I took the kids camping for a few days this week. It was a gorgeous spot situated right on a lake, complete with beachy-mud-sand. We had the place to ourselves and the weather could not have been better. Endless blue skies, big juicy clouds, and afternoon storms that would rage their way through our camp while we stayed warm and dry (and only slightly terrified) inside of our tent.
It was absolutely wonderful and magical. It was also one of the most sickening and lonely things I have ever experienced.
My days were spent watching the kids cavorting on the beach, playing in the mud-sand. They were building dams and castles; fortifying their structures for when a boat would come speeding by and tiny waves would inevitably come crashing onto the shore. They played like this for hours – literal hours – while I kept myself busy snapping pictures, making everyone food, and generally putzing around, doing all sorts of camping chores.
I loved that part – the general slowing down of time; the disconnection from ever-present social media, unplugging and unwinding. But something was happening behind the scenes. My memories, and the emotions attached to them, kept creeping to the forefront of my mind. They were bittersweet memories and they continued to infiltrate my consciousness until I finally broke, and spent much of the last day of our trip crying silent tears behind my sunglasses as I watched my children play.
The raw truth hit me hard; like a brutal slap to the face. I had no one to share any of this with. No one to turn to and say, “Look at them, look how invested they are in their play. Look at these kids who are eight and ten years old, who still know how to get filthy dirty and get completely lost in every precious moment.” Time was standing still and I wanted to absorb every single second of it but every single second felt like a knife in my heart. I was internally screaming; “Grief! Leave me alone goddamnit! I am done with you!” And yet here it was, back again, ruining yet another perfectly beautiful day.
This was the first trip with just the three of us and the absence of their father, my camping companion of sixteen years, was nothing short of brutal. He and I had loved camping together. Some of my favorite and most ridiculous memories are of the two of us camping. Camping trips felt like going on mini vacations with him. The kids would play all day and he and I would sit around playing scrabble, drinking beer, and talking about our lives and how amazing our kids were. But on this trip, all of those memories came back to sabotage me and my time with my children. As time went on, I longed to be anywhere other than on that beach watching them play. I wanted to watch television, I wanted that cursed social media back. I was too restless and upset to stay focused on a book, I wanted to be distracted and to disappear.
I felt so completely alone and it really scared me.
I wanted to tell the kids what I was going through. I wanted to unload all of my shit and just come clean with them. I wasn’t really functioning and pretending that I was, was making me feel ill. I felt sick with grief. I felt like a bubble about to burst and all I wanted to do was wail and scream and sob, but I couldn’t. I wanted to let my kids know what I was going through. I wanted to connect with them on my emotional level, but I couldn’t say a word. I could not burden my children with my grief and my pain. I had no business interrupting their play to selfishly fall apart in front of them and lament the fact that I was, once again, spiraling down that damn rabbit hole that is grief.
Per usual, once my healthy and stable emotional walls began to crumble, all I could see was the underside of things. All I could focus on was the ugly shit, the underbelly of the beast that is despair, loneliness, and longing. Grief continues to rob me of any emotional fortitude I may have had in place and the thoughts that I can normally keep at bay come bubbling back to the surface until I am swept off my feet and carried along on some shitty raging river of negativity.
I couldn’t focus on the beauty of the moment of watching my children play any longer. It had become tainted with the fact that there are countless moments I won’t get to witness when they are with their dad half-time. They are growing up so fast; too fast, and all I want to do is press the pause button so I can grieve in my own time for as long as I need to. If time would just wait for me to heal my heart then I wouldn’t have to miss these moments playing out right in front of me. Grief wouldn’t get to hijack me and rob me of my precious time with my children. But the truth is, time keeps marching on, taking me and the kids with it no matter what. And I will miss these precious moments, and half of their lives, as they leave me every week to go be with the man who broke my heart, my spirit, and my life into tiny bits of shrapnel.
I know things will get easier; they already have. It has been a year and a half of grieving a sixteen year relationship and I keep making progress. There has been healing and forward momentum. I know I have a long road ahead of me and I know it won’t be easy. But not all of it will be difficult. There will be moments of pure joy alongside the moments of total despair.
I know that I am building new memories for myself and my children. I am adding to the incredible richness of their already wonderful childhoods. I am strong enough to allow my feelings of hurt and despondency flow through me and out of me. I am a witness to the magical moments and precious chapters of my life, my children’s’ lives, and our lives together. Just the three of us.
This is my path and these are my memories to hold onto and keep tucked away in my heart forever. I have the rest of my life to add pages and pages of new memories and new chapters to the brand new book on my shelf:
Family of Three.