Something that I have realized is difficult to convey is the impact that grief seems to have on the brain. It’s a crazy thing- this grief- that touches every part of life. I discussed this a bit in this entry: “I Forgot” https://wordpress.com/post/whaticantcontrol.com/93. Lately though I realized a good way to describe it.
Picture your brain as a jigsaw puzzle with thousands of pieces. Most of the time those pieces stay connected allowing us to function. Sometimes small things happen and a piece is moved and has to be put back. We adapt to that small thing. But what about the big things? The REALLY big things? When Gabe died it’s like someone took that puzzle that was so neatly assembled and broke it up. Every single piece. Nothing was connected, nothing could function. Nothing beyond the basic physiological functions anyway. And even those were way off. I needed medication to sleep, and a simple cold a few weeks later became pneumonia. So really I couldn’t function. I was alive, and I was here, but that was about it.
As time progressed small pieces started clicking back together. Each section that was reassembled was not always noticeable, but gradually the pieces started to stick together. Eventually the corners and all of the edges were in place. Now at 2 years and almost 5 months (that date will be Saturday Sept. 8) I can look back and see how much progress I have made. It couldn’t be rushed, it just had to happen. I am in a much better place now than I was a year ago, or even just a few months ago.
As time continues to pass I know those pieces will continue to come together. It FEELS like they are clicking together faster and easier. I don’t think they will ever all be back, but I am much more confident now that my brain will adapt to these gaps and I’ll move forward. One puzzle piece at a time.
**The picture above is from our home in Broadway. Gabe was carving his pumpkin and he was frustrated. I used it because it conveys how frustrating it can be, especially early in grief, to not be able to do things that you think should come easy. I love that picture. I remember that day and have many other photos. But that one is my favorite. I also love that it shows his fingernails. He had an anxiety disorder and with that came something called pica. He ate things. His fingernails, even to the day he died, were about half the size they should have been because he would bite them so aggressively. He ate many other things too, but the nails are one of the things I will always remember about him**
**I’ve seen the above image in several places, so I’m not sure who to give credit to. I know I have seen it on a great grief blog called The Life I didn’t Choose. The image is pretty perfect**
Memory loss. I think as we get older we all start to forget things. Maybe our brains just start to hold onto some things more than others. We misplace keys, forget where we put something, and forget an important date here or there. It’s pretty normal.
When a child dies, though, it is a huge shock. So many things changed when Gabe died and one of the first things I noticed was how my memory just seemed to disappear. I know, people suffer memory loss and think this is similar, but it’s not. It’s not even close. I know because I’m going through it and it started happening immediately. The first thing was a few days after Gabe died. Someone told me they would stop by our house in 5-10 minutes. When the doorbell rang and I opened the door I realized that in those 5-10 minutes I had already forgotten that they said they would stop by. This type of thing continued at home and at work. I’m thankful for such an understanding boss, because I know that it must have been almost impossible to put up with in those first months (and really the first 18 or so months). I know there were so many times I said I would do something and would get sidetracked and completely forget. And not just a forget and remember 5 minutes later type thing. Oh no, the things I forgot would be gone forever so if I didn’t complete that task immediately it would not have any chance of getting done.
I think around Christmas this past year the fog finally started lifting a tiny bit. Not as much as I’d like, and definitely not as fast as I’d like, but my memory doesn’t seem quite as stunted now.
Going through memory loss like that has been extremely disturbing to put it mildly. Not only do have my own things to remember- to keep the house going and things with work, but I also have to keep track of the boys schedules and appointments. So things get dropped. Rehearsals get missed. Appointments go unscheduled. Every time I walk in the front door I see that there are cobwebs that need to be wiped from the porch. But it’s forgotten as soon as I walk through that door. I remember the next time I unlock the door from the outside. I notice the horrible weeds growing around our house, but that too is forgotten once I get inside. The inside is the same way. I forget to vacuum, or dust. I forget that I need to do a load of laundry or forget that I started it. I think about defrosting chicken but then get sidetracked and forget to actually do it, only to remember later that I didn’t actually take the chicken out to defrost. I forget birthdays. I forget so many things. I think about checking on a friend and then forget to follow through.
I’ve realized that living with the grief of child loss is exhausting. I remember when Gabe was a tiny baby at Duke the doctors told us that his hair, skin, nails, and even teeth might suffer- his body was putting all of it’s energy to healing the most important part- his heart. I think that’s kind of what happens to the parents when a child dies. The parent needs to put all effort into basic functioning and there just isn’t room to think of other things. The priority is survival and everything else is extra. It takes so much effort to survive that there is just nothing left to remember small details like birthdays and appointments. Details like cleaning and cobwebs and dinner and laundry.
So I try. I try my hardest to remember those things. Some of the ability to remember those details is coming back. Some of it is not. So I work with what I have. I know I can’t rush it. This will just have to be good enough.
As I wrote this I realized it’s entirely possible that I’ve already written about some or all of this. So if I did, I’m sorry. I forgot.