I have a folder on my computer where I keep blog posts, both finished and unfinished. Over the last couple of months it has grown to include around fifteen drafts in various stages of completion. Some are overwritten and need to be pared down. Some have as little two or three lines of text. Some meander and don’t know what they intend to say. Whatever their status, none are ready to release into the world. For some reason I can’t yet get them to the finish line.
This “almost but not quite” feeling is not restricted to writing. It seems to permeate my life right now, as though despite my constant and earnest efforts, everything I do and everything that happens around me is not quite what I want it to be, not quite what I expected, not quite what I had hoped. I suppose the whole world is not quite what I want it to be, because my brother isn’t in it.
I feel melancholy.
Over the last two years I’ve gone in and out of many other modes of grief – shock, despair, denial, stoicism, dogged pursuit of whatever positive could be found, escapism, unfettered emotion, determination to recover some normalcy, anxiety, depression, disbelief, and other states I cannot think of at the moment. However, this melancholy mode feels new and different. My energy reserves seem to run low regularly and frequently. I need quiet and alone time more – I find myself retreating two or three times a day to rest, settle my mind, and recover strength. I’m drawn to solitary contemplative activities – my office floor is strewn with piles of condolence cards that I’ve been rereading, and my spare bedroom is stacked with mountains of old photo albums that I have been paging through.
And I start essays that I cannot yet finish.
At least I’m getting better at being kind to myself when my flame burns low. Before I had cancer, my default mode was pushing myself relentlessly. After cancer treatment, I began to understand that this constant push, with no regard to circumstances, could have significant downside. This understanding has grown profoundly since Frank died, and so has my ability to honor what I need in the moment. If I need to come home and lie down in between the 8:30 AM and 1 PM classes that I teach, even if it means giving up a prime parking spot and having to re-park my car on campus (much further away than the morning spot) before the second class, I do it. If I want to go up to the attic and explore one of the storage boxes my parents gave me when they moved, I find the time. If I just need to put my head down for a little while, I clear a spot on my desk.
It’s a funny feeling, melancholy. Nothing seems to have much effect on it. It doesn’t dominate every minute or prevent me from feeling other emotions, it doesn't slam on the brakes completely, but it’s relentlessly present. It’s a sort of undertone, always humming under whatever chord is being played more loudly, unobtrusive yet nonetheless changing how the chord sounds, and how it feels. I’m still listening though, staying focused, wondering how this “unfinished symphony” will resolve.