I realized a few years ago that I had no vision of a life or world after Dan. It wasn't that I had plans to throw myself on the pyre, but simply that a world without Dan in it was beyond imagining.Yet, here it is. In the same way Dan and I traveled the road of dying, I am consciously working to accept grief and change and the future with an open heart. I am traveling a road countless people have walked before, and this comforts me: this is part of being human.
Dan's memorial service, which was held a month and a half after his death, was wonderful - with people from all of Dan's different lives, lots of laughter, wonderful music. The buzz of good conversation in the reception hall went on for a good while longer than planned. We had just the right amount of pie - maybe three pieces left.
The Monday after the service I had wrist surgery that left me unable to use a mouse or keyboard efficiently, unable to begin on the overwhelming stack of tasks that had built up. In the days that followed, I crashed - waves of sadness and deep alone-ness, insecurity and questioning, guilt and fear washed over me. I was depleted - I can't think of another word - with no inner resources to draw on. Deadlines were looming. I failed to track big details, focusing instead on tiny ones. I couldn't sleep, didn't have the energy to eat. I thought I was alone.
Into this pretty awful picture, family and friends came. Maria, who was with us so beautifully in the hours after Dan's death, tended to me after surgery with great wisdom and care; my daughter Sophie sat with me, then helped me organize the tasks and did the parts I could not do. My co-worker Linda talked me out of coming back to work too soon, and when I returned, walked and talked with me when things were too much. Friends and family went for walks with me, and let me talk: every topic led me to Dan, and they listened, and shared stories of their own.
Am I doing well? How to define 'well'?
The joy and relief of supporting Dan in living as well as he could and then dying as well as he could carried me in those first weeks after his death. I would not say I was numb or dazed or stunned, I was feeling fully, but then moved into understanding the depth and profundity of our loss. It is a daunting state being without him. Things that had a glow about them no longer do: the crazy expensive coffeemaker that made us smile, the rituals of dish-washing and cooking, the placement and rearrangement of objects, the joyful arranging (and rearranging) of flowers.
I have struggled to finish this entry. I started it months ago, and have taken it up a half dozen times since then. Grandbaby Arlo has words now, and legs that carry him everywhere and anywhere with astonishing speed. Zoe finished her LSAT, and she and Hayden graduated from Naropa; Sophie is settling back in school; Kate traveled to Europe again this summer. Peter and Ashley are working on Pete's coffee-roasting dream. I'm walking a lot, and more often peaceful than not. Things are easier and harder than I thought they would be.
This weekend I was at a woodturning symposium at North House, a craft school on the shores of Lake Superior. Each person attending could put their work on tables, creating an instant gallery. Respect for craft, joy in making, is in every molecule of the sweet-smoke smelling air of North House. I felt like I had nothing to offer, nothing to put on those tables. I put the books I'd done the photos for on the table - they are all images of other people's work, but making those images is done out of respect for the craft. It was good to acknowledge my own work and skill, but I still felt empty-handed.
Surely I could have made something during all of those months before Dan died. And then I realized that we had indeed, painfully and joyfully, co-created something: a good death. All of those small moments we shared, the quiet conversations, the long rides, the consultations, the sharing of our lives with friends and family, the pursuit of pie, the radical acceptance of the difficult and unknown - all essential parts of creation.
Our society isn't geared toward that kind of craft, but it is moving in the right direction.
- I committed to doing one new thing a month: it could be a class or lecture, adventure, trip, anything - as long as it was something I hadn't done before.
- I committed to walking at least 5,000 steps a day. It could be close to midnight, but if I didn't have my steps in I had to get to it. My walking was meditative and healing. In over two years I have missed two days: one when I was in a deep conversation with an elderly friend and the clock ran out. It was worth it. The other, absent-mindedness, less so. Before long, I was walking five miles a day, something I continue to do.
- I committed to saying yes as often as possible to opportunities and invitations, even when they intimidated me.
- I committed to looking for beauty - and taking at least one photo each day of something I found beautiful. My appreciation for beauty is sharper than ever before. Each day, I fall in love with something I see, knowing that it won't be there on the next.