Monday, August 15, 2016

#SOL16: Design


from my art journal: Widow (gesso, acrylic paint, ink, pencil)
based on an image by Pam Carriker
At the end of the street a man stooped by age works in his garden. He has been a neighbor for the last 14 years and I am surprised at how old he must now be. For the last year, I have past through life largely not noticing those around me, save my immediate family. Now, I see the age in his face, in the way his hands tremble as they hold the trowel and I say to Devon, "I bet he's pushing 95, now." Alongside this noticing there's a sadness that creeps into my own step and colors what I see. And without warning I hear my own thinking:

This old man has outlived Rob by more than 30 years. Whole marriages, like mine, could be rolled into that span of time with some years left over. What might Rob and I have made had we been afforded 30 more years? Why weren't we? Why?

And it isn't that I wish my neighbor any malice, for after watching Rob die and these last six months, to wish anyone malice would be an anathema. Having known deep suffering there is no will to harm. Instead, I wonder whether design governs the length and brevity of our individual lives.

To be a sudden widow in your mid 50s is to question design.  It is to wonder about the necessity of meaning. To question the absence of God. And in thinking about all of this I am transported back to a graduate classroom nearly 30 years ago where Rob and I along with our classmates discussed Robert Frost's poem, Design. There we argued about the weigh and ambiguity of the closing two lines--"...What but design of darkness to appall?--/If design govern in a thing so small."


God factors in grief and death. My husband never expressed well formed or articulated views about God until he was days away from death. Then, he talked as best he might about God and an afterlife. He said what he was seeing was so other-worldly--a mesh of science and beauty and faith. Somewhere in a parallel universe, Rob told me he would be waiting.

Leave breadcrumbs? I asked.

And so I was not too surprised when I asked him late one night, "Do you believe in God?" and he answered quickly with a voice unwavering, "Of course. Of course there's a God."


My life has been entwined with Rob's since that late summer afternoon when we sat opposite one another in a writing class. Being a widow at first meant trying to parse my life from his. I thought working through grief was about separation. Now I know that such attempts are more irrational than not. There is simply no way to do this. To be married to Rob was to make together something sturdy, aesthetic, loving, complex, simple, contradictory, vital, surprising and above all--vulnerable. For isn't love more about vulnerability than not?  Grief tugs at the familiar, rides alongside it revealing the roots of a strange and oddly necessary symbiotic relationship. The familiar fuels grief as it fuels grace. So, is it no wonder that I am reminded of Rob while awake and while dreaming on a constant basis? These days I understand that there is no running away from what has formed me.  I learned the deep lessons of love alongside my husband.

Now, most moments are infused with memories of Rob and thoughts about how Rob might react to something occurring. I think of this as Dev and I get into the car and leave behind the older man in his garden.  On the radio SoundCheck is playing, I am brought back the the townhouse Rob and I lived in 28 years ago in Fort Lee--that apartment where we could stand on our balcony and see the top of the George Washington Bridge. I recall bits of a conversation we had then. This was when I first learned about John Schaeffer's immense knowledge of contemporary music. Rob was such a fan and now most weekdays when I hear Schaefer on local public radio I think about those young newlywed days in Fort Lee.

Or earlier today I am sitting with a teacher--a teacher Rob worked with in prior years--and she references him, as do I throughout most of our conversation. At one point we talk about channeling Rob and there is great happiness I feel from this acknowledgement of him. Or earlier this morning when I stopped in at a local Starbucks and the barista tells me how much she likes the necklace I am wearing and I thank her, knowing that it was a gift from Rob to mark our 24th wedding anniversary--a gift that was so unexpected. A few years earlier Rob and I had decided to stop buying gifts for one another. We didn't need, nor want anything. The last few Christmases were spent donating the money we might have spent on one another to others. We agreed that those were the best holidays.

Friends, I am trying to make meaning amid the shock and tears and frankly I am not succeeding. What I know today could be slipped into a back pocket and lost. A well loved life and a deeply loved man are both a source of comfort and grief, solace and rue. When death parts lovers so early, meaning is hard to come by.


  1. This is beautiful. Why one person's life is short and another's is long is a mystery. I believe he will be waiting in the afterlife, and you won't need breadcrumbs to find him. Thanks for sharing!

    1. How beautiful a response, Lisa. I hope to not need breadcrumbs too. Thank you.

  2. I think deeply about your using of writing to understand where you are in this deep grieving. I am learning so much with you/ side by side. I am understanding the uniqueness and universality of loss. Tuvia had lived a full life. He left me with so much more to navigate on my own, but I didn't hesitate to throw reality out the window, No regrets still, even on a riverboat cruise with couples everywhere.
    What I loved about this layer piece is how you noticed your neighbor...bravo!!!

    1. I see couples all over too. It's interesting what our eyes are drawn too so often. I think it brave of you to take the trip.