Posted tagged ‘Widowhood’

From Darkness, Light

April 6, 2016

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I awoke expecting to feel gutted, on this, the second anniversary of the day Shel died, which was the worst day of my life. I had long envisioned misery, had prepared for it as for an arduous journey. As part of that, I decided to take the advice of hospice, which I had previously scorned, that alcohol and drugs make grief worse, and hadn’t altered my consciousness with anything but the scent of my plum tree in bloom for the past three days.

In anticipation of sorrow, and also because my back was sore from raking in the vineyard, I had slept in my recliner, which always feels like sleeping enveloped in a giant hug. Minou slept in my lap, on the fuzzy blue blanket that Shel used to wrap himself in, and instead of waking me up by knocking random things off my desk as he normally might, he snuggled and purred gently until I felt ready to face the day.

I got up slowly, waiting to feel fragile. I had thought about not going to school, lest I burst into tears in the middle of answering a question about soil micronutrients. I solemnly made myself a comforting breakfast.

And then, I found myself washing dishes, making phone calls I’d been neglecting, doing a little homework, dressing for a warm day, zipping up my backpack, and letting my car follow the well-worn path between my house and school, where I spent an absolutely normal day.

Coming home to a lovely warm afternoon on the patio, I was so tempted by a bottle of rosé in the fridge. And I thought two things about that. One was that maybe they were right, maybe I felt better because I hadn’t been drinking at all. And the other was that I should be feeling worse, that it was unfaithful of me to be spending this day without dissolving into a puddle of sadness. And so I tried, I really did. I thought about all the things that usually tear me apart, about everything I lost on the day Shel died, about how profoundly shattering it was to watch his beautiful light go out. For the first time in two years tears didn’t come to my eyes at the thought of it all. I’m staying away from that rosé though, just in case.

Perhaps later, as darkness falls upon me, grief will accompany it, although I don’t feel it lying in ambush. I wish Shel were here to see the new life I’m slowly making for myself, how I’ve navigated living alone for two years with only Minou for constant comfort, and even to see my tearless eyes on this momentous day. I think he’d be really proud of me.

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Blue Screen

April 3, 2016

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When people ask how I came to be here, a student at my age, so far from home, I always reply with some version of “after my husband died I needed to re-boot my life, so…..” But although it’s convenient and universally understood, that’s really the wrong image. Usually when you re-boot, all goes back to normal, to the beginning, as it was before. You turn it off, you turn it on again, et voilà, all is as it should be.

But that doesn’t happen when someone dies. You turn it off, you turn it on, you sleep, you awaken, they’re still gone, you’re still here. The processor is still humming away, but the program is lost, suffered a fatal error. It’s the blue screen of death, each and every time you look at it.

Perhaps in times past people faded more quickly from memory. But now, with digital images, slideshows, videos, audio recordings, the face and smile and voice of the lost one remain here on earth, ever present. A beautiful picture of Shel sits on my desk, just next to this keyboard, and he’s looking right into my eyes every time I dare to glance that way.

It will be two years this week since he died. Two of the longest and shortest years of my life.

 

Across The Divide

March 29, 2016

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If you don’t live in Washington you might not realize that it’s two, two, two states in one. Yesterday I crossed the great divide from the dry side to the wet side, from the Red side to the Blue side, from my new life to my old, sort of.

I left Walla Walla on a cool day and drove across the eastern part of the state where the wind was whipping hard enough to make gripping the steering wheel tightly a necessity. Then I crossed the pass over the Cascades, where the snow was piled high, but the roads were clear and dry. Descending towards the west, there was a little rain, until I arrived in Seattle where the sky was blue. It was a big transition, a some-of-everything sort of day, and it gave me time to think about how I was traveling back in time from my new home to my old, and what I might find there.

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The ferry gods smiled on me, and my car got the coveted front spot. I was dumbstruck by the beauty, and wondered how I could ever have left all this to move clear across the state to such a different life.

