Our little family had symmetry, like the lamp and candles – we were balanced, with me in the middle, constantly pulled in two directions by the competing needs of the two great lights of my life – my husband and our daughter.
Now we are two.
There isn’t really a “middle” with just two.
I feel myself shifting out of that middle-that-is-no-more, drifting over to where he isn’t. As two, we measure the distance between one another, trying to stay close enough, but not so close as to crowd out our separate experiences of grief, and of learning how to carry that grief forward into whatever our lives will be.
Beside each other, with empty space between.
Sophie the cat does her best to fill that space, but still. She thinks she’s a person, and she thinks she’s the most important person here. But she’s a cat.
A cat who still meows loudly when she crosses the rug that was under his hospital bed.
Since late July, we’ve been sitting together in this house, defining our days by how we will spend our time together, what time I’ll drive her to work and what time I’ll pick her up, and what we will eat for dinner at our table for two. But after the holidays, our lives will change. I will have to get a job again, and she will have to re-learn the busses to and from work, the checklists (phone? keys? bus fare?) and maybe get used to a new companion/caregiver.
And get used to a lot more time without me beside her.
That scares her. Of course it does.
I have my annual “body and soul” cold, that turns my first soprano into a tenor, but let’s me sing “Body and Soul” in the right key, way down low – unfortunately, it’s the high notes I need right now. The cold ran its usual course, into my aching joints and down my throat, landing in an annoying, frustrating cough-with-throat-tickle, just as the choral concert is coming – the concert I really want to sing, because the music is so beautiful.
But I still cough, and she says, nervously, “you alright, Mom? Getting back to 100%?”
“I’m fine, sweetheart. Getting better each day.”
I bought new mattresses for us both. Bye-bye saggy old mattress with the cozy me-shaped trough in it.
The trough on “my” side of the bed.
Because over all the years we slept separately, I still stayed on “my” side of the bed. Occasionally he’d climb in beside me to spoon, to warm up on a cold winter night.
But not often.
When she was a toddler, as most toddlers do, she would sometimes climb in between us. Then back to her own beddiehouse.
I started on “my” side with the new mattress.
But without really noticing, I’ve drifted – into the middle.
It feels like an acknowledgment that, even though it was pretty much just me anyway all those years, it now definitely will be just me – in the middle of the bed.
A bed for one person doesn’t need two sides.
And she, an adult now, will be in her room down the (short) hall at the other side of our small house. What had been his room on the opposite side of her wall is now her “computer lounge.” He’s not in there to tap on the wall and laugh with her, goofing around like kids until they fell asleep, on either side of that wall.
She put his stocking up on the middle hook in front of the fireplace, but I put it away. A little one that says “meow” on it, for Sophie the cat, hangs there in the middle now.
I explained that Dad doesn’t need a stocking in heaven, and that I don’t think it is good for us to pretend that he ever could be here with us again. But remember, …
“Dad’s love never ends.”
“That’s rights, sweets. We carry that love with us always, and Dad wants us to move forward and to have the best lives we can, knowing that his love is with us.”
“Dad is free from pain, free from anger, and he wants me to have a happy life.”
“That’s right, sweetheart.”
These conversations often happen during our evening “music time,” when we listen to one Christmas CD she has selected and then turn it off and sit, with the lights off, except for the Christmas tree.
Sitting quietly together in the dim glow of the tree, she in the “Grandpa” chair and me in the “Grandma” rocker, (because they were their chairs), until she needs to say it again.
“When people go to heaven, they can’t come back. Dad’s love never ends. He wants me to have a happy, independent, adult life.”
Yes sweetheart, we’re working on it.
From opposite ends of the hall.
In the middle of our beds.
At our table for two.
Wishing you balance, light and peace,
Your faithful, trying-not-to-let-the-space-between-feel-so-empty-or-the-lights-feel-so-dim,