Thursday, August 21, 2014

The next place...

Back in January, I made a resolution of sorts to write a post for each day of 2014. To motivate myself and try to keep from falling deeper into a sort of emotional funk I was feeling even in January, I decided to do a (sort of cheesy) “year of thanks” theme. Though sometimes I had to do a catch-up post or two, I was right on track to make it to 365 posts. In my mind, it had been challenging year so far, the dental drama (which is still going on, by the way) serving as a perhaps silly symbol of that persistent funk. But through it all, the blog, which really made me focus on blessings in my life, had been a bright spot. So there I was, posting away, a bit proud of myself for keeping it up in the midst of some challenges…

…until July 26, the day I learned that my brother Ryan had died. Words fail to describe what this has been like. In a future post, I think I’ll share what I said about him at his funeral. For now, it’s enough to say that my brother was one of the most amazing people in the world. I’ll miss him forever. 

Since then, I just haven’t been able to come back to this silly little blog, though it’s been on my mind nearly every day. I can’t exactly explain why. Because every day since my brother died, even on the hardest days, there have been so many moments and people for which to be thankful: the old friends who reached out to tell me they were thinking of me; my brothers’ junior high teachers, who at the wake explained how much they loved Ryan and how clearly they remembered him, over 20 years after he was in their classes; the moment I looked up at the funeral and saw some of my dearest friends there; the drive home from New York, when this silly song came on the radio and made me smile and cry at the same time; attending a two-year-old’s birthday party, surrounded by life and love and happiness; fishing with my nephews, who would have made their uncle quite proud; the friends who provided me with distractions (board games, walks, movies) when I otherwise might have been wallowing in grief; the peace I feel on the aimless drives I find myself taking nearly every night; the gorgeous sunset I saw on my walk tonight. Even in these last few weeks, the hardest weeks of my life, I am reminded daily of how blessed I am. 

But still, I couldn’t get myself to come to this blog and post. It seemed, I don’t know…not right. I wasn’t ready. I am not even sure if I am ready now. One day last week, I spent the better portion of the day writing thank-you notes and letters to friends who have been so kind. Dozens and dozens of notes. I found comfort in that, telling myself, “This is a step towards…getting to the next step.” Not “closure,” since that won’t come for a long time, if ever—but what seemed to me an inevitable progression to some ineffable new place in this process. Get the notes done and the formality of it all (yes, I can see myself calling upon Dickinson) will be over. The ceremony, the ritual, the “this is what you do when someone dies.” And then I’d move on…to what, I didn’t know, but there I was, hoping I was almost there. What a fool.

That very night I had a dream…one of those typical dreams where characters and scenes and actions switch almost seamlessly. I found myself moving from one space to another, suddenly walking out onto the deck at my parents’ house. And there he was: Ryan, sitting with my nieces and nephews, almost like in the picture below, one of my favorite pictures of him, a picture that’s been on my mind since Tara first showed it to me while we were putting together photo collages for the wake. In the dream, it was immediately clear to me that he was alive—that we had all been mistaken and he was about to explain it all, how it was all a big misunderstanding. The look on his face—a warm smile—made it all clear. 

I don’t remember what happened next…I know I didn’t wake up right away, but the scene must have switched. And eventually, I did wake up--devastated. And I realized that “next place,” whatever it is…I wasn’t there yet. And I realized that this is how it will be. Steps forward, steps back, never knowing what will send you one way or another.

So no posts.

But today our department had its annual retreat, a sure-fire sign that the semester is about to start. I saw my dear colleagues and was reminded how lucky I am to work with them. How lucky I am to have work that I love, that always makes me happy. Tomorrow, faculty are to “report to campus,” meet the new first-year students, and attend convocation. On Monday, classes begin. I know in my bones that stepping back in the classroom will be soothing. I am so very eager to get back into the swing of things. It feels a bit like I am getting to some sort of next place.

I am also sure that there will be dark moments, steps backward. I still can’t wrap my mind around a world without Ryan in it. I still feel these gut punches when I least expect them. I still don’t know what to say to my poor shattered parents.

A new semester. I probably won’t make it to 365 posts for 2014. But I’ll see what I can do.