Friday, October 28, 2011

The Working Out

The paradox of the permanence of death.  

That at the moment I heard those three words, I instantly understood the permanence of them more than I had ever understood anything in my life.  And yet at the same time, I have also been coming to understand the permanence of them over the past sixteen months and still am.  

It seems now that with each passing day I understand more that I will not see you again.  No amount of grieving or sorrow will bring you back or even keep you close.  No lesson learned or personal growth will issue your return.  An A plus in grieving does not bring the one reward I wish for.  There is no prize to keep my eyes on now- though I'm not sure I fully got that in the beginning.   After all, it goes against the cause and effect principle so engrained in our culture: Work hard and you'll achieve.  You can have anything you set your mind to, if you just work hard enough, envision it- heck, make a vision board-that's the "secret", and don't forget prayer- pray, fast, weep on your knees before God Almighty- be "religious."   All of these pretty much express the same philosophy: you, a human being, can control and shape things.  

And we can.  I can choose from a hundred different toothpastes with which to brush my teeth- do I want whitening, fresh breath stripes, peroxide, or baking soda?   I can choose whether I buy organic or conventional bananas.  If I eat right and exercise, I can maintain my natural body weight.  If I get a certain degree, I can work as a lawyer or doctor or teacher and make a certain amount of money each year.  If I'm lucky I can choose the city where I live and the color I paint my walls- do I want Decorators White, White Chocolate, or White Linen?  

But really, all of our choices- amount to the small stuff.  Maybe we focus on it so much because we know too well, even if hidden in our collective unconsciousness- we know that ultimately we're here and we didn't choose to be or make ourselves- and that we will leave one day- and we won't have much choice over how or when that happens either.  We just live, and wait.  Maybe Ernest Becker is right- that every aspect of our culture is really about the denial of death.  

And just as my grief has no reward, your death was not a punishment or result.   This also goes against the principles of achievement in our society.  You did nothing wrong.  There is no reason we know of for your death.  You did not work less.  You were not cruel.  You were not lazy or less of a visionary or saint.  And yet, you died.  At thirty three years old.  "Who sinned, this man or his parents?" the disciples asked Christ before he healed the blind man.  It has been natural for thousands of years to want to know the cause of illness or death- to want a reason or person to blame for disaster.  But what are we to do when there is none.  This is a large part of what grief is, I now see, a working out of the idea that something so horrible has happened without real cause or reason.  You will never reason or make sense of the event even though it is the most crucial in your life.  Even though you scolded me so harshly for leaving my keys in the door, I cannot scold you in this same way for dying.  

Because the giving and taking away of life is ultimately not in our power.   Frozen embryos in petri dishes and ventilators that pump air into lungs of brain dead people are far cries from power- but they are the best we can do.  

Not unlike the paradox of the permanence of your death, in my life I know these things about life and death with certainty, and I also come to know them as I live.  

Faith, perhaps, is similar.  We know it instinctively at some point, but we must spend our lives working it out, coming to know it.  

And art...art is like this too.  Any artist can tell you, somewhere inside they hold and know the whole novel or song or poem from beginning to end before they begin it. Before we write a word or note, it is actually finished.  This is what provides the urgency and motivation to complete it.  Then, the incarnation.  

And maybe our world is like this too.   Maybe creation was just the picking up of the pen.  Then, the incarnation.  Christ's, "It is finished," the ending- still in the mind of the artist.  

Now- the working out.  
The coming.
The completion.

All of this philosophy just to say, 
I miss you desperately.  
  



Sunday, October 23, 2011

Progress


I have taken off my wedding ring- not permanently because I don't wish for my wearing or not wearing of the ring to mean "too much." I am in no way "better."  I am in no way "available."   It's a lovely piece of jewelry lovingly chosen by you that I have always loved wearing (You don't understand how many books I had to look through to find one like the one you showed me!) One day I simply forgot to wear it.  I realized I'd reached the point another widow had mentioned many months ago on her blog when someone asked her when she'd take off her ring and she answered "When I don't feel married anymore."  It's not that my heart isn't yours anymore- but just that I don't feel married I guess.  I feel alone.  I clearly have no partner in this earthly life.  That's why I'm so frickin tired.

Instead I wear a simple silver band- you had a matching one that's in my jewelry box and is almost identical to your wedding band.  We bought these matching rings on a city street somewhere only a few months after we'd met and fell instantly in love.  I think we called them promise rings.  And they meant that we had a future together.  I am at ease wearing this ring lately because it feels more truthful.

I have also experienced for the first time what is referred to as the "waves" of grief.  People who have never experienced grief or have on a much lesser scale have been telling me for fifteen months now, "It comes in waves right?" in empathetic tone- to which I'd always have to respond- "Well, no, not really...it is with me every moment- there is no contrast."  But now, although I don't forget- I am sometimes distracted enough, or simply have reached my limit of months for the level of intense processing I was doing- so that, it will suddenly hit me more ferociously and I will gasp and cry.  Then the wave comes.  So I finally have these more intense waves from time to time.  There is now some contrast.

