Tormented by construction

“If the turd doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” That’s basically what Mark told our neighbor one night. I’ll call her Doris, because she’s old. I don’t know why he bothered, because Doris is a tad senile (or crazy!?), but I guess everyone has a breaking point as it relates to finding bags of dog shit in their pickup truck bed.

Poor Doris lives on a corner in a neighborhood where everyone and their mother owns a dog, or three, so all these dogs constantly shit in her yard. But, of course, Doris thinks we’re the only neighbors who own a dog. To her, dog shit = Howie shit. And, she’s going to return said shit to its rightful owner – us.

I was at a baseball game with a co-worker when I received this text from Mark:

Doris put another bag of turds in my truck. So I knocked on her door. Don’t worry, I was very nice and polite. But I explained there are lots of dogs around here, and these turds are way too small to come out of Howie. I told her Howie poops in our backyard, which is fenced in. She agreed the turds looked too small and apologized and said she’d stop bringing us turds.

I laughed at the situation and the word choice – “turds”, and I forwarded the text to friends and family, so they too could laugh at Mark.

A few weeks later, Mark found another bag of way-too-small turds in his pickup truck bed. Mark drove around with said turds for weeks, as he pondered what to do, though, he eventually decided Doris was a lost cause and to just accept any shit thrown his way.

This sums up our relationship with Doris – amiable, yet, sometimes, shitty. So, obviously, when Matthew died, I dreaded telling her the news. But there was no avoiding it – Doris’ house sits close to ours, and we see her frequently. Also, she’d known I was pregnant, and she’d ask questions as soon as she saw me “not pregnant”.

One day, about two weeks after Matthew died, as Mark and I returned from an errand, I heard Doris crack open her door. I raced inside, as I instructed Mark to talk to Doris.

Thirty minutes later, Mark returned. He explained that, long ago, Doris lost a two-year-old child. Apparently, she’d been saddened by our news, and she was extremely sympathetic to our situation.

Four months later, our relationship with Doris remains relatively unchanged, though, it’s comforting someone I see so regularly relates to what I’m going through. Though, I disagree with the sentiments she offered, “It’ll be a while before you get over this” (I think “never get over this” is more accurate), it’s helpful to be able to exchange knowing, compassionate looks.

Besides our neighbors with whom we do “Monday night dinner”, Doris is the only one who knows what happened. And that’s one reason we seldom walk our neighborhood. We used to casually socialize with neighbors, several of whom might ask about Matthew, and I don’t have the energy to tell them he died.

I don’t feel like telling Ed, who’s married to Frances. I don’t feel like telling Ed, the shy guy whose right eye twitches when he speaks and who has a one-year-old boy. And I don’t feel like telling Ed, the guy who raises chickens, builds papier-mâché volcanoes in his driveway, and is Phil Dunfee from Modern Family.

How many Eds can possibly live in one neighborhood? There is no limit. And how strange is it I live next to such characters as Celeste, Frances, Doris, AND the three Eds (though the Phil Dunfee one is really nice)? Answer – strange enough my neighborhood could be its own reality show. Seriously.

In the days immediately following Matthew’s death, we didn’t chance walking our neighborhood. We drove to other neighborhoods, wealthy ones, which, in theory, would have only older kids (though we learned some young people with young kids are like so freaking RICH). And we walked on local bike paths and at local parks previously unfamiliar to us.

One night, we got brave – we walked our own neighborhood at like 11:00pm. It was after dark, on a week night – it seemed not a soul was awake. However, much to my surprise, I quickly began to feel tormented to the point I’m not sure I want to live in my neighborhood any longer. That night, it hit me, and now I can’t put it out of my mind – I’m triggered by construction projects. And, unfortunately, they’re plentiful in our area.

Before Matthew died, I loved construction – we tore down an old home and custom-built a new one. And new construction means higher home values. In my spare time, I’d peruse the MLS – I knew the details of every single home within a three-mile radius. And, I’d often attend open houses for fun, which speaks even more to my level of interest.

