So You Think You’re Going Crazy?
Author: Darcie Sims
I first began to think about going crazy shortly after our son died. It seemed innocent enough in the beginning. Just an occasional sound that came from his bedroom or a whiff of his scent that would catch me by surprise. I didn’t think much of it. In fact, I rather enjoyed those little reminders of him. But after sharing my first encounter with him with a neighbor, I knew the rest of the world would think me daft.
So I quit telling other people about my little conversations and my little encounters. I just kept them to myself.
They weren’t that special, except to me. I thought I saw him once on a playground about half a block away. By the time I reached the fence, however, he had become the little boy he really was and not my son. And once while I was in a store, I knew I heard him tell me to buy the Twinkies. I know I heard that! So I did, and I enjoyed every one of them, too.
I found myself looking forward to these little encounters but never sharing them with anyone. And for quite some time, little reminders of our child flitted across my life…just often enough to keep me going. But then, after a number of months (or was it years?), the messages grew less noticeable. I think I was beginning to “get on with my life” (one of the all-time favorite expressions of those who “understand”), and I guess I didn’t need to have the contacts.
I noticed that I still clung to little things, though…I kept his picture very close to me. We had moved several times by then, and we no longer had any of his room furnishings or very many physical reminders of his presence in our lives. We didn’t refer to the extra bedroom as his, and life had settled into its usual circus pace. But I still kept his blanket. I had wrapped it in tissue and placed it carefully in the cedar chest to lie in state until his big sister would one day need it for her child. But I kept getting it out and hugging it. I never told anyone that. I was afraid to. But I thought I could smell him whenever I held that small piece of soft wool. I knew I could pretend for a little while. And I knew I was going crazy.
Everyone in our family managed to keep something secret for years after our son died. His big sister kept his favorite stuffed bear very close to her pillow, but out of sight. Dad kept a small treasure tucked away in his drawer and carried it with him whenever he deployed with the Army.
Once, we discovered we were all going crazy when we asked a neighbor to look after the house while we were going on a two-week vacation. We handed over the keys, a list of phone numbers in case of emergency, and the pictures of our son. She looked at us with sympathy and caution. I remember telling her the house could burn down or the burglars could take everything…except those pictures. We finally put them in the safe deposit box. Everyone else in the world keeps important papers and jewels in their safes. We keep a few photographs—our only tangible link to what was.
We once discovered a widowed friend of ours often wore her late husband’s bathrobe. Many of us sleep with an extra pillow to hug during the night. We sometimes set a place at the table by accident or keep the pipe filled and slippers in the closet. We are reluctant to rearrange the room or even to touch the things. And when we do manage to touch and clean and rearrange, we always keep something for ourselves. It may not be much to anyone else, but to us, that tiny secret something is the one link we have with the reality that someone we loved did live. Because after awhile, we may begin to wonder if that life ever really did happen.
We do seemingly strange things—little routines that we may not even realize are a part of our beings. We sit in the same place, regardless of how many are at the table. We keep a lookout just in case, knowing that “just in case” will never really come. We treasure the objects of our loved ones more now than when they were alive. It becomes difficult to throw away anything they touched.
Does it matter to anyone else that I still have our son’s holiday place mat? It’s tucked way down below all the other tablecloths in the drawer. I can’t—no, I don’t want to—toss it away. It’s ours; it’s our grief, our pain, our healing. And the rest of the world will just have to figure out how to live with our craziness or pretend to understand!
No one ever talks about these unusual behaviors or secrets. Few books tell us it’s normal to hang on to tiny mementoes of the past, but no one thinks it’s weird to keep the old high school yearbooks. No one thinks it’s unusual to still have your wedding dress or a corsage or your first shoes (which may be bronzed and on top of the dresser). No one thinks it’s crazy to remember…so why do we, the grievers of the world, suffer under the burden of fearing for our sanity?
Because we think we should be “over it” by now. And we should have control over these things. We should have the grass mowed and the weeds pulled and the dust bunnies eliminated and the dryer emptied and the bills paid and the house clean and the meals nutritious, colorful, and full of fiber. We “should” ourselves into insanity!
I figure as long as the conversations I hear in my head don’t lead me to tall bridges, sharp objects, or dangerous encounters, I’ll be okay. If those things begin to happen, then I do need to talk with someone besides the microwave. But for most of us, being “crazy” is simply a matter of being in touch with all of our self—the outer reality (that everyone sees and assumes represents the inner us) and the interior parts (the secret self who may reside within)—and not being afraid of who we are now.
The past is past, but only if we allow it to be. Sometimes we need to carry it with us. Sometimes we need to let it rest. Sometimes we can’t figure out quite what we need. And sometimes we don’t even know how to know what it is we need! But most of you reading this just think you are the only one who has ever heard the frozen Oreos calling your name in the middle of the night. (I answer!) Or you are the only one who still has the bathrobe.
We all have our little secrets, sometimes kept secret even from ourselves. I stopped thinking of them as signs of abnormal behavior long ago, and I’ve been happier ever since. Now, when I hear his sigh or get a quick glimpse of his smile in the sun, I just say a silent hello...
Just remember, love doesn’t stop talking to us simply because we don’t have to do its laundry anymore!
By Darcie D. Sims, PhD, CHT, CT, GMS: Dr. Darcie Sims is a bereaved parent and child, nationally certified thanatologist, certified pastoral bereavement specialist, and licensed psychotherapist and hypnotherapist. She is the president and cofounder of Grief, Inc., a grief consulting business, and the Director of the American Grief Academy in Seattle, Washington. Darcie is an internationally recognized speaker and writer, having authored seven books and numerous articles. She currently serves as the Director of Training and Certification for TAPS. For more information and a complete listing of her books, visit www.griefinc.com.