From The Road Less Traveled
Here it is, another year, and you aren’t with me. I didn’t realize what life would be like without you. The first year after you died, I was like a zombie. I didn’t notice anything except the pain. I could still see your face, every scar, and every strand of your hair. I cried ceaselessly, and prayed angrily. I didn’t think I could continue to exist that first year.
Then, as time went by, I laughed the empty laughter of grief. I forced my face into a smile. I would nod politely, as friends and family told me it was time to let go and move on. I could quote to you all the textbook terminology about grief. I could explain every phase, every step of the grief process. I have become an expert on grief. I learned how to read people, who I could reminisce with, who I could express my anger to, and who I needed to hide my feelings from.
Now, I am at that junction in my “you-less” life, when my grief is my warm mantel in winter; when my thoughts of you are no less frequent but they don’t prevent me from functioning; and, when I think I see you on the street, I don’t drive around the block. I know you are gone, and I know that I have to walk through this life without you. What I have decided to do with that knowledge is to live life the best way I can; because someday, I will join you and I want you to be proud of me.
So, if I do good things with my life, if I laugh: don’t ever think that I have forgotten or that I have stopped missing you. If I walk through life without you, in a good way, then I do it to honor you.
I get this newsletter each month from Compassionate Friends, an organization for parents, grandparents, and siblings who have lost a loved one. It comes via email and I usually open it as soon as I see it in the Inbox. The quote above was the lead article.
I was glad that I was alone in my little office and that we are off the beaten trail. I choked back a sob when I read the words, “…when I think I see you on the street, I don’t drive around the block.” How often I passed Jack’s old stomping grounds, slowing and looking. I knew he was gone, but it was reflex. A few months after Jack died, I stalked a young man at Half Price Bookstore because his nappy brown hair, dark rimmed glasses, slender physique, and loping gait were so reminiscent of Jack that I felt consoled. For awhile.
We’re coming up to the 3rd anniversary of Jack’s death. January 15. The reality that life goes on seems like a betrayal. It isn’t. I know that, but it is unfair. I asked Bob to take down the loft bed that Jack and I built in his bedroom, replacing it with a headboard and frame. I didn’t think it would be so hard, but it was. Not the work. Watching those pieces of lumber unscrewed, unbolted and stacked to the side was unbelievably painful.
Even knowing it was the right thing to do, that the bedroom was unusable as it was, that it was time, that it was practical. Only Jack would have willingly and safely monkeyed up the ladder to the loft. Five year old Sophia might gleefully make the climb but at what risk?
I stayed down the hall, cleaning the kitchen as I listened to the cordless driver whir. After a bit, Bob asked what I wanted to do with the wood. “Stack it by the curb,” I said almost coldly. I couldn’t bear to look or think about it.
Horrified, Bob said there was no way he would throw away the wood. “I don’t know what I’ll build with it, but I’ll make something. That bed was something you two worked together on. I can’t just toss that wood.” And we both burst into tears.
We spent the 1st anniversary week-end in San Antonio. GE made an itinerary so we hit all the Jack and Family Hot Spots: the Witte, the Zoo, a Mexican food restaurant for enchiladas. We planned a balloon release at the baby angel memorial at Incarnate Word. That’s what we did, but only after discovering that Central Market HEB on Broadway does not sell balloons. They do, however, give balloons to small children so we carried out a giant bouquet of HEB Buddy balloons and released them into the clouds by the baby angel memorial at Incarnate Word.
We planned to go to Enchanted Rock for the 2nd anniversary week-end. Jack, Georgie, and I had climbed that rock in Fredericksburg to celebrate my 50th birthday. It was one of those golden days when everything comes together in glorious, joyful harmony. We thought that would be a good way of remembering Jack.
We ended up going to Aunt Pat’s funeral instead. We shared the week-end with family, but not in the way we thought we would.
“What do you want to do this year? Fredericksburg? Enchanted Rock? That’s what we were going to do last year,” Georgie reminded me. “If the weather’s bad, we’ll stay in San Antonio and go to a comedy club.”
That’s the plan. And the fall-back plan. The joy we’ll feel, the memories we’ll revisit link us to the one person who would have made us feel better, who would have pulled out all the stops to get us laughing. Life goes on. What’s fair about that?