Now, construction is the enemy. In my immediate area, at least five new homes were completed this past year. Currently, ~three new homes as well as several major renovations are underway. Signs mark old homes scheduled for tear-down. Developers recently purchased even the most undesirable empty lots. There are new sidewalks, new driveways, and new streets. And, further down the road, developers just cleared a huge plot of land, probably for a new subdivision.

It’s all so triggering. All these projects starting and/or finishing in 2015 – the year Matthew died. To me, these landmarks will forever signify Matthew’s death. Maybe it’s my former love of real estate that makes me particularly sensitive to such things…

Can I live in a neighborhood with ~20 such landmarks? Will I forever torture myself with my “that house is Matthew’s age” thoughts? I don’t know. But, right now, it all seems like a cruel joke.

And, as irrational as it is, to me, it all feels so wrong – that Matthew died, yet construction projects continue, charging towards 2015 completion dates – eventual permanent physical reminders of Matthew’s death, of continued progression in the world, in my neighborhood, despite the fact that my world stopped turning on July 13, 2015.

In late September, on a Sunday afternoon, we took dinner to our pastor and his family. In July, we’d been recipients of similar acts of kindness, so we wanted to show said kindness to others. On this day, after a nearly two-year battle with cancer, Pastor’s wife had reached the end of her life (she died three days later).

That September day, I vividly remember stepping into Pastor’s kitchen, setting dinner on the table, bowing our heads to pray, and exchanging hugs. Faces were teary, people were exhausted, and a certain heaviness filled the room – grief for what was, at that point, inevitable.

We whispered “hello” and “goodbye” to Pastor’s wife for what we all knew would be the last time. And then, Pastor walked us out. We stood with him on his front porch for a few minutes. We explained we were so sorry, and that although we’d recently been through our own tragedy, we had no words for how unfair and cruel this was.

As we talked, surprisingly, what stood out to me most was how beautiful the weather was, and how a guy nearby was mowing his lawn. And it just seemed so effing wrong – that Pastor’s wife could be dying in her living room, while someone across the street happily worked in his yard. And I had this ridiculous urge to go tell this guy to turn off his lawnmower, because Pastor’s world was crashing down… Don’t worry, I didn’t do that.

How obvious, I know – at this very moment, someone’s burying a child, while another is enjoying lunch with family on an orange picnic blanket; someone is dying, while another is trimming his trees; someone is living a worst nightmare, while another is realizing a greatest dream. It’s life. But never had this paradox hit me so hard as it did on that beautiful September day, when I wanted to choke the guy mowing his lawn.

And, I continue to think about all this when I see these construction projects – the ones to which I’d like to issue stop work orders. All because my world stopped turning on July 13, 2015. But the projects continue. I mean, duh – what else would they do? But that doesn’t change the fact that it feels so wrong to me.

And I can’t escape these triggers – they’re present during my work day too. The office building next to mine is nearing the end of a major renovation project. Each day, we walk by, and AB and JVB admire the beauty of the building improvements – beautiful new windows and pristine sidewalks. I remain silent, tormenting myself with my “those windows were installed after Matthew died,” and “those sidewalks were cemented after Matthew died” thoughts.

I can’t un-know all this – that certain landmarks in my neighborhood or near my office, to me, signify 2015 – the year Matthew died. Sometimes I want to run away, forever. To a place where I won’t know that new driveway was installed in 2015.

Instead, I could pretend, in my new location, nothing happened in 2015, during the months my world wasn’t turning. I could pretend things happened before Matthew died, or after my world started turning again (though I still don’t know when that will be).

These thoughts are sad. We built a home we were excited about, at the top of our budget, in the perfect neighborhood, for our future family. Matthew was the beginning of that “future family”. So now, I want to run. But I’m too smart to think I can successfully run from grief – that running wouldn’t compound my problems…

So I’ll stay put, hoping my desire to run changes. I’m hoping, in time, I’ll feel less tormented by these construction projects, by my neighborhood, and by my home, which was built with so much love, including our love for Matthew.

We’ll see.

