Writing Under the Weight of Sadness

Harnessing the energy to seek and expel words from my mind and onto paper seems like more than I can bear. It seems almost impossible. In the moment I don’t know how I feel or how to focus on finding the right words to work through it.

I think about how you can pursue a life in which you constantly look for the good, especially when times are rough, but sometimes the world around you looks gray and dull no matter what you do. You’re caught in the middle between of a state of glass-half-empty and glass-half-full and you struggle against both sides. The idea of sinking into the dark feels cozy, but you know you are supposed to climb out and away from its pull on you.

I find myself wondering why I spend time on any of these things that I do and why I care. Meaning is suspended and I suddenly don’t have energy for anything. Under the weight of anxiety and sadness and worry, I feel less like talking. I want to keep my vulnerability under wraps and close to my chest for safekeeping.

But the thoughts in my head are there regardless, so if nothing else seems to make sense, why not use them? I try to embrace them and accept them and let myself go to feel whatever it is I need to feel. Snippets of phrases form in my mind and I consider writing them down. I know that the stagnancy will eventually turn to movement. It’s easier to write when I feel moved rather than weighed down, though perhaps under the weight of sadness is when I need to do it the most.

Suddenly the emotions manifest into full sentences and things begin to make sense again. The sensation of writing is like a warm blanket made just for me. It covers me completely so that I can sit in the dark and hide while staying safe from the darkness itself. It’s a shield that allows me to let the light back in slowly at my own pace and in my own time.

The world continues to turn regardless of who is in it and how I feel about it. There is purpose and meaning, but sometimes it’s harder to see. The possibility of losing someone is hard to face. The reality of losing someone, of life disappearing from existence is hard to accept. One person fights to survive while another leaves this world too soon, but I am still alive. I still have a choice to breathe, and so I do. And I write. And I feel a little lighter.


Too Late

We have so many intentions to do so many things. We plan to get around to them eventually, when we have more time. But sometimes we don’t have as much time as we think.

H and I met in high school. He’d always greet me with a huge smile in the hallway. When I asked how his day was going, he’d answer, “Oh, you know me. I live my life a quarter-mile at a time,” laughing and mocking my love for the movie The Fast and the Furious. He daydreamed in class and drew cute and funny cartoons that featured me and the people we knew. He was smart and silly and coined witty catch phrases that caught like wildfire among our friends, some of which we still say. When a friend of ours died unexpectedly, H and I went to the funeral together, leaning on each other for support. He was an impressive musician and played drums in a punk band. We also kissed once.

After high school I left for college and moved to a city about four hours away from my hometown. A couple of years later, H moved there as well. He needed a change and to break some old habits. By then I had a different life. I was going to college full time, working, and had a busy social life. H and I had grown apart after high school, but I was excited to know we were living in the same city again.

We chatted on the phone and via text message. I told him about my classes and he told me about his job at a popular pizza spot, a place I had been a few times.   We made tentative plans to hang out, but something always came up. I always intended to hang out with him, but I never made it happen. After a year or so, H moved back home.

Shortly thereafter, I was at work when my cell phone lit up, and I saw on the display it was a close friend from home. I didn’t answer at first, but then I thought about how strange it was that he was calling me in the middle of a weekday when we were both usually at work. I answered the call and heard the somber news. H had died of a drug overdose. He was only 24.

I went home and went to the funeral. I started crying in the car before we even got there, and there were moments when I wondered if I would ever stop. Afterwards, about thirty of us gathered together to tell stories, laugh through our tears, and to drink ourselves into oblivion. We cried and reminisced into the wee hours of the night until one-by-one we started to pass out from emotional exhaustion and alcohol. H’s death was unexpected and hit us hard.

Death is a strange thing. It reminds us of our own mortality. It reminds us that we only have a limited amount of time. H has been gone a long time, but I still think about him, and it is still weird knowing that he is not here.

I have always regretted that I did not see H at least one more time before he died. I do not remember the last time I saw him.

We don’t know how much time we have, but it’s finite, so it’s important we prioritize and use our time wisely.  We get busy and sidetracked going through the motions of daily life, putting off one intention after another. If we put them off too long though, it may eventually be too late.

Friends to the End

In a partnership, you lean on each other. You teach each other things. You support each other and do things together as a team.

When Toby was a year old, he got a sweet little sister, Haley. He showed her how to make the cute sad face to get more treats, how to play a game of Tug, and which door to greet us at when we arrived home. He showed her how to live the best life a dog could live.

Eventually Haley grew up and became the annoying little sister, but Toby still looked out for her. He’d make sure she was okay after returning home from a trip to the vet. He cried at the backdoor when she was stuck outside. They worked in tandem to take down the trashcan and eat the leftover pizza inside. They searched for rodents in the shed and patrolled the yard together at night. They were partners.

Friends 2013 - 005 – Version 2

When Toby died earlier this year, Haley was lost. She had never been without him. She wandered the house, restless and lonely. She refused to eat, not having Toby there with his usual watchful encouragement. When we came home from an outing, we would come through the back door and find Haley standing anxiously at the front door. She didn’t have Toby to tell her where to stand to greet us.

But now it’s Haley’s turn to pass on her dog knowledge. She shows her new friend Sid how to squeal for attention, where the dog treats are kept, and how fun it is to run really fast. Together they chase squirrels and play Tug with their favorite toys. Haley now knows which door to greet us as when we come home. She has Sid’s help in figuring it out, and she almost always gets it right.

