OK, this is it, the last of the Stuff That Won’t…posts. Thanks for reading them and sharing your own stories of grief and loss. While we process it in our own unique ways, grief is a universal feeling. A woman mourning the death of her child or husband is not very different than a grieving woman in Ethiopia or Canada or Costa Rica. In coming to terms with my own grief, I realized how much more difficult it was for me to lose weight, let alone maintain what weight I had lost. I’d like to think that if, god forbid, I’m faced with another difficult loss that I would maintain the weight I’ve lost, but I don’t know that for sure. I hope I never have to know.
Along with prescribing Paxil, my doctor insisted I see a therapist and I didn’t resist. Slowly, as the medication took hold and I was able to think without smacking my head into a brick wall, I accepted grief for what it is: a malleable presence that never goes away, but can become a teacher. I was able to work through my feelings rather than dance around them, to stop demanding I “get over it.” Everything I knew about Bruce – his life and his death – would forever be a part of my life.
True to my life pattern, I was still unable to work on tough emotional issues and my weight issues at the same time. In the last few months of Carlene’s project, I’d put my body on the back burner as the antidepressant made me numb to the scale. Food became a comfort, both eating it and cooking it. I still bought water-packed tuna, but I ate the whole can with mayonnaise, dill pickles and hearty bread. Macaroni and cheese and au gratin potatoes found their way back into my diet. I scoured cookbooks and learned to make pot pie and homemade bread and my own chicken and turkey broth. I became a very good cook.
By April 2000, I was back over 200 and stayed there through June, when the world lost another Bruce.
Cassie was in California visiting my sister Emily and Carlene was sleeping in her room in the basement on that sunny June morning. The phone rang. It was Carlene’s friend Cheryl.
Without saying hello, she asked if she could talk to Carlene.
“She’s sleeping,” I said. “Can I have her call you back when she wakes up?”
“It’s really important, Lynn,” Cheryl pleaded. “Can you wake her up?”
Important to a 17-year-old girl is different than important to a 36-year-old woman, but I figured I’d let Carlene chew out Cheryl for waking her up. I went downstairs, woke up Carlene and handed her the phone.
A few minutes later, Carlene came upstairs, pale as a sheet, and asked if I’d heard the sirens earlier that morning. I had, but that wasn’t anything new in our town. We were immune to the sirens. They wailed for the volunteer fire department any time a traveler on I-80 went off the road or there was a fender bender along the curve on 5th Avenue by the grocery store.
“Cheryl heard Tony was in an accident and was killed,” she said.
My heart sank. Rumors like this were almost always true, especially in small towns.
Tony was Cassie’s and Carlene’s and everyone’s best friend. He graduated from high school a few weeks earlier and had been accepted to Penn State for the fall. He’d been in my kitchen a few days earlier, eating my food and calling me “Mom,” like he always did.
“I’ll call the paper and see what they know,” I said. My hands shook as I dialed the phone.
“Hey, Tom, it’s Lynn. I heard there was an accident this morning. Do you know anything?”
Carlene watched me nod my head.
“So it was Tony.”
“Oh my God,” said Carlene. “Mommy…”
After learning more details of the accident over the next few hours, my next step was to call California. Just as my mother had to tell me my husband was dead, I had to tell my 15-year-old daughter, on the phone and 2,000 miles away, that her best friend was dead. If there’s a feeling more helpless or more heart-wrenching than hearing your daughter sob on the phone and there’s not a damn thing you can do to comfort her, I don’t ever want to know it.
In the days and months that followed, Carlene realized she was no longer on the outside looking in at her senior project. She understood first hand what James, Darcy, Mary, Rick, David, Mr. Jones, Mrs. Anderson and everyone else tried to tell her in their letters and emails and pieces of Bruce. When someone you love dies, you feel unimaginable things and you can never be the same person you were the minute before.
“When my father died, the whole town went into mourning,” Carlene wrote in her project essay. “That wasn’t hard for me to imagine, because the day Tony died, I fully understood the devastation of losing someone close to you. Something clicked in my head and it all made sense. Tony was so dear to me. He knew everything about me, inside and out. Tony was a friend to everyone. There wasn’t anyone who didn’t love him. His accident shook the whole community and his memory still makes me cry. I get so sad some days and wonder why something so horrible had to happen. In so many ways, Tony’s death was like my father’s.”
Life at 200 pounds turned into the same turbulent place it had been all the times before, and I did nothing to stop the numbers rising on the scale. Not a damn thing.