I know I don’t sleep as much as science and medicine say I should. After all, multiple sclerosis makes you tired. Not sleeping enough makes you tired. Being a parent makes you tired. Stress and worry make you tired. See a pattern there?
Sometimes when you’re tired it may take you longer to figure something out. You may have to reason through a dilemma a bit longer than usual, add a column of numbers twice instead of once, or need an extra second to remember which kid is where at a particular moment.
Sometimes though, when you’re tired, you think a little differently and have a sudden moment of acute clarity. The example I’m about to give may not seem very momentous to you but please hear me out. It has to do with the refrigerator in my house and the grief in my life.
The refrigerator in my kitchen is only about four years old at most. It’s manufactured by a company that was founded over 120 years ago, so they’ve been in business a long time and have a good reputation. When I chose the appliance, I took my time and really did my due diligence to thoughtfully select a quality refrigerator.
I’ve had to have at least five service calls for it during the few years since I bought it. Twice the freezer stopped working and we had to throw away everything in it because it all defrosted. Once the refrigerator kept changing temperatures without us changing the settings, and two other times the whole thing was leaking out water all over the kitchen floor for no apparent reason. About 10 days ago it started making a terrible racket over the weekend, but it was still working fine. Then the freezer portion shut down overnight. The ice cream melted, everything thawed out, but the refrigerator portion was still working. I figured I’d call the appliance people on Monday morning. By Sunday the refrigerator part had died too. It was really hot outside, and the fridge just couldn’t hold on to the cold. By early Monday morning the contents of the fridge all had to be emptied into garbage bags.
I called the refrigerator repair people and they couldn’t schedule the right technician to get to me for eight days. I tried two other appliance service companies, with no better timeline available. (It’s apparently a very busy time of year for appliance and air conditioning repair). So, I sighed and made the appointment, which was for the Tuesday that just passed. A couple of days prior, I realized I’d have to change the appointment because my daughters’ work schedules changed and my son had an online final exam. My disability makes it impossible for me to answer the door, deal with the technician and handle three dogs. The next available appointment the repair company could give me is next Friday … Yes, another 10 days later.
So, we are still waiting for a technician to check out the refrigerator and determine if it can be fixed. While we’ve been waiting, my kids noticed that the appliance started making some sounds again. First the refrigerator part came back on, and a day later the freezer started working again. About a day and a half later it all went out again. Now it keeps doing that. On again then off again. From hour to hour we have no idea what to expect.
But what’s the connection?
Now you might be thinking well, the situation with the refrigerator is definitely frustrating and inconvenient, but what the heck does it have to do with sadness? With grief? “Denise, are you really that devastated because your non-dairy chocolate chip ice cream melted?”
Of course not.
There are so many levels to emotion. I’m sad about my disability, but I’m still devastated about the death of my husband. It’s not a recent loss in calendar terms. It was horrific, violent and made even more terrible due to the fact that it was caused by another person. It didn’t happen just a short time ago.
I no longer have the crippling grief that would keep me from eating anything for two, three, or four days at a time. I no longer cry so hard that I throw up. I do my best to make sure my kids know that they’re loved, have what they need, and that the bills get paid. I can smile and laugh about things, as well as focus on all different types of other things. During it all though, I live with a quiet undercurrent of sadness that I don’t think people even notice. Just like how the refrigerator normally hums along quietly, doing what it needs to do without drawing attention to anything else.
Until, of course, when for no easily discernible reason it just doesn’t work anymore. When the technician finally gets here next Friday maybe he or she will be able to easily identify what threw everything into a tailspin with the appliance. I realize that sometimes an appliance is just ‘a lemon’ and they can’t get it working correctly. There isn’t always a good explanation.
As for me, I realize that my sadness and grief have been ‘acting up’ because of a couple of triggering things. There is melancholy about having another birthday without my husband present. There are also all the promotions and emails about Father’s Day being this weekend. I can pinpoint particular reasons for the undercurrent of sadness to currently be heightened and agitated. But other times the sadness rises up like a tidal wave for no apparent reason. There isn’t always a good explanation. It sometimes seemingly comes out of nowhere with a vicious impact.
The similarities between my refrigerator and my sadness are, of course, limited. The refrigerator will ultimately either be repaired or it won’t. My sadness about the death of my husband will never go away entirely. Grief morphs and mellows. I’ve grown accustomed to coping with it because it’s become a part of me.
Some types of losses are just not repairable. This issue with the refrigerator is aggravating and irritating, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not all that big a deal. The death of somebody you love with all your heart is overwhelming and devastating. It’s indescribably awful.
The best you can do is to do your best to cope with the situation. Figure out a way to make your life work, to move forward, to survive the new reality that is thrust upon you. We all have to deal with the problems that life throws at us, regardless of how big or small those problems happen to be. Life continues, and those of us fortunate enough to be here must go on as well.