Version 2

In response to the Daily Post photo challenge

The Procession: A Shift in Perspective

I had been in a foul mood all morning. Not even walking at the park with my dog had managed to boost my spirit. As Cora stopped to sniff the grass, I wondered about the crowd of people I’d seen on our drive to the park, gathering at the highway overpass. I hadn’t seen any accidents. Why were they gathering? But then suddenly I realized it must be for the funeral procession.  The understanding overwhelmed me, and I started to cry.

I had reasons for being in my dismal mood: not enough sleep, a looming to-do list, the irritation of dogs whining all morning, a headache. But who was I to feel such frustration and annoyance at the world that morning? I was alive! I was alive and going about my Saturday morning routine. I had that privilege, though I had done nothing in particular to earn it.

A courageous person, a police officer, in an effort to protect the people of his community, had put his life on the line and lost it. He wasn’t going about his daily routine on this Saturday morning, nor was his family. This Saturday was different. It was one coated in tragedy and anguish as the community gathered for his procession. Who was I to be taking the gift of life for granted, especially on this day? I felt ashamed of myself.

This was not the first instance, of course, in which a police officer was killed in the line of duty, but this time it was closer to home. It happened not in the urban city streets but within my community in a small suburban neighborhood that I pass through daily on my way to work. Perhaps this circumstance in addition to the two deaths I experienced recently in my personal life heightened my sensitivity to the death of this police officer. He was only 29. I did not know him, but I knew I had to go to the funeral procession and pay my respects.

I parked close to the highway intersection and jogged towards the overpass, feeling anxious as I crossed the road to the bridge. I found an open spot in the crowd along the railing and peered down over the highway below. The seemingly endless line of police car after police car and intermittent fire trucks from all the surrounding suburbs, cities, and even farther away places drove in succession in honor of the fallen officer.

Passers-by stopped in the road or pulled over. Couples stood together waving their flags and wiping tears from their cheeks. Fire and EMS officers stood on a parked ambulance saluting or holding their hands over their hearts during the entire procession. Parents stood with their children, telling to them what was happening and why, and teaching them about humility, respect, empathy, and bravery in the process. I was moved to tears over and over.

Everyday people sacrifice their lives for the greater good. I’m glad I had the opportunity to honor such a person, and in the wake of the procession, the least I could do was be thankful for the day I still had in front of me. The sun was high, the sky was clear, and I was both safe and free.

A Recent Loss: Grief and Gratitude

In grief my senses become heightened. In still moments, I am acutely aware of everything around me – the hard bench underneath me, the bright sun above, the cold wind fanning my hair around my face. I am sitting next to the place where we buried our dog Toby earlier that morning, and for once, I am truly present in the moment. It is an overwhelming moment of grief, and it is everything.

The details of Toby’s death are important only to us. We talk about the things we could have done differently, if we had paid closer attention, acted faster, been able to access the clairvoyant powers we should have had. We know this is fruitless, and we fall back into silence.

We all fought hard, Toby by far the hardest, but heart disease is a losing battle.

We bury him under one of the peach trees. My husband points out that the flower buds are already beginning to grow. We cry. I think about how Toby won’t be around to see them when they bloom. We cry harder.

We carry sandstones from one end of the yard to the other, carefully setting them over the place my husband just filled in with dirt under which Toby is resting peacefully. I think of him being cold and lonely in that dark place and I begin sobbing. My husband in his grief can barely speak. I continue carrying stones because I don’t know what else to do.

Later, sitting next to that pile of stones, Haley jumps into my lap. She has never been without Toby. I know this loss will be hard for her. I scratch her ears while we look out into the bright sunshine and listen to the birds chirp. Toby would have loved this day.

The previous day was beautiful, much like this one. Toby struggled to walk and even stand, so we all sat with him in the warm grass. My husband, our dogs Haley and Cora, and I each sat with Toby, feeling the peaceful energy of life flowing around us and being so incredibly thankful for it. Toby did not want to go back inside. I wonder if he knew those were his last moments in the sun.

I am beyond grateful to have that image of Toby in my mind, the sun so bright in his eyes and his fur blowing in the breeze. He was truly happy. I think of so many moments I had with him and vow to remember all the things he showed me in his canine wisdom.

Version 2He was accepting of everyone, always eager to share his love and friendship. He was always indulging in the best things in life – treats and naps, both of which he indulged in as much as possible. He tolerated Haley’s bossiness and Cora’s infatuation, carefully picking only the battles that truly mattered. He was always happy to help with chores, keeping the lawnmower in line and sitting on the swept up dirt piles so they couldn’t get away before I vacuumed them up.

Toby appreciated and reveled in the quiet moments. He often snuck outside alone in the early mornings or late evenings to watch the rise or decent of the sun and simply enjoy the world around him.

He was sweet and silly and oh so charming, and home was his absolute favorite place to be.

He had such a strong presence in our household, only I didn’t realize it until he was gone. It feels emptier now. I know that Haley and Cora feel the emptiness, too. My husband and I have vowed to spend more quality time with them, to engage more with them and be even better dog parents.

We vow to take less for granted, to love harder and to show that love more often, to indulge in the good things, and to spend more time in the sun. I know that Toby would approve.