Grief Is a Bottomless Well

It has been six months since my daughter’s death due to a catastrophic brain hemorrhage. It has taken almost that long to get the coroner’s report and official cause of death which is complications from a rare kind of stroke caused by a blood clot. Next week we’ll be meeting with the team of doctors who treated her in the ICU to hopefully learn more on what might have caused the clot. She was in good health and only 17. To say her death was unexpected is an understatement. We were wholly unprepared to lose her and we’re bereft without her.

During the struggle to save her and the slow acceptance that she was beyond all medical intervention, I felt like I was drowning. In the early days of her loss, I wrote this post: Grief is an Angry Ocean. Because what I was feeling was like being tossed on the waves, pummeled by surges of emotion. And her loss was too big to understand, I couldn’t put my arms around it and cope, I had to accept that I was not in control and just try to stay afloat in what seemed like a vast, open sea of sadness, pain and even fear.

Now, my subconscious, quite on its own, seems to have buried that ocean in a well. For weeks I’ve been functioning fine, going about my day, staying busy. Super busy. Abnormally busy. I have plans, all sorts. I downloaded a checklist for Thanksgiving for the first time in my life. I already have Christmas plans mapped out. I’ve begun three separate home improvement projects, restarted an old embroidery project, and organized my spice drawer. I’m embarrassed by my Amazon order list. It’s full of impulsive purchases to fix problems I didn’t know I had or ones I created all on my own like the book light I had to buy so I could do my embroidery at night.

If I’m not busy, then I’m distracted. I have found TikTok and let’s just say it’s built for distracting yourself. Unable to get through a book lately, I open up the app and lose hours down a rabbit trail of short videos of miscellany. And then there’s YouTube gardening and cooking vlogs. I’ve even spent time watching Rhett and Link eat weird things. Maybe some would call it comfort-watching, but I know what it really is, my brain’s way of protecting me from feelings I can’t handle in anything other than small doses.

Whenever I am not busy or distracted it’s as if the ground I’m on gives way and I fall into a well of grief. Sadness overwhelms me and based on how deep I let myself go I either feel it pooling up around my legs and soldier on, or I get in over my head and weep. The sheer magnitude of what is in that well frightens me. There is no light shining there, just dark water, bottomless. Just like the angry ocean in the first days, I can’t see its beginning and end. 

My therapist suggested intentionally setting aside time at night away from screens and embroidery needles to focus on what I’m feeling. To willingly lower myself into the well. So far, I’ve only managed to do it unintentionally. I’ve had a stray thought that takes me there, or something reminds me. Those trips are awful enough that I’ve found excuses not to do what he suggested and instead, I’ve kept myself distracted until I fall asleep, often still sitting upright on the couch, some mindless entertainment still playing on the TV. I’m too chicken to let myself go there yet.

When I do let myself think about my daughter, I’m hung up on what she would have wanted. Would she have liked that design for the headstone? Would she have wanted me to post this picture she drew, would she have wanted me to reach out to this person to see if they are okay? Hundreds of questions, some trivial, some important. We’ve kept her room as she left it. Her backpack sits on the bench by the front door. Her red beret is on the coat hook, her shoes on the shelf in a row. I can’t stand the thought of moving them. It would be like erasing her from the house. 

Rationally, I know that I’m only delaying the inevitable. That well of grief is inside me, wherever I go, waiting for a stray thought, an unexpected reminder, to swallow me whole. Sometimes I wonder if I’m in the well already, treading water, tricking myself into thinking I’m in control. With Christmas coming I know that it will likely get worse before it gets better, if this kind of pain gets better at all. I suspect it’s the sort you just get used to. And I’d rather that than lose even a second of the memories of her. Better to feel this than nothing.  

“What is grief if not love persevering?”

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