In the very early days, someone, I think another young widow, asked me if I would give up having known and loved you to avoid this incredible pain.  I had to think about it- it was so raw and I was in such shock but I fairly quickly knew the answer was no.  But later, much later- even a month or so ago, I began to think maybe the answer was yes.  It's too painful.  Now I am back to no.  I would not give you up.  If I had to, I'd choose the love, and pain, again.

Audrey and I drove by a cemetery the other week (not yours) and she noticed it and asked if "that's appa's special place?"  I told her no but that if she ever wanted to go, I would take her.  She said she did and she wanted to bring flowers, so this morning she picked out red spray roses and we went.  We sang songs, placed the flowers, and I prayed (and cried).  The sun filtered through the clouds in the distance over the Manhattan skyline and I took a few photos although you can barely make out the buildings.  For the first time, I saw a hint of beauty in that wretched place.  "We miss you and love you, honor you and respect you, and trust you are in God's loving arms."  We leave.

Then we visit a nearby church someone has invited us to.  Afterwards they serve lunch.  There are many Korean men there and I notice Audrey looking around as she eats.  "Remember that dream I had about appa?" she asks.  "Yes, I do..."  I realize though now, that though Audrey will forget, at least consciously, many or most things about you, she will, in the end, be alright.  I will make sure of it.  I tell her all the time that love never dies and that if she forgets everything else, all she needs to know is that she loved you and you loved her- very, very much.

I went to counseling last week for the first time in a month or so and realized at some point while we talked that for the first time, I understood why I was there in that office speaking about this sad story to this woman.  Every other meeting in the past fifteen months- I would ask myself quietly why I was there and if it was real.  I tell her that I've packed up your clothes, finished the death-related paperwork, and stopped wearing my beautiful wedding ring.  She tells me I keep pushing forward and have done so much since we last met and she knows how exhausting it all is....how much energy it takes.  Before I go, she tells me that I look pretty- that my countenance has changed.

All of this, I suppose, is getting me an A plus in grieving.  It is "progress"- and the worst kind of progress I've ever achieved in my life.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Closure

Words haven't been writing themselves throughout my day lately.  The pain is still there, bereft of insights, epiphanies, themes.  The grief, I think today, has gone stale.  I create my own three stages of grief: fresh, stale, and rotten.  The key, now that I'm in the second stage of my new three-tiered system, is to seal this up before it grows foul.  But how does one do that?

A while back, a widow friend had forwarded me an interesting article on a new book entitled, "Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us."  The pop psychology of recent decades has created this notion that in order to be healthy, there must be closure.  This book suggests that by aiming for this invented notion of closure, one may actually do more harm than good.  After all, my husband is not coming back to life.  I am not being given the missed opportunity to say goodbye or  I'm sorry or tell him the cute things his daughter said today.   He is still dead.

"The closure narrative assumes that grief is bad and that it’s something that needs to end, and it assumes that closure is possible and that it’s something good and something that people need to have. Grief is a difficult, messy experience and can be very painful. A lot of people carry loss and grief for much of their lives, but that doesn’t mean that the pain is as intense as it was the first few months. You carry that loss and grief, but you learn how to integrate that into your life . . . .We grieve for a reason. We grieve because we miss the person who died, or because of whatever loss we’re experiencing. Our grief expresses how we’re feeling and allows us to acknowledge that loss. So asking or expecting someone to try and end that quickly is really misunderstanding the importance of those emotions."


There will never be a day in my life that I will not miss you.  So, there will never be a day without grief.  That is very difficult to acknowledge- maybe even more so for others than me.  No one wants to believe this is the case.  People want to believe maybe you'll marry again and start over...find happiness.  Maybe.  But as my widow friend and I agree- this is irrelevant to our pain.  It is not a matter of shutting or opening the door to any future happiness, big or small.  That is simply irrelevant to the loss.  The loss, you see, has staying power.  


This goes against every grain in our culture.  People don't keep things anymore.  They throw them out and get new ones.  If a new political leader isn't getting rid of our debt in 24 months, we want to reelect someone else.  Twelves months after buying the latest gadget, a new cell phone comes out and people line up to get it.  


Perhaps in decades or even centuries past, people didn't have this same need for closure because they kept things.  My great grandmother was allowed to wear black for the rest of her life after her husband died.  Her visits from Italy left a four year old me referring to her simply as "the one who wears black."  And my grandmother - she was allowed to keep an entire enclosed porch filled with shelves of rinsed out jars and tins.  And my grandfather wouldn't let me throw out a crumb of food from my plate.  They came of age in the Great Depression.  Whatever you had, you held on to it, I suppose.  And grief really, is no different.  The economy of the soul has taken a hit.  


It is different though, in this: the lack of closure is not hoarding.  It is more as if prior to your death, my life was thread on fabric, weaving in and out and stitching a design.  And then suddenly, I became the fabric and grief became the thread tied around a sharp needle.  It is that integral now and always will be.


Someone posts on your Facebook wall, something nice, but it all ends with that qualifying word I loathe: "still."  "I miss you dearly still."   It reminds me that for others, a lot of time has passed.  There is a loyalty and a certain diligence in that word.  But the widow, she doesn't need that word.  It is unnecessary.  Because you are still dead.  As long as you remain so, I will miss you.


