My oldest brother warned me about this: there would come a day when I didn’t think about Mike at all.
And I’d feel guilty about it, but it would be OK.
In truth it has already happened a few times, and I did feel guilty.
But yesterday was the first time I had a really surprising, truly upsetting lapse of remembering Mike: I forgot that we had planned an observance of the second anniversary of his death.
I scheduled the installation of new carpet, in what had been his room, on that very day: tomorrow, the 24th.
How could I?
I was caught up in a project for our daughter.
Who last week suddenly declared she wanted to turn his room in to a “computer lounge.”
I had already taken his bed (yes, separate bedrooms, long story, you’ll have to read the book if I ever get it published) out of there so we could make it her “art room,” and I hauled her art desk and her electric keyboard up from the basement to put in there.
The room is on the other side of her bedroom wall. They had communicated to each other through the thin drywall barrier, like kids after the adults have gone to bed – knocking on the wall, whispering and laughing together, buddies, pals.
But now she wanted to take the art and music stuff out of there, and get a laptop, a desk and a chair for her new “computer lounge.”
I think she’s trying to recreate the quiet “break room” from the day program she just quit. That’s ok. It’s what she needs now – a space like that, but at home.
So, back to the basement go the keyboard and the art desk and back into her bedroom goes the guitar.
The carpet guy called as we were driving to the hardware store (phone on Bluetooth, both hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, no worries) to get another paintbrush and a few more of those little angle-tip spongy things that get the paint into the edges of places but not beyond. He said they could come pretty much anytime.
“Do you want to do it sooner rather than later?”
“Well, we’ll be finished painting today, so sooner, I guess…”
“We have Friday or Monday.”
“How about Friday?”
It wasn’t until I had parked the car at the hardware store that it hit me – we were supposed to picnic at the gravesite Friday. We were going to blow some bubbles and maybe let go of a balloon to symbolize setting his spirit free – letting him know that we wouldn’t try to hold him here anymore, that we’d be OK with our memories and his whispers from beyond – the songs, the hummingbird, the butterflies.
Our daughter saw the panic in my face.
“They’ll call in the morning to tell us when they’re coming, and after they’re done, we can go see Dad, like we planned.”
She was disturbed: somewhere in her over-connected, autistic brain, she must have realized that she also had forgotten, for a moment, the significance of tomorrow.
I cried when I was prepping the room for paint. The project felt like a kind of erasure, like we were obliterating something about Mike. Tears were streaming down my face as I brought the supplies into the empty room. As I set everything down, I looked up for a moment – and was startled by a really bright red, fat, young male cardinal, fluffy and preening, in the branch of the big maple tree, very close to the window.
Mike loved birds. More of them came to the birdbath in the back yard when he was here. It wasn’t just hummingbirds, he was interested in all types of birds.
So it didn’t seem out of place to ask, “Mike, is that you, hon?”
I swear to you, that bird looked right at me. And then it opened its mouth wide, the way baby robins do while chasing their exhausted parents around the yard – “feed me! Feed me! Feed me!”
That was a running joke between Mike and me, when it seemed our daughter could never stop needing more food – cook for me, more for me, feed me, feed me, feed me!
“Oh, hon, I’m sure that’s you! I hope you’re OK with this, with us changing the room!”
That bird looked right at me again, sideways, with a look that said, “of course it’s OK – about time!” And then it flew away, up over the top of the house.
It is supposed to rain tomorrow. That forecast was why we scrambled to get the paint done, so we could keep the windows open without the damp slowing the drying. But we also wanted to get it done so we could visit his grave on the anniversary day.
But the carpet is coming instead.
So we went there today. We blew a few bubbles. Most of them sank to the earth quickly, but one drifted high above the trees, into the clear blue of today’s rain-free sky.
We came home and ordered a desk, and began looking online for a laptop and a chair.
Claiming that room as her own is, I think, a sign that our daughter is beginning to understand she can live, maybe even happily, without her Dad physically here. She can keep him in her heart and memory, even as she comes to accept that he will never again be right there on the other side of her bedroom wall.
And it’s OK.
And because of that fat, preening, joking cardinal, I know Mike thinks it’s OK too.
Wishing you relief from sadness, and joy in little moments of progress, I remain,
Your loyal, grateful, starting-to-heal, trying-to-hope,