I don't know what the hell I am doing.
I keep waking up at night and this is what races through my mind.
I don't know what I'm doing.
The other day I broke one of Tad's rules and took the cat up to the City without putting her in the loathsome cage that makes her yowl non-stop. Surprisingly she rode calmly on the passenger's seat the entire trip.
Quite proud of my success, I went to pick her up for the ride home a few days later and she made it clear she was having none of it. I tried to remember Tad's instructions: "Get a towel - Show her you are the alpha." A chase scene ensued that finished with me on the neighbor's roof, several scratches on my arms and the silver ring Tad gave me for our commitment ceremony lost.
This final mishap literally brought me to my knees. In sobs I cried out to whoever could hear me: "I don't know what I"m doing. Tad tell me how to do this."
Whatever "this" is.
People tell me: It's a process; the "grief process"; like a manufacturing chain where bits are added station by station till a new product emerges.
People ask me, almost daily: So have you decided what you are going to do? Maybe they too see I don't know what the hell I'm doing…
I believe they ask me this because they want me to have some kind of structure in my life; they assume more structure will mean I'm feeling better, I've "moved on" - (another term I hear a lot). They do it because they care about me no doubt.
There's a more rare category of folks who ask me how I'm "holding up". I imagine this is a grammatical formula they use to recognize that this is not normal life but a struggle - an uphill rock of Sisyphus.
The fact is I don't know what people assume. I don't know what these phrases mean. I do know what my inner life feels like today.
1 - I know there is nothing to fix; nothing to troubleshoot. I can't just do something and this state will magically go away; it's here for a while. (Though god knows I keep trying to numb my brain for a brief moment through various compulsive time-wasters that get me nowhere.)
Hence I find myself pulling away from people who "know what's best for me", the bootstrap troubleshooters who have a clear idea about what I should do differently to feel better immediately.
2 - I know it's not yet time for me to start a practice working with people in therapy. In part because of the above: I need to be careful not to rush into some grand project simply to avoid remembering that my heart is tender.
3 - That's something else I know: my heart is tender. Let me repeat that: My heart is very tender.
I cry easily. Events of the day move me incredibly. Aggressive actions or words are unbearable. Majestic moments like a sunset or a field of wildflowers are ecstatic. Both bring me to tears. Simple gestures of kindness: a smile, eye contact from a cashier are like sitting in front of a hot fireplace.
I yearn for (and get) calm, loving exchanges with people. During these exchanges I describe what is happening inside, how I'm feeling, how I'm different from yesterday or not, what thoughts are niggling at me.
4 - I am completely spooked by medical environments. Going to the doctor brings up flashes of painful memories. Just hearing a story about a mammogram recently had my heart racing, my palms sweaty and I needed to get a drink of water. An encounter with a young insensitive doctor-in-training at a recent function had me outraged. She was immature and making light of her patients. I almost left the party because of my rage.
5 - I see the one thing I come back to -- in between hikes, talks, massages, therapy, time-wasting and tears -- is the "getting rid of". The golden thread that runs through all of it is the piles of stuff I feel the need to rummage through and slowly scale back trying as much as I can to give things away or take them to charity.
The last step feels impossible so I often recreate new piles then once in a while actually get the courage to take them away.
(When I read the above I find it curious I see the Golden Thread as the rummaging and throwing away. If I were a monk or a priest focused deeply on the invisible aspects of life I would no doubt see the rummaging as just a pretext and the real Thread as the journey my heart is on. In my material, non-monk world I give "stuff" top billing and only once in a while remember the slow subtle transformation of my heart.)
But I see that in cleaning out I am also creating a new house. In a way I'm nesting. My gestures are telling me what I'm doing with my life right now, my "mission" is preparing Tad's house for some future life for myself.
It surprised me to be back at my own house in San Francisco and doing the same thing: a chair I was saving because I thought it might look good in our future house, old motorcycle helmets from a previous relationship, clothes I haven't worn in years all ready to go to charity.
I'm actually finding great pleasure in transforming my two places into something more comfortable, something that meets the needs of my life as it is today.
At the same time it is a lonely process; all of it.
I yearn to have a loving family of origin or tight circle of friends who live nearby, who are calm and supportive, who drop in with meals and mostly sit silently while we go through things together. We laugh as we look at old photos and sometimes tell stories. When I cry they hug me then simply hand me a kleenex. They notice my lawn needs mowing and they stop by to cut it while I'm at the grocery store.
Alas Tad and I are both exiles - the ones that ran away to live our gay lives serenely. And our families are spread here and there busy with their own work-a-day schedules.
The other day I said to someone "I wish I lived in an African village where we help raise each others' children and carry our dead to the cemetery together". Except I want hot showers and good mattresses.
When I read back on all this I see I am wanting the world to do something counter-intuitive: I am wanting people to be close but not too close, to sit in my discomfort with me, to not try to fix things. This is generally not how the world works.
During the holidays I found myself relishing in holding a newborn baby in my arms. I looked into his eyes and felt so peaceful. I also felt Tad's loving gaze on us. I couldn't wait to hand the baby to him who I knew would be squirming in both excitement and trepidation. But there were no Tad arms reaching out to take him from me. All I had was his loving smile in my mind.
The moment was so simple and tender I began to weep in the midst of dozens of people reconnecting, socializing, eating and drinking. My mind was muddled: I both wanted people to see my tears, to bear witness to my sorrowful, tender heart but didn't want anyone to do anything about it.
One friend saw what was happening from across the room and stopped his conversation. He got up from table, crossed over and simply sat down next to me. Without saying a word he just leaned in and pressed his shoulder against mine. No words were exchanged but I felt his deep love and support.
In that moment that was all I needed - a simple loving acknowledgement of this difficult path I'm on, a lonely path, but one that is not out of sight from the rest of the world.
I am really surprised to see -- when I take the time to put words to all of this -- that I AM preparing a future. This lonely path is taking me somewhere. I'm quite sure of that.
Ironically the future is the one thing I am not uncomfortable about. Even if the present is rocky at times I feel deep down inside everything will be fine. This is the great lesson I received from chemotherapy, from leukemia, from fighting with insurers and doctors, from Tad's death and of course from Tad's and my love.
No matter how uncomfortable the present is I am going to be just fine.