We joked so often that I should've been born in Emily Dickinson's time (though you threatened that I wouldn't be able to handle the medical practices at the time), or even in the 1930's or 40's.  Back when people kept things.  And you, Dan, you kept things.  You wore the same clothes for 15-20 years.  Now that I write that, it seems crazy, but it's true.   The basketball shorts you'd had since high school and wore when I picked you up in Staten Island the first time we played music together are one of the few items I didn't pack away.  I kept them in my drawer.  Even when I'd try to convince you to let me buy you new things, you'd always say, "But I like those..."  You didn't toss things aside.  I bought you a desk for your production equipment/computer when we first got married, but later in one of my design makeover crazes, I said I was going to get a different one and sell that one.  "But I like this one...you got it for me."  


Things meant something to you.  And your life meant something to me.  Integrate it?  I will.  And we already do.  Audrey and I never fail to sing your peanut butter and jelly song when she eats that- the one you wrote as a little boy and sang to me.  We clink glasses and say "Cheers" often, the way you did.  We listen to the "tour mix" on your ipod while she plays with play dough or paints with glitter glue.  I subscribe to updates about your favorite soccer team and do pushups before bed the way you did.  I suppose this is all integration.  But it is not closure.


The closest thing to "acceptance"- that horrible, clinical grief word- is realizing that you will not have closure, that you will always have this piercing ache- sometimes dull and sometimes sharp, that on that last day when you take your last breath, your last thoughts will surely be of him- even years and years from now.  "And will I see him now?  I have waited, so, so long."  You can not put this away or seal it up- I cannot end these months of writings with one final zinger of a post.   I have not hidden my grief or ran from it.  It will not grow foul.  There is a difference between foul and kept.  It will be kept and kept well.  Because it is, after all, my love for you turned inside out.  It is messy and full of loose ends and stitching, but it is still love.  The best I can hope for is that as it ages, this ache becomes familiar and reminds me of a love I once had- like the desk sitting in the corner of our room tonight, like our daughter as she grows into a beautiful young woman, and like your old basketball shorts, soft, worn, still with your scent upon them, folded neatly in my drawer.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Exquisite

I still think of you every moment, Dan.  But I don't sit and try to process and understand what is really going on as much.  I remember in the early days I'd just sit here on our bed staring at your desk trying to figure out where you'd gone.  I told the psychoanalyst Audrey sometimes used the word disappear interchangeably with your death.  "He did disappear, didn't he." he answers suavely.

But sometimes, when I'm not really trying to process it or think about it now, it hits me.  And then I feel that cool sensation of shock in my upper chest the way I did every day for weeks after I received that call.  And then I get just a tiny glimpse of it.  Of what I've lost.  The pain then is, as another good widow friend called it once in an email and I think is the best one word description I've read yet: exquisite.

And sometimes when I'm feeling the reality and yet also feeling disconnected - so very long since I've seen you- I go into your email where you have every email since the day we got married.  Tonight I just go back to about December of 2009.  There in these sometimes long, and sometimes curt back and forths, I see our love relationship.  I think we were both writers really so I see the truest us in these words.  I see apologies, tension, and lots of i love you's.  I am surprised now to see how kind I was in many of those emails.  I realize that I've been dwelling on my shortcomings since you died and forgotten how good I was to you - most of the time, or at the same time that I was often resentful and bitchy.  There are short emails with the subject "i" and content, "love my wife. your husband, dan."  or "I have a good man, Your wife, Julia"  And in that last year there is so much planning and organizing of our finances, health insurance, your plane flights, Audrey's nap schedules- all in those emails.  I am overwhelmed to read a marriage in all of that....a partnership- a working out of life's details by two people who had once been madly in love.  I feel completely inadequate to put into words what all of those emails say and mean because they are our life together- it can't be summed up.  But reading just a few of them from our last few months together- is jarring.  In one I end with a prayer, "God please bring Daniel safely back home to us.  I love him."  I stop and cry because on this particular tour, I guess "God" did, but later, he decided not to.  There are so many words with double meanings now- about how much Audrey misses you and how much you miss her and wish you could stop touring and spend more time with her.  It is so strange to me - this setup of your slow disappearance.  Was it purposefully done to lessen the sting of your final and last disappearance?  No, I think the sting is greater because of all that.  But maybe if I collect them, one day Audrey will have a sense of how he missed her when they could not be together and that will give her a sense of things now as they are.  How devastated he would be at this loss of watching her entire life.

Today she watched a cartoon where there was a whole segment about the boy's father.  I watch her expression carefully.  And then in her favorite music class, the teacher ended with a song about loving mommy and daddy and what a happy family we are.  I watched her then too.  She continued singing the song as we walked out to the car in the drizzly rain.  "I'm so sorry," is all I can think to myself.  This is going to keep happening, isn't it?  She will have this shoved in her face time after time after time.

