Sunday, November 17, 2019

the only control you really have (and the bathtub that taught me a lesson)

poem by Rainer Maria Rilke

Friday was the 15th of the month.

November 2019. A date that leaves me stunned and breathless when I see it on my computer screen. 
As a mother, it’s a staggering mystery to me that I have been on this earth for 427 days without Patrick. Honestly my brain has no explanation for it. I do know there have been mystical changes inside my mother’s body that aren’t visible from the outside, and that the best cardiologist in the world can’t detect. But I know it. That my mother’s heart is no longer at home in my chest— and that it stopped beating normally once Patrick’s heartbeat could no longer be detected on this earth. 

It’s just a fact. I base it on the mysterious alchemy of a mother’s love. We feel it the instant we hold our infant to our chest. When we are flooded by a love as tender as the translucent wings of a butterfly and yet so powerful and steely, that it will smash through the boundaries of life and death.

These days I’ve made it my goal to understand the effects of trauma on our mind-body experience, mostly because I don’t think I was meant to survive the loss of my child and if I ever get through this, it seems important to figure out how I did it.

Now that the initial shock-trauma has been worn down by the starkness of Patrick’s absence, I do see that I’ve become that person Rilke described. 

I’m just trying to live my way into the answers of my unsolved questions.
Only my unsolved questions are not clouded in mystery like books written in a foreign tongue, because I am a mother who has lost a child and therefore my single question is as clear as the bluest sky.

How am I ever going to live the rest of my life without my son?
Without Patrick here? 

And why the f---  am I still here when he had so much more to offer the world?  Oh it’s not hyperbole. Believe me when I say that Patrick was so much more than Jim and I can ever hope to be. And we both feel the outrageousness of his loss on this world. 

Pema Chodron says that whether we realize it or not, we all live in a little bubble where we try to keep everything intact and predictable so things make sense to us. It makes us feel in control and god knows our ego loves that. 

She says that nothing can prepare you for that shocking moment when your “life-as-you-know-it, suddenly ends.”
And I know what she means.

I remember right after the accident, surviving seemed impossible.
It wasn’t exactly that I wanted to die, it was more like I couldn’t imagine waking up every day with this agonizing pain pulsating through my body like hot waves of anguish. It was a despair I had never experienced before. And I was stunned by it.
I think I mumbled out loud to whomever was near me at the time. 

Because this is another thing you do in the wake of devastating loss; you walk around blurting things out under your breath like, “I just can’t believe it.”

Only this time I said, “All those years I worked inside a session room.... And I never knew.” 

And what I was thinking about, was how I never realized when I heard someone tittering on the edge of suicide what they were actually feeling. I had empathy, oh yes. But not the shared kind, when you KNOW what someone’s going through because you’ve been inside that dark abyss yourself.

But now I get it.

Now I understand the magnitude of brokenness that obliterates you from the inside out; a pain so relentless that it can actually drive someone to consider death as an option. It’s not that someone wants to die. No. No. No. It’s not death they’re after. It’s that life can feel so unbearable that death actually appears in the distance as mirage of relief. Think about that for a moment. The next time you hear about someone taking their own life. It will instantly soften your heart.

I share these insights because they seem like little shifts of light on my grief journey. It’s a path that I’ve decided requires work if I’m going to survive it, so I journal and read books like THIS one and I’ve embraced the world of meditation and energetic healing which I believe is the path toward mind-body recovery.

And I notice it helps me to share some of my ah-ha moments here in the hopes that maybe you can relate a bit. 

Like the story about my plumber cracking my new bathtub.

If you’re kind enough to still be reading along. I’ll tell you the craziest story because it has a good ending. 

If you’re a regular here you know that I’m tackling my first home project after Patrick’s loss, a bathroom renovation that I’m leaving mostly to the professionals. 

Although I’ll do a few things like putting wood on the ceiling.
But really, I’m just coordinating it all.

I had ordered a soaker tub from Wayfair after a lot of deliberation, measurements and reading those reviews. The bummer was that this particular tub was going to take 2-3 weeks so I had to reschedule with my tile guy. And although I felt that old twinge of tenseness about letting go of my finish date, it’s getting easier since my life felt apart. 

So two weeks pass.

