Today, Yom Kippur, the day of forgiveness and the beginning of a new year, we were together. The traditional fasting ended early in the afternoon. We have suffered enough this year and were ready for a day of togetherness. My daughters and I found the familiar and rested in memories at Mort’s Deli where we had gone so many times with my parents and with Gary. We went to Bea’s Bakery and stocked up on our favorites and then drove the familiar s-curves to the beach. We sat on the sand reading, the books we had brought and the family Yom Kippur book we have read together since the girls were small. We found comfort in the stories and sang Oseh Shalom together. As a treat, we enjoyed cupcakes and cookies. I looked out at the ocean, across the sand, and realized I was looking for someone who wasn’t there.
Somewhere on this Planet
I look around for you or a trace of you
But there is none
And then I remember that you are gone
Not just gone, but evaporated
And I realize that I have spent most of my life looking for you
Or waiting for you
Or with you
There is no more time spent together
Or time getting ready for
Or time searching
There is only time.
And never-ending waves
And beaches dotted with tiny bird tracks
And smooth, stacked beach rocks
As worn as I feel.
Every holiday is the first without Gary, and though we fill our senses with the familiar, there is nothing the same about these days.
A mother has responsibilities that can sometimes seem a little overwhelming. I consider my major responsibility to be there for my daughters in good times and during difficult times. I have found the one magic ingredient that can rectify most situations and can be the cherry on top of the good times. A mani/pedi. During stressful times, the thought of relaxing in a chair while being pampered can pretty much take the edge off most situations. For some reason, the ability to decorate nails, feel pretty and pampered rings true for even my feminist daughters. When life becomes overwhelming, work endless or relationships precarious, sitting down for an hour, escaping to the enveloping, caring, non-judgmental world of a nail salon is the solution.
I can’t fix relationships, make babies stop crying from afar, relieve job stress, or provide endless financial support, but one of the privileges of being a mother, is providing this bit of comfort for my daughters, an hour of escape with the painted nails serving as the sweet remembrance.
Five months in and we were madly in love. Listening to the best music, Springsteen, Zevon, Clapton, Eagles, Ronstadt, Jackson, listening to music you were creating with Ed in the studio that held nighttime adventures. We saw every new movie and ate at Chinese restaurants that no longer exist. We drove the streets of Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice and Woodland Hills and we drove the highways to Yosemite, up the coast exploring, spending late afternoons at the beach watching surfers and sunsets.
Five months in and our families were meeting. Could this be serious? We didn’t let a day go by without spending at least a part of it together because separation was not possible. We became part of a bigger circle of friends and possibilities seemed endless as our futures began to merge, becoming entwined.
Five months out and I miss the love, and the music. The shared dinners at our favorite places no longer exist and sitting in the movies holding hands is a retreating memory. I drive the streets alone with Google Maps for company. Driving highways triggers memories, but also creates new memories with my daughters along. The beach with its salty air, endless waves and pelicans provides familiar solace.
Five months out and our little family grieves, not sure of our new formation, not sure about the approaching holidays and the new traditions we will begin to create. This is serious. A text thread miles long connects us now and if a day goes by without contact my heart aches for the loss of our intact family. I am grateful to be part of a community and an expanding circle of friends but I don’t know what the possibilities are or what my future will look like. The unwinding of two lives, braided together over time is an unfamiliar painful process.
Five months ago my world stopped with your heart and the unrequested resuscitation failed us all. I wake up many nights at 2:59 or 3:30. The time your heart stopped, the time they declared you were officially gone. I look at the clock as I turn out the light at night, 11:11 p.m. and I startle awake from dreams of you at 1:11 a.m. Is it a message? Can you show me a sign that is easy to read, more transparent, less symbolic? Hotel rooms numbered 303, an entourage of Honda Pilots, I am grasping for meaning and trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. I was told the other day, that there is no rhyme or reason and even with our best efforts to live healthy lives the best we can hope for is good luck. Five months in we had it. Five months ago yours ran out. Five months out and luck is a mystery.
A sign and a reminder.
The hours between 4:00 and 7:00 p.m. when twilight approaches and the daylight hours are coming to an end bring a shadow of melancholy. The daytime is busy with work, errands, exercise and occasional plans with friends. Then twilight encroaches with stillness and quiet. I am not preparing dinner or readying a welcoming home as I have done for most of my life. There are not children here needing to be driven to lessons or supervise homework for. I come home to the house as it was when I left in the morning, put away my school things, lunch bag, and change into fresh clothes. I take care of “business” answering emails, bringing in the mail, paying bills, washing daytime dishes, and watering plants. The night looms ahead with it’s empty hours and solitary dinner.
I used to look forward to some quiet time after the energy filled day of teaching and being surrounded by so many people. I came home and enjoyed a couple of hours decompressing and finding my voice again. I enjoyed planning meals, surprising Gary with something healthy and delicious when he arrived home or better yet, cooking together, and looked forward to settling in on the couch to unwind together watching TV, or back in the days of Charlie, going for an evening walk. We went to movies frequently (I have seen one movie in the past five months) and loved to go out to our favorite restaurants. That is all in the past now.
I look for new ways to fill the twilight hours, so I can get to the evening, when I can retreat to old habits of reading, writing or my new habit of watching mindless TV. A few times a week I go to yoga class and find comfort on the mat, in the repetition of familiar postures and in the energy of others seeking solace. Occasionally I have an early dinner with a friend and relax in the company of conversation. I attend my grief support group and share with others traveling this uncertain road. Nothing replaces the familiar routines of my life though. Creating a new routine is trial and error with some things bringing relief and others bringing a new onslaught of loneliness and sadness.
