Today started off just fine. Clear sky, bright yellow sunlight. Everything seemed to be okay. We had a lovely time the previous evening at our friends’ house, eating corned beef hash (one of Jake’s favorites) popping popcorn and watching, or more accurately, not watching movies. Technical difficulties. We did watch about 5 episodes of Modern Family, though. The first time I had seen the show, how could I have missed it all these years. Hilarious. Lots of laughs, and a pleasant good night. I did have some strange dreams, including a fragment with Jake, bicycles and a restaurant. That’s all I remember.
I have been getting up every weekday at 6:30 (ish) to go to shul to say kaddish. I trundled off to shul, the morning going smoothly, or so I thought at the time. I read through the service somewhat perfunctorily; I am mostly there for kaddish. To elevate Jake’s soul. Or so they tell me. At the end of the morning service there are 5 different places to say kaddish all within about 5 minutes. Between the second and third, my mood began to shift. Halfway through number three, I was in tears and could barely speak. There was no external trigger that affected me. Without any warning, the memory of Terry and me kneeling beside Jake’s grave a couple of weeks ago flooded into my brain and crashed into the tenuous truce I have with my emotions. That picture, so clearly remembered, devastated me. Brought it all back with a vengeance. I struggled through the rest of the service, eventually regaining my composure enough to bid everyone good morning and head home. During the 30 minutes I was inside, the fog rolled in, damp and cold, perfectly matching my mood. I drove home emotionless, everything drained out of me. Chilly outside, chilly inside. A regular fucking chilly-fest.
Yesterday I wrote about the cycle of grief. Today I embraced Depression. I crawled back into bed and slept till after noon. Nothing mattered more than being able to escape from myself for a few more hours. The thing is, even though we can assiduously avoid external triggers, don’t visit places that evoke memories, avoid certain people, certain things, we can’t stay home forever. But the rub is, we carry our memories with us. Wherever we go. We can erect walls around ourselves, externally and internally, but these memories are always there, able to breach our defenses without warning. The Grief Ambush. It is so unpredictable and capricious when it strikes.
For example, I went to a pen show yesterday with a friend. He is the father of a friend of Jake’s from elementary school. We strolled up and down the aisles looking at thousands of beautiful pens. Both Jake and I have a thing for fountain pens. Old technology in general I guess. The entire time I smiled to myself thinking how much Jake would have loved it. I met a gentleman who repaired a pen I had brought for just that purpose. It was an old pen of my Dad’s I recently discovered. Normally I would have had it repaired and given it to Jake, a keepsake from the Grandfather he adored. (I now use it to write in my ‘other’ journal. A keepsake from my son.) I told this to the guy, and he stared at me with a curious expression. He admonished me never to part with the pen. Turns out, he lost his 19-year-old son some years ago. Drowned while scuba diving. Jake was a diver too. Still no problem, no tears. I had a drink with Adam at the bar afterwards, looking out onto a golf course below the hotel, bathed in the golden light at the end of day. I watched a pair of golfers, maybe father and son, stroll past talking animatedly, even managing a wry smile at the thought of Jake’s and my golfing adventures. You would think the entire afternoon would have been a perfect opportunity for a Grief Ambush, might think I was crazy to invite one in such an obvious way, but it stayed back. Maybe because I was on guard, it remained hidden in the rocks, waiting to strike me unawares. This morning it pounced.
Eventually, I got up, dressed for the second time and made some tea. A longtime friend of Jake’s and her mother were coming over to visit and share memories, so I pulled myself together in time to welcome them with smiles. We had a lovely hour, drinking tea, eating some little pastries and reminiscing. Erin, Jake’s friend, told us the story of when she first got to know him. At her birthday party years ago. Jake came with a bunch of other boys, but not being one to go to a party without bringing something, arrived with two pinatas filled with candy. It turned out to be the life of the party. That’s what he was. The life of the party, any party.
There is nothing we can do to defend ourselves from the ambush. Nothing we can do to protect ourselves from our memories. We don’t want to, really. They bring such sweetness along with the sadness. They are what we have that still connects us to him. They’re all we have left of his life that isn’t an inanimate object. Our memories and other’s memories. By sharing them, we learn more of what an extraordinary person our son was, can relive times when we were truly happy, can let other people know who he was, and help them keep him alive in their own memory. We have to invite those memories in, but we do what we can to watch out for that cunning bandit waiting patiently for when we least expect it. (As if we have a choice or can control it.) It can steal all of our joy, leaving us with nothing but the bitter dregs. We can’t allow that. We must learn to take the delight with the anguish. Smiling through our tears, his memory lives on.