Monday, October 6, 2014

Seventeen Weeks

Dear Stan,

It is seventeen weeks today, since you left us. It seems like yesterday that you were here. I am reminded of your sayings and your ways, many times throughout the day, and always they make me smile. You had a unique way of expressing yourself, and such a refreshing perspective on the world. I remember many winter nights, waking up to find you perched on a chair at the window, on ‘snow patrol’. You told me that, when you were little, you used to cry when the snow melted, because you loved it so much. You used to marvel at the fact that each snowflake had a different design.

This morning, on my march toward the train station, my mind resisting the piercing rain, I could hear you telling me that the leaves had been thirsty, and were so happy to finally get a drink, that they were dancing in it. And that we should thank the rain, like them. I pictured you, wherever you are, doing your little dance move, welcoming the rain.

I spend less time, these days, reviewing the actual day of your death. It was painful for me to replay it, over and over—wishing I had made more effort to comfort you, that day, to tell you how much I cared, to assure you I would help you through the grief of losing Gavin, wishing I had been able to save you—wishing I had known. Grief experts call this the “if onlys”. It is a common thread for those of us who are grieving, in the aftermath of such great loss. We agonise over lost opportunities. We blame ourselves. It is a torturous place to be. And it feels better, for the moment, to have moved on from that sad state.

Today, I find myself thinking of the immediate future, with a touch of fear and dread—wondering how I will get through the date of our second anniversary, November 17th, past Christmas, through New Year’s Eve. No arguments, this year, over my wanting to watch all the silly, sentimental holiday movies you despised, no tussle over decorations and whether or not to put up a tree. Even though I could now do it without complaint, I can’t imagine decorating a tree this year. It would feel vulgar, somehow, to participate in all the celebration and excess.

As the days without you stretch into weeks and months, I search for ways to preserve your memory. I have ordered a bench to be placed at the summit of Monks Road, where your ashes will be scattered. I have looked through your pictures for the right ones to use as Christmas gifts. I have kept your dressing gown hanging on the back of our door. They feel empty and meaningless, these paltry reminders of your presence on this earth. But it is all I have. And it will have to be enough.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

No Name

I am participating in a "Writing Your Grief" workshop, and, each day, we are given a prompt to reflect upon and write about. This is my response to one of them.

"I am not me. I have no name."

I don't know who I am, or who I was, with him. The three and a half years I spent with him seem like a dream, now.
Before I met Stan, I was the person I had always been--alone, for the most part. I was not happy, necessarily, but I knew how to negotiate that world, and I was comfortable in it, and sometimes content.
I interacted with people when I chose, which was not often. I spent my days (when not at work) in solitude, reading and writing and watching telly. I ventured out, into the centre of London, to take in a play or an art exhibit, or to watch a show at the cinema, on my own. I attended meditations and yoga at my Buddhist Centre. I went for walks in my neighbourhood. I rode the buses on the top deck and watched the world unfold around me. I didn't feel desperate for companionship. This quiet, solitary life was the life I knew.
Then I met this wild, passionate man from the north. He threw me into his world--a world of people, relationships, both casual and intimate, a world of pub gatherings and music festivals and long drives and Sunday dinners and popping 'round to people's houses for cups of tea. A world of celebrations at anniversaries and birthdays. A calendar that was almost always full.
I used to crave my silence and space. I was not comfortable with all that interaction and activity. I used to beg him to let me stay home. But we were partners, and he wanted me at his side.
We were together three and a half years. And now, he's gone. He brought me into his colourful, vibrant, world, and left me in it.
Now, I have all the silence and space I could ever want. But I know how to enter into the world of people, too. He taught me how to do it. Today, I can ring someone, and invite them for dinner. I have learned how to pop 'round for a cup of tea.
It was a wonderful three and a half years. And despite the pain of losing him, I would not trade that old world for the one I have now. My world is so much richer, having had him in it.

I don't know, yet, who the new me will be. But it will be a fuller, bigger, more interesting me. Once I can find my way through this sorrow.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Seven Weeks

I brought his ashes home with me.  They are heavy, and dense, settled inside a large round tube. Sunday, I drove up a scary, winding path to the summit of Monk’s Road, near Glossop, where, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Manchester, and where he took me, the first weekend we spent together, to show me the place he wanted his ashes scattered. It is a beautiful spot, with nutty brown grasses swaying in the wind, surrounded on all sides by his beloved green hills, their patchwork fields bathed in shadow and light. One day, we will make sure his wishes are carried out. I am not yet ready to let him go.