The days are bearable, and the evenings a welcome relief, but the twilight is painful with its solitude. I wonder how people adjust to being one, instead of two (or more). I look out at the lights twinkling in the Valley and think about all of the people alone in their homes and wonder about this new phase of my life. I’ve been cheering others on in my role as an encourager for most of my life, providing support and positive affirmations, celebrating successes and reassurance in times of struggle. I have not practiced doing this for myself. My life now can be anything I want it to be, I just never really thought about what I wanted before now.
A life-changing event occurred this week when my granddaughter was born. It has been such a bittersweet time filled with equal bursts of joy and sorrow. Anticipating a joyous birth while grieving the loss of my husband has left me feeling a little confused. When grieving, I welcomed the images of my lovely daughter, expecting my granddaughter and so filled with the natural feelings of bliss, terror, excitement and anticipation. When I got consumed with the bubbling-over excitement of my impending grandmother status I felt the drips of sadness that Gary will not be sharing the joys of being a grandparent with me and so angry at the unfairness of it all. He would have loved holding her and watching her grow. I am sure he would have spoiled her with attention and introduced her to the drums, perhaps with a little drum of her own. He would have loved to take her to the mountains and watch her little face gaze at the giant trees.
Birth is a celebration and a confirmation that life does flow in a circle of seasons. While some are just beginning and others have gone, there are those of us here, traveling this circle and considering all that life is. I look at that lovely little face, the cheeks chubby and her serene eyes. She is an old soul. I already want to nickname her Buddha. She is the joy we have been waiting for and an amazing tribute not only to my mother, her namesake, but also to all of the women in our respective families who move forward in strength through the times we think we can never survive.
I heard a TED talk today that talked about different lives. We think we are living one life, but really we have many lives. My family is starting a new life now and it is a life without Gary, but a life with little Marjorie. Even though my dad and my mother, the original Marjorie, are not here, we are. We are here to take part in this journey and to share in the excitement of our growing family and the love we all share.
Mothers have a tie to their children that is so strong it can be felt long after birth. There is a physical feeling connected to any separation that I still feel and an ache in my heart when my daughters are not nearby. It is not depressing, or debilitating, but still a very real sensation. It’s amazing and overwhelming when I think about creating a living being and how women get that honor and tremendous responsibility. It is even more incredible to see that continue with my own daughter’s entrance into motherhood. I look forward to watching them both grow and develop their own tie, the kind that binds women together.
There he is again, the mourning dove, sitting on the wire outside my window alone, looking in while I work at my desk, as he does just about every morning. You know the sound of the mourning dove, the sad cooing as he calls for his mate. Mourning doves coo and preen each other, hunt seeds on the ground, the female dove builds a nest of pine needles; they are most always seen together.
This dove gives me comfort when he visits each morning, as if he is looking out for me, or checking in on me and I feel like Gary is visiting. These thoughts seem illogical and I feel a little silly as I go out on the balcony to get a closer look, say hello and ask Gary how he is, if he is OK, wishing for a sure sign, so I will know he is alright. I know some would think I am crazy but I don’t know how to shake this feeling that I should be able to communicate with the dove somehow.
I coax myself to sleep with wishes for peace. I wish Gary peace and hope he is finding it somewhere that’s now out of my sight, somewhere I don’t know, a place I am not completely sure exists. I wish him peace from illness, his spirit free from his ailing body. I wish him peace from the struggles of life, the days filled with work. I hope he has reunited with those he loved who went before him and that his spirit is surrounded with music. I wish myself peace and an easy sleep, through the night. I wish for the ability to let some things go, to savor good memories and to forgive those that are painful memories. I wish for a release from the almost constant anxiety I feel and for a place to feel peaceful with the ability to see a future.
The dove waits for me to step outside. I glance up, breathe slowly and make a connection. As he flies off, his wings whine and my heart sinks. Departures are always difficult.
I have come to the conclusion that I am stuck. I have the best intentions to move forward and began by taking one step at a time but now I find myself immobile. I have lists of things to do, drawers to clean, cabinets to sort through and decisions to make but I can’t seem to get off the couch. I can get off the couch to go to yoga, to make a quick stop to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, to meet up for coffee, breakfast, lunch or dinner, but I can’t get off of the couch to tackle my list.
It seems endless and even sorting through an emotional box of memorabilia doesn’t make a dent. I am completing the unseen cleaning, the insides of things that don’t take up space whether or not I have emptied of the contents. Of course there are drawers a bit too scary to open because I don’t know what I will find that will trigger a flood of tears.
There are the meaningless items that in theory are easy to dispose of; the last remaining boxes of large size Baggies my mother had bought and we had brought with us when we moved, the boxes of decorative strands of garden lights and the unneeded BBQ items from years of outdoor entertaining.
There are boxes of camping items, expired batteries, and some games saved from the days we used to play family games. There is a desk filled with office supplies, useful duplicates that most likely can be given away, and endless electronics with their accompanying power cords, speakers and mice that have to be properly recycled at a difficult to find unknown location.
I am baffled by the 40-year-old collection of tools including drills, a collection of screws, nails, hooks and boxes of cords of all kinds. I don’t know what to do with these things. I have 10 pound and 15 pound hand weights that I will never use (but I’ll keep the 5s and 8s). I’m stuck.
I’m stuck in the transition of us to me.