Habitual

It’s becoming a habit I need to overcome. I sit on the reclining loveseat, watching the only television series in which I’m particularly interested at the moment. After a while, I decide I need to take a break, so I hit the pause button. As I sit, motionless, I slowly slip into a trance; conscious but consumed with thoughts that gradually erase my consciousness. Sleep, or something like it, replaces my reflective thoughts. I sometimes awaken a few hours later, in the middle of the night. I make my way to bed, my back aching from too much time in the recliner in a position not suited to good back health. Watching television has become a tactic for emptying my head of intrusive thoughts. Television and wine, in combination, temporarily erase concerns. Things like taxes and paying bills and repairing dangerous walkways and fourteen inches of snow blocking my driveway and empty rooms and actions not taken and decisions I wish I could reverse. The pairing of mindless entertainment and alcohol frees me of things that tug at me as if I were a just-roped calf and the world around me a cowboy intent on taking me down and tying my legs together.

My back hurts this morning, though I did not fall asleep in front of the television last night. I think it’s a carryover from a night or two ago. When I stand up from a seated position, pain erupts at the same point on both sides of my back and, a little higher, in the middle. It’s not debilitating pain, but I sense it could get worse if I don’t take some sort of corrective action, though I’m not sure what that might be, except for avoiding the loveseat and falling asleep in front of the television. Or maybe a masseuse who makes home visits.

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Grateful. Some people follow the word with “to” and some follow it with “for.” Some follow it with both, depending on circumstances and context. Recently, I participated in a conversation about prayer. It seems the difference between “believers” and “nonbelievers” can be identified by which of those two prepositions are used in conjunction with “grateful” in prayer. Believers tend to be grateful to some being or entity or nameless power; nonbelievers tend to be grateful for some experience or emotion, without regard to its source. But the latter part of that statement is not true. For example, a nonbeliever might be grateful to farmers for providing the food for a meal.

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One of these days, maybe I’ll move the monstrously-heavy wooden bed frame and solid wood headboard and posts, etc., back into the master bedroom. I’ll reassemble the bed and reclaim the master bedroom for my sleeping quarters. But I don’t know how I’ll react to sleeping in that bed again. It may be hard to do, emotionally. My wife owned that bed before we met. We replaced mattresses and box springs several times over the course of 40-plus years, but the big hardwood bed was our steadfast companion the entire time we knew one another. It doesn’t seem right that it should survive our time together. But my feelings are most definitely mixed. I do not know whether I could part with it, yet I do not know whether having it in the house will forever prevent an open wound from healing. Some circumstances force one to decide from unacceptable options.

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Who the hell am I fooling with my silliness and sarcasm and deflection? I’m not sure whether I’m trying to convince myself that “this, too, shall pass” or I’m attempting to convince everyone else that I’m fine so they will leave me alone. As much as I appreciate loving care, I don’t deserve it. So, when it is given so freely, it’s almost like punishment, a reminder that I’m allowing people to feel like I warrant their time and attention, when I think otherwise. On the one hand, I need—or at least want—closeness and care and an arm around my shoulder, but on the other it seems so self-serving and empty to even hope for it, much less strive for it.

This morning, despite a thousand other thing racing through my mind, the majority of my thoughts are on my wife. I cannot rid myself of the feelings of guilt that, if only she had come home instead going into a rehab facility, she might have had an easier time of it; she might even still be with me. People and publications tell me I can’t dwell on “what if.” But it’s impossible not to. Not when I wake up to an empty house and see, by the fireplace, the urn with her ashes. Some days, I think I will be unable to continue living with the guilt and the sorrow and the unending pain. When I notice that I’ve had a day or two of relative serenity, another wave of guilt washes over me, chiding me for having the audacity to “forget” for awhile. It takes more strength than I have in me to go on in a world that promises unending reminders that everything is different now, everything has lost its purpose. The idea that losing weight, exercising, or changing my diet might actually matter becomes laughable and pathetic. I try to overcome those grim recognitions with sarcasm or silly comments or other attempts at humor. It doesn’t work. It might hold the demons at bay for a while, but they circle back and come at me from another angle. I probably should recognize the futility of it all and just acknowledge the inevitable.

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These eruptions of depressive thoughts always subside, but when they do they’re always just beneath the surface, waiting for something to release them into the air. The “something” that releases them can be obvious or absolutely unknowable. Today, I don’t know what brought them up from the moment I got out of bed; even before that. They may dissipate before my second cup of coffee this morning or they may last beyond the weekend.  Regardless, it is best for me to just wade through them alone. Well-meaning attempts to drag me out of the muck would not work and might well unleash evidence of why I don’t deserve loving care.

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This long and laborious post is just full of cheer. I think I’ll go bury myself in a snow bank and emerge in the Spring, happy and carefree.

About John Swinburn

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

  1. Bev, your experience and your advice are invaluable. Thank you for taking the time and expending the energy to share them with me. I appreciate your input more than you can possibly know.

  2. Bev says:

    Grief, death, going on, etc.. It’s all pretty difficult stuff. There’s no one way, or right way, to grieve or do death. Feelings of coulda-woulda-shoulda seem pretty normal when it comes to reflecting on whether you did the right things. Trust me on this. I have presided — I guess that’s a good word for it — over 4 deaths now — was the primary caregiver in 3 of those and the unfortunate soul who ended up being enlisted to make some difficult calls for a dying neighbour in his last days. Do I wonder if I did the right thing in each case. Of course. Would I have done things differently if I had it all to do over again. Perhaps. Could things have turned out better if I’d made better decisions. Probably not. The whole thing sucks. Seriously. Being “The Decider” totally sucks because you will inevitably feel guilty over one thing or another. You might even have dreams about it — I still do even many years later. Anyhow, the guilt will ebb away with time.
    As for how you are spending your days, grief is hard work — tires you out. I used to set a goal of getting one or two things done each day and no more. I chose a time each day – for me, between 10 and 11 a.m. — and that was the time during which I tackled problems – fill out some forms, make some phone call I didn’t want to make, etc.. It was horrible. I hated it. But eventually got through it all. Had to go through the whole thing — actually much worse — when my mother died in 2017 – so it’s still pretty fresh in my mind. You’ll get it done. It’s not a race. just plug away at things until everything is taken care of.
    Don’t worry about the bed. Sleep wherever you are most comfortable. For about 2 years, when I wasn’t traveling and sleeping in my van, I would sleep crosswise across a bed and pile stuff like my guitar and books and other things on the other half of the bed. I finally realized it was because I didn’t like sleeping in a bed that was empty. Eventually I got so that I didn’t mind so much.
    Anyhow, just roll with it. Accept people’s attention right now. I think you’ll find that, 2 or 3 months from now,, they won’t be calling as much. People move on. Someone else needs the care and attention more than you. In the meantime, be thankful you are surrounded by caring people. that’s actually pretty rare and very nice.

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