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.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Momento mori

Ash Wednesday, February 8, 1989

The fact that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine's Day creates an interesting tension between love and mortality. Momento mori set against vanitas, ashes falling on roses.

This newsworthy collision of love and death is an oddity of the calendar caused by the moveable feast that is Easter.

It is the first time this has happened in my lifetime, and it occurs two months and three days after his death. It's not too strong to say it feels like an assault, a literal shoving of reminders of death into my face.

I don't feel the need for any ashy reminders of my mortality smeared on my forehead. I don't need to be urged to slow down, to reflect on the swiftness of life and the inevitability of death. I have been sitting with ashes for weeks now.

Instead I am struggling to focus on the gifts his love gave me, on the strengths he nurtured in me, on the many times he nudged this introvert into new places amid new people, on the grace with which he handled grief, on the way children responded joyfully to him, I suspect because their open child-like hearts always recognized their twin in his.

He was a bright spirit. His light was a lantern to my feet, and without it, the way forward is harder to see.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Traveling into a future without him

Loss is a landscape I am forced to navigate every day.

Loved spaces once shared are now places where pain lives. To occupy those spaces is to encounter the piercing realty of just how much I've lost. And since this reality encompasses most of the spaces in which I live and move and have my being, I have to put on emotional armor just walk into church or through the garden, work in the farmhouse, sit in front of the fire, or - hardest of all --  lay down in bed at night.

It is tiring to navigate beloved spaces now turned desolate. As a friend who has experienced similar grief wrote to me, "The whole world is diminished." I am using a lot of energy simply to get through the day, and then the night.

I don't mean that I live shrouded in loss all the time. I still have a life, and people and animals I love, work I care deeply about, a family I adore. And I have the immense gift of knowing I was deeply loved and cherished.

So I can hold the grief and sadness at bay much of the time, pulling strength from the love and care of so many friends. Plus - and never doubt this - the kindness of strangers is a very real thing.

Still, at every turn in this journey into a future without him I can be ambushed, blindsided by grief, felled by loss between one step and the next.

There is no pill to make this pain go away. But the memory of love, the knowledge of love now present, and my faith in love eternal makes this journey possible.

But, oh God, how much I miss him.