The sadness overtakes me in small moments.
Yesterday I reach behind my closet door for a sweatjacket hanging there and see your backpack on top of the bins of your clothes. I reach in the side pocket because I see something there through the netting and take out a bottle cap. I hold it and imagine you placing it there after opening up a drink in an airport or plane or bus days before dying.
Wednesday Audrey’s teacher tells me that she overheard Audrey telling the other coop parent that she was half Korean and that her mom wasn’t Korean but her dad was and that he died in Switzerland. She tells me that it’s so healthy that Audrey’s able to articulate all of that. I am sad.
Today I pick up a few things at Trader Joe’s and the cashier asks me what I have planned for the weekend, “Are you going to get pampered?” “Oh, no – no, not really,” I say. In earlier months I might have answered back that my husband had died. Now I am less tolerant of the awkwardness that ensues and more willing to play along.
Today I am at another family’s house for dinner and Audrey is outside with the children of their family and their dad trying to fly a kite. I see their father at one point, just take his hand and brush the hair out of her face and I have to turn around and swallow hard to compose myself. That is all it takes.
Tonight I’m looking online for restaurants where I can go with my own mother for lunch Sunday and come across one with the same name as one we used to like in Park Slope- Al di la. Except in your usual fashion, to be funny, you’d purposely mix up the syllables every time you said. I’m sad I can’t remember how- in fact I’d forgotten the restaurant completely until I saw that name tonight. I quickly write it down “memory- …” That’s how I usually write them because I’m not sure if they’ll ever return.
Tonight I have a phone conversation with an old friend visiting the city whom I haven’t spoken with in maybe eight years since she moved out of the city. She attended church with us and was in our “group” back then. After she got married and moved, she had a child with multiple problems. She knows heartache and painful love. I break down crying on the phone with her, something I never do with friends who see me on a day to day basis. But still, I quickly compose myself. On the tip of my tongue the entire time she’s talking is the one thing I want to say when I speak to someone who knew us together and who I haven’t spoken to since he died: “Remember Dan?”
I am tired. I put Audrey to bed after hearing her once again tell me she’s scared to go to sleep because she has a recurring dream that I die.
Grieving your death is like the worst kind of homesickness. That icky feeling you get when you’re in someone else’s home or a hotel room you don’t know and uncomfortable in your gut- and everything is different, textures, smells, the temperature of the air.
Audrey has a book out from the library right now about sleeping over grandmas. The little girl is so excited, but as it gets darker and nighttime comes, she starts to miss home. In college I was in a choir that toured around the country during spring break and after we performed, people we didn’t know, would graciously host us for the night. We’d get paired up with friends, but I can still remember how uncomfortable I felt, driving to someone else’s home in the dark in another state, being shown to my room and bed. I’d go to sleep with that feeling in my gut. But in the morning, things always felt better. They served us breakfast, we showered, and packed up to leave, always leaving behind a handwritten thank you note.
Homesick. Longing for home- for familiar, for the way your hand felt in mine the very first time we shook hands. The way your face looked the second time I saw you- familiar. That’s what I remember being most struck by- what is it about his face, I thought? It looks like I know that face. But I don’t.
And in all this sadness, you just keep going, because there is no other alternative. I make an appointment with my grief counselor. I touch the charm around my neck that reads, “HOPE.” I tickle my daughter until she laughs that hearty, impish laugh. I stop with her to watch butterflies on flowers and hear her say, “Aren’t they boo ti ful?”
I think of the words I heard from him in my mind, not “Be happy!” but “Live well.” And often when I open one of my dresser drawers, I lift one of the letters he sent that is sitting there and read the line on top of the page, “I hope whenever you get this letter, everyday is a good, lovely day.” I will try- I will try.
Later that day, the day Audrey was telling the other parent at school her father died, that parent emailed me about Korean classes (she is Korean and I had once inquired about these). She explained that Audrey was singing a song, “God is so good,” in Korean while making me my Mother’s Day card. She asked Audrey if she knew Korean and that set off the conversation. I am surprised because I sing that to Audrey in my best Korean at night but she never sings it in front of me.
For some reason, I wonder to myself what that mother (someone I don’t really know) thought of Audrey singing those words in Korean taught to her by her caucasian mother- and then finding out for the first time of Audrey’s father’s tragic death. I find it heartbreakingly beautiful. And I decide part of living well is just that- it will always be heartbreaking- but there is this strange paradox of heartbreak and beauty coexisting. I’m not even sure though, that this is something I can strive for out of my own will or strength. Rather, it’s something found and discovered and felt- and that discovery- of beauty in pain- gives birth to hope. And hope makes it a little easier to pull up the covers in a bed that’s not yours, and turn off the light in a strange place that is not your home, and wait for the morning.