Dancing with the Circumstances

The following are extracts from an email conversation I had this morning with a colleague and friend, which provided a useful metaphor to help me through a difficult day.

“Laurel: I’m up and down. Some days are okay, others are pretty rough. I know that’s normal so I’m trying to roll with it.

A: It is very like that. It takes time. All you can do is to take care of yourself as best you can and be with it. It’s so hard. I remember those bad days very well. They will lessen, I promise. We are designed to heal eventually.

Laurel: I feel like I could deal with the loss better if rugs weren’t being pulled in many other areas of my life, but life doesn’t stand still! It rattles and shakes and we’ve gotta learn to jive to keep up…

A: How true. It was once described to me as ‘dancing with the circumstances’ but frankly I’d sometimes prefer a sedate waltz to a jive.

Laurel: I used to be a jive girl, but I think I’d like to grow into a Slow Foxtrot kinda woman! Maybe I’ll learn, with time.

A: No, don’t ever stop the jive. If I could make one thing true for you it would be that you always have the capacity to jive but know when it’s ok to foxtrot!

Dancing, of course, is well accompanied by suitable music. I added Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides, Now‘ to my iTunes play list in memory of my mother, because it reminds me of her, and I remember listening to and discussing it with her. This morning, however, it suddenly feels very appropriate for my own emotional confusion too. I find myself in yet another new grief cycle, not quite the same as my ‘murky’ stage, where my grief had become muddy but the rest of my life still felt in focus. Now, everything feels like it has tilted and I can’t seem to find stability anywhere; I have lost my calm surety yet again.

“I’ve looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall.
I really don’t know life at all.”

What amazes me is that when I am having a ‘good’ day, and feeling accepting, gently reflective or even happy, I simply cannot remember what a truly painful day feels like. It doesn’t seem real, and I can even feel mildly guilty for feeling okay. Then an hour, a day, or even a few days later the next bout of sorrow, anger or depression will hit me, and I feel as though I will never be okay again.

On Saturday night, after lovely, relaxed day, I was looking through my old photographs and came across one of my mom feeding me a strawberry in our kitchen in Burger street, Pietermaritzburg, when we were still living together.

Precious moments

At the time of finding it I was simply delighted that I had a scanned copy of the (pre-digital age) picture, but last night when I thought of it again I couldn’t stop weeping, with a hollow feeling in my gut when I remembered the feel of her strong hands on my arms, the rough texture of the jersey she was wearing, which we had bought on a joint shopping expedition; her laughter, our precious closeness – gone from the world, and in that moment having it in my memory seemed poor consolation for having her.

Sometimes I feel like I am reaching a more balanced perspective about her death. On Saturday, as I pottered around my garden going some watering, pruning and weeding, I was reflecting how since I wrote about her dying hours I have been much more able to let it be a calm part of my every-day thoughts. I hadn’t even realised that I had been shielding myself from that real acknowledgement, yet once having thought and written about it I have felt much lighter, and more accepting. But that calmness is not something that is permanent; it is merely another step in the dance…


14 thoughts on “Dancing with the Circumstances

  1. I am so glad to have stumbled across your blog and to have got to meet you! So much of what you say feels very familiar: the good days with half an inch of guilt, the forgetting how bad bad can be and then the slam dunk of total questioning, total confusion. I guess we can just hope for the odd breather between dances! X

  2. whew !!!!! I think I took that picture Laurel. And look at all those photos on the cupboard in the background. Jackie was drawn there too. I have a picture of Tess, which I took on the boat when crossing to Knoydart a week before her death, where she looks so like Jason in that photograph of him in the school play, up on the cupboard behind her. How you loved her. How we loved her. To have Tessa in my life was the finest gift I could ever have received.

  3. We look for acceptance in every aspect of our lives and it always gets harder when we have to accept circumstances that just randomly jumped in our way – it’s easier when we’re just having to put up with our choices, with our consequences, I guess what hurts the most is the feeling that our hands are tied.
    But know that some days are just better than others and one thing’s for sure – you made it through another day.

      1. Not really, but I’m trying! Hahaha! I think I’m living one of those moments when people ask me if I’m okay and I don’t know what to answer lol wish you the best of days! 😀

  4. Being unable to remember pain from even an hour ago is odd like that, isn’t it? Remember having babies? I don’t know if pain is always productive in the end, but I think it is. The process of getting through it, the reflections on self and relationships that come with it, its slow easing even if it is never quite forgotten – like a hard run, these toughen the muscles of soul.

  5. I have always been amazed by that inability to remember pain too. Such an important survival mechanism (yes, like having babies…). Conversely when you’re down it can be hard to remember what it feels like to be up though, and that’s the path I dread losing sight of at times…

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