Last week, I Googled: “going back to work while you are grieving and you are a judge.”
Sunday morning, I Googled: “going back to church when you are grieving.”
Neither efforts garnered any results.
Thus, this post.
This is the thing I’m learning.
It all sucks.
When you go through your thing, you begin to recognize commonalities that, when they occur, become triggers that cause you to fall apart, triggers that take you back to that moment, triggers that almost send you back into shock.
But not quite.
Because going back into shock would actually be a good thing.
These triggers make you feel.
Being sad is one thing. Being sad is normal, because you are, in fact, ridiculously sad.
But being jolted back into the trauma of the first few minutes or the first day or the first few days is a nightmare.
It really is.
It makes you feel terrified all over again.
It makes you feel weak and uncertain and helpless.
It makes you feel like you want to hide from anyone who can see you.
It makes you want to crawl into the fetal position and never come out.
It makes you want to cover your ears.
It makes you want to throw up.
It makes you feel like you can’t breathe.
It makes you feel exactly the same way you felt–but without the protective shell of shock.
Shock is the armored layer you wear that keeps you from feeling everything at once.
Without the shock, no one could bear the thing.
But the shock wears off.
The buffer is gone.
And things start coming back, a little bit at a time.
But not all at once.
Not all at once, but one at a time is plenty.
And the triggers are what create the one at a time.
And with them come the feelings.
And the feelings suck.
So I’m realizing that triggers exist and what cause mine.
And slowly but surely, I’m trying to eliminate them, work around them, or worst case scenario, endure them.
I specifically looked for anything concerning being a judge, because going back to work as a judge is a little different than going back to other jobs. If I was a teacher, I would have replaced the word “judge” with “teacher.” It isn’t because my job is harder or more important than anyone else’s. Not even close.
But the particulars were what I was looking for.
The judge particulars.
I am a judge in a low-level court. I don’t hear murder cases or rape cases or civil cases where millions of dollars are at stake.
But the thing is, every case in front of me is the most important thing to that person that day. My ruling will impact their life in one way or another, and that is never lost on me. It never has been.
But in recognizing that, I had to figure out a way to make sure that I wasn’t a basket case the entire time I was trying to do my job.
I knew I would have decisions to make all week long, coming at me one after the other, unexpectedly or within the normal routine. I had to be ready to make them.
I had to be sharp and clear-headed.
I had to be decisive and anticipatory.
I had to be collected and together.
And to be honest, the day before I knew I was going to sit back on that bench after my thing happened, that thing that made me a completely different person who never knows when the wave of sorrow is going to hit, I wasn’t sure I could do it.
So I googled it. Nothing.
I feel certain I just didn’t put in the best search terms, because surely, surely, another judge out there has had to get back on the bench while they felt like they are going to throw up from grief.
Actually, I know one. I didn’t find her story on Google. She told me herself.
She remembered that the first time she was back on the bench after her thing happened, she cried the whole time. She said everyone wanted to tell her how sorry they were, and everyone wanted to hug her.
I would have cried the whole time, too.
It made me know exactly how horrible that first day back must have been for her, and it also made me realize that I had to figure out how not to let my first day be like hers.
So thanks, my sweet friend. Telling me your story helped me.
That’s why I’m telling mine.
Since the learning about my thing occurred at the court–as in, I was sitting on my bench in the middle of an arraignment when the door to my courtroom opened and my clerk and an investigator came to tell me I had to go to my mama’s house to check on my daddy–the court is a particularly difficult place to be.
Understatement. I’m sure y’all caught that.
I’ve already written about this in my post The Door. But to put it in a little context for another judge out there who may happen to be in a similar position and is Googling similar phrases and ends up finding this post because of such and because I tagged this post to death, I am putting bits of that here.
I was able to identify my triggers at the court, and I was able to put Precautions in place.
They didn’t just help.
It was a team effort, though, so remember to Find Your Tribe.
Even and especially at work.
My work tribe isn’t just “my work tribe.” They are part of My Tribe, and I can’t ever tell them enough times how much it means to me that they want to be.
But then there are other places to which I may have to show up where Precautions just aren’t so easy.
Especially when I factor in a brand new shiny phobia that makes me very Not Okay.
My children started school last week.
That means, I had to go back to work and endure The Door I hate, and I had to figure out how to navigate getting my children’s school supplies into their classrooms without making a scene or losing my mind or whatever else could happen.
The list is long.
So, this is where I am incredibly lucky.
I have a tribe. I’ve mentioned this.
It includes 3 of my closest friends who have been my friends since forever, and who just happen to work at the school.
It includes some of my children’s friend’s mothers.
It includes a few of their teachers and former teachers.
And, it includes my sister, who just began to work there.
She has to be there.
She was there.
She doesn’t have my particular phobia.
She has plenty of her own.
So, My Tribe made sure that during that week when all of my scary stuff was happening on the same days, my Precautions were in place at work and at the school.
Because I didn’t have to say it, but My Tribe knew that it was my phobia that was caused by my thing, but that it was the thing, too.
My Daddy would have been there for every tiny element of it, had he stuck around.
