Making it better

I’m finding that making things helps. Last week I made a cake, an entirely unnecessary cake, but one H. would have liked and one I could share, not to mention eat slowly myself. I’ve also been “making” in the form of a visual grief notebook, pasting and painting and noting, the book getting fatter as the pages stiffen and crinkle with watercolour and glue. I’m not sure why it helps, maybe it’s the fiddly effort of it, which makes grief “work” tangible, or maybe it’s the fact of a record (allowing me to trace where I am/was), or maybe it’s just that it holds down, however temporarily, something otherwise internal and unpredictable and uncertain. Also, the doing is enjoyable. (And as I’ve said before, having finally grasped this for myself, it’s not the artistry that matters but the process.) Whatever the psychology involved, it reminds me of lines from a Sandra Birdsell story in Night Travellers:

…crying made everything worse. But she’d discovered that crayons and paper made it better. Drawing was a bird moving against a clean sky the way you wanted it to.  

Here are a few pages from the book to show what I mean. One early page contained “ordinary little” reminders of him.C1C6E3BB-8AB2-4361-A791-E7215D30841F_1_201_a

Another told a story about his clothes. (Yes, I’m afraid I actually went to the thrift store and bought back a shirt I’d donated!)379E668D-6CC3-439E-9406-9D450757AD32_1_201_a

 

There was a small regret to note. During the last years, he wasn’t allowed grapefruit because of a heart medication he was on, so we never had them in the house, though we’d both previously liked grapefruit a lot. Once in hospice, off those meds, why didn’t I bring in some juicy triangles of grapefruit to let him taste again? It never occurred to me! Now that I’m back to eating grapefruit myself, I wish, oh I wish, I had!

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The most recent page I made was prompted by something I saw in an illustration of Covid loss, which I recognized immediately as a powerful description of absence — space filled with a life summed in obituary. I worked from happy photos of our 46th anniversary last August when we had our morning maté (yerba tea) at the bay, sitting on our favourite log. I walk there still and sometimes sit on that log beside the unbodied shape that memory makes.

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Afterwards

A year ago, January 2020, pre-Covid, my sister and I met for lunch and she asked me, over fettucine alfredo, did I think of life afterwards? Alone, she meant, though I can’t remember exactly how she put it. We knew H.’s cancer would not be cured, though he was relatively comfortable and even relatively active for his circumstances, thanks to radiation and a regimen of meds.

I told her I’d had thoughts, yes, but I didn’t elaborate. I remember that I imagined pulling everything out of the closet and re-organizing the whole thing and that it would be emptier, tidier. I imagined taking a dream trip, starting from Beijing on a train, through Mongolia and Siberia and on to Moscow, which given his diagnosis and restrictions on travel, would not be possible for him but which he encouraged me to pursue if I could.

But these were tasks, or single events, and in truth I didn’t know how it would be, and thoughts of the future, when they came, perhaps while cooking or staring out the window at the quiet street at night, were mostly tinged with dread. Sometimes the dread was a kind of fear, feeling that once his death happened, it would be time to get ready for my own. Some nights, falling asleep, I found myself thinking about having to sleep alone in that unknown stage ahead of me, and I comforted myself then, that for now, he was there, I wasn’t alone, and that it was good not to have to sleep alone, I felt safer somehow, and that even sleeping, he was good company.

As of this February 6, I’m in the afterwards of my sister’s question. Here. The living that turned into dying has so many stories, and so does grieving in the wake of it, I don’t know where to begin telling any of them, or even if I should, because, really, loss is ubiquitous and telling is more like joining a song already being sung in many places. But since I’m a writer, and writers show up in words, I figured I should drop by my blog and say Hello. Hello, everyone.

My Lenten bowl

Kate Bowler and “Everything happens for a reason”

Kate Bowler — she’s everywhere lately, it seems, from Mennotoba (a site featuring Mennonites in Manitoba) to The New York Times, and just this week, on “The Current” on CBC Radio. CBC is my station, but still, that was a surprise; a friend of mine recalls hearing a host apologize for using the word God, not as a swear that is. (We have Tapestry on Sundays for that kind of talk, don’t you know?)  Continue reading