When it comes to relationships, our culture likes to focus on firsts. First kiss. First love. First time. You hear about them from your friends, and see them on TV. You wonder how they’ll be when they happen to you.
But here’s a first I never heard much about, or expected: first diagnosis. First breakdown on the eleventh floor of a hospital, followed by a call your mom, and the first time you give the news to someone else. First big conversation about specialists and treatments and more scans.
I never wove those firsts into my story when I imagined my future. It never occurred to me.
My partner, Ken, was recently given the very likely diagnosis of Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. After a whirlwind few days in the hospital, followed by a week at his parents’ house, I am home. My classes start soon. Life is, on the outside, returning to normal.
But on the inside, I feel so far from normal. I feel like a snow globe that’s just been shaken, swirling with flurries of fear and anger and sadness. Every time they start to settle, something shakes the snow globe again — an appointment with a specialist, a prayer said for me in church, or the harmless question “How are you?” from a friend. I don’t know how to answer that question. And responding “I AM A SNOW GLOBE OF EMOTION” seems vaguely inappropriate.
This is my first time dealing with grief. I’m grieving a lot of things: certainty, stability, and a particular vision of the future that Ken and I always thought we had.
Grief is new to me. And I am so bad at it that it’s almost funny.
For example: since the diagnosis, I keep wanting to get a tattoo. I want the words “Micah 7;8” over a watercolor splash, with a semicolon instead of a colon. Because I am a 22 year old woman living in 2016, I want them on my wrist. On some level, though, I know that having a tattoo will fix nothing. So my brain goes, “How about some new sheets?”
Yes, perfect! New sheets will surely do the trick. Maybe a really colorful quilt for my dorm room. Surely, if I owned a quilt like that, the grief would be no more. Because despite all the medicines and diets that have been tried to treat MS, no one has ever explored the potential healing power of quilts.
I spend a half hour or so shopping for quilts online. But after a while, the high starts to wear off. None of the quilts really look like the grief-fixing quilt I had imagined. I should probably try something else.
I know! Maybe I should give up processed foods. Or maybe, I should eat a half a block of mozzarella. Would this situation be any better if Ken and I were married? I’m going to start taking vitamin supplements.
All these thoughts are me flailing. I am grasping at any possible thing that will fix this situation or bring me some peace. But to my deep frustration, at my core, I know the only thing that will being peace is time. It takes time for the dust to settle. It takes time for the shock to wear off. It takes time to figure out what we’re dealing with, and how we’re going to move forward.
This evening I went out with my godmother for dinner, and we talked about my tattoo/sheets/time dilemma. We talked about Ken, and the diagnosis, and all the fear and anger and sorrow that comes with grief. And then we talked about other things. We talked about Hamilton, and friendship, and the Himalayan salt lamp I want to buy for my room. And we laughed. I really laughed, for maybe the second or third time since I got the news about Ken.
And for the first time in weeks, I thought, okay. Okay, we can do this. Because this may be the worst “first” I’ve ever encountered. But if we can have moments of relief and laughter in the middle of all this mess, then we can get through.