You might have interacted with me today – maybe brought your pet to see me, have her yearly check-up, get her vaccines, or have me check that little lump that popped up on her leg. You might have chatted with me, sharing small bits of the day or an interesting article you read in the paper. You wouldn’t have seen me as I really am. You would have seen the smiling, friendly Dr Ashe. The professional. The veterinarian.
At night, I set an alarm to remind me to go to sleep at 10:30pm. I’ve always been a night owl, but I’ve realized that the late nights and groggy mornings aren’t good for my Circadian rhythm and health. So I’ve been setting an alarm and getting up early, sometime between 6:15 and 8am.
And every night, like clockwork, I fall asleep easily, and then wake around midnight. My chest feels tight, and my heart flutters frantically in my chest, like a butterfly, trapped in cupped hands. I get up. Go to the bathroom. Pace. Do grounding exercises. Five things I can see. Four things I can touch. Three things I can hear. Two things I can smell. One thing I can taste.
And what do I taste? The bitterness of loss. The tang of grief that never leaves my mouth.
What do I feel? The shock – over and over again – that it is still me. I am still Catherine. I am still here even though my son is not. My son died. That horrific thing that I feared from the moment my first pregnancy test was positive in 2010, that thing happened to me.
At night, alone, I am not Dr Ashe, the veterinarian, working mother of 3. I am a lost soul, wandering my silent house. Nothing has healed. No wounds have closed. My son is still gone, and that fact hits me in the face every single morning when I open my eyes. I still have moments where I flash back to his bedside, to the hours leading up to his death. I have moments where I question every decision – what if, what if, what if.
A year ago, my grief was a black boulder that was crushing me. I could feel it on top of me, suffocating me. Now, it has dispersed into a dark cloud from which rain constantly falls. Every feeling is damp from the constant rain. There are no “good” days anymore. There are okay days – the days when I am patient with the girls, find it in me to play games with them, let them help me cook. When I don’t yell or lose my temper. Those are the okay days. We won’t talk about the bad days.
I think some people believe I’m “doing better” – that I’m ok. Maybe they think that because I’m working again, or because I seem to be “strong” or have it together all the time. None of it’s true. It’s a very thin veneer on top of the real me – the me that is very much still bleeding, still fighting the quicksand just to stay in place and keep from sinking.
At a year, it feels like grief goes underground – that it must, by some necessity. Other griefs have come along for those I know and love, and mine must sink into the background. It hasn’t for me. It is still my every waking moment. Don’t be fooled by Dr Ashe. She is an excellent actress.