I am continually in awe of how time keeps progressing before my eyes like one of those time-lapse videos. I wonder to myself often if something in your death changed the very substance of time itself for only me.
Even so the loss- still jarring and inconceivable- really does not retreat. I find on a day when I send Audrey to sleep over my parents- in the rare case that I actually have a few hours to myself- even though I’m busy shopping for the things for our new home- all of it surfaces- replays again and again still. I am driving to IKEA and I am remembering the feeling of sitting in a black limo behind a hearse with your photo staring back at me. The utter aloneness I felt as I sat there with your family- silently- the pure “wrongness” that screamed inside of me while I sat motionless, silent.
In IKEA- I am remembering somehow different trips there when we last moved together- and around each corner- there is the spot where we chose our desks- “I really want you to get a nice one so you can write…” you say as I push my cart around that one. And there is the register where I ordered the chaise in the linen color because they were out of the gray- while you pushed Audrey around in the stroller. There you are walking towards me, dragging your feet- holding your cup of coffee in the restaurant. I sip my own with tear-filled eyes while I sit alone at a large table for 8 in the restaurant- eyeing families everywhere- thinking about how magical it must be to have your complete unit- wondering if any of them understand how lucky they are- and then continue on with my to-do list for the new house.
I think a lot about whether or not our relationship is also dead in its entirety. This is because I feel something in me still trying to connect with you. It’s because I often sense your hands on my shoulders when I’ve had enough- and it’s because I sometimes laugh about these inside jokes we share- new ones- not old ones from when you were alive. It all makes me sound kind of crazy, I realize- but in reading a book about an anthropologist’s objective study of the evangelical’s relationship with God- (that happens to focus on the same movement/branch of Christianity Dan and I were involved with for years) it seems the “relationship with God” that evangelicals talk about so much- the words spoken by God in their minds- are not so different from the narrower- yet expanding relationship I often experience with you.
Two friends send me the same info on a new book coming out in a week or so written by a neurosurgeon about his own near death experience. It even made it to the cover of Newsweek this week. I read Christopher Hitchens’ last book and notes before his death entitled just “Mortality.” He referred to his final days as living dyingly. I relate to this phrase at first, but decide I will not live like this.
Sometimes I’m disgusted at the way my own crisis of faith following your death- though I’m not even sure that is the right term- can appear so superficial and childish from an outsider’s viewpoint. As if I knew suffering existed before and believed in a benevolent God- but after it struck me- I became angry like a teenager having a tantrum. Actually, it’s more like Lewis says- you don’t know how strong a cord is when you use it to tie a present- but when you’re hanging from a precipice- then you find out how strong you think that cord is. And also though, I realize- it’s because of the fact- that until one has suffered – it is possible to not believe suffering exists even though you are aware of it on a conscious level. I have always been extremely sensitive and empathetic- feeling others’ pain deeply even when I myself really did not know the depths of it and thought I did- but I also think, now, looking back- I subscribed to a philosophy of Solipsism. Sometimes I would sit and literally think really hard and realize in this moment of pure isolation- that my entire world – life itself- has been in my mind- and maybe the whole world is in my mind. Once I even articulated to myself that maybe I could reconcile the intense suffering in the world by other people with a good God by believing that not all people were real- or as real and that perhaps some had been “planted” by God to teach the rest of us things. I knew this strange breed of Solipsism was incredibly egoistic- but I guess I was desperate to explain away some of the pain.
Now, not only do I find I’m doubtful of the cord’s ability to hold as I dangle here- but I know that suffering is real because I know you were real. I still feel as if the existence of the external world is unresolvable- as is my internal world- but I am less alone- less trapped by my own consciousness- my own reality. As I have said before- the existence of this immense invisible pain I had never tasted before gives me great hope in other things immense and invisible.
“Mothering and making a home- it all takes so much energy…” a good friend who was widowed at around my age many years ago writes to me. It does- and I suppose that’s partly the reason for this strange pairing of a trip to IKEA with the realities of the universe. One simply has to believe in something in order to keep expending so much energy – in making yet another home- in mothering a child lately prone to tantrums – amidst this seemingly domestic themes- why buy a new heart-shaped doormat, hang up a coat rack, why hold this screaming child calmly instead of screaming back- amidst all this- one is always staving off existentialism- always wrestling with the liturgy of what writer Kathleen Norris calls, “The Quotidian Mysteries,” and why it’s worth getting up to do again tomorrow.