My four year old is pretending again. “She’s my mommy.” she says, referring to our sweet friend enjoying an end of the day swim with us. “You’re the shark!!” My little chatty butterfly points to me. I smile and feel the stab. I love her pretend world. How can her little innocent play feel real? With the cancer diagnosis, the mastectomy, being told my genes have a high return for a whole variety of cancers, early and deadly – I’ve had to fight my thoughts. My hyper-focused husband trying to manage the random task of raising our kids alone. The impossibility of that. Another Mommy raising our 10 year old tender powerhouse child, our 4 year old butterfly, and our two older – independent but still needing a mom at times – kids who have just starting college. There’s no way around it. The kids will suffer. I’ve been feeling for a while now that bit by bit I’m floating away. Far away to another place.
To one who has never seen the whites of the eyes of death, the rational goes something like this: “We all die sometime. It’s just a matter of when. It’s a waste of time and energy dwelling on it.” Those words belong to folks who have not had their invincability yanked away. When invincible is removed, there is the reality of the thing. What the family will have to deal with – what will be missing. It’s ugly and raw when it’s real.
It would have been so kind of our foremother and father to never have tasted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The way that concept is taught leads one to believe that the first bite delivered a mouthful of sweet goodness that instantly changed to the sour rot of evil. I’m thinking, however, as days and then years strip away one security blanket after another, ache after heart breaking ache, that the slow stripping away is the gruesome process of fully knowing the difference between the two, no longer able to frame hideous evil as natural, but knowing evil as evil, period.
Butterfly’s innocent pretend words sit heavy on my chest as I float on back across the pool. I glance upward. I’m surprised to see high above me the ceiling is mirror.
There I am, floating body, floating away. Tight throat, tears slipping into the chlorinated blue around. Letting-go bruises deep. Bruises that throb. I float there, thinking how I despise not feeling safe the way I once did. I hate myself for being stuck in this floundering place of uncertainty. The pain turns my thoughts sideways and twisted. “The kids will be better off”. I’m thinking I will never be able to give them what they need, even if I live a long life, I will never feel safe again, impossible managing the day to day in a state of floating away. I flail, wanting loose from the heaviness, this march toward goodbyes. I want to run. Run wild. Run and swim and fly far and strong. I think of how I love to move. Think how confining death will be. Still. Immovable. Anger burning. I’ll never be able to talk Adored Man into letting my ashes float upon the water where at least the pieces of me will be moving. More gut retching.
The side of the pool supports my aching head. Irritated, I think myself to be ridiculous, breast removal almost 3 months behind me. No chemo, no radiation, clean margins. Pathetic drama and stupid. I hate myself. Treated water washes the reddened face. I pull myself together and cross over, back to the other side of the pool. To our friends and kids in time to hear chatty butterfly say “Mom, you are a very nice shark.” She senses everything. I hate myself even more. “God, I need your help”. I start to fake laugh and chat through tight throat.
We manage through our evening swim. I return to the room with kids in tow, get the evening duties rapped up, say our good-nights. As I wind down on my bed, I open the Bible to the random text of the night. Psalms 88. Oh Lord, God of my salvation, I have cried out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to the grave. I am counted with those who go down to the pit; I am like a ‘woman’ who has no strength, Adrift among the dead…You have laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the depths. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you have afflicted me with all your waves.
Did that just say waves?? OH MY GOD. He sees me. Jaw slides out of palm, a tired profile down onto the cool white sheet. Still. A shiver runs through.
I put the verse within range of my site. …“Lord, I have called daily upon you; I have stretched out my hands to you. Will you work wonders for the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise you? Shall your lovingkindness be declared in the grave? Or your faithfulness in the place of destruction? Shall your wonders be known in the dark? And your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? But to you I have cried out, O Lord, and in the morning my prayer comes before you. Lord, why do you cast off my soul? Why do you hide your face from me? I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth; I suffer your terrors; I am distraught. Your fierce wrath has gone over me; your terrors have cut me off. They come around me all day long like water; they engulfed me altogether….”
Some would not find this text comforting. I do. A man after God’s own heart is in the black place I’m in. There is no happy ending. It’s the dark throbbing heart of all of us trapped on this death laden planet. His journal is not painted rosy to make tolerable. It’s written exactly how things are. No tidy rapping it up. David does not suggest one should look on the bright side, count blessings. He does not remind himself or us that others have it much worse, to forgive and forget, to deal with it. The chapter is not missing a thing, because it’s the path of deep and lasting healing. In the book Pilgrims Progress, Pilgrim takes a path to the Celestial City. The only path to the City takes him through The Slew of Despond, the sloppy mud hole where sin and the consequences of evil can suck us under if not for help sent by God for each of us who pass through this dark place. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Those are words of Jesus Christ. God himself passed through this blank swamp.
Research backs up what the Bible models. In order for a person to heal from trauma or loss of any kind there are steps that must be taken. One of the steps is depression – i.e. hopelessness. Short cuts create emotional wounds that in time become toxic cesspools. Wounds that block the healing process for years, permeating multiple layers of a person’s wellbeing.
I close my eyes. The image of me floating away lingers. God reached me tonight, by sharing with me a scripture of dispear. He has painted a different picture, helping reframe this hopeless struggle. I’m drifting away, but on a Sea called Grief and Loss. I’m still here. Experiencing once again another tearing away of the security blanket called invincible. Another bite of sour evil. And feeling it.
“Mom!!, Mommy, Mommy, I’m telling you something. The Butterfly’s voice gets louder and higher. “I have to go to the bathrooooom!!” Slipping out of bed, I smile. Ya, I’m still her Mommy.