Finally, I receive the tub earlier than planned so I quickly juggled my installation date with the plumber who was about to go on vacation. Okay. I would wait until the Tub-Guru returned. 

Another week. 

Then my plumber returns from his vacation and comes to install the tub and discovers that the tub’s two holes aren’t lined up, a finding he says is “bizarre” but now he can’t guarantee his work and advises me to send it back. Which I did.

Fast forward through all the calls to Wayfair who ended up being great about trying to get the new tub on the freight truck before the typical 2-3 weeks. At this point my tile guy had to remove me indefinitely from his schedule because the tub had to be installed first.

Finally my second tub arrives! Wooohooo!
And when we examine it everything looks good. My over-booked plumber is at my house with his co-worker and everything seems to be going well (fingers crossed) when my plumber calls me to the bathroom.

He has something to show me, he says. Mind you, this is supposed to be the head plumber at a reputable company, the Tub Installation-Guru. Right?
When I kneel down at the side of the tub which is now inside my bathroom, in the right location (hallelujah) my plumber points to a crack at the edge of this tub that he accidently caused because he didn’t see a nail jutting out of the floor.

I admit. I was speechless. Tub #2 was unusable.

Of course, he apologized.

He would talk to his boss and arrange a new tub. But in my head, I was thinking about the 2-3 weeks delay again. The sheer headache of it all. And for the next 20 minutes I could feel the heavy silence as the plumbers removed the bathtub and all their tools. Up and down our stairs.

The entire time I could sense that this plumber felt really bad. 
At this point it was one of those moments when the question becomes, are my feelings of sheer frustration going to override this plumber’s feelings of guilt?
Suddenly, I took a deep breath and I stopped him at the front door and I told him a few things. I said that I knew he was good at his job and that I knew this was a rare fluke and that in the scheme of things it really wasn’t a big thing. I told him about Patrick and how it puts everything in perspective and I reassured him, 

“Hey, it will all work out. “

And he looked so relieved. 

In the next few days Kayla from his plumbing company found out they couldn’t get another Wayfair tub in less than 2 weeks. Bad news. But they found a new tub that could be rushed the next day. Good news. So, after more reviews and homework, I approved it, letting go of the Wayfair tub. Although I actually found out that the new tub was a better quality one, which felt like a little wink from the Universe. 

OK. Finally. After all the typical re-scheduling issues to get this plumber back we set a date for my tub #3 to be installed.

I called the tile guy back. My tile was rescheduled. Yayyy.
Drum-roll please.
Friday comes. And I stay home and work from my living room waiting for my plumber to arrive when I look down at my cell phone and see the plumbing company calling me. Gulp.
I pick up the call and I hear Kayla—the sweet office rep—on the other end. And the first thing I notice is that her voice is shaking and she immediately blurts out how sorry she was but the Tub-Guru had called in sick, something that apparently “never happens.”

I won’t go into the details of our conversation because my entire focus was on her voice.

In that split second I realized how much this young woman had dreaded calling me. I thought about her morning in the office when she realized my plumber had called in sick. And how uncomfortable she must have been calling me to deliver this latest bad news. I even remembered on a prior call, her joking that she knew my phone number by heart and how everyone at their small company felt so bad about my situation.

But all this happened inside my head in a flick of second and the next thing I heard was my voice interrupting her awkward apologies.

I said it louder than usual because she was still talking.

 “Kayla. Everyone is doing the best they can. It's ok. Let’s just re-schedule it for Monday.”

Right then I could hear a pin drop. And then her long exhale of relief.

Elizabeth Gilbert said on a podcast recently that there’s nothing more we hate than feeling powerlessness. But there’s THAT point when you have done all you can and you reach the end of your power. And at that instant, there’s something sacred and beautiful about surrendering. 

That’s when you realize that all you can be is Love. 

That’s what happened to me in this three-minute conversation with this young, nervous receptionist. Once again I was being taught a lesson about letting go of my attachments….in this case, to some vision in my head about time and scheduling and my version of what I wanted to happen.

Only I’m not a quick learner friends. Because my first reaction is to hold on tight to what I want. Insist on my way. And when I don’t get it, my ego can’t stop asking why.

Why? Why? Why?