And even though it would be emotional no matter what because Leelee was starting kindergarten–something she has been waiting for since the beginning of last year when she realized that Mac was going to school and she wasn’t–and I was emotional about that, my emotions were compounded because the person who would have smiled so big and been so proud was noticeably absent.
So, they created my Precautions.
Because they knew I wouldn’t go without them.
And they knew I couldn’t not go.
Because she is my girl.
Because this is such a happy time for her, no matter the thing.
I was able to go early. I was able to skip out on the talking and eating and the other teams for Meet the Panthers and stand at the window through the back door of the gym when it was time. I was able to get all of the school supplies safely into their appropriate classrooms and not have to meet the masses.
The masses terrify me.
My tribe knows this.
And because they know this, and because I have a big tribal presence at my children’s school, my alma mater, they get me the information I need.
They remind me that my children need uniforms.
They help me obtain uniforms.
They send texts. Times. Places. Dates.
They remind me of things they know I will never remember.
They remind me of things I do not want to attend, no way, no how, but they know that I know I have got to attend.
Then they figure out how I can attend.
Apart from the masses.
But then, there is church.
This is what I am learning.
There are some things for which I have not been able to find Precautions—not the kind I really need, anyway.
Some Precautions just flat don’t exist.
I don’t want another Sunday.
I went to church. I didn’t want to go to church.
I tried to prepare myself.
I Googled my Precautions wish list.
I did not find one.
And now, I’m figuring out why.
Because there just isn’t one.
The Precautions I could figure out were: Come late. Leave Early. Sit in the balcony.
I came late. I left early. I sat in the balcony with Mama, Brother, Pants and Reid. There were only 3 other people up there.
I went because Mac was getting a Bible.
It was something I needed to be there for, just like Meet the Panthers.
But I absolutely did not want to go to church.
I was not ready to go back to church.
I love my pastor. He is part of my tribe.
I love the people with whom I attend church.
Some of them are also part of my tribe.
That had nothing to do with anything.
There are things about church that just send the emotions into outer space, even if you aren’t dealing with the thing.
There are things about church that, when you are dealing with the thing, you just aren’t sure about anymore, at least, not right that minute anyway. And that sends you beyond outer space, into some place you have no idea how it exists, but it seems to, though you don’t have words for where it is.
You are hopeful you will figure out those things of which you are not sure, but you doubt you will do it when you are actually in church.
There are things about church that should make you feel like you are wrapped up and comforted and encased in goodness, because all of the people there know about the thing, are hopeful you will be back, and have been praying their hearts out for you, all because you are a part of them and they miss your face and because their normal isn’t normal if you aren’t there.
So they want you back.
They want to love on you.
They may see you all the time out of church, or they may have just run into you at Dollar General, but they want to love on you in church, because that is where you belong.
There. With them.
There is such sincerity and graciousness in that knowing.
There is such beauty in that loving.
But all of those folks…all of that folks together, in that place..they are still the masses.
They don’t mean to be.
There are just a whole lot of them.
All at one time.
It kinda feels like visitation all over again.
And then there are those things, those things….
…those things for which there are no Precautions.
Like, just sitting in a pew.
You either do it, or you don’t do it.
And I did it.
But I cried the entire time.
I held my breath the entire time.
If I could have scraped my skin off of my body, one long, curly strip at a time, I would have.
I wanted to escape, but Mac saw us in the balcony while receiving his Bible, so he ran up the stairs to sit with us during the sermon.
Because he had no idea that I was so close to bolting that I had one foot out the door.
But he ran up the stairs to be with us, because that is exactly what he should have done.
And because he came and he sat, I stayed.
Because that was what I had to do.
The sermon was not about anything that remotely pertained to my thing.
It made me crazy anyway.
The music I heard was not anything that brought about a particular memory that made me extra sad.
It made me crazy anyway.
The windows made me crazy.
The light fixtures made me crazy.
The walls made me crazy.
Sitting in that pew made me crazy.
Being there made me crazy.
I left during the last hymn, and gulped air as I walked outside.
Gulped. It. Down.
I had no idea I was not breathing until I was all of a sudden breathing.
I couldn’t get in my car fast enough.
I couldn’t get out of the parking lot fast enough.
I looked at Sarah with crazy eyes and said, “I have GOT to get out of here.”
I hated how sad her eyes were when I said it.
But she’s a big, fat part of my Tribe, and I can say it to her, and she can show me her sad eyes.
That’s what tribes do.
I knew I was was not ready, but I went because Mac was getting a Bible and that was important.
We do those things.
We all know why.
But I’m pretty glad he isn’t getting another Bible anytime soon, because I don’t know when I will ever be ready to go back.
There are no Precautions strong enough, big enough, tall enough, and wide enough for church.
So, to those of you who found this blog by Googling that particular dilemma, I’m so very sorry to let you down.
I have no idea, not one inkling, what the Precautions are for this one.
I guess you just decide you want to go sit in a place that makes you crazy and cry the entire time you are there.
Or you don’t go.
Or maybe you keep going and keep crying until one day you don’t cry, if you can handle that.
I don’t know that I can.
I have no answer.
I don’t know.
I don’t know today.
This is the thing I’m learning.
It’s all hard.
It’s all scary.
It’s all ugly.
It’s all real.
It all sucks.