Gravetending

A walk with grief is a walk with love.

It was a gorgeous day, very like the day we buried the urn  – blue, sunny, breezy.  The third anniversary, marked with a picnic at his grave, peaceful under a huge willow tree. This time it felt less like a ritual of grief, and more like a simple, everyday gesture of love.

The rose we planted that first year didn’t do well this year. Too many Japanese beetles  pockmarking the leaves, same as they have done to the roses in my butterfly garden at home. The vortex didn’t help, either. The soaked, soggy spring caused me to underestimate the importance of getting out there to water the fuchsia that hung from the shepherd’s crook by the stone. I removed it in July, shriveled, brown and twiggy, and so lightweight with the dryness that it jerked upward when I lifted it with too much force, expecting more weight.

Before the picnic, we went to the big-box hardware that has a good garden department. I wanted to get him a new hanging basket to ride out the summer, and a new shrub to replace the rose. As we browsed, a monarch butterfly kept landing on plants in front of us, as if making suggestions. When we came to the butterfly bushes, there were several monarchs flitting around our heads and enjoying the shrubs named for them. Angelic Daughter noticed they kept landing on specific bushes, and staying to enjoy the fragrance and the pollen, I suppose. We bought a dark pinkish-purple butterfly bush, and a hanging basket of impatiens that matched that color exactly. Back home I loaded the shovel and some gloves, then we picked up salads from our usual spot, and headed out to the cemetery.

The breeze made it difficult to spread the blanket, but I used its direction to help, and we enjoyed a quiet half hour under the willow, lunching while gazing at the new plants and decorations Mike’s eternal neighbors had received from their loved ones since the last time we were there. After lunch, I dug out the failing rose bush, and, predictably, stabbed myself with its thorns, right through the gloves. I planted the butterfly bush and hung the impatiens. I lugged four gallons of water over from the pump.

Two more gallons to rinse the stone, and highlight his name and his title, “Father.” That was his job, and he loved it, and it’s perfect to have on the stone to describe him.

I talked to him, and told him how much we both miss him. I asked him to try to find a way for her to really feel he is with her.

On the way home from her job Monday, we talked about missing him. “A day without Dad. I miss Dad. He can’t come back.” Repeated at least twenty times through the day, through most of our days now,  her last grains of hope and disbelief slowly dissolving into certainty, finality, consumed by the permanence of loss.

I told her again it was OK to be sad, but Dad wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time. Hypocrite. Inside I was feeling my own extreme loneliness, and pressing my tongue against the roof of my mouth, a trick that keeps me from crying.

As we pulled into the garage, I noticed the song on the radio was “You Are Not Alone.”

You are not alone
I am here with you
Though you’re far away
I am here to stay

Lately I’ve been changing the channel when a Michael Jackson song comes on.  Just can’t, anymore. But we listened to this one. I relaxed my tongue and had my tears.

Anniversaries are so hard; marking them with rituals probably makes it worse. This time, though, was more about how remembering, yearning for and missing him is a normal part of every day, not just anniversary days.

It finally rained, a good long soaking rain. Choir practice started last night. This choir has an uncanny ability to conjure precipitation. It always rains on Monday nights.

New phone for Angelic Daughter yesterday. New, substitute caregiver last night.

Sun today. But almost every sunny day has a few clouds.

The weight of this anniversary forced me to realize that this third year of widowhood was about accepting the normalcy of grief, and how carrying it and walking with it is permanently woven into each of our days, and will be in every day to come.

Tending the grave and talking to Mike as I did reminded me that grief can’t exist without love. If we walk with grief, love is walking right beside it, holding its hand.  Balanced, but too subdued. I hope this walk will lead us someday to peace, even back to joy.

Until then, I remain, your hollow yet hopeful

Ridiculouswoman

Twenty Years Ago Today, Less Three

A home now more beautiful is yet less whole.

It was Mike’s idea do the “American Gothic” pose in front of our new (old) house. We stood side by side, beyond the concrete sidewalk in front of the kitchen door, where that tall grass is now. Back then, that walk had been tightly lined with yews.

Mike’s parents entertained Angelic Daughter at their place through moving day. We were ready for them now, the movers gone. Standing with an upturned pitchfork between us, we waited for the laugh. We got it.

Anniversaries come close, this time of year. Today, the twentieth anniversary of the day we moved in. Next Saturday, the third anniversary of Mike’s death.

Both days were hot. The house isn’t air conditioned, and we didn’t have fans when we first moved in.  Exhausted from the closing and the move, we opened the windows and saved shopping for the next day.

That first morning, we heard a rooster crow. There was a small farm at the end of the road, with a horse in the field. I came downstairs around six, and saw a red fox in the front yard, looking right at me through the bay window, one black paw lifted. After about a minute of mutual stillness and staring, he trotted off, apparently satisfied.

The second day, early in the morning, someone knocked at the kitchen door, below the master bedroom window.

Mike went down and answered. It was a woman asking to buy the house. She had grown up near an orchard (there was barely a tree left of the one that had been across the street, decades before) and dreamed of a house like ours. Her prayer group was praying for her dream to come true.

I guess they didn’t consider they were praying for the destruction of someone else’s dream, hard earned through years at a job I loved working for a boss I didn’t, a savvy townhome purchase  (I seem to have an eye for real estate that will appreciate) and urgent timing. When I heard her story, I was loudly unkind.  “My God, we just moved in!”

