Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | January 31, 2011

A repost from last winter: for my friend. Here’s your quote, and I hope today is better, or at least not as bad.

The Hole

This is for M, who is trying to survive, to keep her head above water, following an unfathomable tragedy.

M: “I want to tell people to please stop trying to make it better, to make me stop “staring at the hole,” as one person put it. I do not need to stop staring at the hole. I need support and love and comfort WHILE I’m staring at it.”

To M-

Why WOULDN’T you be staring at the hole? This feels like one of those war movies when the soldier gets shot in the stomach and just stares at the gaping hole in disbelief; his insides are all falling out; his hands come away covered with blood.

S-ssssooo c-c-c-cccold.

The passage below is from Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers. She speaks here of the craft of writing but the “hole” metaphor is what stayed with me, days before the conversation between M. and me. I’ve read this book a few times and got it for Christmas for A, who is doing a lot of paper-writing in college. When I ordered the book I had forgotten that it contains many references to the author’s father and then her best friend dying slowly of cancer- as did A.’s dad, my husband. The author explains that much of her writing was to honor those she had loved and lost. Maybe it’s a good thing for A. to see that other people also have huge, horrible chunks torn out of them, and that they are still here. Walking around. Doing their work. Writing about it, for other people to see, and to take away–what? Who knows? Maybe one word, a phrase, a sentence to help us feel less alone in our grief.

“The great writers keep writing about the cold dark place within, the water under a frozen lake or the secluded, camouflaged hole. The light they shine on this hole, this pit, helps us cut away or step around the brush and brambles; then we can dance around the rim of the abyss, holler into it, measure it, throw rocks in it, and still not fall in. It can no longer swallow us up. And we can get on with things.”

The hole: “Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world” which, months later, I still “find myself constantly walking around in the daytime and falling in at night”- words from another hero, the poet Edna St.-Vincent Millay. Or perhaps I fall in during daylight and walk around it at night, depending on the day. And I stuff sonnets into the cracks, as if that will help. My love was so sick for so long, and I was so tired, so sad all those months. I honestly expected that after his death things would get easier- I would get up, brush myself off, and “get on with things.” What a dreamer. Grief means waking up every morning, stunned by the gaping hole. Staring open-mouthed at bloodied hands yet again.

I know that wasn’t you, M. You had no expectations of what would happen After. You were skating along in your life with him and then–a sudden splintery crashing through, down into the opaque black water.

Sharp shards of ice cutting into hands. Lungs full of dark water and weeds. Slippery, muddy, stinking banks. So difficult to climb out. Hardest thing ever. Almost seems easier just to slide under and let it take you. Not to be sss-so cccc-ccold anymore.

But no.

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