Saturday, October 26, 2019

Keith


Dev at 3 in what was then our new home.
I.

I'm leaving where I have lived for the last 18 years. Dev has gone to Hoboken, fallen in love, and I couldn't be more pleased. On my way out to get tape I needed to close some boxes, I stopped to talk with a neighbor, and I thought she said she was returning a rake to Keith.  When I asked her if that's what she meant, she looked at me and said, "You don't know?"

"Know what?"

"Keith died a few weeks ago."

Keith lived next door. He left behind a wife and a 15-year-old daughter.  I was stunned.

II.

The winter after Rob died, a UPS truck driver plowed down my mailbox and left it in pieces.  When I saw what had happened, I felt like crying. I had been holding so many disparate parts of my life together and this insult was just too much.

I said to Dev, "there's only so many things we can fix. Leave it alone and we'll figure it out tomorrow."   Neither of us had any idea how to put it back together. I imagined all day how I would not be getting mail. I fretted and wondered what to do.  After great loss, the body mostly knows paralysis. Even small decisions can be troublesome.

When I got home that night from work, Keith was at the mailbox.  He had just finished assembling it. It has never fallen again.

That's who he was. Quiet. Kind. Watchful.

III.

I've been away from the house a good deal since it was put on the market and now sold.

Four years ago, Rob was still living. He had just been released from the hospital and was cleared for chemo after battling a staph infection he had gotten when a surgeon placed a filthy port into his chest 7 weeks earlier.  Two weeks from now he would suffer heart trauma and undergo thoracic surgery to remove an abscess the staph infection, followed by chemo, had caused. Hours after learning of Keith's death, I was reminded of the sharp pain that never quite heals.

Loss is never far away, even when I think I have tucked it well under my skin.  I imagine most women who have lost their husbands know some of what my neighbor now faces.  I brought a card over to the house and rang the bell. I could hear the dogs barking and the soft sounds of those at home. I wasn't too surprised that the door remained closed. 

After the first shock wears off, facing life is often too hard. I placed the card in her mailbox and left.

IV.

I wish I was wiser. I wish I had the power to heal with just a word or two and I could say or write something here that would ball up  the immense pain my neighbor, Tracy and her daughter, Natalie must feel. But I know that it asking the impossible and the dangerous. Grief works itself out of a body across years. It's patterned and idiosyncratic.  I see that now. 

The pulse to live is biologically strong. It carries the wounded along until we can find our feet and stand once again. Wobbly knees and all that.

V.

Two things mattered most to me after Rob's death and the years that followed.

Art I made after Rib died from his notebooks,
The first was love. My Devon had just turned 17 a few weeks before his dad died. The love I have for Devon kept me strong and vulnerable.  I did not know I would need both.  I did not know in the months after Rob's death that Devon and I would have to break and fall apart. 

We did.  Where there had never been distance--distance grew. Where there had been trust, trust frayed. Yeat's poem about how the center cannot hold was too true.  We had to break to become whole again.

The second was the knowledge that I have been so well loved by Rob. Distance has a way of reframing the ordinary.  It has allowed me to live brilliantly as he asked, and not live in response to fear.  And lord knows there are so many fears that arose alongside the loss.


VI.

"I don't understand it," says Dawn. "I don't understand why good men die early."
I tell her what Jane told me 2 years ago. "You're never going to understand that. That's what acceptance is.  Accepting what you can't understand."

If you find a quiet moment in the next few days, offer a prayer or two for my neighbor and her young daughter that they may find solace in one another.

Then go and live boldly. 
Live brilliantly.
Live.

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