I woke up early this morning. 3.30am. I didn’t even try to get back to sleep. My mind was swirling too much….just get up and work – I thought – if you get up and have a cup of tea and write down everything in your head you’ll probably doze back to sleep – I reasoned – it’s Saturday so if you don’t doze back to sleep you can have a nap in the afternoon – it was decided. It’s now 6.46am. I’m still awake. It’s still dark outside. Birds are twit-tweetering outside my window. I still haven’t written down everything in my head because it’s all still moving around a bit too fast…but I have written a ‘to do list’ for next week so I can at least pretend to myself that I have everything under control.
But the thing is – for the first time in a very long time – I am starting to feel just a teeny-tiny bit more under control. I have a house with a wee study that I can call my own where I can sit down quietly to write. The house is tidyish! Nothing noticeably untoward is lurking in the fridge! A stack of neatly labelled home-cooked ‘ready-meals’ sits proudly waiting in the freezer to be discovered by the kids! The washing and ironing is almost completely up-to-date! And…my ‘thesis’ – the final written ‘product’ of my PhD research – is starting to come together. The ‘coming together’ is going slower than I wanted as I have struggled with restructuring and continue to struggle with what I need to cut out as I have ‘too much’ so I have some tough decisions to make. I had hoped to have a first draft complete by end October but it will be end November before it will emerge…but that’s OK….it is happening…finally. Thankfully.
When I woke this morning at 3.30am I knew that my heart had kept pace with the swirling-racing of my mind. The monitor on my watch confirmed the spike in my heart rate. I felt the activity in my sleep. I am often active in my sleep as I dream of things I need to be doing. Some days I wake up drained from all the activities I undertake in my sleep as I dream. Often I am dreaming of writing my thesis. Dreaming of worrying about my thesis. Dreaming of books I need to return to the library and books I need to pick up and articles I need to read and references I need to find and whole sections that I need to delete and paragraphs I need to write and words that I am endlessly moving around and about on the page and …. and on and on and so on… and then bam. I am awake. Exhausted.
But this morning I woke up dreaming about the funeral I attended yesterday. The Minister read a passage from Ecclesiastes…There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun’… I wondered why I recognised the words he was saying and then, remembering that I had quoted them in my last blog post, fleetingly – my thesis… what is the point of it – flitted through my mind. As the Minister continued reading…a time to be born and a time to die…my eyes were set on the coffin in front of me …a time to weep and a time to laugh… and I felt a deep wrenching inside me…a time to mourn and a time to dance… and I felt the unfathomable weight of hollowing grief hover and holler around the stony church walls.
My thesis explores grief. I am terrified of grief. Grief threatens to overwhelm me. Sometimes, when I sit down to write I feel its force weigh in upon me and I try to run away from it. Sitting near the front of a small crowded church yesterday I had nowhere to run. Fresh grief. Raw. Respectable. Rigid. Upright. Dignified. Palpable. Tangible in the sombre faces lined up in pews. But the minister made us laugh when he delivered the eulogy. He talked about the meaning and purpose of the life we now mourned. He talked about the goodness of a life well lived. And when we stood in the chill at the cemetery, the minister made us laugh when he acknowledged the frailness of the elderly mourners who were called forward to hold the cords, encouraging us all to hurry away to the warmth of the wake because him and the undertakers were busy enough without someone else taking ill. Life does go on. We laughed amidst the monstrous banality of having just watched a coffin being lowered deep into the ground. Dirt and roses thrown in, we walked back to cars and drove to the wake and then ate sandwiches and scones and drank tepid tea.
Driving home, I thought about the Minister’s eulogy. I thought about the purpose of the life lived by the loved one now buried. He was a good man. A proper gentleman. Yes. And I thought about the purpose of my life. Sitting daily at a computer. Trying desperately to piece a thesis together. And I recognised that at the start of my research when I was recently separated after the end of a 28 year relationship, I was desperate to replace what then felt like a now defunct ‘Mrs’ title with an upgraded ‘Dr’. And I recognised this was no longer the case. And I recognised that I know I can piece the thesis together much quicker. Yes. And then I can graduate quicker. Yes. But it’s come to mean more than that…the thesis has a life and a purpose outside of my wants and desires.
And this morning, waking up – busy-dreaming-thinking-thoughts-whirling in my head, it was the realisation that in the business of writing and trying to pin down words on a page… trying to be ‘clever’ as I write up findings in order to showcase my skills as a researcher, I have missed something. Something important. I felt it. And it hit me. I fear the grief that I write about in my thesis because I am so busy running away from it I do not hear or see it properly. And at the funeral, forced to sit still, unable to run away in the moment, I saw it. And I heard it. Exposed. The beating heart of grief is love.