With time, and lemons, we learn to change

Everything must change
Nothing stays the same
Everyone must change
Nothing stays the same

The young become the old
Mysteries do unfold
‘Cause that’s the way of time
Nothing and no one goes unchanged

There are not many things in life
You can be sure of
Except rain comes from the clouds
And sun lights up the sky
And hummingbirds do fly…

– Bernard Ighner, singer-songwriter-arranger-producer-multi instrumentalist

2007, TIME STOPPED

Einstein said “the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” But on the day of my son’s sudden death everything did happen at once. Time stopped and our world collapsed. My son was gone and so I needed to go too. I lay down beside him, his sleeping body, closed my eyes, disappeared into oblivion, and slept. Time turned its face, wringed its hands and waited while we slept. But eventually, governed by deadlines, time turned back and muttered at me, “It’s time to go,” then reset itself, whirled around and went on without me. I knew then that I was dead but left among the living.

2008, TIME PLODDED FORWARD

Lemon time

Time (days and months) plodded forward pulling me along, peeling my shock away layer by layer, leaving me exposed and hypersensitive. I was unsynchronized with the outside world which was too loud and moved too fast. I needed silence, stillness. My reality was too heavy so I just sat. Empty, waiting to die. Like a prisoner counting the days of her confinement with lines on a wall, I sat beside a ticking clock and marked time. I counted the seconds, the minutes, the hours, and then I began again, counting…unable to do anything else.

In her book, The Worst Loss, Barbara Rosof wrote, “The same loss that forces the need for change also renders you, for some time, unable to do much about it.”

2010, TIME TICKED BY

Time (three years) ticked by, teasing me with images, like movie trailers, of my son alive, laughing. The ticking clock sounded like a movie reel, but then the film broke with a snapping sound and time came undone again and stopped. Everything happened at once and every graphic detail of my son’s death replayed in my mind. I held my breath. And the clock began ticking again, the movie reel rolled on, and the memory of my son was alive again, laughing. Breathing. Unable to do anything else, I began counting the days my boy lived, beginning with his first day (his birth) to his last, trying to remember each of his 3,346 days.

2007-2013, COPING

Sitting still, listening to the clock, waiting, counting days…these have been the ways of my grieving, my coping. And with time I’ve added more ways to my repertoire:

Because my son loved music…I listen to music.

And because he loved going for bike rides…I ride my bike.

And because he loved books…I read, and I read, and I read.

And because he loved lemons…I eat lemons, drink lemonade, and grow lemon balm to put in my tea.

And because he laughed and opened his mouth to drink rain from the clouds…I welcome gray skies and showers when they come.

And because he loved nature…I take early walks to see the sun light up the sky, and at sunset I wait by the bottlebrush tree to watch hummingbirds fly.

And because he died on a Monday afternoon…I stop on Monday afternoons, close my eyes and wait, listen to time and count, then remind myself to breathe again.

And because he was a writer, a lover of words and stories…I write.

2013-2014, CHANGING

A handful of years—seven—have passed now and time nudges me on. Depression and sadness are intermittent. I am moving again, venturing out, making new friends, and laughing. All while wearing my son, counting the days, remembering time, and carrying my grief.

I am still trying to come to terms with my loss, and my life. So…

How do we come to terms with our loss, and our life?

With the passage of time, we change. For better or worse. And we learn to cope. Though each of us copes and grieves and changes in our own way, in our own time.

‘Cause that’s the way of time. Nothing and no one goes unchanged.

As the days turn into years we learn to push away the painful memories so we can function, and breathe, and walk, and drive. We learn to eat at the table again, and face the empty chair. We learn to live without…future plans, the extra laundry, or the boys’ laughter coming from the other room. We learn to answer the question by the restaurant host—How many?—with a new number. We learn to live for only today, unable to count too far ahead of just today. We learn to dig deep, to find what is left of our soul and to work with that, and then go from there. We learn to talk to our lost child again even though silence is all we hear. We learn to build a life without him (or her, or them), and learn to make decisions again about who we are going to become. We learn to be parents again and we learn that in all our efforts, over time, to come to terms with our loss, and our life, we have become powerful role models to our living children—if we still have living children.

We learn to change, and so we are changed. Each of us a composition, like a mandala, intricate and colorful, endless but impermanent. Writing our stories as we go, revising them, deleting, then rewriting again. Striving to become circular and whole, and finally a finished sand painting to be swept with the wind and into the river as a blessing.

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