Saturday, March 23, 2024

The highways and byways of sorrow

One of the realities of living into your 70s is that you begin to lose people -- beloved family members, friends, and acquaintances that you cherished.

On an intellectual level I knew this, but I was unprepared for the emotional impact. Because each of these lost beloveds have a geography attached to them, places that we shared, places we had fun, places we faced adversity together, places we worshiped together, places we ate regularly, places where we helped one another and others.

The landscape of your life becomes marked by invisible signs that say, "[Your beloved] isn't here any more," bringing with it a fresh rush of grief, however brief, that takes your breath away for a moment. 

For instance, heading east on I-30 off to my right over the hill is Bruce's house, where if I took the Beach exit instead of my Oakland exit I could swing by and see if he's out in the yard and we'd chat.

Or driving north on Eight Street, stopping at the light at Elizabeth Blvd. If I turned right, as I did for many decades, I'd go right by Joan's house, where I often went for strategy meetings or just to pick her up to go to lunch with our other co-conspirators.

Or driving on Camp Bowie, where, if I turn on Virginia Place I could stop by Bill's house, and visit with him and his fabulous wife. She grieves for him in that house, just as I still grieve for Gayland in mine.

Heading north on Montgomery, if I turn on Crestline, which I do a lot when I go to the bank, I drive past Richard's house, again, where his also fabulous wife still grieves his loss. 

Or in my own East Side, driving on Randol Mill, I glance up the hill and think of Deb now freshly grieving the loss of Sharon, and I grieve with her. 

And of course, there are the countless places that were meaningful for me and Gayland that still cause stabs of loss and grief every time I go past them.

Sometimes the weight of grief and loss seems too much to bear. But then I am reminded of a passage from Louise Erdrich’s 2005 novel The Painted Drum that I wrote down years ago:

"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could."

So I go walk in the garden with the dogs where we rejoice that Mom's irises are beginning to bloom again and the wild buttercups are taking over their favorite flowerbed.

Life is bursting forth all around us with a force that pushes aside

grief, waving banners of hope and gratitude.

And I am reminded again that love abides. Always.