Last night while getting out some paper to print out my "routine to survive"- an enormously long document of each day's schedule I typed in a special downloaded designer font- a document that I probably spent much more time creating than I'll use- for this is what I do best- I spotted a post it with your handwriting on it.  It was a respite for my eyes to see your writing and I sat staring at it for a while.  One of the most beautiful things about a marriage is this coming together of two single, separate people- finding someone else's handwriting on a post it in your home.  Someone else's favorite beer or hot sauce in your fridge- that is different than what you would have in there.  There is this sweet sense of pride in the belongings, handwriting, food that is in your home because it belongs to the one you love.  The one who is different than you and yet you have access to these things because you are now one.  It is such a comfort in life's journey to have someone else combine their life, their stuff, their interests with yours.

The other thing I keep thinking about this week is how much when I hear your imaginary "voice" in my head talking to me all the time, the majority of things you say are teasing things...sarcastic, mocking, but not in a malicious way- the way we spoke to each other- the way we were able to joke about ourselves.  This is what I hear all the time.  And I almost smile because you are still making fun of me in my mind.  Sometimes it's not even words but just an expression on your face I see.  Because this too is one of the most precious things a marriage brings- being able to laugh at the things about yourself and about your life together, that are often the deepest, darkest things you've had to encounter.  Then somehow over time they are tamed and chuckled at together.  JCO puts it this way in her memoir, which I thought one of the most striking truths in her book, "what the widow has lost- it would seem a trifling loss, to others- is the possibility of being teased."  Yes, this is a tremendous, tremendous loss.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Snow Globe

Tonight you fall asleep with your head on my belly.  It's not often at this age I get to feel your warm head on my body the way it was so often when you were a baby.  But you took a late nap yesterday and couldn't fall asleep until almost 11 pm.  As a result, you were so tired today and all I had to do was sit beside you on your bed for a minute.  You come and lay on me looking straight into my eyes, also the way a newborn does, and you never do anymore when you're more awake.  "Audrey, look at me," I am always having to tell you now.  But I caress your hair and you look straight at me until your eyes close tonight.  I am programmed to think, "Yes, this is my time!" and cautiously place you back on your bed and head out. But I sit back and stare at you for a little longer.  I even put my fingers under your nose and feel your breath- the way we both did when you were an infant and we were constantly worried about SIDS.  This is the breath of life, I think.  And she is part of you Dan.  I think that more lately.  Sometimes when she hugs me really tightly, tears stream down my cheeks because I get more that she is part of you and you are part of her.  For some reason, I didn't get that before.  Maybe it was too much for me.  She was just Audrey.  But now I feel like you've truly left me a part of yourself.  Someone with your eyelashes and eyes, and skin and fingernails.  It is an awe-inspiring thought when I really get this.  Miraculous.  She is, I think, like a snow globe of our life and love.  There we are in miniature floating around, encased though, so I just can't touch us.  But she is also so much more than that.

The Long Weekend




I remember when you wouldn't realize you had off on a day like Columbus Day and then you'd find out and we'd both be so excited.  A whole extra day to spend together.  It was like a treasure.  On Friday afternoon I'd be on a high waiting for that long weekend to begin.

Now.  Now the long weekend is just that.  Long.

Long.

Now it is the quietest time.  No emails.  No phone calls.  No plans.  This one was particularly difficult because I find myself sick again with a bad cold/sinus thing.  I know my body is just worn out from all of this.  So I fall asleep at 10 instead of my usual late hours because I am too tired and because there is no real reason to stay awake.   It was also worse than usual because of the unseasonably warm weather.  If I have to go forwards and it's taking every ounce of my energy to do so, I hate to feel the weather is rewinding things.  Eighty degrees in October, whereas my previous seasonal affect disordered self would've relished it, is now quite irksome to me.  Let's just keep things moving or I may not be able to keep it up.

I think about what we might have done if you were alive.  It doesn't really matter.  It's not about what we would have "done."  Just having us all together we could've sat around our apartment and it would have been great.  I wouldn't have thought about checking my email or chatting with a friend.  I would have instead been guarding our time.  Asking you not to play at church or do an extra session so we could all spend time together.  Even though Audrey and I are together, that whole dynamic is just so different now.  We are together every day.  There is not that third person to break things up or remind her that I'm a real, true, certified grown- up and not just her playmate.

So it's just a weekend of small things- which isn't always bad, but with my cold I feel much more emotional and cry more which doesn't help my already runny nose.  It's a weekend filled with something I try to lock away on a daily basis because it's clearly not productive: self-pity.  I am bitter and angry at the world.  But really that's just a veneer for the deep sadness and loneliness for you.  And I can't help feeling I'm being punished because no one else I know seems to be going through this.

So, we skip church and go to the Korean restaurant instead so I can get the smoking hot tofu stew, soondooboo chigae, that usually clears me up with its spiciness.  I tell Audrey it's our "ladies lunch."  Then I buy her Tinkerbell sunglasses in the drugstore where I go to buy more medicine.  Then today we go to eat bagels for lunch.  The patrons in a bagel shop on a holiday are a motley bunch.  A group of three old people commenting on the freshness of the salad.  An odd woman who reeks of loneliness.  It's OK though since I love fresh bagels and our whole day (and weekend) feels a little like we're an old couple who have settled into a routine of splitting entrees at restaurants.  Still, I stop and take this photo of the yellow leaves on the island in the parking lot because it's pretty.