Why am I still here when my big, beautiful, spirited son Patrick is not?

I don’t know. Maybe Rilke is correct and someday I’ll live my way into the answers I want. 

In the meantime, I’ve learned that when your life gets cracked wide open from traumatic loss, you begin to see things as they really are. And when things are falling apart around you, or when life isn’t unfolding as you plan, and you look at God from down on your knees and yell, 
“Really Lord? How much more can I give up and still survive?
You get your answers in the little stories that happen in your day.

It’s a silly incident with my bathtub. But there was life-lesson in it that felt oddly empowering. 

As a woman who has spent her life as a self-confessed control freak, a take-charger and a worrier. And as a mother who is suffering from the worst loss you can ever experience, this is what the shaky voice of a young receptionist reminded me:

The only control we ever really have, is how we choose to react in each situation.

And we all get the chance to choose Kindness.

Everything else is just an illusion.

P.S the tub finally got installed!



Melanie said...

I am still asking questions and asking why after 10+ years, so I get it. I've had people tell me, "Well, you'll never have the answers so..." I'll be asking why til I take my last breath. Anyway, I found myself nodding throughout your entire post...I have felt and still feel as you described.

Your bathtub stories sound like a nightmare. I'd probably be pulling my hair out. You handled everything so well and so calmly. Like you, I like to be in control. I think that's one reason why I like to clean and organize and putter around the house. It makes me feel like I have control of something.

As always, thank you for your amazing, breath-taking writing.


Sophie said...

Leslie, I printed this post and filed it under my "grief notes". I'm going to soak it in more and even study it. You help me better understand about grief (especially a traumatic loss) which I'm also familiar with. Your writing truly resonates deep down within me. Not only regarding losing a loved but more importantly what one becomes afterwards. Gratitude & love to you.

La Contessa said...

I too make the MOST of these situations as being ANGRY willNOT HELP the situation!THE KINDER and MORE understanding the MORE they will be HELPFUL and ASSIST in the process!I think you need to share a photo of YOU soaking with MANY MANY BUBBLES once the BATHROOM is complete!
What a LOVELY PERSON YOU ARE...................
I am sending your BLOG to JANET at THE GARDENERS COTTAGE as she recently LOST HER HUSBAND to CANCER and I think YOU TWO SHOULD MEET!YOU are NOT THAT FAR from each other!I think your WORDS might HELP her TOO!

michele said...

Oh, the beauty of this writing, Leslie. Allowing us to see your life from various angles. Drawing us into the sacredness of a grieving heart. Naming the brokenness in your world...including containers for water. To be wide open and unprotected yet guided and held demands so much courage. You are articulating the journey exquisitely. Two questions tend to bubble up when I'm in desperation and at the end of personal resources: who am i and who are you? What feels true to me is (1) I'm a beloved child of God and (2) God is a loving God. And if he is loving, then I can somehow allow reality to be reality...accept that glory will emerge from what has been lost and what is suffered. Leslie, do you suppose the shape of a mother's love for her gone too soon child can shift into something beautifully new and miraculous? Maybe it's no longer simply a flow between mother and son. Maybe it's more river-like as it flows into hearts like mine and so many more unknown. What a staggering mystery as the flow flows, as the tub overflows, as you bear the unbearable, as living water reaches desert places in thirsty hearts. And helps them grow.

Susan Nowell @ My Place to Yours said...

Leslie, your tub is beautiful, but your words and the truths you share in this post are EVERYTHING. Continuing to learn and grow when at "the end" speaks volumes about the amazing woman, wife, and mother you are!

Monica said...

Oh, Leslie, My heart breaks for you. I'm so incredibly sorry for your loss. Your words are so beautiful in so many ways. Holding you in my heat.

Kim said...

This is such a beautiful post, so wise and really summarizes what I've learned from you. I think of you often. Sending love.

Deidre said...

I have only just come to your blog and feel so sad for you. My deepest sympathy for loss of your beautiful boy. But I am curious. Do you have other children?

Stonecropsister said...

