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  • The Vail Project

Grieving minds play constant tricks

In my grief process I am constantly amazed at how different every single day is. I say this, because unlike any other period in my life, my days are almost exactly the same. The same in terms of requirements and activities. This is even more true now that we are all on Covid-19 house arrest. The days blend together in way that they never did before. Most have no specific meaning, unless an activity or business call is scheduled. Just another day. Could be a Monday or a Saturday, makes no difference. They are mostly the same. So when I say that each day is very different from the next, I mean that in terms of my psychological state and emotional well-being.

The most influential factor in my mental state each day is the product of the night before it. How well did I sleep? How well did Steve sleep? Was Aspen able to sleep through the night? If I have to get up 5 or 6 times to check on Aspen--because my child-loss body and mind demand it for survival; I can pretty much guarantee I will be an emotional mess the following day. Unable to handle even the simplest of tasks without tears. Missing tens of minutes at a time, just being absent. Easily triggered by every little thing. A bigger determination of my ability to cope each day is how well Steve and Aspen slept the night before. Aspen is still working on not peeing the bed. She is dependent on her drink at night for comfort. Something we planned to break her of long ago. But in the wake of her sisters sudden death, we haven't been able to bring ourselves to pull the plug. Sleep eludes us enough without Aspen having a meltdown each night and every time she wakes up without her little drink. We know that the battle is inevitable, but understandably we cannot face it right now. So if Aspen wets the bed and it wakes her up, or she runs out of drink, or has a bad dream, it contributes to my sleep disruption. If I am being totally honest, my sleep states are pretty poor. Most nights, I wake up at least once. I hear Vail calling for me. I hear her little voice calling out to me, in the sweet way she would. "Mom-my." Never upset or crying. Just calling for me. If I hear her voice, I cannot fall back asleep. Steve often dreams of Vail. Real, life like dreams. When he has them, they are both a blessing and a curse. I believe these dreams are Vail's way of communicating with her Daddy from heaven. She often visits Aspen in her dreams as well. They ride unicorns across the night sky together and play in meadows. That's what Aspen says they do when Vail comes to play in her dreams. Vail doesn't visit me in my dreams. In fact, I never dream at all any more. Nothing. My dreams are empty.

When the night is rough, the day that follows is brutal. And it doesn't matter which one of us has the bad night...we are all affected. On bad days, I can't even look at the pictures of Vail that line our walls. As if looking by looking at her pictures I am looking into her eyes and she sees all the ways I failed her. On bad days, I am so fragile that a feather could knock me over. Aspen will talk about her sister and I can't hold back the tears. Aspen always talks about Vail, almost as if she is still here, though she knows well enough that she is not. Most days I am so proud and happy for Aspen. For how she has survived the loss of her sister. But, some days it is like setting my shattered heart on fire.

I have these moments. They are seconds really. Never more than 2 or 3 seconds, where my mind plays tricks on me. I'll be doing some regular daily task, nothing special, and for just a moment, it's as if I am transported back in time before we lost Vail. I feel normal and my life is as it was, perfect. Perfect in a way that I didn't know existed until it was gone. When this happens it is extremely disturbing. Mostly because it is like a flash of lightning. There one moment and gone the next. I'm positive that I am explaining it very poorly. Imagine if the loss was a dream and real life is what it used to be. Instead of the other way around. Those few fleeting seconds are like a dream state, but real. However, even after a split second of feeling that way again, the return to what my life is now is abrupt and shocking. It is so draining and consuming. Like I have to face reality all over again. The reality that she is gone. My mind has to accept this completely unacceptable situation, over and over again. One second in the past is enough to derail my entire day.

I have no idea what to call this occurrence. My counseling sessions were discontinued back in January. My choice. So I cannot ask a pro for their opinion. For a lack of a better description I call it momentary psychological regression.

Aka: My mind is playing tricks on me.

I am not sure if this happens because my subconscious is tricked into thinking the past is real by the physical (or neural pathway) stimulation of the activity. Something in the familiarity of motion that triggers my mind to believe things are still what they once were. Or, if my psyche is so strained and tortured that it is trying to force my subconscious into acceptance of my new reality as normal, but it is so weak that it can only hold that state for mere seconds. In that 2-3 seconds, the unbearable weight of Vail's loss is lifted. And even though those extremely brief seconds are over in a flash, when the weight returns it is a billion times heavier. As if that is even possible, for it to be heavier. Not that it matters why, or how this happens. It does. And when it does, I spiral down.

There are still days when I ask myself: "how did this happen?" And by asking that simple question, I am trying to remind myself that it did happen. I can say it 1000 times a day. Saying it doesn't make it feel more real. Every nerve in my body knows it is real. But my mind, well that's a different thing entirely. Some days it has to be told over and over and over again.

She was real. She is gone.

When people ask us the dreaded 'how are you doing?' question, we always say something about taking it one day at a time. And that is true. One day is all we can manage. The future is just way too big. But if I am being totally honest, most days are one breath at a time. This minuscule measure of time is all I can manage. One breath in and one breath out. The tightness in my chest is disconcerting. Is it just the grief? Or am I having a panic attack? Or worse. It's everything all at once and the nothingness, piled on top of each other. That too, is the grieving mother's mind and its' wicked tricks.

Most days, I try to stay in the moment. To really enjoy Aspen's witty humor and silly antics. I don't want to miss out on her specialness. I try, and often fail, at showing my husband that he is essential to my existence, one critical piece of my heart that remains in tact. Disappearing into the void is so appealing. It often calls to me. But that's not an option. Not for me. My family needs me. Both the members who walk the earth and the little brown-eyed angel in heaven. And so, when my mind plays its deceptive tricks, I melt into insanity and desperately reach back out again as quickly as my broken heart can manage.

I don't have advice or words of wisdom tonight. I only have pain and emptiness to offer. And tricks. All the tricks that the mind can play.

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