Posted tagged ‘Bereavement’

Shifting Patterns

May 4, 2015

IMG_9354-001

You’re looking at the colors, and patterns, of my new life. Bold, different, not shrinking from stepping forward and proclaiming “here I am!” Not what Shel would have picked. Not a life that includes Shel. My own separate life. Such a concept, at the nexus of joy and pain.

DSC_9552-001

It’s time to let the cat out. Of the bag, that is. I’m moving, for a couple of years. Maybe not “moving on,” as one is said to do after a terrible loss, but moving, fair and square.

I’ve bought a little house in Walla Walla, WA, and I’m going to live in it during two school years. Why school years? Because I love to go to school. And in this case, I’m thrilled to say that I’m going to be studying at the Center for Enology  and Viticulture. Learning to grow grapes, and make wine. And writing about it, of course. What could be a better way to spend the next two years?

And after that, it’s anyone’s guess. Mistress of Reinvention, I christen myself. Skipping in to the Vast Unknown, Shel no longer by my side, but always in my heart, forging ahead, not quite fearless, but determined. And thrilled to be learning something so cool, to have this chance, and to have seized it.

Advertisements

Keep A Fire Burning

April 7, 2015

DSC_9358

Yesterday was the day. The earth has traveled 584 million miles around the sun since Shel left the planet, a full year of a Shel-less world. I still don’t understand how one day a person is here, full of love and passions and fun and sorrows and history, and the next day it’s all only a memory, so long as someone remembers, but I have been forced to recognize that it happens, and will happen to us all.

It seems impossible, a year already. I’d been dreading the day for a couple of weeks, thinking that it would shatter my new-found peace. But in the event, it was not at all what I expected. On Sunday, the one year anniversary of Shel’s last day on earth, I remembered what a good day that last day had been. Tom and Nancy, who were here with us on that day, called me Sunday morning and we reminisced about how happy we had all been to be together, not one of us having the slightest premonition that we were living Shel’s last hours. So the day before the anniversary itself was unexpectedly sweet.

I wondered whether I should set an alarm to wake up at the moment Shel died, about 5:00 in the morning, to re-live and release those terrible moments, but then Eric and Jessica and their friend Brian and I stayed up very late and drank far too much, and so I slept blissfully past the hour that had been so terrifying just a year ago. I thought I would awaken to find myself overwhelmed by loss, but no.

DSC_9353

Instead I thought, all day long, about how much has changed in just one year. Nearly everything. I would never have imagined that in one short year I’d be able to regain my equilibrium, be eager to make plans, to create a new life for myself. Yes, it’s true, that tight-knit circle the two of us formed has begun to melt away, ever so slightly, and I’m finding myself again, at the center. And I’ve found my own center again, in the process. Throughout the last few years, and most especially the last year of Shel’s life, I was always off-balance, so afraid that he’d die any minute, that he’d be suffering and I wouldn’t be able to help, that I’d be left alone and fall into the abyss. And then, he did suffer, he did die, I couldn’t do anything to stop it although I know I eased his passing, I was left alone, and I didn’t fall, at least not into the abyss. I fell out of a kayak, I fell on my face taking out the recycling, but that was the worst of it. The abyss did not beckon as I’d thought it might.

Yes I stumbled, yes I wandered blindly, yes I sat alone through hundreds, no thousands, of hours of trying to find my way. And yes I drank too much, smoked too much pot, slept too little, didn’t brush my teeth every single night before bed, and some days ate hot dogs for breakfast and almond butter from a spoon for dinner, and slept too often in the recliner just to have the warm and comforting weight of Toby sleeping in my lap. I’m human, and I forgive myself for all of that. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, making it through this year, but really, amazing as it seems, I think I’m mostly alright now.

DSC_9354

I’ve learned that the strong heart prevails, and I’ll always have him in mine, even if he’s no longer in my life. Our twenty years together were the best part of my life so far, and I’m not saying that I know that the next chapter can be even better, because I’m getting older every day, and that has its own perils. But I do have a plan, a really good plan, for what comes next, and I’m thrilled about it. Is it better to love, lose, be alone, and come up with a great plan, or to be with the one you love and live in daily fear of losing him? Think about it. I sure have.

