I think often of Sisyphus.
I think of him staring up the slope of that steep, daunting mountain. How he must think, I was just up there, at the summit. I pushed this boulder all the way up with my great strength. But here I am again, back at the bottom, with nothing to show for my effort.
When Joseph dies, I am crushed by the weight of the boulder. It sits on my chest; it pins my legs. I can’t look up towards that mountain without keening in despair. From where I lay at the bottom, that mountain is impossibly tall, its peak hidden in the clouds.
That mountain stands between me and what I want: a family.
I talk about Sisyphus constantly, those first few months. Bitterly. Full of resentment. The thought of climbing that mountain again makes me so weary. To anticipate the rough patches, the places I remember slipping. The scenery, already familiar, won’t hold the same surprise and delight.
2013 stretches out bleakly before me, a do-over I didn’t ask for.
Maybe it’s not the same mountain, though, my grief counselor suggests.
I suddenly remember this map of my life my high-school-self had envisioned but never drawn. At the time, the biggest mountain was going to be labeled Middle School. I want to laugh at myself now—what did I know of emotional pain at 13?—but I know those early years of adolescence were no laughing matter.
Now I can picture that map again, with greater variation in topography. Foothills and mountains, and mountains beyond mountains. Does it make it any easier, to think that this mountain I’m facing isn’t the same as the one I just rolled down? To think I am one step forward instead of two steps back?
I think of the proverb better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
Either way, this reality of death is going to follow me the rest of my life, regardless of which mountain I am climbing.
Then a friend writes. You have people all over the world pushing that rock up the hill with you, she says.
Is that allowed? Is it even possible? Can others really put their hands on this intangible burden that seems only to belong to me and A, and help lighten the load? Or maybe the presence and kind words of those around me will help me find strength I don’t often feel.
The metaphor shifts, complexifies.
I am not a trickster, like Sisyphus was. I didn’t piss off the gods of the Underworld—I’m not that significant. I don’t know for sure if I’m doomed to come tumbling back down this time. But the fear is always there.
And the boulder is there.
I roll my shoulders back, crack my knuckles, stretch to ready my leg muscles. I put my hands on the boulder, and begin to push.
What—or who—has given you the strength to keep going?