Then we go pick up more tissues for me at Target.  At Target I'm amazed at how I can let Audrey see and play with every princess toy there but she doesn't have a tantrum or ask me to get her anything because I tell her we aren't buying anything today.  She is mesmerized by a little Tinkerbell jewelry box and pushes the button that makes Tinkerbell go around and around on top, kneeling down saying quietly, "Isn't she bootiful?" but when I tell her it's time to go, she says, "I'm going to put this back."  I see another child grasping for dear life onto a large toy while her mother tries to offer her a measly carton of goldfish as an alternative.  "You can have this!"  I wonder why this is and I think it's because I do get Audrey a lot of things and she trusts me- that I get her good stuff.  That she doesn't lack anything.  It's the same as her experience at the doctor's office.  Since she was eighteen months she will sit calmly while having two or three shots because I've explained everything to her prior to the visit and because I've told her it's good for her and just a pinch.  So even in her pain, I see she trusts me.  The psychoanalyst at her school asks me about this the other day and tells me about all of the studies he's been a part of having to do with Dr.'s offices and assures me we have a very significant bond and trust that will help Audrey as she grieves.  I can't help correlating both of these instances- this patience for what is good for her- for the receiving of gifts, and this tolerance for pain-this bearing with what I say is a good thing- to the spiritual sense in which we're supposed to trust our creator in this same way.   I suppose Audrey has more evidence than I do.  I do give her good gifts.  The immunization really is a pinch that's over in a moment.  And most of the trials of my life up until now were pretty much like that. But this is not.  It is so much more than a pinch and it is permanent.  I suppose if there's any hope of trust in pain of this magnitude it will require something in addition: forbearance.

Forbearance.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Empathy

I've always been an empathetic person.  I'm not sure what made me this way- whether it's genetic, environmental- whether something instilled by my parents, or a sensitivity resulting from the difficulties of my youth.  I could not watch someone else cry without joining in.  I was aware of others suffering and prayed every time I heard an ambulance siren, imagining that someone was in need of my prayer.

I have assumed that this tragedy - my first, real, true tragedy- would heighten this sense of empathy greatly.  And I think it has.  I feel the pain of other widows intensely.  When I hear of sudden deaths on the news, I consider the family left behind now more than I used to.  I know what plans they're making and how they move in shock outside of their own bodies.

But...

on the flip side...

I have a really hard time now feeling empathy for life's little tribulations.  When people are upset about their career or their dream, I don't feel much of anything.  The biggest lesson one learns from this is that only death is permanent.  Everything else can and usually does change.  So you can still succeed in your career or maybe you won't, but either way you're still alive.   Right?

Well, on Thursday as I was waiting for the ferry from the city, a young girl was walking to my line with a tear going down her nose and sniffling.  She was texting on her phone or reading something.  When she stood behind me on line she continued to let out a tiny sob and then some sniffles.

I debated about whether or not I should say anything- New Yorkers are usually very private and independent and I myself have sat quite obviously crying on subways numerous times (once on my way to the Dr. when I thought I was miscarrying for a second time) and no one's said a thing.  I think no one wants to get involved because it could get..."messy."  I know this firsthand.  I once saw another woman looking distraught on a street corner near my workplace on 26th Street.  In fact, she was slamming down a pay phone and so I stopped and asked if she wanted to use my cell phone and if she was OK.  She broke down sobbing telling me that this boyfriend was using drugs and he wouldn't take her call.  By her babbling I soon realized she herself was the addict.  Anyway, still she wound up sobbing in my arms while I prayed for her.  Then we went our separate ways.  But I told her about a recovery group at a large church I knew of and got her email.  Twice we planned to meet there-  I told her I would attend.  I did.  Both times, she never showed up.  Finally, I mailed her a few books and ignored any other emails from her asking to get together.  So yes, it can get messy.

Still- I finally put my hand on this girl's back and ask her if she's OK.  Inside I am wondering what kind of sorrow has entered life.  I think to myself, "I am a woman of sorrows- I should be able to comfort her."  Very dramatic, I know.  I even think about saying this- "I'm a woman of sorrow- tell me what your  story is."  Ha.  I chuckle just thinking about this now.

Since she was on her phone, instead I just ask, "Did you get some bad news?"  She manages to get out that she was promoted and then the promotion taken away from her.  I'm slightly disappointed by this "sorrow."  But I try to be empathetic.  "All in the same day?"  "Yes!" she says.  "Wow- that is upsetting."  And that's all I can manage.  "That is upsetting."  But then I slowly turn back to the line and the ferry comes and we get on.  I can think of nothing else to say.  I know that in the past I would've given it more.  But it seems to me this girl is young and has a career that has even the prospect of promotion- and though she's suffered a blow- her life is bursting with possibility and hope.  I want to tell her that- but I don't.

