Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A broken heart gets in the way

The other day I was watering the garden and right in the middle of the walk, as carefully placed as if by plan, was a small stone in the shape of a heart.

A broken heart.

It stopped me in my tracks. I picked it up, turned off the water, and walked over to the pergola and sat down to contemplate it.

It is a tiny thing. about the size of a nickle. But its impact was huge. Because I had been telling myself I was doing really well.

I was lying. My heart is broken. I am in the most familiar of places and yet I recognize none of it. Without him, all is foreign, all is strange, meaningless.

I am lost.

Stand still.
The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. you must let it find you.

"Lost" by David Wagoner
From Collected Poems 1956-1976

"Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known."
That is how I reply to people who ask, "How are you?" I say, "I am here." But Here is indeed a powerful stranger, unknown territory full of mysteries.

Last month his will was probated, a legal procedure so dry and formulaic that it made me want to scream, "Stop! What he wanted mattered more than these muttered rote words and scripted replies in a courtroom. He is not just one more 'case' come before you. He was wonderful, beloved, delightful. Can you not see that the whole world is diminished without him!?"

But of course one does not act that way in a courtroom when one is just a bit player in a minor legal drama that just happens to deal with the death of a beloved husband. 

So now I am officially his sole heir and executor. He had already made provision for others to be cared for, so his will was very simple and straightforward. Now I am tasked with inventorying our "estate," a word much too grand to encompass our eccentric and very personal creation of a home.  How am I supposed to put a dollar value on our life together? For that is what it feels like I've been asked to do. 

I have sat down again and again with all good intentions to start this task and end up walking away again and again, helpless before the impossibility of it. Yes, I have found deeds and records and all manner of documents, but I can't seem to go much beyond that. 

So I wander outside and watch Raven and Wren in the garden, although my Raven is actually Crow. Yes, Crow has taken up residence here this spring, and unlike the busy noisy wrens, he is a creature on a schedule. He comes to the pergola fountain at the same time every day to drink, scattering any loitering squirrels and daring my dogs to challenge him. They just act like they haven't noticed him. He perches on the bubbling top of the fountain and boldly drinks without even looking around. He doesn't care if I am sitting three feet away watching him. When he is done, he looks directly at me, and we eye one another in silence for a time. Then I tell him he is beautiful and he bobs his head at me, and takes off over the pergola, crying his raucous challenge to the skies.

Odd how I have come to count on those encounters. I sit and watch the birds, and the lizards and other creatures who share this space with me and wonder if they notice how different it is without him. And I wonder if grief is making me a little bit mad. A good friend who has endured a huge loss herself told me to call her whenever I needed to ask if I was crazy or not. Now I know what she means.

Grief does create a mad space in one's life, a space that makes no sense, a Here that is a powerful stanger, one that may or may not give you permission to know it. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Missing my birthday boy

My beloved was born on April 23, 1937. So Monday was a hard day.

Because every year on our birthdays we would begin the day the same way. The one who was not having a birthday would ask the other, "How shall we celebrate your birthday?"

And we would then explore increasingly elaborate ideas -- go out to dinner, go to a  movie, go to a Broadway show, book a cruise, go to Mexico, go to Italy.

But we each knew what we would end up doing -- having dinner together here at home. In the garden usually on his April birthday, in front of the fireplace on my December birthday.

His birthday dinner in the garden 2015
Because nothing, absolutely nothing, was as much fun as just the two of us together in a place we had created together, eating and drinking and talking and laughing.

Daisy wishing her daddy happy birthday in 2015
He was among the smartest people I know.

I so miss his wit, his observations on the day's happenings. He was generally kinder than I am, but then, a lot of people are. Conversations with him were always interesting, challenging, and just plain fun. He taught me so much, and stretched my world view in so many ways.  He was so widely read -- and I swear, he retained it all.

He couldn't remember to pick up the stuff I asked him to get at the grocery store, but he could remember something he'd read ten years ago in a  Nikos Kazantzakis book.

A thousand times a week I think, "I have to tell him about . . ." And then reality intrudes.

I so miss our conversations, my love. I know you are probably having a wonderful time tracking down all the writers whose work you loved, but I wish you were still here. Things are more than a little bleak without you.

You would have been 81 years old on Monday, but those numbers truly mean so little when I think of you. Your vibrant spirit, your wit, your charm -- they were ageless.