I came back to the island because of death, yet again. A dear friend died a couple of weeks ago, and I wanted to keep her husband company, and cook for him, stock up his freezer, and do anything I could. They were both 81, married for 56 years, and I knew he’d be lost without her, especially in the kitchen. I began cooking for him practically the moment I arrived, wanting him to gain back the fourteen pounds he’d lost in the three weeks since she died. I so much do not want him to disappear too.

As a wholly unanticipated bonus, the sweet guy who’s been renting my house offered to let me stay for a couple of nights, while he’s out of town. So now I sit in my old home, which feels half-unknown. His shared-custody teenagers’ stuff is everywhere, homework, school books, sports jerseys. Some furniture has been rearranged to make for easier TV watching as a family. My stuff is all still here, but now it’s intermingled with heaps of other people’s belongings, in a way that I find quite jarring. A welcome bottle of wine that I left for them seven months ago sits on the counter, unopened. Credit cards and checks (wow, he really trusts me) sit on a glass tray that I made last summer. The fridge is pretty bare, as mine never would be. The heat is on but the windows are open. But still, he put clean sheets on the bed for me. My bed, nominally, although now I hesitate to sleep in it.

The weirdest thing is that the island feels so beloved, so familiar, but the house itself feels alien. It’s about 2000 square feet bigger than my little Walla Walla home, it feels huge, although it never used to. It’s so quiet here, no sound at night but the ferries plying the waters in front of the house. My wine cellar hums away, cooling the hundred or more bottles I left behind. Men’s clothes hang in my closet, but they’re not Shel’s. My apron and knives are still in the kitchen. The cat door is closed. The plants by the front door need watering. Are they mine to tend?

My French Brain

March 13, 2016

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This was the “TV room” in the house we lived in in France. Here’s the sofa where we snuggled together and watched French talk shows, improving both our language skills and our understanding of the culture. I didn’t realize how much I’ve been missing that.

Last night I decided to listen to my favorite French album, one by Gérard Darmon. I’ve probably listened to it 100 times, maybe many more. The whole year before Shel died I played it regularly, and the year after I still wanted to hear it a lot. But since I’ve moved here, I’ve been too busy for music a lot of the time, and not thinking much about France because school has overtaken my life.

Last night, though, as soon as French entered my ears, my brain said a long, relieved aaahh. All of a sudden my head felt clear and freshly washed, clean clothes snapping in the breeze on the laundry line. The words of the songs seemed to go directly to my heart, and because it’s an album of love songs, my tears slicked down like the afternoon’s rain. It felt indescribably good, like coming home after a long absence, but it hurt so sharply that I gasped out loud. And I’m no masochist.

I remember how the French prize emotion, and I miss that so much. The sensibility that lead four or five grown men to break into tears when they spoke at the memorial I had for Shel, in the town where we lived, elle me manque. I’ve always felt like a different person when French is my daily language, and I want to be that person again. How could I have forgotten how much I love that?

I’m working up to saying goodbye to a lot of things on April 6, which will be the second anniversary of Shel’s death. Before you ask, I don’t know why I’ve set myself that goal, to say goodbye, on that day. I’m trying to figure that out now, and I’ll probably be thinking out loud right here.

But last night I saw that it’s linked to France, somehow. I saw someone carrying a white pizza box today, and immediately I thought of how Shel and I used to go to the Serrebonnet, and I’d always get pizza with Corsican figatelle. Friends came over unexpectedly for a drink yesterday  and I realized that my cupboards were embarrassingly bare of treats, a state I’d never have let myself get into in France. I think about friends in France and I want to feel their kisses on my salty, wet cheeks.

Like A Squirrel In Winter

December 7, 2015

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I’m stocking up. Savoring every bit of sunshine against those days when I go slip-sliding across the ice field formerly-known-as parking lot, those evenings when I hear rain bucketing down from the corner of my roof, as if there were no down spout. Is there one? I need to go look. What do I know from downspouts? That was Shel’s job.