Awakening

February 27, 2015

DSC_9322

For six months after Shel died I sat still. Frozen, paralyzed with grief, surrendering to my loss. I didn’t do much, didn’t see many people, didn’t make much of an effort, just let the pain take me away. I suppose that I shopped and cooked and did laundry, but it’s all pretty much a blur now. If you spent time with me then, wrote to me, did something kind for me, I thank you sincerely. I’m afraid that I don’t remember much of the detail, except who was there, and who wasn’t.

DSC_9329

Then I went to Europe for three months, and I started to come alive again. The struggle of travelling alone, being in London and Villefranche sur Mer all alone when I’d never been there before, being in Uzès where I’d lived for so long, but never on my own, it was all hard enough that I had to come back to life or else lose myself completely. Lose myself in the words swirling around me, in the masses of strangers, in the different ways friends saw me, now that I’m alone. Really, the whole three months was a sweet slap in the face. And if you were part of that cosmic slap, je te remercie vivement. Thank you.

DSC_9333

Coming home was easier that I’d expected. This orchid that Hilary and Nelson sent me when Shel died has decided to bloom again to welcome me back, even though I haven’t been here to tend it. In this house I have a clothes dryer, a garbage disposal, only 15 carpeted stairs, as opposed to the 50 stone and tile steps that I had in France. Here I have my own bed, where Shel and I slept together for so many years, and my own car, as opposed to the tiny Panda I had in France, a doll-sized car if ever there was one. Here I have a closet full of clothes, as opposed to living out of one suitcase, as I have for the past three months. Here I have comfort, and convenience.

There was a time when all the comfort, all the convenience in the world couldn’t compare with the charms of life in France. But that was in another lifetime. Alone, recovering from a great loss, comfort is what I seek, and I’m trying not to be ashamed about it. I pride myself on being tough, but the recliner, the one Shel always called “the comfy chair,” beckons to me so seductively; it embraces me when no one else does, and I give myself over to that.

DSC_9318

Spring is not far off here, the time of awakening. Winter is passing, the darkness and cold will soon be memories. Just as we don’t seek to hold onto the winter, I’m letting go of the pain, letting spring into my heart. Not letting go of Shel, because of course he’ll be forever with me. But I’m letting go of the piercing, paralyzing grief, and in doing so I’m awakening to the new season, to my new life, wherever I may find it.

On My Way

February 14, 2015

IMG_9122

Tonight, one last dinner in this dining room. The orchid was blooming when I arrived two months ago, and it still is, outlasting me. I can’t say that I was blooming when I arrived, nor am I blooming now, but I’m definitely doing better. Being here, among so many friends, learning to live here amidst the echoes and shadows of my life with Shel, only without him, learning to be alone here, has been good for me. Good in the way that medicine is good for you, only sweeter.

IMG_9126

Here you see just eight of the fifty steps inside this house, and tomorrow morning I’ll walk down them for the last time. Believe me when I tell you that I won’t be missing them at all. I’m off to the Netherlands in the morning, and I’m excited about that. And in a few more days, I’ll leave Europe again, and head back to the New World. I really don’t know where I belong, anymore, but I’m going to be finding that out. I’m letting life take me where it will, and I’m happy to be along for the ride.

My Work Here Is Done

January 26, 2015

IMG_9044

Six months after Shel died I decided to give myself the gift of three months in France, to see whether I might be able to drop back into the life he and I shared here. Now, three weeks before that three months is up, I realize that I’ve found the answer.

I’ve worked hard to perfect my French, although I’m still a long way from where I’d like to be. I’ve gathered our friends together to commemorate Shel’s life, buried his ashes in one of his favorite spots. I’ve spent time with our dear friends, and have more of that planned. I’ve walked the streets we used to walk together, here in our little town, and I’ve discovered some that we never found. I’ve shopped where we used to shop, parked where we used to park, had coffee where we used to sit in the sun together. I’ve seen things that have changed in the year since we were last here together, I’ve been showered with heartfelt condolences and countless kisses, and I’ve felt the ghosts of our enormous past happiness all around me.

