The Ghosts of Loneliness

The month after the September 11th terrorist attacks, my wife and I decided to visit the harvest festival at Cox Farms in Virginia. We went hoping to find more than just hay bales and pumpkins.

Neighbors had told my wife about it so we took a Saturday to see what it was all about. The windy fall day had clear skies, and the festival area was already busy when we arrived. From the parking lot, we walked through the entry gates into an open, gently sloping area bordered by corn fields. As expected, pumpkins, straw bales and gathered cornstalks decorated everything.

Our two-year-old daughter, bundled in layers, ran to the first activity area. It was a small stage with percussion instruments for the kids to play. Some music was coming through a sound system and my daughter picked two drum sticks and banged along on a log. My wife and I sat and watched the somewhat chaotic “music.”

My wife and daughter at Cox Farms in 2001

My wife and daughter at Cox Farms in 2001.

I carried our younger child, not quite one year, in the carrier backpack. He was bundled too and hunkered down against the wind. He peered out at the activity around him but seemed content to stay in his nest.

Our daughter next wanted to try the long slide. Built into the side of a slope, I thought it would be daunting to a small child but she was game. At the bottom we waited and as she slid to a stop in the soft straw, she looked as if it were a bit much.

“Would you like to go again?” I asked.

“No,” she said. So we moved on to the next thing.

My wife and I had come to Cox Farms that day looking for something. It had been a rough year for us. Our son had been born through an emergency caesarian section when my wife had suffered a ruptured aneurysm while pregnant.

The subsequent brain surgery, while saving her life, caused trauma that required months of rehab and supervised care. And all while we tried to raise two small children.

The aneurysm was an event (which I’ve previously described in more detail) that divided our lives into “before” and “after,” a clear marker that separated what we wished for our future from what was now actually achievable. The brain trauma also created a separation between “us” and “them”—those who understood what brain injury was all about and those who could not.

These twin difficulties worked in tandem to create a feeling of isolation for us. And the September 11th attacks only added to our desire to find connection with others and with a normal flow of life.

But we didn’t find it that day, nor for several years to come. The loss and the resulting loneliness were with us constantly, a formless presence that acted out when least appropriate, seeping into our daily routines and interactions. It seemed to live in our bones.

And now, these many years later, feeling that we’ve almost regained our footing, that visit to Cox Farms on a blustery October day seems like a story from another life, an alternative past. I’m saddened to think that our children may have sensed our lack of direction, that it may have shaped their views of the world. But it couldn’t be helped, not then and not now.

We were there for maybe an hour when my wife and I decided that we were ready to go. We walked back to the car and ate lunch in the back of our station wagon, hiding from the wind.


Note: I don’t normally post such personal reflections but I wanted to share something that’s been on my mind this season.

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2 comments

  1. a gray

    ” The loss and the resulting loneliness were with us constantly, a formless presence that acted out when least appropriate, seeping into our daily routines and interactions. It seemed to live in our bones.” The Ghosts of Loneliness . . . . what wonderful title and so very, very descriptive. Thank you.

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