Tuesday, May 17, 2016

#SOL16: I Did Not Die

Stopped (M.A. Reilly, Leonia, NJ, 2012)


Sometimes the distance between the hard earth I am resting on and the sky above is one my eye cannot calculate, cannot clearly discern. Other times, the sky presses so close that I think surely my exhaled breath is helping to form clouds that drift just out of sight.

Everything moves.


When I began writing about the diagnosis, about Rob's too sudden death, about what my life was mostly like during his illness, what it felt like right after his death, and now what it is becoming, I made a promise to tell the truth as I understood it--to not back away from unpleasant thoughts. I wanted an untainted record of the last year. Here in this digital light, I wanted to tell you what it means to be unfinished, to be both scared and courageous, to feel slight against the crush of pain, to utter what is mostly unnamable and to feel a flicker of possibility.

Yes, possibility.

What I could not know during those last days with Rob when I sat beside the hospital bed watching him sleep, looking out the rear window to our yard and the woods beyond was how significant space would become in the months following his death.


Here's a slim truth I understand now and again: The death of your lover, your spouse, the father of your child, your happy-ever-after is mostly a disquisition about collapsing space that is folded and unfolded sometimes at will.

As Rob was dying, the world contracted and grew so very small until the drone and spit of the oxygen machine became the very breath we all took and exhaled. The whole house became attuned to the intake and exhalation of that mechanical breath. We breathed as one unit, a syncopated composition, until on that late March afternoon, we stopped like a flipped switch.

I thought not breathing meant we all had died.
It did not.


After Rob's death, huge vacancies assembled. Where once there had been flesh covering bone, now I was largely jagged openings, holes you could drive a fist through. Across three decades, Rob and I became more assemblage, less solo bodies. After his death, my body was broken; a mere tracing of the places where I had loved and lost my husband.

In the weeks following, little stuck to me: words, deeds, thoughts, feelings came and went. I was more drifting cloud than hard earth. What little ground I did find in those odd nights and days felt spongy, less solid, less known to my touch.

I so wanted to be all better and I was not. I wanted to be handed the map of my life and told go this way, now. And out of this unattainable state, a restlessness grew and grew until standing in it was so unbearable that I found myself trying to out-run my life and failing.


Each morning I walk. I walk because I must. I walk so I can hear what I need to say and what I am saying now is that "I am not content to be a mere tracing of my life."

I am not content.

Not content.

There, I said it.

And though this feels like a betrayal for moving on, living means leaving the past behind, leaving the fiction. I cannot stand in the world where Rob remains alive and live.

If Rob helped me to know anything during our life together it was this: to replicate the past like a loop gone mad is not to live.

When I walk I tell myself, Don't mistake the tracing for a map.


And what feels uncomfortable to say out loud, what still feels like betrayal of Rob's love is that in acknowledging this discomfort, this malcontentedness, new spaces are emerging. I am alive. I did not die in early March even though my heart felt stopped, my breath felt gone.

Lately, I sense spaces of opportunity blooming like wild irises that I have suddenly come upon while out walking. These flashes of beauty move in and out of my range of sight, momentarily bridging the vacant spaces within me like strings of lavender and yellow light tossed against the darkness.

Clouds drift.
Starlight flickers.

Each new space arises alongside the odd marriage of wife-widow-mother-woman. I am a complication composed of hard ground, drifting clouds, flickering stars and such uncertainty save this: I did not die.

I don't know what I am becoming and for now that is good enough.


  1. None of us ever know what we are becoming. It's all illusion. And it's always good enough as it's all we have.

  2. No we are not content.
    This is no tracing.

    1. Thank you Simon. Thank you for understanding.