Friday, October 7, 2011

This Week

 On Monday of this week I finally made it to the orthopedist.  I was upset to see the night before as I was filling out the patient history forms I'd printed from their website that it asked for the disease history of your spouse and if they were deceased, the manner of death.  I'm aware that I usually fill out my family history- including the medical history of my family of origin, but I don't think I've ever noticed this before.  Anyway, I fill it out.

While I wait for the Dr. in the little office, I read Steven Hawking's recent book, "The Grand Design," the one where he lays out the theory of the creation of the universe- the one that doesn't require a God at all.  It's something mind-boggling like a million universes may have come about- all different- but we just appear on this one because it is suitable for us.   By way of introduction, there is a paragraph explaining how modern physics has changed the perception of reality.  

Today's approach is called "model-dependent realism" and "is based on the idea that our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world.  When such a model is successful at explaining events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements  and concepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth.  But there may be different ways in which one could model the same physical situation, with each employing different fundamental elements and concepts. "  He goes on to say that if two theories or models exist and work, you can use whichever one is most convenient.

I stop reading and look around the room.  Thin grey drawers are labeled with white labels and black type: "syringes" "casting."  Modern medicine always feels so primitive to me, so I wonder for a moment if I can imagine some other reality for this place and successfully explain where I am.  I start to feel maybe everything around me is somehow made up by me.  It's scary.  The door is open and I hear a nurse on a helpline: "I was right in the middle of a study and I got the message, "Error, Must input ..." I forget the rest, but she went on and on about this.  It seemed satirical to me because everything in this office seemed very hi-tech.  When I checked in a small camera on the receptionist's computer took my photo for my file.  "Just smile for me," she'd said after I got back my insurance card.  

And of course, when the Dr. comes into the room, an elderly man with kind eyes, who sits and looks through that history I'd filled out, he has to turn to me and say very slowly and pronounced, looking over his reading glasses: "You're very young to be widowed," almost as if I'd done something wrong and was being scolded.  He was kind, and said he didn't mean to bring up anything painful.  I told him no not at all, it is there all the time.   He gives me some shorts to change into and does the exam.  Bend forward.  Do you feel this?  And as I suspected, I need the MRI- he prefers a closed one.  

On Tuesday of this week I meet with a psychoanalyst they have on staff at Audrey's school.  Being that Audrey is my first child, and I have no way of knowing what is normal in her development or might be a result of her grief, I am happy to have someone to run things by.  Usually, when I meet with anyone, I have a lot of handwritten notes in front of me, but usually, I am left frustrated because I never get through them all.  So this time I decided against this, partly because I just hadn't had the chance, and instead just wanted to tell him the "story" and ask how he thought I could best help her.  Of course, I was just jotting down one or two things as he walked in his office.  "You're a writer," he said.  "Well, sort of," I answer.  He was good.  He looked me in the eye after I'd told part of the story and asked me who I cried with.  "Who hugs you?" he asked.  These are hard questions.   He makes connections between my grief and Audrey's grief.  When I try to write one thing down, he stops me.  "Don't write, just listen."  He interprets my family of origin, how that affected my marriage and my grieving.  When I tell him about my early fears of Audrey forgetting her father, he tells me any specialist in his field will use this phrase, "the body remembers," and that of course she will remember.  I tell him her dream and how she thought it was real.  "Let me ask you this- was it? " he asks.  At the end of just an hour, he assures me Audrey is doing really well, and that it's more me having trouble.  Yes, this is true.  

On Thursday of this week, I go to the city to meet with my financial advisor because I have finally transferred your 401K to my own account.  It was the last of the canceling, erasing, duties I had to do.  

As I take the ferry across the Hudson I am thinking about how the island of Manhattan represents our old life.  It's where we met, fell in love, got engaged, had our child.  Now I am separated from it by a river.  Now I am on the sidelines.  But when I cross over, it's like I step into a diorama in a museum set up to remind me of our prehistoric life there.    

After the meeting with the finance guy,  I go downtown to a string store on Walker street to give them your electric cello to sell on consignment- which they have volunteered to do at no commission.  I take the subway, for what is only the second time since you died.  I tell your friend who I eat lunch with before heading downtown how strange it is that NYC public transportation is my greatest grief trigger.  Who would've thought- the smell of the subway or the exhaust fumes of the buses at Port Authority could cause me this pain.  But I suppose more than any holiday traditions we had, we spent the most time together, a large portion of our relationship, traveling on mass transit.  Where I go under, there is the S train- the columns there are the ones you jumped out from behind when you met me there on the day you proposed.  I stop and stare before going down more stairs to the N train.  Once there, I am remembering how you always told me exactly where to stand, which car to get in depending on my destination- so I'd be at exactly the right place when I arrived at Canal Street.  You would've done that today.  I stand right at the bottom of the stairs.  I know nothing of these things.  

I carry your electric cello in front of me on the train and speak to my reflection in the window across from me: I miss you.  There is a man sitting across from me with a single tear tattooed to his face just below his eye on his left cheek.  