So on Monday, I set up a gofundme account, the Gayland Pool Memorial Outreach Fund to raise $10,000 to carry on the ministries you were so passionate about through the work of the congregation at St.  Luke in the Meadow Episcopal Church. We've raised nearly $3,000 of it so far.

It's helping me get from one day to the next. Because it's damn hard.

I miss you so, my love. So much.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

An empty garden

This is the time of day when I miss him most - early evening, when the day is drawing down and we both would stop whatever had kept us busy that day and turn to one another for companionship and conversation.

He would make me a drink and -- if the weather permitted and it nearly always did - we would head out into the garden. The dogs knew this routine so well they would meet us at the crossing in the walk -- are we going to sit in the pergola or in the Chapel Garden? When we would tell them which, they would tear off ahead of us, thrilled to be outside with us, knowing we would be playing with them, talking to them, laughing at them.

Daisy and Sam still look at me this time of day when I step outside -- are we going to spend time out here together, their eyes ask?

But I just can't. Sitting in the garden without him is so meaningless, so arid, so devoid of contentment that when I do sit outside I end up weeping, and the smaller dogs end up huddled around my feet, with big dog Booker putting his paws round my neck and embracing me in his distress.

I worked all day yesterday in the guesthouse garden, and when I finished, dirty and exhausted, I realized I had already turned to call him to come see how it looked, to come have a drink with me there while we enjoyed it together. But he isn't here, and the joy in the beauty of the space drained away, and it became just another job among many to finish.

I know the dogs worry about me. When I collapse in the garden weeping, they pile all over me, upset and trying to figure out what to do. I suspect if it weren't for them, I might end up curled up in a ball out there.  But they are here, and so I don't end up that way.

Instead, I walk into this oh-so-empty house, wash my hands, wipe my face, and try to figure out how to move through the next few hours until I can fall into blessed sleep, where, for a few hours in treacherous dreams, he is still with me in the garden. Because, in my dreams, we are almost always in the garden.

But the price paid for these sweet dreams is awakening every day to the knowledge of just how enormous is the space his absence occupies.

God, how I miss him.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Cold Wind

He loved Holy Week and Easter.

Yes, these liturgically-heavy days were busy, but being the world's biggest extrovert, he drew energy from it. He especially loved the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday services. Oh, of course he was tired in the week after, but while he was in the midst of it, he was fully present in this most dramatic week of the church calendar.

Gayland in Israel
Early in our marriage we had Holy Week and Easter in Israel. We spent Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, then most of Holy Week in the Galilee. We were back in Jerusalem to walk the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. We went to the Easter Vigil at the ancient church of St. Anne's. And after wards we walked back across the Old City on worn stone streets bathed in the light from a full moon. We went directly to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to visit the candlelit empty tomb. It was a beautiful, powerful experience.

Gayland had essentially one Easter sermon -- through God Christ is risen and through the Holy Spirit he has moved out into the world. He was with the apostles and the women then, and he is with us now.

But Gayland is not. So, for now, the alleluias are stopped in my throat.  I have gone through the motions required of the season, and tried hard to be present. I have enjoyed the family being together, watching my nieces preparing food and filling eggs with some unexpected things (it IS April Fools Day), and watching the younger cousins and various dogs tearing around the garden. An intricate chalk design being created on the bricks of the patio took time in the early afternoon.

As we were finishing up the family Easter egg hunt, a cold wind began blowing from the north. The temperature dropped fast and little girls in pastel Easter frocks and boys in shorts and t-shirts began shivering. So the festivities were transported inside. Later, as it began to grow dark, I moved through the garden picking up cushions and putting hammocks away. The dogs accompanied me, subdued.The wind had gotten stronger and the air even colder.

It seemed more like February than April, more like mid-winter than spring, more like Ash Wednesday than Easter.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sorrow's garden

Today I drank my coffee out of a cup he gave me many years ago. He called me his garden girl, and he was so pleased to find this cup that he could hardly wait for a special occasion to give it to me.

When we got married, he promised me one day of work in the garden every year. When he died 26 years later, he owed me 26 days. . .

Gayland and hot hard sweaty work just didn't exit in the same universe. Now, he WAS lavish with praise of MY work in the garden. He learned early on that it was a really really really really bad idea, when I had spent eight hours on a hot day digging out and planting a new flower bed, to say, when I proudly showed it to him, "Don't you think that bush would look better over there?"