Hi Leslie,
Sometimes, i think about about 2018 as the year of loss, but even worse, the year of 2019 as the year of being powerless. I lost my my relationships with my two sisters in 2018 with the terrible things that sometimes tear families apart with aging parents; my dad died a week before Patrick, and as I was heading out the door to the airport to try to be by his bedside (Vancouver to Ontario) to say goodbye was when my brother called to say "he's gone nance". I remember pausing at the top of the stairs with my suitcase, knowing, and not wanting to answer it. I have recently left not one but two jobs. Never in my life have I felt such a sense of fed-up powerlessness. It's pissing me off this sense of not being able to have.... what?? peace? Maybe. Acceptance of how things are? Closer. And Dad is not here, I can't call him. And all of this is fed by depression which frankly, taunts death as an option at times as a mirage of relief. And I have not lost a child. I am so so sorry Leslie for what you are going through. I am so grateful to your voice Leslie. I continue to think of you and your days through this. I wanted to tell you that this post has helped me get through the end of this day. that's something.

Sarah said...

Leslie, I appreciate you more and more. You likely don't realize it, but your writings are helpful to many of us on various levels. I've not had a loss, but our life has been turned on its head the past three weeks. My husband went in for knee replacement surgery on Oct. 28th, and he is still in the hospital. I'm relieved to write that as of yesterday, we've seen significant improvement, and we are hopeful that he may transition home soon. Surgery was a success, but a reaction to anesthesia or pain meds compromised his body. It has been journey, one we could not control. I've learned much about health care and health care providers. It is an humbling experience. Thank you for sharing your heart, your wisdom, and your friendship. Good luck as the new bath moves forward.

Blondie's Journal said...

Your first paragraph touched me so much, Leslie. I never felt my heart swell so much until I held my firstborn in my arms. And I knew I would take a bullet for her. Your loss and it's aftermath rips me apart in your intimate writing which is brutal and honest. We may not share your loss and feelings, but it definitely makes us think about how we would cope, or struggle, if something happened to one of our children. I also think of my children and all of their accomplishments in life thus far. God...please take me before one of them. I've led a good life. Let them flourish.

We often mourn people who offered so much to this world, and in our own personal lives. How senseless. Like cancer, why me? Why not somebody else? Why take the good? I simply take a guess that there is little discrimination no matter our faith.

I'd love to comment more--It would be a book. And again, I suggest you begin to write a book, at least an outline and a few drafts. You have such a message for those of us who have felt loss or fear loss. Your writing is insanely spot on. Get that message out the way a small stone thrown into the water ripples.


Leslie Harris said...

Hello Sarah. I responded to you on your blog.

Leslie Harris said...

Hi Nancy I just left you a personal message on your Stonecropsister blog.


Leslie Harris said...

Hello Deidre,
Thank you for visiting my blog and for your kind words. I do have another amazing son, Michael who is my youngest. As you can imagine losing his only brother who was so close to him has been life-shattering. But we're a close family and we've gone through a bereavement group together and continue to talk openly about our feelings, which is so important for healing.


shabbyblonde said...

Thank you for your words and insight. Your perspective and positive attitude & KINDNESS towards others shines through.\hugs - melinda

Carla from The River said...

Thank you Leslie, well written as always. Love, Carla

Stonecropsister said...

Hi Leslie,
thank you for your lovely message. It helped big time. I will think of you today while I bake my pie. xx Nancy

Pam Zwieg said...

Hi Leslie,
Beautiful, moving, thought provoking words.... you have such a gift, I agree with the comments about writing a book! I have found myself in these trying moments( painter bumped the sprinkler head, small flooding and holes punched out to release water) and yes, the knee jerk response can be anger but the heart response of Love always feels amazing. I like to think too, of the bigger picture, it helps diffuse emotions. Your tub looks fantastic and I look forward to a post on the long,reflective soak you’ll soon be enjoying in it.
Thanksgiving blessings to you and your guys.
Pam Zwieg

Cheryl said...

Good morning Leslie,
As another reader said, you truly have a gift in having the ability to put your feelings and emotions into words. So thought provoking...I can't imagine the pain and heartache you are going through, but out of that pain, you are giving me, and I am sure others, help in moving through life as we know it, the good and the bad. Although for different reasons, I won't have my youngest son at our Thanksgiving table, but I have him in my heart, as I know you will too. I wish you and your family a loving holiday season.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...