It is an emotional drop off.  The instrument itself you'd only had for about six months, but it was something you'd been working towards for so long.  We'd been pricing them and then you got this great deal so you could rent to buy and you did, and now here I am returning it.  As I left my apartment with it that morning on my shoulder and headed to the ferry, these are the simple words that come out: "Damn, this is upsetting."  And it is. 

What's more, I am entering part of your world that I never entered.  I remember you trying to sell your other cello there and I felt worried about who you were leaving your cello with.  I didn't understand then how well you know the music world in NYC.  But you did, and everyone knew you.  And I get that now.  And I feel horrible about it...all the times I questioned you.  

Anyway, I know as I'm walking towards this place, that you have walked these same paths many times- and I realize again, what every widow comes to learn, how her husband led so many waking hours of his day, without her.  How these two things, otherness and intimacy- war with each other.  

I shake hands with this man who knew you, and we go upstairs and talk for a while beneath the high white tin ceilings of the Soho building, in a room filled with large basses.  The contrast of the white and wood is beautiful to me and I wish I had a camera.  I tell him the details of "the story" and he tells me about a car accident he was in at 19 where he lost a girlfriend and a close friend- how you never get over it.  He talks about other things- realities we can't see...how he felt everything in his life had been moving to that moment.  How I knew also.  He has intelligent eyes and also is married with a three year old daughter.  When we go into his smaller office to print out the contract, I see her pictures everywhere.  "Can you imagine?" I ask him.  He shakes his head.  He gives me a kiss as I leave and promises to try to get me the best deal.  He is leaving tomorrow for China for business.  I wish him a safe trip.  

Then I shop in a few of my favorite stores in SOHO.  Stores I haven't visited since I was pregnant with Audrey...our last "date" before I gave birth actually- we came down here and had brunch at Balthazar and you bought me a trench coat that I could barely try on over my belly at Uniqlo.  I buy myself a vest there and a dress that's on sale.  I know you'd be happy.  You were always encouraging me to buy things for myself more and take care of myself.  

Then I take the N from Prince Street back up to 34th.  Then the ferry shuttle, and then the ferry back across the river.  It's a long day, but I feel something.  My eyes have been full of tears for most of the day...just full enough that the tears didn't actually fall but stayed in my eyes as I walked.  I'm not sure what it is...is it that I've gotten to be "your wife" again just for this one errand?  I hope I reflect well on you.  I hope I play my role well.  Sometimes I'd embarrass you with my lack of knowledge about how things work in the music industry when you were trying so hard to get "in."  I hope I haven't done that.  I have sincerely tried.  But the something I feel...is it just because I've had a day off from being with my preschooler in an apartment?  Is it because I'm back in the city we loved together- where we fell in love so hard?  Is it because I wore my contacts or because the computer voices on the subways sounded exactly the same as they always do, "Stand clear of the closing doors..." Is it because it was a beautiful Fall day- 15 months exactly since you've died.  I'm not sure, but I'm going to figure it out, because for the first time, in a long time,  those tears that just stayed in my eyes, that something that I felt that I couldn't quite put my finger on- I think what I felt was almost...
alive.

Before or After

In the beginning, this is so easy to distinguish.  Each time you go somewhere- the grocery store, the zoo, a restaurant, you are aware that the last time you came was with him.

You know that the roll of paper towels that you're using were purchased by him when he ran into Target and you sat in the car with your child, the very day before the last day you would ever see him or hold him.  You know and so you put that last roll away before it is finished- up in the linen closet- because you cannot bear to watch the last towel - the one that kind of sticks to the cardboard roll- come off.

You know that the sneakers your twenty one month old is wearing were purchased together with him.  "Should I get her the pink or the blue?" you'd asked.  (Only now do you realize consistently how much you relied on him and his opinion- meanwhile, all the time you thought of yourself as the decision maker).  You know when she's outgrown them a few months later and you put them away that those were the last shoes that had anything to do with him.  That everything else now will be new.

 You follow the dates and feel them in your bones- the anniversary date approaching each month.

But later.

You look through your pantry one day and have no idea what items were bought "before" and which ones were purchased "after."  You wonder if there is even anything left from "before."

You realize most of the places you visit and even the people you know - your daughter's preschool, moms of her classmates, your grief counselor, a new church- are places he has not gone to and people he does not know and never saw his smile when he greeted them or heard him tell a corny joke or were moved by his cello playing.

You look down at your own outfit one day and realize he has not seen any of the things you are wearing.  But you are still wearing a pair of his socks.  That comforts you.

And then one day you find a half used roll of paper towels in the linen closet and can't remember why it's there or why you didn't use it up.  And then you do.

And you realize one day- that you are quite accustomed to saying, "My husband was..." or "Dan used to do that," when in the early weeks those sentences sounded absolutely ridiculous and false to you.  "Why am I using past tense?" you would ask yourself, because you do the very day you receive the news...but you can't understand why.  "I spoke to him yesterday?" why am I telling everyone, "He was..."  It kills your heart to use those words.  But now you do.  And it is rather matter of fact.  But still, in all honesty, kind of ridiculous- it's just that now you haven't seen him in so...very...long.

