My Side of the Bed

A bed for one person doesn’t need two sides.

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.

Tea, steam.

It’s helping.

But I still cough, and she says, nervously, “you alright, Mom? Getting back to 100%?”

“I’m fine, sweetheart. Getting better each day.”

Am I?

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,

I remain,

Your faithful, trying-not-to-let-the-space-between-feel-so-empty-or-the-lights-feel-so-dim,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sideways Hourglass

How’d my hourglass fall over?

Back when Mike would drive me to the train station for my commute to my high-stress job, we’d sometimes arrive early enough to see the train before mine go by – it was an express, and our daughter loved the thrill of watching it blast through the station (from the safety of the car, of course.)

We came to call these express trains “whoosh” trains, because they’d “whoosh” by.

Every once in a while, she still asks to drive over to the station, to see a whoosh train.

Whoosh trains define my relationship to time, now – time that is whooshing by like a train I’m not on.

I feel like I should be “better” by now. It’s been over two years and we’re coming up on our third Christmas season without Mike. I finished my book and I’m working up the courage to start sending out my query letters about it. I’ve painted rooms, given away almost all his clothes, including, finally, the barn coat and boots. I’m still working on figuring out what to do with his collection of war games, and the telescope and the tandem are still in the garage. But still.

I’ve had days when I felt happy. Days when I didn’t think about Mike, and then felt guilty about it. I’m surprised by this new wave of grief that has hit me, now, at the start of the season of joy.

The train whooshes by. I’m supposed to be trying to live with love and laughter, and right now, I suck at it. I’m doing OK with the love part, I guess, except it feels like it is coming from a still, quiet place that just sits there – it isn’t an active kind of love. It’s an, “OK, get up, one foot in front of the other, let’s try to be a decent person today” kind of love, and I still fail at it regularly.

I feel an odd sort of responsibility to “make progress,” and I feel like I haven’t made any. I keep getting older and I’m every bit as alone. I keep losing and regaining the same three pounds.

The panicky anxiety is back. Mike could fix that. One hug from him and I was OK. I felt safe.

I don’t feel safe. I feel exposed. Unlocked. Threatened and afraid.

I sure as hell don’t feel like I’m “making progress.”

I feel like someone knocked the my hourglass over sideways.

Everyone else’s hourglass is efficiently sifting its sand, and when it is just about done, they’ll just “strike the bell and turn the glass” and start a new day.

I feel stuck in a place where time passes, I get older, but things don’t get better. Just dustier, greyer, yellowed. Old. Dried up.

chess and hourglass still life

I kept one of his many chessboards, the one he won as an elementary school champion. I still have his hats, though the smell of him is fading from them. I have too many dried up roses around the house. Feng shui, or something like it, says not to keep those, and to throw away the chipped dishes and cracked glassware. Working on it.

I haven’t been reading anything other than the deluge of catalogs that come this time of year, which I find oppressive. Maybe this year I’ll just do one of those, “Anne has made a donation in your name to…(insert laudable charitable organization doing the good in the world that I don’t seem to have the will or gumption or energy or courage to do.)

From darkness riseth light, right? Right?

Each year my church has a “longest night” service for people like me – people who need comfort because they feel left out of the joy.

That’s the message, though, isn’t it? He came in our darkest hour – never mind that we appropriated a pagan midwinter festival designed to address fears that the dark of winter would last forever and light would not come again. He came to bring hope to the hopeless and light to the darkness.

And to unburden us of our sins.

I feel like failing to be happy is a sin. I feel like I shouldn’t have to work so hard to feel grateful for the life I have and I don’t understand why I keep thinking about the life I never had instead of the one I do have, now. I don’t understand why I keep making the same mistakes, over and over again.

I’ve been slipping in my observation of the Middle Aged Woman rules. I’m in danger of giving up, drying up, sinking into a cronehood made up of joint pain and thinning hair and sagging spirit…well, let’s be honest here, sagging everything.

I have to go wash my hair, put on some lipstick, and take my daughter to see the holiday model train display. I’ll try to be quiet, and let her just enjoy it.

And maybe when they start sprinkling the fake snow from the ceiling, I’ll look out the window at the specks of real snow that is falling, and remember that spring will come.

From darkness riseth light.

In the bleak midwinter.

Time to buy a tree, and smell the piney-ness of it, and find the joy, even if it is small, and deeply buried.

Until then I remain,

Your humble, flawed, struggling, hanging on to hope by a thread,

Ridiculouswoman