It’s been 40 days since Rick died. Long enough to give me some sense of time passing. When he died it was summer. I wore sandals to the hospital, and even when I came home after dinner it was still light out. Now it’s autumn. The world is moving on, and Rick’s no longer a part of it. The fresh sod laid on his grave has taken root and is covered with yellow and brown leaves. I’m terribly saddened by realizing that he isn’t here with me to watch the World Series or to vote in the next election. I feel guilty for moving forward. How can I be bothered with such mundane chores as swapping out clothes for fall when Rick is dead? What’s wrong with me that I can calmly add coats and socks and shoes to my wardrobe when he’s in the last outfit he’ll ever wear? Just the fact that the season could turn seems to be a repudiation of his life. This summer was so hot, one 90-degree day after the next; the weeks of his illness seemed one long day. That the season can change, and time can move forward, is wrong. It moves me further away from him and from his having been in my life. I don’t want this to retreat into the back of my mind.
The immediacy of work needed is gone. The house is ready for closing, and what’s left is mostly lawyer work; probate forms and such. There’s not much for me to other than sign papers and wait. I’m starting to look around our house (my house now) and think about cleaning up. The living room has a pile of boxes from his house that need sorting, as does our bedroom. There’s still a storage locker of items that need review and decisions made. Those items will take time but there won’t be the level of emotional attachment as there will be for the items that were here, at our shared house.
The 2nd bedroom became a studio when he moved in, and there’s a lot of equipment that I will never use. There’s a bookcase full of books on subjects of his interests; I’ll keep a few, but not most. I want this house to have a sense that Rick lived here, but not to be a shrine. This will take time; I’ll be looking at items he used, liked, lived with and trying to figure out what can be sold, what should be kept, what is for family. I want to do him justice. The hardest of all, and what I’ll leave for a long, long time, are the really personal effects. The last of his clothes washed are still hanging upstairs by the washing machine as I can’t bring myself to put them away. As long as those socks and underwear and shirts are still there, he maintains a presence in the house.
Years ago when I was much younger and dating, I though the worst and hardest part of breakups was knowing that time would heal the hurt, that the sharp immediacy of a new experience would eventually dull and smooth out until it became a memory. Knowing that the fresh wounds would become scars was never a comfort to me; it seemed cruel that what mattered so much at one point in my life would end up as trivia.
Major events, whether good or bad, are fully experienced as they occur, and there’s a totality of sensory input. Those big experiences inflame our consciousness and drive everything else out when they happen. It seems impossible to make sense of what’s happening because there’s no time to analyze or interpret; there’s only time to experience and be and exist.
It’s later that the work of interpreting and crafting meaning and creating the story of what happened and what it means occurs. I’m not capable of remembering every detail, every last smell and sound and sight, every conversation and what was sensed but never said. I end up with a partial memory that is still better than anything I’ll have years, months, even days later. Eventually what is left is really a memory of pictures that were taken, or how the story was told.
I’ve always understood the truth behind the idea that cameras steal the soul, because they do. So does retelling an event, because every time you do so the actual event becomes a little less real. Over time what you have is a memory of the story you told, or of the picture, not of the event itself.
I don’t want that to happen to the life we had.