I should acknowledge up front that Joshua’s birthday is next week. Like the week leading up to the first anniversary of his death, I’ve got a bad case of “the feels,” to use my teenager’s term. To be honest, I’ve had the feels since Joshua died. Losing a child has destroyed one of the layers that kept me cozy from the cold, cruel world. Life is more intense for me now – perhaps because I’ve been reminded of how preciously short it is. The first year after his death, I poured my feels into writing Wailing Wall. Now that it’s done and sent off to the publisher, I’m figuring out what to do with the emotion that has been dialed up.
I don’t mean to imply that the emotion is only there because I happen to be a grieving mother, because it doesn’t feel that way. It feels more like I’m in touch with emotion that I’ve closed myself off from for years, decades. Emotions that I thought made me weak, were too scary to process or that seemed bigger and badder than the capacity I had to process them. Now, they’re front and center. Slapping their chests and challenging me to step up like Michael Jackson. “Your butt is mine…”
My sister, Jessica, four years younger than I am, was a scrawny little thing. We fought. A lot. And she figured out early that she needed an equalizer: she’d sharpen her nails to a point or pick up a Whiffle Ball bat. Once, she stabbed me with a pair of scissors from her cardboard pencil box (fortunately, they were round-tipped). During all this, I just laughed at her. No matter how much it hurt, or how mad I was, I laughed*.
When men touched me in ways that made me uncomfortable, I zoned out and went to a place that was safe. Years later, when I was in an abusive relationship, I just stared at him while he hit me. Hard. Hard enough to bust my eardrum and give me a concussion. But I just looked at him, refusing to cry.
In many ways, my technique worked: none of the assholes stole my soul. I was a pretty smart kid to figure out how to save the best part of me in the face of danger (who’s bad?). What it left behind, though, was sadness. Sadness that I’ve cried out bit by bit every day since my son died. Now, we’re hitting the anger. Sometimes, even rage.
Here’s what I’m learning: My anger not is not frivolous. My rage is not unjustified or extreme. Some things deserve my rage.
And, though I don’t have much experience with it, rage can fuel passion and be used in a way that is productive and honorable and makes the world a better place.
How to do that is the next lesson.
* In no way am I comparing being hit by a four year old to the other atrocities I mention. I only use it as an example of how I developed this coping mechanism early in life.