Saturday, March 23, 2019

Oh, Earth

“And Full of Sleep” (M.A. Reilly)

I opened an email and read a new comment about a post written several years ago about art, affinity groups, and brick-based learning. As I reread the post I thought about how committed I was to making art and frankly how happy I was. I don’t recall being anything but happy in those days. I wrote that I was richer than Midas.

I only noticed the date of publication after I finished rereading and realized that a year later we would celebrate Rob’s last birthday. I could almost imagine the specifics of the day when I wrote the post. More than likely we had celebrated my birthday and Rob’s the night before. Proabaly a simple supper, some presents, and surely cake. We were born a day apart. I imagine as I wrote on my laptop that he was somewhere in the house reading the latest issue of The Nation or a novel and Dev was likely on line with friends from Virginia or Europe. We probably had tea later that night and Rob may have even read the post by then. He always read what I wrote and would have offered his thoughts.

A year later he would be diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, could no longer walk, would have spent 50 days in two hospitals and had suffered through three surgeries, losing a rib in the last one. He would spend another 50 days in the hospital in January and February, and would die at home a month after Devon turned 17.

When I read the post written ten months prior to all that sickness and death, I marveled at the lightness and innocence that defined me and our home. Married to a man who I thought of as a soul mate, I had lived a charmed life. We loved our child, delighting in him in ways parents only do with one another, and for 13 years we had the best dog in the universe, our Golden Retriever, Max.

Reading about my past unsettles me. It’s like that moment in Our Town when Emily returns from the dead to witness an ordinary day in her life and she realizes that humans move through their lives barely, if at all, noticing one another.  I thought Rob and I would live with one another forever and boy did we have plans for the future. It’s not that I thought we would be immortal, but truthfully, I didn’t consider death. I was in my mid-fifties, and Rob was slightly older. We simply never dwelled in death.

The knowledge that in 14 months, the man who walked through life with such few cares would no longer be able to climb the single flight of stairs to our bedroom is chilling. Live brilliantly, he told me, just minutes after we learned the cancer was terminal. There are things I now know about life and the commitment made each day to not just breathe through it, but to live it boldly, presently, now. Ironically, the post was about the ways artist see.

Memory is part remembrance and part ache, colored by experience. The past is never just the past. We reinvent it with each new day of living.

Sunday, March 17, 2019


Once at Grand Central (M.A. Reilly)

"Hun? Could you read your section of the paper and let me read mine?" I ask Rob hoping he'll stop reading aloud.
"Ok. Ok," he answers. He takes a sip of coffee and returns his eyes to the page. A few minutes later I hear him say, "You have to hear this..."

Even though a bulk of the Sunday NewYork Times arrived along with Saturday's paper, we tended to save it all for Sunday morning. Rob would inevitably read aloud whole articles and though I would grumble some Sundays, the truth we each knew was that I loved to hear him read and he did so often. 


David Whyte in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words explains nostalgia:

Nostalgia is not indulgence. Nostalgia tells us we are in the presence of imminent revelation, about to break through the present structures held together by the way we have remembered: something we thought we understood but that we are now about to fully understand, something already lived but not fully lived, issuing not from our future but from something already experienced; something that was important, but something to which we did not grant importance enough, something now wanting to be lived again, at the depth to which it first invited us but which we originally refused. Nostalgia is not an immersion in the past, nostalgia is the first annunciation that the past as we know it is coming to an end.

I read this and pause, knowing that the writing today--this story of a Sunday morning newspaper reading is wrapped in nostalgia. It is bringing me somewhere I haven't named before and that is part pain and part gift, but they are not equal.


I realize this morning that I want grief to be a simple math problem I can solve. I write in the margin of a book I shared with Rob: 

sorrow is negated by 1 remembrance of love.  

I know this is not always a truth. I reread Whyte's words, halting a bit to reread: 

"Nostalgia is not an immersion in the past, nostalgia is the first annunciation that the past as we know it is coming to an end."

Grieving is less about time passing and more about grace--about accepting how the past as I knew it, is no more. I don't think I could have known that 3 years ago.  There's a thoroughness with which I remember these days. Those bits of recalled stories, some days, lead to new understandings. 


Rob told me years ago the only way out of something is through it. The last few weeks I have been in tune with the immense loss, the life I am making now, and the changes Dev and I have been through. 

After Rob died:

We had to break. We had to break apart. We had no center to hold.We had to break and then begin to heal. 

To be whole again we needed to break. Not just ourselves, but also what was between us.

As I remember once again, I note the many triggers that bring me back to Rob just the last three days: 
a lecture I attended on Friday, the notice that Lawrence Lessig is speaking nearby soon, a quiet meal a few blocks from where Rob worked in Hell's Kitchen, the way the light slants in the weeks before spring officially arrives, the noise of birds who have return to build nests, the smell of coffee, a man reading softly to the woman next to him on the train--their heads tilted towards one another, the sound of a hearty laugh, a song we loved that comes on the radio, a couple holding hands, a father and son,most everything Dev does.


I read the paper online now--even Sunday's. 

This morning, I miss the smell of ink from the magazine section, the weight of the book review, and the sound of Rob reading aloud.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Some days it’s almost as if he were upstairs reading...

Rob at home a year before his death. 

Some days it’s almost as if he were upstairs reading. Perhaps, he would be sitting in the easy chair he loved that used to be in the guest room, or in our room putting away laundry—folding it as he did so perfectly.

The old familiarity developed across decades together resurfaces and I am all anticipation, and as quickly as I want, I remember too.  In that second, it’s as if all that I have felt punctuates my breath and my heart stills. I have to stop myself from calling up the stairs to him, as I remember he is not there, cannot be there. Not anymore.

Sorrow is as fluid as breathing. And though I do not dwell in sorrow, the many faces of loss surely have changed me as well. I want to tell you that this loss, this single parenting, this need to take stock of self has made me a better person. And that is no small thing in this age of me, me, me. I carry these three years of experience like an extra chromosome and am reminded that all privilege is stripped at death and how we have lived is the measure of our lives, not what we have acquired.

To say I miss Rob would be wrong, for miss, is too milky a term. There are no words I know.

Even now after three years have passed, loss is incalculable, fleeting, rooted, recalled. It is all of these things and none of these. The only constant is the inconstancy of grief and pulsation of life,  Life demands, and I find it impossible to not greet it fully.