I have made him a little shrine, in the bedroom, with our picture above it, and it is a comfort to me, this cardboard barrel of bones and ash. It is what I have left of the body I loved. In the mornings, I rise, from his side of the bed, still imprinted with the weight of him, my head having rested on his pillows, and I pat the tube that holds him.  His dressing gown hangs on its hook at the back of our door, and sometimes I press it to my face, in search of his scent, but it has faded, now, and I can’t remember it. 

I try to keep him close to me, to recall his voice, his funny ways, how he sat at the computer with his headphones on, music blaring from them, waving his pen in the air, like a conductor. Once, shortly after he died, I awakened with a start, and rushed to the door of his office, to look for him. It was where I could usually find him, in the early morning hours, if he was not sleeping next to me. He wasn't there. The chair was empty, and the computer screen black. 

His computer and chair are with his son, now, and his music system has been dismantled, and placed in a box, for one of his other sons. His clothes, too, are gone, donated to his favourite charity shop.

It is difficult, this step, letting go of his things, passing them on to others, saying goodbye to the constant reminders of his presence in this house. And perhaps I am moving too quickly to do it. Yet he was more than his things, and it is important that some of them go to the people who loved him, so that they, too, can find solace in those reminders.

There are no roadmaps for this thing called grief. It is a private and solitary path, and we trudge clumsily along it, hoping someday to find our way through to another side. It will be a long road. It will be months, perhaps years, before I will be able to awaken in the morning without the immediate recognition of his absence, to leave work and not weep for him on the train ride home, knowing he is not there to greet me, to clamber up the stairs to bed and not panic at the thought of sleeping another night without him.  I will walk it, reluctantly, because I must.

I have friends to help me along this road, spiritual friends from the Sangha he loved, who have embraced me and warmed me with their welcome. I have friends in Glossop, who regale me with stories of his antics, who are also suffering from this loss. And I have his family, too. It does not take away this pain. But it lightens the burden a bit, to share it.

The internet is full of grief blogs, and I am sure that my entries here will not reveal any new insights on this journey. Perhaps, instead, my words can bring comfort to the people who knew him, and perhaps we can use them, as I do, to keep him close to us, for just a little while longer.

Monday, June 16, 2014

On The Seventh Day

My beloved husband is dead. There are no other words to describe it. Waves of grief
followed by moments of laughter. Layers of memory stained with loss. Feeling him just beyond my reach. Outpourings of love from all corners of this wild, expansive area he cherished—those who wear his imprint from years of friendship, or those he touched with a momentary exchange over a cup of tea. The spirit of him wafting through these gentle hills.

Where do I go, now? And what do I do with myself? I had these thoughts, even before I lost him. Somehow I knew that our time together was short, that I would outlive the gift of his presence, that one day, I would be alone, again. I never dreamt it would be so soon.

Perhaps I’ll learn Italian and find a cottage on a southern beach. Perhaps I’ll pull out my worn, neglected hiking boots, and train to tread the Appalachian Trail. Perhaps I’ll put my words to use.

But today, I am here, in this bed we shared, his car parked on the road outside my window. Today, I sit, with the thwarted plans, the lost years of us, our teasing banter, our warmth, our mutual admiration, our easy ways.

I will miss him, how he danced around the room when he was happy, his mispronounced words, his love for this world and the people he met, all the tiny pleasures he relished, his recognition of the beauty contained in this painful and delicate life.

I do not have an answer for this loss. I cannot ascribe to it any meaning—why some of us get to grow old together with all of our children beside us, get to share our lives with our siblings, to enjoy our parents into their old age. Why others of us suffer one loss after another, watch our loved ones topple, one by one, year by year, like bowling pins.

But I do know this: the world goes on. In the midst of my deepest sorrow, I awakened this morning. I watched the sun perch between the sloping hills my husband loved. I crept down the stairs and made myself a warm drink. I took up this paper and pen.

Despite the suffering, mine and that of others, the world is still here. 
What choice do I have, but to shake hands with it?