I can do this. And so can you.
Some days are tough, aren't they? Tough for no apparent reason sometimes and other times, tough for reasons that are too painful to acknowledge. There are days I attempt to bury those reasons deep inside — my insecurities, the weight of so many responsibilities on my weary shoulders, the money that's always tight and the plans that often have to be recalibrated because of that. We still have our dreams, though, and we hold on to them tightly and closely. Because dreams are possible, as impossible as they may seem as we're having them. Whenever I doubt that, I remind myself that I left my home country carrying a single suitcase and a dream, and that my dream became reality.
I live with reminders of death every day and every day I am thankful, for it is death that is teaching me how to live my life fully.
Death wasn't part of my dream when I came to this country, nor was it part of any of the plans I hatched — on my own, at first, and then with my husband, Mike, who died with so many plans unrealized, even though he was living the dream. We were, together.
I'm building dreams of my own now, weaving them with the dreams of the child that Mike and I made together and raised together for as long as life and death allowed us to.
I waste time sometimes, but it is my choice. My version of living means knowing when to slow down, push aside, let the day guide me. My version of living is grounded on my ability to prioritize. Because it is living that is urgent, not replying to messages that can wait.
Today hasn't been a tough day, but it hasn't been an easy one either. I woke up feeling as if the backpack that is grief had all of a sudden become so heavy I could barely move. (I will carry it forever, so I'm working on getting stronger every day to handle its weight.) I yelled at my 9-year-old for no reason over breakfast because she asked me to curl her hair before school. I apologized, and then I felt guilty, and then I said a silent prayer, asking God to please let my screams become nothing more than a scratch that heals on its own because she has enough wounds to tend to already, wounds that are still raw and that will never truly heal.
"Te amo," she said — I love you.
Our house is fully monolingual now: We only speak Portuguese to each other.
"Eu também te amo, filha" — I love you too, daughter.
These words feel so insufficient. How does one communicate the honesty of a feeling if not with actions?
I grew up in a house of screams. A wonderful house, just not a house where the volume and tone of the things that were said telegraphed the feelings we had for one another. Distance and age have taught me to forgive and they have also taught me that this is not how I want my daughter to grow up.
The other day, a day that started much like today, I tweeted:
Someone I know and whom I hadn't heard from in God-knows-how-long sent me a message saying that my tweet got her worried. So I followed up with a clarification for all my followers on Twitter to see. I'll share it with you. Because if you've read this far it means that you care about me — or at the very least that you like my writing (and that's pretty awesome).
Here is what I wrote:
Grief is so weird. It comes and goes, sometimes like gentle waves, as if it were tapping you on the shoulder to remind you it's still there. Sometimes it arrives like an unannounced tsunami and it swallows you up.
My husband died 17 months ago and that can feel like a lifetime ago on some days. On other days, it feels like he's just died and I'm there, lying on the couch across from the hospice bed where he took his last breath, staring at him in disbelief. Today is one of these days.
I could have called a friend and unloaded. Some days, that's what I do because that's what I need. Other days, comfort comes from the act of sharing because in sharing I know that I help others who may also be feeling alone right now, who may also doubt that they can do it.
I try hard to focus on the silver linings and the silver lining in being caught up in the waves of grief is that I'm reminded that I'm a good swimmer — I will survive, as I have survived other rough waves, other mudslides.
And you will too.
So this is my mood right now: I'm a survivor. I'm a survivor and I know it. And knowing it is how the power to live today, live right now, live as I write and drink a glass of Chardonnay on a picnic table outside my favorite café, live as the sun departs in a show of colors — yellow, orange, red, as if the sky is on fire — makes me feel ready to think of tomorrow as another day to be conquered.
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WHY – AND HOW – I WRITE
The key to writing a good story is knowing what you don’t know and finding the right people and documents to help you learn it. You have a fundamental question that leads to a bunch of other questions that need to be answered so that your fundamental question makes sense. This is how I write.
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