Besides the fact that I’m busier- looking into preschools for Audrey and attempting to return to my freelance job, I tell the counselor today that the words are coming less because what I feel now I cannot articulate at all in language. The language has helped me empty out the outer layers of the grief, but hiding underneath is just pure pain. For many the loss was about “Dan” or “Dan the cellist,” but for me, it is just about “you,” as in “you and me,” “dan and jul:” what we have been for eleven years to our friends and family.
I think of every major milestone in my adult life- my engagement, graduation from graduate school, wedding day, honeymoon, first ultrasound of my child, and there you are. And not just the good, but the bad milestones too- the time you were stabbed, the miscarriage, the bed bug disaster. And not only are you there- but you are the only one there. We were alone together in all of those moments and now I am just
And then I find, that it’s not just about the milestones at all- not just about the big events or celebrations- but mostly about the mundane and everyday. This is the furnace of a marriage. I find you’ve kept every email we ever exchanged since we got married in your email account. I have started to read through some of them from 2004 onwards. We write multiple times a day then because we are both in office jobs we dislike. “Can you meet me at Target? I need to pick up some heavier stuff today?” “Just heat up the leftovers when you get home- then we can go to the gym when I get there.” “I like working out with you.” “Me too.” “Hey, I have a lot of work to do today but just wanted to say hi.”
And then there are a lot of encouraging emails from each of us to the other. We were both so unhappy in our office jobs. So, we encourage each other- a lot. I tell you I believe in you and your talent, and I know you’ll succeed so to hang in there at this office job. You tell me I’m doing a good job at my job and that you’re proud of me.
Several times a day, I stop what I’m doing and realize it’s about “you,” all of the insanity and fog I’ve been in for four months. The “you” that I fell so in love with, the you in the milestones and in the mundane. So I strain and try to get back to what we were before. But it’s impossible.
Instead, I sit next to Audrey’s crib on the chair singing her lullabies and feeling the incompleteness of our family without you. I look up at the door to her little nook. Emptiness, darkness except for the dim light shining out from my bedroom.
A friend who visited a few Saturdays ago asks me, “Aren’t you glad that you allowed him to achieve his dream?” referring to the traveling he did this past year. It was I who first suggested he quit his day job of five years to take the opportunity. “That is a tricky question,” I say. I would hate the thought of him dying still working in that cube and not having accomplished anything he’d set out to accomplish. But he was by no means done with his accomplishing and if he hadn’t achieved that, he might still be alive. But you find all of the what if’s get you nowhere quickly. He might have died some other way- I might have died, anything is possible in the myriad of paths our lives can take- dependent on even the smallest decisions. There is no way I can protect you now. I am powerless to change a single moment.
But everywhere I go, I see you. Cocking your head to one side, smiling. Pressing your hands against the glass of a coffee shop I’m sitting in and making a sad, silly face. I strain down busy streets today thinking there is someone familiar, but the walk always gives it away. Even when I couldn’t see any of your features, I could always tell it was you by the way you walked- shifted your legs, dragged your feet just a little. And I’m to believe those feet are buried?
I stand in your shoes a couple times a week and look in the mirror as I lift one at the heel the way you would when you stood talking to someone on the phone. Because the shoes are well-worn, I can pretend I’m looking at you for just one second.
We talk today in counseling about our volatile relationship- the tense year we had, and frankly, the entire eleven years of drama- both good and bad. “But you loved each other” she says. “Of course,” I can’t hesitate.
I also tell her about Dr. Ross’s “On Grief and Grieving” and how it’s speaking to me. “The only thing…” I tell her, “is that she mostly refers to people who were very sick before passing…but Dan was perfectly healthy and his death, preventable.” She tells me this is the most painful part with this kind of shocking death. (doesn’t she always seem to be saying this?) There was no “end to suffering,” only health and vibrance and opportunity.
She also tells me I am growing – it is a detestable kind of growth. But I know it is true. Jerry Sittser, the man who lost three generations- his mother, wife, and daughter, in one accident, in the other book I’m reading, puts it this way: “The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering.”
Yesterday Audrey sat at our dining table saying quietly, “Appa, where are you? Appa, where are you?” I bit my lip.
I think in my grief process I am moving from the lost past to the lost future. I have more thoughts this past week about things we were going to do. We were going to watch the end of that series together- we only watched it together. “I can not watch it now,” I think. I will wait until we’re together. Audrey points to the map at Hawaii and says she wants to go there. I think about how your mom was going to give us their timeshare so we could stop there on our way to Korea next time. You had never been to Hawaii and I was so excited to be there with you. It is still too unbearable to really think into the future, but it is happening more. Every now and then I am allowed just a tiny glance into a future- not in this same apartment, not with the same little toddler- but years from now- I am in a different home- my daughter is a girl or a teenager even. You have been dead for many years. These glances I quickly turn away from because they are too much for me now.
Sometimes, I still try speaking aloud, talking to you the way I used to- casually, “Hae-y, do you wanna watch this with me?” “Hey-rough day?” I want to catch just a glimpse of the old reality- how it used to feel to be the me that was your wife- the old me that vanished on July 6th around noon. How special it was just to be together after a long day…but that reality is gone…the words that leave my mouth are false and I know it.