I’m squirreling away my fears and tears about another Christmas without Shel. Last year I was in France, and thus avoided the worst of it. Had a sweet time, even. But this year I’ll be here, and he won’t. I’m stockpiling the memories of our 20 Christmases together. Twenty sounds like a lot but it wasn’t nearly enough. My mailbox, like yours, is inundated with catalogs in this season. And I still think “Shel would like that for Christmas” or more likely “I would love to give that to Shel for Christmas, but really, he doesn’t care about presents, he just wants to live.”

I’m trying to be reasonably bright-eyed, or least least clear-eyed, if not actually bushy-tailed, in spite of it all. To do what I came here to do, and to love it. The fact that the world is more fucked up than it has been at any point in my lifetime notwithstanding, this part of my life demands optimism.

I have to believe those acorns will still be there, come Spring. I have to believe that I can find love again in this lifetime, that happiness will sneak around the corner of my grief on a regular basis, that chirping and blooming will return to my life as the year turns.

These are the dark, cold days, but as a very wise person once wrote, and I often remind myself: “The world is always turning toward the morning.” That’s my story: Shel would want me to stick to it.

 

Dirty Boots And All

October 30, 2015

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Today Ricky and Noel came and put this beautiful lady in her proper place, finishing my living room. And with naught but a measuring tape, two nails, and a miniature spirit level, they did much more than that; in some strange way they brought to a close my stage of getting comfortable in this, my new life.

That lady, she’s me, sort of, and now she’s home. Gazing into the future, but not looking like she’s forgetting the past. Disheveled and gorgeous at the same time, she looks unconventional (is that a bird on her head?) and glamorous, all in one.

Of course, I’m discovering just how unglamorous I can be. I’ve never been much for making more of myself than I just naturally am. But now I’m discovering the pleasure of muddy boots, work gloves, vine leaves in my hair, pomace on my hands, not caring. In fact, feeling kick-ass about it. The power, the freedom, they’re intoxicating. Some days I feel invincible.

But I’m finding that I do cry a lot, still. Or rather, again. For a couple of months there I was too busy moving and navigating my life as a student (grades??? exams??? seriously???) to let myself remember. But now things are settling down, and with them, my heavier heart speaks more insistently. To be alone in this world demands all the courage I have, and no amount of muddy-boot-ass-kicking can change that.

But now I have the lady to remind me: to keep my eyes on the wide open days of my future, to be whoever I can be in the sometimes tear-drenched, sometimes exalted present. To have blue hair if I want to, and birds on my head, to have a clear gaze and lips that are ready for anything and to drip right off the bottom of the world when I need to.

Thanks, Ricky and Noel, for giving me all that.

A Gentle Soul

August 23, 2015

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Last night, for the first time in 16 months, I dreamed of Shel’s death. It wasn’t his actual death, in that inscrutable way of dreams, but another death. What I dreamed was that moment of leaving, that stark knowing that I’d never see him again. Perhaps I whimpered in my sleep, I don’t know.

What I do know is that this sweet three pounds of feathery fluff, who’s only lived with us for two days and hasn’t yet revealed his name, came to me at that moment, climbed onto my chest, just over my heart, and settled in to purr. And when I opened my eyes to look at him, tears that I hadn’t know were there slid slowly down my cheeks, and he patted my face very gently.

It’s a week now since I left my old life, my Shel life. I’ve worked on the crush pad, driven two forklifts, worked in the tasting room. Today I’m going to meet some new people and play boules. I’m well and truly gone from the world Shel and I shared, which in a way is like having him die all over again. I hadn’t expected this grief, because this is the new life I spun for myself out of the merest wisps of hope, the life I chose, the life that seems to be the very best life I can live at this moment. But still, in starting over I left him behind, in a profound way that still fills my eyes to overflowing.

And now I have a kitten who might read my heart. I love Toby, but he’s not an empathetic cat, doesn’t notice how I’m feeling. It’s one of the hardest things, to lose the one who always knows how you feel. Of course, a kitten and a husband are not the same thing, but maybe, just maybe, now I have someone to pat my cheek if I whimper in the night.