I want both my eyes. I want to see with the ease I did when both worked.
To expect depth perception to remain constant. To see my wine glass and pour into it, instead of all over a countertop. One of my eye docs joked that all I needed was a bigger glass.
I want to stop attempting to round square corners by walking into them. To see the difference a stair makes. To watch a wall of water thrown by a surf boat and accurately gauge my standup paddle board (SUP) response to it.
To stop saying, “I’m sorry,” to someone I’ve just hit with my left arm as I pointed to something or turned into them because they weren’t there; it’s what my eye told me (or couldn’t tell me).
To remember I have a hole in my vision my brain can’t fill. To forego the need for an eye procedure every six weeks that leaves a surgery site requires me to sleep sitting up, restricts lifting and exercise and takes four days of my life.
I want. I ache of “I want.” The need of it, and the futility in it.
I am bereft. It’s a funny thing about grief. The dichotomy. The river of it as it runs through. It’s been almost three years since my accident and I accommodate well, I’m told.
My eye looks normal. My fixed pupil, visually, is sort of in the middle of what a pupil does.
It cannot constrict in sunlight, so I must always wear sunglasses to prevent burning my retina. It cannot expand, so low light is dicey.
No one will know, they say. But I know. I know every moment of every day.
I’m a devoted standup paddleboarder. The river I SUP every morning that weather allows has myriad moods and a current that changes from spring’s rush to summer laze.
I like the current, whether I’m paddling with or against it. It carries me with and challenges me against.
But this current of grief, the one that mostly flows at summer’s pace, has me now in a windswept turbulence that threatens my safety.
This grief is layered. Stacked.
The catastrophic eye injury. The uncompromising move just weeks after a third eye surgery from the river I love and lived on for a decade. The need to recuperate after seven months mostly bedbound, 31 of those days face down 22 of every 24 hours.
While I was face-planted on my bed, I used a great deal of brainpower.
How to harness a runaway fear. How to manage time without sight. Without moving. How to contemplate life after injury. How to assimilate this new reality into thought, let alone accommodations and action.
I kept panic at bay, for the stark truth of my disability’s severity had not yet been revealed. And then it was.
Because I’d been bedbound, we were unable to look for a new house. We would vagabond, we decided, on water – a lake, a river for the healing I always find there.
It would give us time. Time for me to gain health, energy and stamina. Time to look for a home.
I focused on finding my way back physically. That’s what I’ve always done. Focus on a challenge. Find potential paths through. Plan. Execute. Do.
I can always “do.” What I find more difficult is to “be.” Perhaps it’s why the river is my saving grace. The pace of a SUP forces “in the moment,” to simply be.
It isn’t that I was unaware of my loss; I acknowledged it – at least mentally – as my new reality. I spent seven months healing, six months more recovering my overall health and found a house and made it a home.
Then COVID-19 hit, and I was unprepared for the life-threatening potential to my husband and family. And though I joked as isolation began that I had waited for this all my life, being an over-the-top introvert, the river of grief swelled along its banks picking up loose debris and gathering it into the current.
I lost my spiritual director to COVID-19. My family went through a crisis, and I questioned everything about me. My own health took a turn as my body notified me of its need to have me deal with my aching heart and its losses.
Then came Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., when the very bedrock of our society was shaken.
I ran aground early this summer over the simple, solvable loss of a location to house my SUP; it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The overlays were profound. Unmanageable.
I mostly dropped off social media. What do I have of any value to say given the place I’m in? I’m a writer who couldn’t write; a singer who couldn’t sing.
Instead, I knit. And knit and knit. I hounded those I love to choose patterns – the more difficult, the better – and made garment after garment.
Knitting quieted my mind and heart. It let peace wiggle in for a moment, and then longer moments until my mind could work again.
Yet even with that pervasive undercurrent of grief and loss, in the spaces of time when I wasn’t buckled under the weight of it, beautiful soul-nourishing life-continued gifting.
We welcomed a new granddaughter. I took up a winter sport – snowshoeing.
When crocuses unfurled, I began working on our land. We celebrated my 70th birthday with my 7-year-old birthday twin granddaughter. Nothing finer.
Then the river beckoned, offering time for prolonged spiritual connection. That “at one” with the universe restores me every single time. I may stumble out of bed at 4:30 a.m. wondering why I’m doing so, but I am never ever sorry I plied the river.
So, when my ability to be on the water was threatened, and all doors I had opened closed, I slipped beneath the waterline for a time. Yet, it continues to amaze; this will to thrive not just survive.
A window opened. A new device for the roof of the SUV. It’s called a “lift assist” and allows me mobility. Freedom from the need to rely on the hospitality of others now that we no longer live on the river. Independence.
Now, when I drive to the water’s edge at my new location, though more effortful than simply picking up my board and walking across our lawn to the water, I step onto my SUP with such anticipation and need. And satisfaction. And joy. Pure unadulterated, exuberant joy.
The river, a place I have connected to in a way reminiscent of my kinship to Africa where my soul put down deep roots, lends me peace. Though I still have the work of loss to do, I’m back. With a grateful heart.
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on grief and loss. The second part is available here.
Laura Landgraf, author of “The Fifth Sister,” is a social activist, retreat leader and motivational speaker. Her TEDx Talk is “Razed by Lions: A New Way to Think about Healing after Trauma.”