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12 thoughts on “Tormented by construction

  1. Beautifully written and captures how totally paradoxical life is. It’s also very familiar to me – instead of BC and AD I now measure everything in BW and AW (Before William/After William). It’s exhausting and saddening, I agree with you that you won’t ever get over it or heal but I hope that it becomes a little easier to live alongside. I’m just over a year into this particularly awful ‘journey’ and I still have days where I just want to pack up and move, so we can reinvent ourselves and not be those ‘bereaved parents’. But I know that’s not something that can be changed by geography, sadly. Thank you for posting this, grief can be a lonely place but your post helps me feel a little less alone today. I hope I can do the same for you x

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  2. This is so beautiful. So vulnerably honest. I’ve often had those very thoughts when going through tragedy on a perfectly, clear, blue-sky, sunny day. I would curse the birds chirping. It’s strange how the world keeps moving around us, smugly, as we pick up our shattered selves & move on.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and for your feedback. Yes, it is so strange. It’s like, you intellectually know all these things (that birds will keep chirping), but when you’re the one who’s shattered, it just feels different – very surreal. And it’s like you have to be in one of the situation to truly understand, which I don’t think I ever fully “got” until it was me.

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  3. Oh Christine, This post so beautifully and tragically explains the very nature of our lives now. All of the “befores” and the “afters”, all of the reminders that life kept going.

    Initially when Josie died, I had the opposite reaction. Immediately, I wanted everything to be different. I wanted it to be ten years from now with new songs on the radio and new subdivisions. I didn’t want to recognize the things around me, because I could no longer recognize my world and I wanted that to be more concrete in the things I saw around me. It didn’t make sense that my street looked the exact fucking same as when I woke up that morning, that the same stupid dent was in our mailbox and the same stupid stain was on my sweatshirt. I didn’t want to process it. Just to accept it. Somehow, I thought that would help. It didn’t. You can’t rush that lesson, that life really fucking heartbreakingly continues. And that it’s oddly normal, with lawn mowers in the background.

    I think it’s the most difficult concept to this bereaved understanding, and especially for those of us bereaved parents. There are always going to be things “newer” than Josie, because is no longer growing, save for in my heart. And that is sad because it’s so unfair. Why does this building get to exist and stand, when my daughter doesn’t? Why does the construction project get to end when my pain never will?

    I’m not sure that I can offer any guidance here, as it is something I continue to struggle with, only to say that there are things that have come to be in her absence, “new” things that I have seen and watched grow and contributed to, that I am grateful for. And as I continue to walk this paradox, while I am saddened by the things that are here when she is not, I hold on to such a hope that in time, I can be grateful for so many more.

    Love to you, friend.
    xo, Nora

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    1. Thank you for your sweet comment, Nora. I initially had that reaction too. I wanted it to be 10 years from now. I think I remember you telling me that in the hospital too, when I said I wanted to fast forward my life. And I did. I actually still do sometimes. But I know I can’t. So, now, I get angry. It’s like you said. Why does this building get to exist when Matthew doesn’t? I don’t like being stuck in this intense grief, and I want time to pass, but time passing also equals distance from Matthew’s life. So I guess my feelings are very conflicted in this regard. But at the moment, construction is making me mad. I hope, someday, I can view it more like you. I hope my faith can be strengthened that someday, I’ll be grateful for more things that have started and completed after Matthew’s death, instead of just intensely saddened and angered.

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  4. Your posts just might be saving my life after giving birth and losing my daughter December 28. We have no explanation, and while I should be getting her ready to go to my best friend’s father’s memorial service right now; instead, I am not going to that memorial because my heart is too full of pain and I’m scared of feeling more of it. So, please keep writing your blogs.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Sarah. I definitely intend to keep writing, as it’s been very therapeutic for me, and I’m glad to know you’ve found some comfort here… I’m so sorry about your best friend’s father. And I’m also so sorry you had to skip out. But I’m glad you’re being gentle with yourself. You’re in so much pain right now. So this is completely understandable. It’s perfectly reasonable to do only what you can handle both now and in the coming months. I continue to keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers. xoxo, Christine

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