still here

The recent Kitchen Table klatch here on Glow revolved around being online. Occasionally the contributors also touch base and assess how we feel about our online presence, here and elsewhere. I thought I'd put mine out, long-hand.

After Maddy died, for what seemed like an eternity, the internet was my lifeline. For the longest time I felt no one in my real life (save for my husband and therapist, and even then I sometimes wondered) understood me, and the only people who got what I was saying and had meaningful things to contribute were the faceless, sometimes even nameless people in my computer. I couldn't wait to climb on in the morning and read and feel and bathe in the comfort of like-minded people. I found it hard to turn away, and to turn it off when it was like a soothing balm, a reminder that this sadness wasn't my own and wasn't unique. Other people felt it too, this desperation, this nausea, this hopelessness, this disgust and ugliness and outright sad. I clung to them like lifejackets, and swallowed it all, whole.

I remember reading in one of the timely little books I forced myself to read that "integrating" this event into my life (they never used the words "getting over") would take two to five years. Years. I remember two months out wondering what a year even looked like, I could barely close my hands around the shape of a day. It seemed an eternity, and I wanted nothing more than to Rip Van Winkle myself to the end, or failing that have a lobotomy. I couldn't possibly wait that long, that much time couldn't possibly roll under my feet -- certainly not smoothly, or uneventfully, or dare I say quickly.

But somewhere along the way, it happened. The months went by, the years ticked off, and I find myself here, three years later  -- oddly enough, like the book said, more or less with this grief "integrated" into my psyche and flesh. It's hard to describe this feeling, of feeling better (better is relative, after all, and who wouldn't feel better than that?) but not complete; of feeling content . . . with what I have. What I have is obviously less than what I had, or what I wanted, but I've somehow managed to make my peace with it. Wow, even that sounds off, who can make peace with something that ugly and still medically unknown? Who can make peace with the horrible video replay that still occasionally kicks into my consciousness? Maybe that's not the right phraseology, but somehow I've come to accept? acknowledge? that my daughter died, she could've never lived, and there's no getting her back. There's only the street ahead of me -- and not that it's lined with fruit trees and arced by rainbows, but it propels me forward.

It's somewhat easier to point at the symptoms, the outward ramifications of this grief transmutation than it is to describe exactly what happened: Primarily, I no longer have that gnawing hunger to be online. The daily sense that I had something to dump is gone. I used to feel as though I was tripping over words, I had so many thoughts and themes to express. Grief was my job, and I don't regret making it so or dealing with it as much as I did. But I no longer write nearly as frequently I'm assuming because over time I've had less to say. It's obviously (see para above) hard to put into words exactly what I'm feeling now, which I'm sure is a large part of it, but the incessant sadness and emptiness and loneliness has dissipated gradually, and greatly.  Grief is no longer my job, at least not my full time one -- maybe it's that volunteer thing I pop into now and again. My life which I never imagined could be full of anything but tears is now full of stuff to do, and that crowds out my online time for better or worse. There will, I have no doubt, always be something to write about this grief and missing, it just won't be daily, and it will be more ephemeral and slippery as time goes on.

But I find it hard to turn it all off and shut it down and walk away completely. Probably because I still find it meaningful, and I don't think I'm done.

I wish I could give credit to the person who made this analogy, but I've long forgotten where I read it so my apologies: I believe online grief support is somewhat like a group that meets for an addiction. That is to say, there will be people who find the stories too close, too nerve wracking. The constant reminder will, instead of help them, draw them back in -- back into sorrow, into shame, into fear, or god forbid, into guilt. Eventually, they will decide this type of group help is not for them, this sharing and listening on a frequent basis -- it is more harmful than good, and to them I say: I'm grateful you saw this about this particular type of support, and about yourself. Treat yourself kindly as you go, leave and be well, and know the door is always open if you want to return with no judgment.

Then there are those who revel in the group experience, who speak and listen, where the stories reaffirm and validate, and the trust bolsters and strengthens. It all seems lighter going back out the door than it did walking in. And sometimes, sometimes, after listening and speaking for a while, you feel you have the strength to be mentor of sorts, to take your experience and sit across the table from it, and hopefully offer someone else an ear or a shoulder or an arm. And that activity of turning the ugly thing into something that possibly helps other actually turns out to help you, too.

I feel I'm at that point, where I can see the inseams and lining and do so without completely breaking down. I can stand outside myself in a way, and turn it around in examination in order to make a point with someone else. So I keep writing here, and keep commenting where I'm able in order to let others know simply, they're not alone in this. Not at all. That at the very least, I am here. And I will help in any way I possibly can.

And I keep writing on my blog, even though it's often sparse and in-between because that's how the grief is now, sporadic and hard to predict. Sometimes it's gentle moving through, a light breeze that raises goose bumps; and other times it's an unforeseen storm that suddenly turns and changes direction and finds itself right over me, dumping buckets and howling winds. The thing is, it may be an integrated part of me now, but it's not gone. Maddy's anniversary dates can still make me tense and sad. A throwaway thought from Bella can sometimes make me giggle at the macabre, or drop me to the floor. Sometimes just glancing at her picture can bring it all flooding back -- the sleepless nights, the dark hospitals, the unbelievability of it all.

Which is why I read, and why three years later I still write.

How do you feel about online support? Does it -- so far -- seem helpful or are you a bit skeptical? Do you think your view might change as time goes on? How far away are you from your grief and have you come to a place where it feels "integrated" rather than like some foreign appendage you need to try and come to terms with? How long do you envision yourself online -- reading, blogging, commenting, writing, sharing, listening?