Past happiness, that’s what I feel here. Past. I could retreat into that past, but that doesn’t sound like much of a future. And what I don’t feel is that my future lies here, although I can’t yet articulate why. I’ll always be fiercely attached to this place, this language and culture, and especially these friends, some of whom I love beyond reason. I wish I could drag them into the future with me, even though I don’t know where my future is, or what it may hold. Je cherche mon chemin dans la vie I’ve said countless times, when people asked whether I were going to stay. I’m looking for my path in life. And that’s still true.  I just think that I won’t find it here.

That’s what I came to find out, and I feel fortunate to have found an answer. I do believe in never saying never, so maybe some circuitous route will bring me back. But for now I’m waiting to go home, to start looking all over again for that path to future happiness. Pourvu que ça existe. Here’s hoping it’s out there somewhere.

Life Minus One

January 19, 2015

IMG_9031-001

Do you know about Music Minus One? It’s a recording label that fills in all but one part, which lets you sing Carmen with a full accompaniment, if you’re so inclined, or lets you stand in for Jascha Heifetz on the Mendelssohn violin concerto. It lets you play or sing your part, with everything filled in all around you, just as it should be.

Today is Shel’s birthday. No one has invented Life Minus One. I can play my part, but it’s more or less empty and silent all around me.

IMG_9036

Not really silent, because it’s been raining all day. I’m up here right under the roof, and the rain is steadily pattering, spilling, slushing, filling my ears with the sound of life-giving moisture, or the sound of desolation, depending on how you listen. And not really empty, because I know you’re there. There, but not here. And also, you’re not Shel. How can it be that there are approximately 7,324,782,225 people in the world, and I feel so keenly the absence of just one? One who was born 68 years ago today, just a mote in a blink of the eye of time, but my mote, my eye.

We laid the last of Shel’s ashes to rest here in France, beautiful songs were sung, beautiful words were spoken. The dry ground, beneath the olive tree and the roses, accepted his mortal remains. Today that ground is no longer dry, and although he never believed that he would die, yes, now he’s feeding the olives, the roses.

IMG_9029

They say that tears make things grow. If so, then my cheeks, so salty and slick, should be bursting with life. Maybe yes, there will come a day when I grow, change, perhaps even love again. But for today, I’m all his, even though he’s no longer mine.

Ghosts

January 9, 2015

lyon-085

Today I went to our old house, meaning just to drop off some things for the coming commemorative ceremony. I had been afraid to go there, thinking that the rush of emotion would be overwhelming. For that reason I took care to go by myself, opened the gate cautiously, lingering a while in the garden – touching the bougainvillea I had nursed back to health after a killing frost, the lemon tree that seems to have made just one lemon this year, just for me, listening to the magpie in the cherry tree –  before daring to open the door to the house.

I wandered slowly from room to room, seeing Shel everywhere. I had expected that, in a general sort of way, but I hadn’t been prepared for the flood of memories – crystal clear images of Shel in the living room playing the guitar, hanging his coat on that particular hook, putting his slippers on that side of the bed, gathering the recycling on that ledge, reading the paper with his morning pain au chocolat on that particular chair. What I hadn’t expected was to see Beppo and Zazou there too, Beppo’s favorite brown velvet chair, the hedge Zazou loved to climb. My whole life was still in that house.

But although tears sometimes welled and spilled, there was another thing that I hadn’t expected. In those memories, Shel was reasonably healthy, busy doing things, loving our life in France. He hadn’t wanted to die in France, and he didn’t, thus the house isn’t imbued with memories of his death as our house on the island is. Beppo and Zazou were in fine fettle, and we never imagined losing them. We were all together here, and we were so happy, so much of the time. That happiness still fills the house, which still feels like it belongs to me.

I know every corner, every plate and cup, every painting, napkin, tablecloth, tile, crack…..everything about it says home to me. The kitchen where I made so many beautiful meals, the table where so many friends shared them with us.Today I walked back into my past, and it’s a past where Shel was still on the earth, where we still had hope. I could hardly bring myself to leave. Once it was all mine for what felt like forever.