. The pain will stay with you, and insights will come to you. You’re on a journey. Keep the faith, my friend.

  2. Thanks, Bev. I ordered the book. From the description on Amazon, I expect it to be very helpful. I appreciate your recommendation. John

  3. Bev says:

    You’re not cracking. You’re just beginning what is usually a pretty long journey – the grief journey. In the early days, people are often in a bit of shock and don’t realize that that almost inevitably gives way to something much deeper and harder to get through. Also, we start to realize that who we are is changing. Much of our purpose seems to be gone. Our “value” has disappeared because we are no longer with the person who kept reminding us how much we mattered is now gone. That’s a lot of change to have happen. I really suggest that you get ahold of a copy of Megan Devine’s book, “It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay.” I know Megan from years ago when her partner died — she was one of a group of us who met online and wrote blogs about grief. She went on to write this book. A few months ago, I recommended it to a friend who has been struggling since losing her husband. She has been given books to read by a grief counsellor and none of them helped much until she got Megan’s book and has found it so helpful. All the things that you may have thought were “going crazy” feelings are actually pretty normal. The things people tell you – those who have not experienced really hard grief, are mostly useless and wrong. Every person’s grief is different than every other person’s grief, but there are some common threads. You already seem to be writing about some of them. Anyhow, that’s my best advice. I’m pretty sure it will help — maybe not right now — but in a few weeks when everyone expects you to be “over it” and back to “normal”.

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