Who thought death would look like autumn. I found these words of yours in a songwriting journal right after you died- as I hunted through them for hours looking for some clue as to what had happened- picking one or two for your funeral program. Now this line plays in my mind as I drive around this past month and try to explain the chemistry of fall colors to our daughter in terms she can understand. “It’s called photosynthesis…” “But the sun is further away from us now so…they can’t make the chlorophyll…something like that.”
I realize this move has pushed us both forward- whether I was ready or not- and with the different place I find myself in, is a need for new and different outlets. This space for word keeping, this blog, doesn’t feel like the life support it once did. I decide that even though there is no closure in loss- I will round out my thoughts here, pull the plug, because there can be lessons learned, final words, summations- in writing- if only in writing.
For a month or so now, my old outlets have not been functioning. Until the move I had a daily inner dialogue that wrote these pages effortlessly. Before the move, I cried nightly- sitting in our bed- where it had been when we last slept there as husband and wife- watching the door handle, performing a mental check to make sure I could still envision you coming in quietly, smiling a tired smile at me, lifting your eyebrows just so, shrugging your shoulders while I got up to greet you with a hug.
The move has pushed all of that away. In its place weeks of packing, unpacking, the start of a new school year for Audrey. No time for crying at night, no script in my head as I go about my long daily to-do list to get us settled in a new place.
And with no outlets, I found myself experiencing something new and unwelcome: panic attacks. After the first one, a trip to the doctor revealed nothing wrong with my heart, though I was sure I was dying. Though meds were prescribed, I’ve found that once I knew nothing was wrong physically – I’ve been able to tame the attacks on my own when they come- which they still do- by surrendering to them. What that means is that right before I start to lose it, I lean towards the emotion- and wind up crying instead. The anxiety and physical symptoms subside.
Still- I realize the other helpful thing will be to find new outlets. A new and different blog perhaps. Yoga or ballet. A job. Something for myself- just me- though I don’t know yet what that will be or look like.
The move has been tumultuous- how could it not be when any move basically entails looking through everything you own, all of life’s possessions you’ve collected- most of which tell the story of our life together. There are many things I needed an outlet for during the move, but I really had none because packing up everything you own and unpacking it someplace new- not to mention painting a couple of rooms- is just too consuming of your energy- both physical and mental.
I did not get to write about how I found the last gift from you- the one you told me about on the phone from Europe after I found the Newman’s Own mint oreos tucked up in the cabinet. “There’s more…” you’d said. It was for our anniversary- the day you would miss for the second year in a row- so you’d hidden a couple of things. At first, after you died, after our anniversary passed- the day after your burial- I searched through drawers looking…for what you had left. Then I gave up, and forgot. And then, after a long night of packing up the kitchen with the help of a friend- I went to survey the empty cabinets after she left- the ones Audrey had so much fun climbing into with a flashlight on those final days in our home. I opened them up, pleased with their emptiness, surrounded by boxes, tired. And then my eye caught something…and I reached up, and pulled out chocolate truffles left there by your hand two years before…a surprise. Instantly, I knew who had placed them there. Immediately-I wished I had not picked them up- and disturbed the place you had last placed them. I wondered why Michele- my friend- and I had not found it while we packed every other single thing in that cabinet. “There is something to you finding that right now at this time,” my grief counselor tells me as I describe the scene to her. “What could it be telling you…maybe…he is saving something for you?”
For that night, I had no outlet, only to wake up the next morning and go stare in disbelief at the little package of truffles now on my kitchen counter- expiration date- 2010. It is all I can do to pack it carefully and place it back in my new cabinet. What to do with it.
And what could I do when I took down off its nail, that very last framed photo in our living room- the one of us giving Audrey a kiss on her first birthday- the one where she is squashed in the middle of our own embrace. Michele held me for a moment while I cried, but not knowing her that well and feeling grateful for her time- I quickly went back to packing- “It’s OK…I’m OK.”
And what to do the next morning after the movers came and took everything out when the friend who had come to help me asked as we walked out the door for the last time, “Do you want to take a moment?” “No…no, I’m fine. I’ve taken enough moments in there…” But what to do.
And it is all I can do to keep the vietnamese hot sauce you purchased and place it in the new fridge- at least for now. And it is all I can do to thank the friend of yours who comes to carry away your life dream- the music production equipment that was such a point of contention for us for so long…he tells me how honored he is that I chose him and we agree that it can not be sold- that is must be given to someone who needs it- who will make good use of it…what do I do with the image of our child hugging your computer and saying quietly, “Goodbye Appa’s computer…” “You’ll never get that back together,” said your friend who helped me move the computer into my car…never get it back together. I already knew this.
What to do when, on the night before her four year old birthday party- Audrey actively grieves for you for two hours. It begins with her caressing that same photo I’d taken down that is still sitting on a desk at that time…going to get her own camera to take close-up photos of your face, all while saying, “I miss appa…I miss my dad a lot.” And then continuing to hug various objects that remind her of you…Going over to her bin of instruments- “Appa liked music and instruments a lot, so I’m going to hug this ukelele as a simple sign of love for him…” and on and on…culminating with “I wish my dad could come to my 4 year old birthday party tomorrow- but since he can’t, I’m gonna hug all of these party decorations as a simple sign of my love for him.”
And then…her speaking into the air, looking up, “Appa?” “He’s not answering me,” beside me in bed before she fell asleep…listening to her pray that she might have a dream with you in it…tears streaming down my own face…”Goodnight honey…”
And silent, all of this has been stifling and sad. With these words- I wish I could carve away the sad and make something beautiful- but chip away as I may- I know by now- you have to work with what you’ve got. The sad is part of the sculpture and always will be. But lest it overwhelm it entirely- I need to keep molding, keep creating, keep kneading in the hope even as my restless sleep brings disturbing dreams and scenarios that surprise me with their creative yet obvious symbolism- even as I feverishly read the latest books on NDE’s, even as I find myself in a place that does not feel like home- a place that you have never laid eyes on or set foot in- and even tonight- as I recall something that once made us laugh, and have a brief amnestic urge to go and share it with you so that we can laugh once more together- even still after two years.
What can I do with it all…what can I keep…I will keep the moment when, packing up, I told Michele that those three bamboo shoots were special to me- I had chosen three when we moved in there- one for each of us…then she seemed confused and asked me, “There are four in there aren’t there?” And this was the first time I noticed a brand new shoot- a fourth stalk of bamboo that had sprung up completely unnoticed by me. And it speaks to me of new life- not in the cliche way everyone wants to believe for me- but deeper still. “He is saving something for you…” And it echoes for me the story of the three men in the fiery furnace for their faith…the three men who remained untouched and unharmed and therefore caused the king who had thrown them in there to exclaim, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” I take four shoots with me to our new “home.”
I keep the small note I find from you – written randomly no doubt in the old dimension- when sorting through my old Bible before placing it on the built-in shelves here along with other books. In big messy letters, “I LOVE YOU!!!” I place it where I can see it on the shelf. You love me.
Last night Audrey tells me she thinks you can see us….and she waves upward without saying a word…I join her…and imagine your point of view through a small hole in the atmosphere- or like looking through the wrong end of a telescope- your two “lovely ladies,” waving at the dining room ceiling- distant, small, and wordless.