“She hasn’t slept in four days,” Mike said to the lady, by way of apology.

Ten years or so later, he came around to my way of thinking – that to show up on someone’s doorstep two days after they moved in, whinging about how your purchase thwarted their dream when yours had just come true, was not a nice thing to do.

Our elderly neighbor, now long gone, got it right; she showed up with a plate of cookies and stories about what the house had been like before, and who our predecessors were.

We knew that the previous owner had died in the driveway, shoveling snow or trimming bushes. We welcomed his lingering spirit. We could smell his pipe smoke from time to time. It’s gone now. Perhaps he, like the fox, approved of our plan to live in this house rather than tear it down to build something bigger, which, in 1999, was what people did.

The executor left a watercolor portrait of the house on the wall that records the trees that were cut down before we moved in, the tree I had cut down since, and the yews I replaced three years ago with a bluestone patio and front walk, bordered by azaleas, ferns transplanted from my mother’s yard, sedum, catmint, Russian sage, yarrow, wildflowers from seed, milkweed (for the monarchs), buddleia and bee balm. Landscapers installed the walk and patio, and ripped out the yews. They put in boxwood, to grow into a privacy hedge, a serviceberry tree and a thick layer of organic soil, to get me started.

When we moved in, Angelic Daughter adapted instantly. I was stunned. Transitions had been so hard for her. But that evening we showed her to her new room, and her real, up-off-the-floor bed.  She climbed right in and fell peacefully asleep.

Twenty years in the house today. Nearly three without Mike. Previous “moving in” anniversaries went unnoticed or unremarked, but this milestone magnifies Mike’s absence. He should be here to enjoy the anniversary and the new patio and the garden, planted specifically to attract the hummingbirds and monarchs he loved.

Three years as two-thirds of a family. Peaceful sleep has been hard to come by.

Angelic Daughter yearns for him. I ache for her. “His love is always with you” isn’t enough. She wants to know how to know that. She want to find him.

She wants to know what he wants for her, now.

“All I can tell you is to listen. Something in you will tell you Dad is near.”

Will it?

“It’ll get better. Remember the happy times.”

I hope it will, and she can.

As next Saturday approaches, I remain,

Your trying-to-stay-strong, tearful, hurting, hopeful

Ridiculouswoman

Twenty-nine Years

The snow will melt tomorrow. But my heart melted tonight.

“April is in my mistress’ face,
And July in her eyes hath place;
Within her bosom is September,
But in her heart a cold December…”

madrigal by Thomas Morely, 1594

Mike and I met twenty-nine years ago today, on a warm April evening.

I was wearing a pink spring dress, no jacket necessary.

Twenty-nine years later, here I sit, under a winter storm warning, wearing a flannel shirt and Mike’s winter scarf.

Ironically, we met at a meeting of a ski club, held at a then quite new, but now very well established, brewpub. The event purportedly was to showcase the next season’s planned trips, but it was actually a thinly-disguised singles thing.

Mike didn’t ski. Neither did his buddy, who dragged him along as his wingman.

I didn’t know that then.

The girl pal I dragged along didn’t ski, either. Bad back.

Turned out I was the only one of the four of us who had a legitimate excuse to be there.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve gone skiing. It’s on my bucket list, if my knees can take it. Maybe next year.

As for today, I can feel my ritualizing of anniversaries fading. This is the third without him, and he never made much of them anyway.

So today I’m thinking more about whether my just-emerging snow peas will live up to their name.

I’m not sure the lettuce, spinach, chard and beets I planted two weeks ago, in a burst of April-faced gardening enthusiasm (“this year, I’ll finally get them in the ground early enough!!”) will make it.

When the snow started, I ran out and cut several small bunches of hyacinth and daffodils and brought them in the house to enjoy.

IMG_20190427_182841415.jpgIMG_20190427_200812283.jpg

But I left that snow-shrouded bunch pictured up there, and a few of the daffodils, to fend for themselves. I think they’ll make it.

As for the spring flowering trees, and the trees in general, this snowstorm brings a whole new meaning to “nip it in the bud.”

From the height of them, though, most of the trees around my house have been there for much longer than I’ve been here. On this planet, I mean.  Definitely “old growth” trees.

They might lose a branch or two in this heavy, wet, spring snow, but clearly, if they’ve been here that long, they’ve been through this before. They can get through this now.

It’s all supposed to melt tomorrow, anyway.

Annually, I remind people I meet in grocery or garden stores, people who couldn’t resist wearing shorts and flip-flops on the very first warm day in March, that it always snows again in April.

How sweet of me.

Cold December heart.

Obviously, I called the last storm too early this year.

I should have known better. Like the trees, I’ve been through this before. I have a distinct memory of myself on a June afternoon, sitting on the screen porch my father built, wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt (hey, I was fat, but I was 5), coloring, when a sudden whoosh of wind swept the warmth away in a nanosecond and blew snow flurries through the screens.

And I should have known better than to think that Mike wouldn’t send some kind of  recognition of this anniversary to me in this world, from his timeless place in the next, as a little rejoinder to that remark about him not making much of anniversaries.

Because, just now, as I am writing this, an ad came on the radio.

For the brewpub where we met.

The snow hasn’t melted yet, but the December in my heart just did.

Missing Mike and grateful for a good, carthartic cry, I remain,

Your broken-open-hearted,

Ridiculouswoman