And then another day, like today, you realize that yesterday was the sixth of the month, and you repeated that date to numerous people as you had appointments in the city and paperwork to be signed, but it never occurred to you that this was the date- the anniversary until ... today.

This is what time does.  And this is what is presupposed as "healing" by those who do not know better.  Time blurs.   It is quite sad in itself and not healing at all.  It is ruthless really because it is just another aspect of which you have no choice or control.  It just happens.  Perhaps this is soothing to some people. It means you let go, whether you want to, or not.

Any true healing is worked for- for me that means talking and therapy, processing, and writing and crying- taking painful "steps," like packing up clothes or giving things away.  It means closing bank accounts and going to the DMV to change titles.

But, even if you did none of this towards healing, or moving forward as they call it, time would do something else for you.  It would give you practice.  Each morning when you get up and think the first thing, "This is true - Dan is dead," while you still lay in your bed...you get a little more practice at the sick feeling in your gut.  You get a little more practice of putting your feet on the floor. You get a little better at the inhibitory control it takes to go against everything in you and start the day- do it all again.  It is a little like practicing a piece of music on the violin or piano over and over again.  Your fingers finally surrendering to where they're supposed to go.  Except that that has the reward of beauty and satisfaction.  This does not.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Thinking About

how you slipped away from me in an instant- in the physical and spiritual realms, again when I received the phone call, and slip away slowly now- each day.  That is what time brings...slipping away.

Thinking about how I hide in each moment, each day, like a bunker.

How my world lost all of its parameters and definition.  There really is no weekend now- or even end of the day.  There is just doing it again.  I don't experience seasons the way I used to- I just move through them- I notice only slightly that it is hotter or colder and change Audrey's clothing in her dresser and closet.  I don't have the same sense of dread I used to with regards to cold weather.  It is all flavorless like eating with a cold.  I know there's food in my mouth but I don't taste it.  I know the days are getting crisper but I don't truly feel it.  It's almost as though even the existence of seasons are in one's mind and therefore one's reality.  There is no calendar- no organization on the interior.  It's like being a blind person led by the hand- "Turn right here...there's a step here."  This is October.  This is the time for apple picking and a holiday called Halloween.  "Oh, OK."  I follow along.

Thinking about how hard you worked your whole life.  I feel like only I really know the hours and time and mental energy you put into succeeding in the music world and just in living and providing for us in New York City.  People make it seem like it's so great that you achieved your "dream" right before you died- like it was your crowning achievement so don't I feel so glad that I let you go- that you got to do that before you died?  The only problem with that is it was just the beginning, just the cusp of what you would have accomplished- not the end.  I am in the process of selling your electric cello- the one you'd wanted for years and then finally- after renting it for your last gig numerous times, got to buy for a couple hundred bucks- a cello worth thousands.  I said it was your Christmas gift from me.  So you used it for six months?  That's all.  And now I sell it back?  I was rooting for you- pulling for you- you were making progress- on your way finally- to this?  To this swim in a lake thousands of miles away from me?  To die?

Thinking about superstitions - the ones ingrained in me from my mother in my childhood.  Did a black cat cross our path while we were in the car before you left?  Do I vaguely remember that?  Were there two people that died before you?  Michael Jackson did.  Was there another?  Because people die in threes right?  At Audrey's first birthday a bird flew into the window of the party room overlooking the Hudson River.  You can hear it on the video right before the Korean doljabi ceremony.  My brother makes a big deal of it- is that a bad sign, or something like that- he says.  It irritates me then very much.
This is all nonsense- but even people who mock religious people must admit signs and superstitions are somewhat ingrained in all of us.

Thinking about how I never understood the loss of a spouse before at all...about my mother's aunts who lost their husbands when I was in middle school or high school.  One died of a heart attack while they were driving to Florida and she woke up to find him dead beside her in bed.  I can remember her, this Jewish woman who pronounced each word so carefully and slowly, telling the story over and over again one Christmas at my grandmother's house from a tufted green velvet chair.  I wondered why she had to keep telling it.  She herself seemed strangely fascinated by it.  Now I understand this.  The other aunt I greeted at her 95th? birthday a few years back at a restaurant the family had rented.  Dan of course was with me.  She told me unprompted as I wished her well just that she missed her "Nat" so much and thought about him every day and said goodnight to him each night- and this was years- maybe fifteen or twenty? since he'd died.  And my own grandfather, who also awoke to find my grandmother passed away in the bed beside him looked at me when we were alone and just said, "I looked over, and she was gone."  But because all of these people were older and carried on, I assumed that they were "healing" and doing alright.  After all, they were older and must have expected this.

Now I am thinking about how when I was young and dreaded getting immunization shots at the doctor, I'd ask when I needed the next one and if they told me, "When you're 19 or 20," I'd feel anxiety but I was sure I'd be a different person by then- it was so far away...I'd be able to handle it for my little, younger self.  In the same way, I think, we all know one day our spouse (if we are the survivor) will die, but we think we'll be much older and so we won't think about it now because it is unbearable to think about really.  So, we don't.