Cliché. I know. What a difference a day makes. But, in many ways, it’s true. Yesterday was great.
After school my son and I made an impromptu trip to the beach (only about 10 minutes from our house) to collect seashells. You see, I’ve developed a new hobby. I draw designs on seashells with sharpies. Sounds weird, but, it’s true. I find it very relaxing.
We arrived at the beach. The sky was overcast and it was a bit chilly, but the tide was low. My son, who had been cooped up in the house with illness the week before, delighted in running on the sandbars. He chased seagulls. He proclaimed “this is the best day ever”.
I was truly grateful.
I love going to the beach because I feel so small when I stand beside the ocean. (wasn’t that in a song?) But it’s true. To me, the beach is pure bliss. Peace. Constant movement. Nature at its best. The power of the ocean leaves me transfixed and in awe. To me, the beach is calming. A place I can sort out my thoughts, find treasures and truly practice gratitude.
Hearing my son giggle and seeing him run happily actually made me weep. Tears of gratitude and joy. A blessing after a long, hard day. Freedom. A change in our usual routine of hurrying home from work to make dinner.
Running on the sand. Chasing seagulls. Collecting shells. Getting our sneakers wet.
It was one of those strange moments when you realize this is the stuff you want to remember. We made memories. Good ones.
I went to bed last night satisfied. Happy. At peace.
Today, however, was another day.
Of course nothing of the ordinary happened but it was a “typical” day. Meetings. Emails. Deadlines. Screw ups. Stress. You know, the usual. A “typical” day where you scoff down food but don’t really taste it. You rely on a little too much caffeine to make the day more pleasant. You’re two days shy of payday and you realize you’re two dollars short on everything. You know, typical.
Yesterday’s bliss was quickly replaced by running from appointment to appointment. Remembering milk. Karate practice. Life.
When I have a good day I get a little scared. I almost feel undeserving. Let me explain.
In my mind I keep flashing back to April 24, 2012. It started out like any other. I had the world by the ass. My stars and moon aligned. By 3pm I was getting a life changing phone call telling me my mother found my father floating face down in a creek. Heart attack. Drowning. Funeral planning. Frantic plane tickets home purchased. Phone calls to relatives. Pure. Horror.
Since then, I have been very cautious when I have a “good” day.
Because I’m fearful that if I become a little too complacent, a little too cocky, the rug will be pulled out from under me. Again.
So I stood on the beach yesterday and wept. And prayed. And muttered thank you while my son joyfully raced ahead of me, unaware of my tears. Happy tears of gratitude that I stepped outside of my routine to embrace something that makes me feel calm and peaceful. Gratitude for my life. My son. My home. My ability to stand on a beach on a random Tuesday and drink in its beauty.
I’ve been having a hard time sleeping lately. When it’s time to lay me down to sleep, I ruminate. Ruminate about all the things I should have done. All the things I need to do. All the things I need to remember. It’s as if my pillow is a license to be miserable. Sleep is hard to come by.
Not a night has gone by in the almost four years since we lost my dad, that I don’t ruminate over him either. I know it doesn’t do me any good. I know I should stop it, but in the few quiet moments before I drift off to sleep I let my mind go there. I imagine what it was like for him on his last walk down the beach toward the place he died. Was he in pain, just trying to walk it off? Did he know he was about to die? Did he panic? Was he scared?
I will never know.
Then I let my mind drift to my mother. I imagine how awful it was to round the sand dunes to see her husband’s jacket, inflated by an air pocket and the soles of his rubber boots. Her husband of almost 40 years floating face down in the one place he was the most afraid of… the water. Cruel irony.
I imagine her screaming and crying for help, attempting to pull his waterlogged body on to the shore and administer aid. I picture her running in her sock feet up the beach for help. I keep hearing her small voice repeating “I tried to save him, I tried to save him” to me as she did in her phone call that day.
And it’s too much.
This is the bedtime ritual I’ve had for almost four very long years.
And I’ve had enough.
I had a talk with myself and my dad. Of course I’m assuming he can hear me.
I told him I can’t do this anymore.
I can’t ruminate over these pictures in my head anymore. And knowing my dad, he wouldn’t want me to. No parent would ever want that for their child.
I told him that I have to let it go. I have to let this part go. I. Just. Can’t. Do. It. Anymore.
I guess in some strange way I figure if I rehash the gory details of his departure, I will stay grounded and not cocky, like I was the day before he died. Arrogant that my kid was potty trained, and our time-outs were working. Arrogant that after 2 tumultuous sleepless years of rookie parenting, the pieces were starting to fall into place. I was finally getting a handle on this working mother thing. Arrogant that I was comfortable in my job and was actually good at it. Arrogant that everything was neatly tucked into its place and my world had sense and order, just how I like it. Arrogant and ungrateful.
Well, that taught me, didn’t it?
The constant ruminating, anxiety attacks, nightmares and depression in the days, weeks and years since my dad left have been part grief, part self imposed punishment for my assumed arrogance. I should never have felt like my life was so together. I should have said thank you more. I should have said a lot of things more. Especially to my dad.
And for the past four years, I’ve held on. I’ve punished myself for how I took my life and my family for granted. Somehow I figured if I just managed to worry and stew everyday over something I can’t control, the universe would not punish me anymore.
Weird logic. Useless logic. Exhausting logic.
Death has a funny way of changing you. I’ve read you either curl up and die (no pun intended) or you are changed.
I am changed.
I have become the poster child for gratitude.
Some days I forget. Some days I’m too tired. But I always manage in some small way to remember how quickly life can turn and how quickly things can change. Especially in a day.
So I sit here tonight, pouring out my heart on a computer screen, typing words I don’t even dare share with my loved ones. Funny how sometimes it’s easier to spill your guts to strangers than to admit to your own family you’re hurting.
Tomorrow I will get up and do life all over again, hopefully with more gratitude and joy than today.