A week ago was my fmphtphepyidu-rd birthday.
Typically, I love my birthday. I’m not the woman who shies away from getting older. Quite the contrary. Every year is exciting to me, from the experiences – both new and routine – to the wrinkles and the white hairs to the memories and everything in between. Aches and pains, while not exactly pleasant, are still something new and therefore something to grab my interest. Having to hold my iPhone a little further away in order to read the typeface… it’s new. All of these things are part of life. They’re going to happen, so might as well embrace them and find a way to enjoy them. And that includes the celebration of each year completed on this earth. Hurray! (It’s also a lovely excuse to eat cake. Nothing can be all that bad that includes your favorite cake.)
This year, though, was different. Markedly so. This year, today, I had to work hard to make it through the day.
My little sister passed away exactly three weeks before my birthday. It wasn’t expected, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected either. No matter the circumstances, it happened, and it really sucks.
I’m not the kind of person who gets mired in sadness. No matter how hard something hits me, I have to focus on living, on joy, on the future, on doing something that will have a positive impact on someone else. As far as we know, this is the one life we live, so why waste it being self-serving or wallowing or worrying or becoming stuck.
During the week after my sister’s death, I didn’t allow myself the time or luxury to feel anything. I didn’t feel mired or depressed, but I also didn’t feel joy, or worry, or confusion, or devotion, or much of anything. And now… now I think I might be stuck.
It occurred to me a couple of days ago that I haven’t really cried. Not really. Not fully. And I definitely haven’t cried – truly allowed my heart to grieve openly – among the people I love most. In that first moment of shock and devastation, I howled tears of desperation with my husband. But since then… no. It’s as if when the people I love are around me, I put on a “me” costume, a defective one that was created without tear ducts.
Don’t get me wrong. Tears have been shed during this past several weeks. There were a few at the funeral, and during a business trip airplane ride, I found a continuous, unstoppable stream of tears silently pouring out of my eyes. Still, the real grieving hasn’t happened.
On my birthday, there were moments when it all hit, the reality that I’m now the oldest of four sisters, not five, at least on this earth right now. In those moments, I keenly felt the hole in the universe, the emptiness that was created when my sister passed from here to the next place. And I felt my heart start to rip open, ready to let the sadness pour out. But then, each time, this strange sound exited my throat each time, completely unbidden, like no sound I’ve ever heard before, and in my surprise I found myself closing my heart up again. I found that I wasn’t ready to feel yet. Not yet.
The problem, though, is that I don’t know that I’m able to feel much of anything right now. Keeping my feelings about my sister inside, keeping them from manifesting fully, has meant that I’ve had to hold everything in. There’s this wall I’ve built between myself and my heart, and there’s another I’ve built between my heart and the world. And the world feels flat, and so do I. Flat and grey and an echo of myself.
I don’t know how this all ends. I don’t know how to get back to me. I know it needs to involve a catharsis of some kind, a ranting, a real and honest release, and an acknowledgement all the way down to my soul – past these barriers I’ve erected – that my little sister is gone. I have to accept, fully and completely accept, that I’m never again going to hear her husky alto voice say, “Hey, Meg!” I know I have to do this, not just because it’s reality but because until I do so, I won’t be able to get back to me.
I just… I don’t know how yet. What I do know is that I have to get out of this “me” costume. Because it’s too tight, and it’s defective. Who ever heard of making a “me” costume without tear ducts?