Having a spade thrust into his hand and me saying, "OK, you can move it," and then me stomping off taught him that that probably wasn't the wisest move.

He loved the garden. He loved it year round. He especially enjoyed spring in the garden, when old friends reappeared -- the Lady Banks rose especially -- and new ones were planted.

 He didn't always know what a plant was, and sometimes when I would call him outside to show him some exciting new growth he would stare at the ground and finally say, "Now what exactly is it I'm supposed to be looking at?"

And I would point to a teensy shoot of green and he would grin and say, "Oh, that's fabulous." And then he would laugh at me and himself. His joy in the garden was all tied up in his love of me and this place, as mine was tied up in my love of him and this place.

But joy has fled the garden. It is now inhabited by her big sister, sorrow. His absence has made it all meaningless, leached the beauty away, and replaced the peace with grief.

And you know what? The garden doesn't care. It simply goes on, doing what gardens do, no matter whether humans are laughing in it, or weeping.

The absence of this one man, the empty chairs where he sat, the tables on which he put his drink, the empty walks along which he strolled with the dogs each evening before bed -- they are as nothing to the garden.

And, for now, the garden is nothing to me.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Just holding on

Today he has been gone for three months. I woke up knowing this was the anniversary of his death without consciously marking the 11th anywhere but in the cracks of my broken heart.

I try hard to avoid the "four months ago he was alive. . ." game because, well, why? But it still sneaks up on me and ambushes me with heartbreaking memories so fresh and real they could be movies projected on a screen. I come across a photograph, or a note he scribbled to himself and stuck in the tray of his car, or a list he made -- oh, how he loved lists, convinced that with a list he would be organized and invincible against his ADD. But, of course, he always forgot where he put the list . . .

Even sleep is an enemy, because, well, dreams. Dreams have become faithless purveyors of vivid images of him laughing, talking, walking in the garden with me, holding me, images so real that I wake up smiling, only to crash into lonely reality.

Grief seems to have taken up residence in my throat. I can't sing. I can't even pray out loud. Doing any of these things can cause me to dissolve into tears. Sometimes I can't even talk.

Music especially is difficult, which is simply mean, because I love music, as he did. We often had classical music playing in the house. But now one of his favorites comes along, and I can't bear it.

But he would hate it that I might go without music, and so I listen to it while moving through a world blurred by tears, or holding a dog who doesn't mind having damp fur on her back.

But the big dog, Booker, can't bear it when I cry. In his distress he climbs up on me, trying to cram all 60 plus pounds of him onto my lap. He doesn't lick, as the others dogs do. No, he gently prods me with his muzzle and rests his head on my chest, wrapping a leg around my shoulder. And then just holds on. As I do.

Booker and me, just holding on.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Soap and salt

Some of the echoes of him are fading, no matter what I do.

He was the grocery shopper in the family, delighting in meeting his friends in the store, checking up on the checkers, bargaining with the butcher, laughing with the stock boys and girls. He knew them all, and loved them.

But today, I opened the last of the bath soap he bought. Yesterday I used up the last bit of coffee he had stockpiled. On Sunday I realized we -- I -- am out of salt. And vodka. Oh, my, he would have hated for me to be out of vodka.

Silly, isn't it, to grieve over such things.

But such things reduce me to tears, and I have to stop and just breathe for awhile.

I watch an episode of a TV series we were watching together, and I start to cry. I watch the final episode of Victoria and weep because he's not here as my personal historian to discuss the accuracy of the story. I finish reading a book we had talked about and automatically think, "I have to talk to him about this ending . . ." I am out at a late meeting and start to text him that I'm headed home, and realize there is no one at home worrying about where I am.

A hundred times a day I think, "I have to tell Gayland . . ." and then stop. I plant some new shrubs and flowers in front of the guesthouse and my first thought is to call him to come look at how pretty they are. I think about doing something new in the garden only to be hit in the face by the knowledge that my dearest co-creator is no longer here. And all the joy in the garden drains away.

People ask, "How are you?' And I say, "I'm here."  Because that's all I can manage right now. Showing up. Putting one foot in front of the other. Moving from hour to hour, project to project. Alone.

Yes, this is me, weeping over bath soap, and mourning the last of the salt.