On nights like this
I wear that dress you like
and slow dance
with your memory
A Coping Post
This week, two families who are dear to my heart, are dealing with the worst milestone a griever can face: that first deathiversary. As I was checking in to remind them I love them, I shared what I’ve learned about somatic memory and grief. That’s when I realized that I needed to hear it, too.
Why Am I Crying?
I noticed last week that I’ve been a bit more emotional. As songs came on my playlists or live streams, I’d get a bit weepy. What the heck? And I’ve been so sleepy I’ve been taking naps every day. Plural. (My new PR is three naps in one day.) It must be that every planet is in retrograde, and we’re heading in to eclipse season. Right? I’m seriously having the best time in quarantine, so I know it’s not that.
The first time it happened was when Ryan Wallace sang To Where You Are (coincidentally, this is what he sang when I met him in Belfast, and it was the first time I’d ever heard that song). And the other night, as I wept through Lee Ormsby singing Danny Boy on his live stream, I finally figured it out. It made me AYFKMLOL (are you freaking kidding me laugh out loud). No matter how much time goes by, that somatic memory is still there and still trying to sneak up on me.
Not this year, pal.
Like many of you, I’ve lost track of days of the week since lockdown began. But that muscle memory I’ve written about so many times is alive and well. In somatic memory, the body stores traumatic memories in our flesh. I sometimes wonder if it’s because they are too much for our brains and hearts to hold. So while I don’t know what day the calendar says it is, my body sure does, and my muscles are responding to the fact I’m inching closer to THE DAY.
Still? Yeah, Still.
I know it’s been almost four years. And I’m good. I love my life and am happier than I’ve ever been in my adult life. But thanks to somatic memory, around this time of the year, my body takes control and tries to yank me back to where I was four years ago. It’s not as raw, but it exists and has the potential to be disruptive.
Four years ago, D’s sister and I loaded him up to take his last trip to the Oregon coast. He’d deteriorated to the point he couldn’t walk without falling and couldn’t keep food down. It had it’s good moments, too, but I could no longer deny what was happening.
I was exhausted. I’d get up a bazillion times a night to make sure D was still breathing next to me and then silently sob myself back to sleep. I couldn’t breathe because I was holding my breath. I couldn’t even pretend anymore in front of D. That damned clock ticked louder every minute. I knew we were running out of time. I fought tooth and nail to stop it, and my body remembers every miserable second of it.
During my time in The AfterLoss, I’ve trained myself to feel the feelings, so I know it will be okay. Growing up in Hawai’i, we’d get tumbled in the rough surf. I’m still a weak swimmer, but I know to dive under the wave to avoid getting pounded. The same is true for the grief waves. Now that I’m aware my body is bracing for something that can’t actually happen again, I’ve got the power to do something about it.
I know you’re there, pal, and I’m ready for you.
So what did I advise my friends on this first deathiversary? I told them the same thing I tell myself: be kind to yourself. This grief muscle memory is fucked up, but normal. (I know, we the bereaved hate hearing fucked up crap is normal, even when it’s true.) Allow yourself to feel the feelings. And remember you may be blind-sided by that grief wave. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or going backward. There is no backward on this grief journey. Lean into it. You’re not alone. And please remember, I love you.
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
P.S. Since I know some of you will want the details of what I’ll be doing to deal with my potential somatic memory challenges, here is a shortlist. For the record, it’s pretty much how I deal with life in The AfterLoss in general.
- Take walks in nature. Attention snakes: I have no patience for you this year. I wasn’t even supposed to be in Idaho this summer. Stay out of sight.
- Work out. Give those muscles a new memory.
- Journal. Write it out. Not in the mood to journal? How about some angsty poetry? No? Painting works, too. Whatever the modality, get the feelings out of you and onto paper.
- Meditate. Om, bitches.
- Remind myself how far I’ve come. Looking back at how much I’ve grown and healed makes the wave a lot less intense, or at least reminds me I’m strong enough to handle it.
- Sad songs say so much. Listen to my Danny Boy playlist at a high volume and cry it out. This is a worst-case scenario break-in-case-of-emergency option and should really be accompanied by Oreos. If the playlist doesn’t help, add in a viewing of the movie UP.
PRO-TIP: Ladies, you know I don’t judge, so do what you gotta do to get through it. However, in my experience, excessive drugs and alcohol are not your friends during these times.
If you don’t have a good support team left (they often disappear at the one-year mark if they haven’t already), connect with your other W’s. Even me. We understand that sometimes grief gets too heavy, so please reach out. No matter how dark it may feel, you aren’t alone. When in doubt, the National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.