Black ice

I turned.

The car kept going straight, as if the steering wheel were a toy. We slid across an invisible glaze of ice, heading straight for the concrete barrier wall at the curve of the on-ramp, picking up speed. I braked and turned into the skid. The ABS brakes rattled; the car’s rear end swung wide, fishtailing. I steered gently the opposite direction then back the other way, just a touch, willing it to straighten its course. And it did. We got past the ice. Merged into thick traffic and went on, like nothing had happened.

Life is full of slippery spots, split seconds when things can either stay on course or spin out of control. Those scary times when a doctor tells you they don’t know what’s wrong, much less if they can fix it. Or that they do know what’s wrong, and can’t fix it. Or that it’s too late for fixing.

Terrifying times when you feel like you’re sailing towards a wall, too fast. With no way to stop. And yet, suddenly, you’re expected to merge back into the stream of life, ready or not.

That’s how I felt, years ago, when my father died. After the other-worldly bubble of the funeral, the world accelerated and I had to find a way to merge— to emerge back into normal life, when my whole world had just spun three-hundred and sixty degrees. At eighteen, I’d never experienced such a shock. I’d had more minor ones: two grandparents had passed on. My best friend had lost both parents already at that point, so I wasn’t a complete stranger to death itself. It was horrible, but at first, I was in shock, numb.

The merge is what caught me by surprise. The expectation to return to normal when normal as I knew it was gone. I remember thinking “How? How do people DO this?” And feeling inadequate that I didn’t know how, that I wasn’t okay.

In my family, as in a lot of families, the solution was to soldier on, bravely. Not to show weakness. Not to talk about it, because talking about it would just hurt, right? So I ignored the raw emotions that coursed through me, tried to pretend my deep grief didn’t exist. It was time to be done with that business, and so I was done. I drove full-speed into the fast lane, thinking I could outrun the pain. It didn’t work out so well.

Now I know better. You will hit some sort of black ice eventually. Yes. Go ahead. Merge! Life doesn’t stop moving. Be gentle. Let yourself recover in the old-lady slow lane, give yourself time. Merge with unwiped tears running down your blotchy cheeks, hands sweaty, face a snotty mess. Breathe deeply, until your heart rate steadies. Steer right into the pain. There’s no way around it in the end.

  1. #1 by CMSmith on January 27, 2014 - 3:56 pm

    I love this Elaine. I can’t imagine how totally life-altering it is to lose a parent so young. You do a nice job of explaining it.

  2. #2 by Mary Ellen McCarthy on March 20, 2017 - 10:31 pm

    Not sure how I missed this one. It is fantastic! A lump in my throat. As I prepare myself for my Mom’s eventual death I know that I will have to merge back. I hope I have the wisdom to stay in the old lady slow lane. Even though I can plan on what the pain might be like I know I will not be able to outrun it.

    • #3 by Elaine Olund on March 21, 2017 - 11:49 am

      Oh, thank you for commenting. And just because I’ve learned you cannot outrun grief–doesn’t make me not want to try. I am sending you energy and light, old friend. It’s so hard to know we will lose someone so dear, so hard to stay in the now and not flinch in advance of the pain. (Impossible, maybe). I think you are wise and loving to the core of your being.

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